This annual Ontario car rally proves youth love driving classics

1633867905 This annual Ontario car rally proves youth love driving classics
1633867905 This annual Ontario car rally proves youth love driving classics
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Millennials are marking the perennial ‘Mille’ in their calendars, with the 2021 drawing more under-35s than ever

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Every so often — in between forecasts that Millennials will kill the auto industry — you’ll come across a newspaper headline like “Local 25-year-old restores car twice their age.” A few of the editors at Driving have written some of those articles ourselves — and a few of us have been the 25-year-old the article’s about.

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But if you’ve ever been curious what those classic-car-owning Millennials you read about do with those cars after fixing them up, let me fill you in. Some of them drive them. Like, a lot. Like, 1,200-kilometres-in-a-weekend a lot.

That sort of non-stop driving is the point of Classic Car Adventures’ (CCA) annual three-day Maple Mille rally, which late September 2021 saw its seventh iteration, and the most under-35-year-old drivers and navigators in its history.

The Hagerty-sponsored Mille — the name alludes to Italy’s historic Mille Miglia endurance races — is organized by B.C.-based Dave Hord, and is the Ontario counterpart to a series of similar events he hosts on the West Coast. This year it played host to about 55 cars, more than it ever has before.

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Classic cars of almost any sort can enter the Maple Mille, though with rare exception Hord insists they be model year 1979 or older. He is a little more flexible with that rule if it gets a younger participant on the road with CCA, which is sometimes how ’80s BMWs or ’90s Miatas end up sharing pavement with ‘50s Jaguars or ‘60s Porsches on his Spring Thaw rally in British Columbia, or his Silver Summit in Colorado.

That flexibility was not required to sign up any of the Millennials on the Mille this year — all showed up in proper classics, either their own or their parents’.

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Hilary Riem, 26, owns a Fox-body Ford convertible and an AMC Concord, but entered the Mille with her dad Justin in his 1966 Mustang hardtop. “Growing up with classic cars, I was used to being surrounded by retirees at show-and-shine cruise nights,” says the Mille first-timer. “To my surprise, arriving at the Mille, I was met by a seemingly ever-growing group of young people like me who immediately made me feel welcome.”

Hord says both out west and in Ontario, roughly one in four participants in any given rally will be under 40. “We’re starting to see some parent-child pairings on Maple Mille, which are common out west,” he adds. “And it’s not necessarily the parent bringing the child!”

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Natasha De Melis, 32, talked her dad Fred into coming, for example — another pair of first-timers. They piloted “Raven,” her 1967 Ford Mustang survivor, along the curvy back roads Hord had plotted from Orillia; to Pembroke; to Kanata; and on to Bridgenorth, because closed borders kept her from checking “drive Route 66” off her bucket list.

“The journey seemed to tackle everything I was looking for: twisty roads, fall foliage, like-minded car enthusiasts, and so much more,” De Melis enthuses, calling the Mille “a great stepping stone” on the path to that Route 66 trip. “Raven had never been on something like this before and I wanted to see how she would handle different landscapes and weather types. And to no surprise, she handled like a dream!”

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Okay, yes, there were more than a few Mustangs on this year’s event, but Hord says across CCA events, Millennial entrants’ taste is generally defined not by marque or country of origin, but by their variety. “What I find is more common with our ‘younger’ crowd [is] the way they seem to change cars from year to year,” he explains, as the classics in their garage turn over.

Clayton Seams, 30 [and, full disclosure, Driving’s videographer], has attended every Maple Mille except the first, and has never driven it in the same car twice. This year, he played navigator to first-timer Matt Bartlett, 25, in his 1973 MGB. “It’s three days of driving old cars, and socializing with other people who like to do the same. You’re actually getting out there, seeing the sights, using your car,” he says. “Given the occasional temperament of old cars, you learn to form a certain camaraderie with your fellow participants that you just don’t get with a traditional car show.”

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Hord says that that friendship-building is one of the biggest draws for Maple Mille-nnials, and that they’re also keen on helping foster it. “Generally [they] come with an attitude of first experiencing what we’ve created, and then actively trying to ‘add’ to the experience,” he explains. “Take the Maple Mille when we stayed two nights in Haliburton [in 2019]. It was the younger crowd, after experiencing the ‘parking lot party,’ that actively worked to include everyone on the event in the night two gathering.”

It helps that whether over or under 35, the drivers and navigators who sign up for Classic Car Adventures are all down to Earth, and check their egos at the starting line. “CCA events are built on an attitude that every entrant is the same regardless of age, finances, or vehicle brought — which helps to encourage a parking lot where every car and entrant is interesting and approachable.”

That is indisputably one thing all the classic-car-owning participants of the Maple Mille have in common. That, and some of them like to drive their classics. Like, a lot.

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