There’s a thunderous roar as David Holmes revs the engine of his iris blue 1959 MGA Twin Cam.
Pumping out 140 horsepower and weighing just 1,600 pounds, the speedy import once owned by legendary Canadian vintage racer Dick Baker can reach speeds upwards of 145 miles per hour.
After being purchased last spring from Baker’s sons, the rare British sports car became the fourth racing certified vehicle in Holmes’ ever-growing fleet. Now, with some minor tuning and a test-ride at the track in Grand Bend out of the way, the longtime Elmira resident is ready to put the car back in the race.
“The car handles very well,” Holmes said. “We took it to Grand Bend, they have a small race track, a road track, to try it out. My son took it out and he tried to make it spin out and slide and he couldn’t. Another feature of the car, besides the clam shell and the bodywork that’s been done on it, is the motor has been moved back a foot in it, which distributes the weight more evenly over the tires and makes for far better cornering.”
It’s a stunning car, with exquisite curves and impossibly perfect bodywork for something that has been racing since the early 1960s. And it was recognized as such with the best in class and best in show awards earlier this month at Port Perry’s Brits on the Lake car show.
But it’s more than just a showpiece. Holmes, 68, has been racing with the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada for nearly a decade now, and shows no signs of slowing down.
He may have taken up the sport later in life, but racing was always in his blood, he says.
Growing up in the 1960s in the rural area of Brampton, Holmes lived on a farm with horses and cattle, and plenty of fields, dirt roads and open spaces to rip around on as a teen, new behind the wheel.
“We raced through the fields in old junkers we bought for probably $15,” Holmes remembered. “We had a lot of fun.”
The passion for racing was sidelined during his working life as a golf course superintendent at the Elmira Golf Club and later, as the owner of an excavating company.
But upon retirement, he decided to buy a Jaguar X-KE, as a throwback to his younger days when he idolized the iconic British luxury car. And while the Jag didn’t quite capture his imagination, it wasn’t long before a classic MG caught his eye.
“It wasn’t ’til I was pretty close to 60, when I bought an MG-MGB and I went to Mosport to watch the racing; there was one guy in an MGB and he flew around the track,” Holmes said. “It blew me away. I had to meet him and I had to find out what kind of engine he had in his car. So I found his car, and he stepped out of his trailer and I looked at him and said, ‘my God, he’s older than I am. Maybe I can do this!’ The guy was John Target, from Ohio and very British, but just the most charming man you could ever meet and we talked about racing. And that gave me the impetus to start racing.”
In the years since, Holmes and his son Evan have both taken up the sport, often competing in 10 races across North America each year.
It’s been a successful run.
Holmes captured the VARAC club championships in 2007, 2010 and 2013, and placed second in 2013. He won the 2007 and 2014 Canadian Historical Grand Prix events at Mosport, the 2014 Indian Summer Trophy Race at Mosport, the 2009 Spring Trophy Race at Mosport, the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and was awarded the 2010 Copper Bucket by the MG Vintage Racers of America for “representing the spirit of vintage racing.”
This weekend Holmes will compete in the Ted Powell Memorial at the Calabogie Motorsports Park, near Ottawa. He won’t be racing the MGA just yet, he says, as he’s waiting to race it for the first time at Mosport where he has had a great deal of success in the past.
Fortunately, he has three other MG race cars, including a 1949 MGTC that was owned and raced by the late-great Tommy Hoan.
Holmes also has three additional road cars, including a pair of MGs and an Austin, plus a few projects in the works for whenever the time opens up. But those will have to wait until the winter, as we’re still in the middle of racing season, and Holmes is just getting into gear.