Rotary Botanical Gardens welcomes vintage British cars July 25

·3 min read

Jul. 22—JANESVILLE — Stylish steel and vibrant vegetation come together to create a color explosion this weekend at Rotary Botanical Gardens.

British Boots and Bonnets, a vintage car club based in Rockford, Illinois, plans to bring about 25 exotic models to the gardens Sunday, July 25, as part of an outdoor exhibit. Makes ranging from MG to Jaguar to Rolls-Royce and more will be featured, and vehicle owners will be on hand to answer questions from those in attendance.

"I approached the gardens with the idea last year, and they liked it," said Rich Cannistra, a Janesville resident and car club member. "We ended up spacing the cars throughout the garden as if they were pieces of sculpture.

"The day ended up being very successful for them, and for the club as well," he added. "They were eager to have us return."

Among the cars that will be on display are:

* 1973 Jaguar XKE (E-Type), a V-12 engine model that went out of production after that year.

* 1962 Lotus Elite, a model of which there remains less than 500 worldwide;

* 1958 Morris Minor Traveler, which was formerly used as a work truck in the United Kingdom.

* 1976 Mini, a right-hand-driven car from New Zealand.

* 1938 MG VA Tickford, which Cannistra called a "gorgeous car."

* And a 1932 Rolls-Royce Phantom 2, which he described as a "one-off" model.

"In those days, a Rolls-Royce came out of the factory as just a chassis, and the owner would pay a coach builder to create the body to individual specifications," he explained. "So each of those cars is one-of-a-kind."

Displaying cars in a setting that caters to greenery comes with certain concerns, such as heavy objects sitting for extended periods of time. Rotary Botanical Gardens Event Manager Sheila Flood said last year's experience helped quell any fears staff members might have had.

"We just didn't water early that morning," she said. "We waited until later, like we do when we host weddings.

"British cars are smaller (than American-made models), so there's not as much weight," she added. "They fit right through the gates. It was a little scary with the Rolls-Royce, but we made it."

There is also some concern for the vintage cars, many of which might not make the trip Sunday should weather be uncooperative.

"I have 25 firm commitments, and they will certainly be there if we have good weather," Cannistra said.

"But half of these cars are open-top convertibles from the 30s and 40s, and some are a little fragile. If it's raining, people aren't going to take them out and park them."

Flood said the car show is an example of steps gardens staff are taking to diversify visitors' experiences.

"I think it brought a few more people in specifically," she said. "Our goal is to come up with unique things that make having a membership beneficial.

"We are just trying to come up with new things to get people to see the gardens."

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