My Car Quest

February 27, 2024

Fleet Week Coronado Speed Festival (“The Race at the Base”)

by Wallace Wyss –

Photos by Richard Bartholomew.

There is a tradition in San Diego, to have a vintage car race weekend at the Coronado Naval Air Station on North Island on Coronado Island. It’s rather fitting—you have young men in the Navy who like machines, and these old race cars—from Porsches to Cobras—are certainly machines.


This Lister Chevy will be in a future Incredible Barn Finds tome. Price when found? Free! (Although it needed a body, an engine, a trans, wheels, tires, etc.)

This year the Fleet Week Coronado Speed Festival was held on September 17-18.

If you like to see the latest military hardware, part of the thrills of going to this event is getting to inspect first hand such things as the SEAL team dune buggy (two air cooled machine guns) to a speedboat with twin jets powered by Cummins diesels.

Seeing as it’s on the grounds of an active military base, there’s a few more rules about what you can bring and can’t, and I don’t want to repeat the rules here but let’s say, be ready to be searched by young military people with some very serious looking hardware on their hips.

When you get into the event itself, which costs roughly $35 for spectators, you see about fifty race cars, of all different model years and types, but a good many are in the Fifties and Sixties.

Though I saw one that was from the early 1920s, almost forgotten brands, and have to give those owners credit for keeping those old nameplates in sight.

Here are the race groups that ran:

Race Group 1
Small bore production. Sports cars and sedans. (SVRA Gr. 1)

Race Group 2
Formula Ford and Formula B cars (SVRA Gr. 2)

Race Group 3
World Sports Cars, GT, Prototype and Can-Am Cars 1960-1979 (SVRA Gr. 5+7)

Race Group 4
Big Bore Production and Sports Cars through 1972 (SVRA Gr. 6)

Race Group 5
Medium bore Production and Sports cars prior 1972 (SVRA Gr. 3+4)

Race Group 6
Series Production Sports Cars and Sedans prior to 1979 (SVRA Gr. 8)

Race Group 7
Wings and Slicks Formula cars (SVRA Gr. 9)

Race Group 8
Historic Stock cars (SVRA Gr. 10- SC1/2/3)

Race Group 9
Pre war Sports cars and Formula cars

Race Group 10
Historic Trans Am cars

One of the most surprising was to see a Porsche 356 GT with a four cam engine, the owner said he bought it in California but keeps it in Mexico. You would think that’s almost two valuable to race.

One long time collecting family in La Jolla brought a whole fleet of race cars that varied in brand from a mid-engined Chevron to a rear engine Renault Alpine.

Another surprising car was an Iso Rivolta race car, you usually don’t see four seaters racing, but after all the Iso Grifo A3C and Bizzarrini race cars were really just Iso Rivoltas underneath!

Iso Rivolta

Iso Rivolta GT owned and raced by Pete Whitehead

Mind blowing was seeing a VW Karmann Ghia race. What did the Porsche people think? If VW would have developed it as a race car maybe they could have killed off that pesky 356 early on…

VW Karmann Ghia

VW Karmann Ghia

The Trans Am cars are fun to see, especially those that are resurrected from racing teams in the ‘70s like Mustang Boss 302s and Camaro Z/28s.

They are a little loose on originality, such as when I saw a polished aluminum Cobra 427 that looked every bit like the ones I saw at Shelby American back in, oh ’65, but it turned out to be a Kirkham replica, though I coulda been fooled. Kirkham is actually the main supplier to Shelby now, so in a way Kirkhams are Shelbys (or vice versa).

The track is on a flat airstrip so there’s not the hills and dales of Laguna Seca but there are at least two grandstands so you can get a good view. This is the only racetrack I know where you see ships putting out to sea behind the racing.

The “midway” isn’t at all like Laguna Seca, maybe only ten vendors and a lot of them are recruitment booths for the Navy, Marines, etc. (though I think if they look at the age range of competitors they would find most served decades ago…). No art being sold, no books, but maybe with time the vendors at Laguna Seca will come.

Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Corvette

They have one big draw, and that’s just about the guarantee that the temperature, will be around a scintillating 73 deg. F when that same day it was 100 deg. F or more in the inland empire. San Diego has one of the best climates of any major city.

At least one major automaker was represented—Jaguar. You could sign up for a little drive on a slalom course first in a four door sedan and then a two seater. A pro race driver would drive you in either if you wished, nice to see a car pushed to the limit. There were also dealer displays for other brands.

Having been to Monterey’s Rolex Revival races, I can say that these races at Coronado are somewhat similar, though there’s not as many really valuable cars as there is at Monterey, and no special ceremony such as Monterey’s mid-day Saturday tour of the track by the honored marque.

But still, this event has stood the test of time (its 19th year) and is a favorite one of San Diego sports car ownners. I especially liked the cars parked in the club area, like the row of Porsches, Corvettes, and the like so you might say there’s an informal car show going on at the same time.

Different clubs also had their tents, I hung out at the Porsche 356 San Diego tent, if only because I’m writing a book on Porsche (thank you, one and all).

So next time you hear of the San Diego Fleet Week Coronado event think about going to it in combo with a weekend enjoying that great city…maybe topping it off with dinner on the roof level restaurant at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla…

More photos are in the slide show below.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist known for accurately depicting postwar sports cars. A list of work available can be had by writing

THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Richard Bartholomew is a graphic consultant to artists in the Inland Empire and a photographer in his own right.




Fleet Week Coronado Speed Festival (“The Race at the Base”)
Article Name
Fleet Week Coronado Speed Festival (“The Race at the Base”)
The Coronado Speed Festival in San Diego is a treat for classic racing lovers.


  1. Some incredible machinery there…

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