Sea Islands Cars and Coffee hosts exotic, vintage makes from Europe, Asia, U.S.

John Liberatos of Charleston displays his 1950 Lancia at the monthly Sea Islands Cars and Coffee Feb. 20 at Freshfields Village.

The 1950 Lancia Ardea parked Feb. 20 at Freshfields Village no doubt meets the criteria for a rare model.

Just 11,700 were built worldwide and it’s rare to see a right-wheel-drive vehicle in a country known for motoring seated on the left.

But owner John Liberatos of Charleston contends something else drew him to the 67-year-old coupe.

“It qualifies for Mille Miglia in Italy,” he says. Mille Miglia — meaning “1,000 miles” in Italian — is a famed road race from the 1920s to 1950s that was resurrected close to 40 years ago as a circuit for classic and vintage cars pre-1957.

Liberatos, who was showing the car in the monthly Sea Islands Cars and Coffee cruise-in, said the overseas race is on his “bucket list,” and he hopes to compete in the next couple of years. “This would be every racer’s dream,” said the local rental leasing and management chief executive, who also brought a 1984 Alfa Romeo Spider 2.0 to the morning drive-up.

Liberatos got the car two-and-a-half years ago at an auto collectors sale. “I’m bidding at an auction. While I was going for a haircut, somebody outbid me,” he recalled.

As it turned out, the high bidder wasn’t able to keep the car — formerly held by noted collector Martin Swig, who founded the California Mille thousand-mile road race in 1991. The Lancia’s then-owner Ed Riggins, copublisher of Thrasher skateboard magazine, awarded the model to Liberatos after talking with him.

“That’s funny; I’m a BMW collector,” the Charlestonian said Feb 20.

The Ardea, built by Italian car maker Lancia from 1939 to 1954, was an innovator as the first auto with a V-4 engine and mass produced five-speed manual transmission, Liberatos said. It has suicide doors that open outward, and right-side drive so that motorists can capture the brilliant cliff-like views in the mountains, he said. Liberatos placed the original registration in the rear window as well as its ASI (Automotoclub Storico Italiano) certification of authenticity.

The rare Lancia was among the vintage cars from overseas at the Sea Islands cruise-in. Other classics included a Bentley soft top from England; a French-made Citroen 2CV6, also known as deux chevaux; German-bred Porsche 914 convertible and a 1999 Mazda Miata anniversary edition roadster. “It gets you there,” said Daryl Beach, who brought the popular Japanese sports car with David Gwynette.

Ed Shehab rode up in his 1971 Mini Moke, an open-bodied subcompact with vague resemblance to Volkswagen’s vintage dune-like buggies. He likes the Sea Islands Cars and Coffee and tries to make all the shows. But he acknowledges that it’s tough this time of year. “At 8 a.m., it’s cold without heat (in the car),” Shehab said.

Jim and Erin Diffendorfer parked across the street in their black 2006 Corvette. The first-timers just moved to Johns Island. “It’s been a fun car (show),” Jim Diffendorfer said.

Sea Islands Cars and Coffee takes place 9-11 a.m. the third Saturday of the month throughout the year at Freshfields Village. An exception will be in April, when the event conflicts with the major, once-a-year Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat at Ocean Park.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.