THE DRIVE HOME III Winter Road Trip Adventure By Steve Purdy
Winter Road Trip Adventure
By Steve Purdy
Photos by Steve Purdy and Bob Giles
The Auto Channel
The idea for this brilliant promotional project was hatched a couple years ago by two dapper fellows who tend to think big and well outside the box. Rod Alberts, director of the North American International (Detroit) Auto Show, and David Madiera, executive director of the LeMay: America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, thought it might be cool to take some Detroit-built classics out of his museum on the west coast and drive them across the country in the dead of winter to arrive just in time for the auto show, thus promoting the show, the museum and the enthusiasm for these cars. They invited a few journalists to join up and drive different legs of the journey. This reporter was fortunate enough to hook up for three legs from Boise to Denver on the first run.
Then last year the second iteration of the drive started in Boston, ran down the east coast to DC then across to Indy before heading north. I joined up for a couple snowy days from west Michigan to Traverse City in northern Michigan and back to Detroit.
Those first two “rallies,” as some call them, featured the same three cars – a 1957 Chevy Nomad Wagon, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Mustang. All were painted red and adorned with stickers from event sponsors like Michelin, Shell, and many others. I’ll never forget driving the Chrysler over 11,000-foot Loveland Pass in Colorado on the first event slipping and sliding much of the way. The old girl had many inches of play in the steering making for some disconcerting driving dynamics.
So, here we are driving in the third running of The Drive Home, this one starting in Florida. My colleague and fellow veteran of the event, Bob Giles, and I joined up in Nashville, TN for the last two days of the journey. A whole batch of different cars are running this time – a ’59 “shark fin” Cadillac, a ’59 Plymouth Fury from Traverse City, a 62 International Travelette 4-door pickup, a ’69 Camaro SS, a ’72 Chevy El Camino and a classic ’55 Chrysler 300C with a Hellcat engine. I’ll do my best to get time behind the wheel of every one.
Bob greeted the group at the Casa de Montecristo bar as they arrived after driving across through the Smokey Mountains from North Carolina. Though they had already been on the road for many days, none looked the worse for wear. So far they’ve lost only one car, the Hellcat-powered Chrysler 300C to a broken wrist pin – not a part they could get expeditiously. That beauty is encased within the massive support trailer.
An attempt to get some evening drone shots of the cars driving along Nashville’s famous Music Row resulted in a confrontation with the cops who saw the unauthorized drone as a security threat. Our video guy, Derek, with Bob assisting, did a masterful job of talking his way out of an arrest, but not before getting some spectacular shots, he says.
Our early departure had me at the wheel of the Camaro SS. With Hurst shifter managing the rough four-speed transmission and a great grumbling sound, I was able to guide it carefully out of a parking ramp with very little clearance into busy morning Nashville traffic. She handles great and the stiff clutch makes her feel like a real muscle car without being compromised by age. It’s no wonder this SS model is so sought after by collectors.
Nashville is a great place for old car buffs. Before leaving town we stopped at one of my favorite car museums anywhere – the Lane Motor Museum on the edge of town. Jeff Lane, one of the true geniuses in the auto enthusiast community has hundreds of odd-ball, one-off, rare cars, many of European heritage. He has the largest collection of Tatras outside of Europe. The focus of his collection are vehicles of all kinds, not just cars, that sought to solve a particular problem in a creative or unusual way. Many of them were dismal failures but Jeff has lovingly preserved and displayed them all. He has cars powered by coal, by propellers and even human power.
From the Lane Museum, I hopped into the driver’s seat of the massive ’59 ‘Cadillac coupe for the next leg of the journey to the National Corvette Museum a couple hours north. The white shark fin Caddy was donated to Kettering University and they’ve put it into service to promote this top engineering school. The car is cosponsored by the Concours d’Elgance of America at St. John’s, whose director, Diane Fills-Schneider, is on the trip with us driving all the cars alternately. What a floater is the old Caddy! The massive, soft front seats wrap us in luxury but getting into the back is a struggle. She wallows down the road with confidence but at any speed past about 65 mph she sets up a disconcerting grumble somewhere in the drive line. One of the reasons we love driving these old cars are their quirks, of course.
As most of our readers know, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky was the victim of a huge sink hole that opened up under the main display area four years ago gobbling up a variety of rare and beautiful Corvettes. Some have been saved and rebuilt. Some, sadly, were beyond repair. The museum has developed an amazing display to document the event including details on the geologic causes and even a Plexiglas peephole through which we can see parts of the cavern still existing below. Some of the cars that are beyond repair are displayed as well. The museum does an admirable job of telling the whole story of “America’s sports car.
A long transit brought us to Cincinnati but our support truck was lagging behind. The big Ford F-350 turbo-diesel towing a huge trailer blew a big hole in the back of one of the exhaust pipes leading to the big turbo. Not only does it nearly negate any boost from the turbo but it is also blowing such a draft of super-hot air that it quickly burnt through the insulation on the firewall. They can only manage about a quarter throttle and they have the fire extinguisher at the ready.
Tomorrow is the run to Detroit – final open road leg before the parade down Woodward Avenue. After a press conference the cars will be displayed within Cobo Center for the 2018 North American International Auto Show.
Stay tuned for another report on The Drive Home III.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved