It's the winter of 2004 and any rodder worth his (or her) gear lube should already be making plans for next summer. I know that the time I spent behind the wheel last summer was the most fun I've had in a long time. Not that working everyday at a vocation turned avocation isn't fun, it's just that this past summer was worth remembering and reflecting upon.
For starters, I had the great opportunity (and fun) of driving to a handful of events in a street rod rather than in a rental car. Hey, you can only drive so many white-with-gray-interior econo boxes before the fun wears off!
There's no question that the very act of driving one's street rod should be reward enough. However, to end up at locations filled with other social misfits like me standing around all day (and into varying degrees of the night) talking about cars...well, life just doesn't get any better.
In my travels this summer I saw many sites known for natural as well as cultural and historical beauty. In other words, I lived the total experience from behind the wheel of a topless roadster. How could life get any better, by planning next summer's drive now...?
First let me reminisce back to 1980 when I was planning my sixth (but first in my own car) cross-country trip. By then I had already made a number of trips back and forth across the U.S. of A. in a handful of street rods but none of them my own. Life was good and the drives were fun but I wanted to enjoy the wanderlust in my very own hot rod not someone else's. This was to be the 11th Street Rod Nationals held in Memphis, Tennessee, and while I had been to number three through 10 and had driven to five, none had been in my own car.
What fun is fun if you can't share it? The late-Jim Ewing of Super Bell Axle Company would be taking his wild-looking coupe while I would drive my Magoo-built '29 Ford highboy roadster. Do you remember the V-6 engine craze? Well, Jim and I both had Buick V-6s that managed 20-23 miles per gallon. Those where the days when gasoline prices had escalated to a whopping .75-cents a gallon and rodders were giving a thought (albeit ever so slight) to street rods that yielded something akin to fuel economy. Remember, any blast along the asphalt ribbon from the sunny beaches of the West Coast to Elvis' hometown was, and is, a trip of almost 1,800 miles. Economy wasn't, and isn't, a bad thing. Since we lived in SoCal the "normal" route would be Interstate 40 from West to East. Jim and I would spend over 1,700 miles of the trip on I-40 but that wasn't the significance of this trip. No, the real draw for the two of us was Route 66--The Mother Road, the Main Street of America, or The Will Rogers Highway. Use any of these names and people knew and to this day know of what you speak.
Both of us grew up at a time when this road of roads had a magical quality, a draw about it. Probably one of my all-time favorite television series from 1960-64 was Route 66, staring a Corvette. (There were two actors of some prominence but they didn't really matter to me, it was all about the car. Toby Brown, another rodding friend, worked in the TV industry at the time and he saw to it that I now have on tape 12 episodes of the original Route 66. Many thanks.) Both Jim and I used to talk about the TV show and how we would like to follow the road, or as much of it as possible, as part of our upcoming journey eastward to the Nats.
There's another favorite "car guy" stopover and that's the Cadillac Ranch. In 1980 it had been around for six years and was still a "fresh" and interesting site to experience. (Sadly, in 2003, Doug Michels, one of the three original designers, died. The Ranch, which houses 10 old-time Caddies ranging in model years from '49-64, was placed on property owned by Stanley Marsh III adjacent to I-40, which ran right over Route 66.) Jim and I thoroughly enjoyed the music of Bruce Springsteen and it was in the summer of 1980 that Bruce had a hit song with Cadillac Ranch. It became imperative that we visit both Route 66 and the Ranch.
For the record, current U.S. maps do not recognize Route 66, but in its time it covered 2,448 miles between Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California and, in the process, crossed eight states and three time zones. The Mother Road was commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 but it wasn't fully paved until 1937. Can you still drive on ol' 66? Yes, but only on parts, as many sections are abandoned or replaced with interstate highways such as I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, and I-10.
So, what am I doing now to prepare for this coming summer? I have talked (mostly begged) Magoo out of retirement and he's overseeing a very personal project for me. It's a '70s-era Magoo-highboy roadster at the shop of Hot Rods by Dean in Phoenix, Arizona. I have every intention of this being my recreation of the ride Jim and I took some 24 years ago. My sense of direction best take me to Louisville in 2004 and not Memphis, but then, you never know. All roads will eventually take you home. I wonder whom I will experience this trip with?