In between BangShift Mid-West to the Carlisle Fairgrounds sits 685 miles of open highway. In any modern car, that’s a cakewalk. If you were driving, say, a 1993 Dodge Daytona IROC, you’d have the benefit of interstate-friendly gearing, aerodynamic body design, comfortable seats, and air conditioning. If I had made this trip in the Angry Grandpa 300C, add in enough grunt to make driving through the mountains a lot of fun, satellite radio and a trunk big enough to bring some swap-meet scores back home with me. And if I had taken our new Ram pickup, add in cooling seats, monster cupholders, and a space between the front and rear seats big enough to put a mini-refrigerator in. (Yes, we have one and yes, it works killer.) And don’t forget the bed space to bring home major body parts with.
Common sense would dictate that I would’ve taken the luxury truck. Anyone in their right mind would have made that call. But my mind hasn’t been right…well, ever. My first major roadtrip was in the 1978 Chrysler LeBaron, in the winter of 2000, driving a car with a known broken front end and about 87 horsepower through the Midwest during ice storms and snow. Roadtrips in sketchy Mopars is a thing for me: that same LeBaron also took me to Fort Hood when I was done in training. A 1984 D100 took me on a Southwestern tour that saw Colorado, Arizona and Texas. The “Warhammer” Diplomat saw me rip across Texas from San Angelo back to base with a major moving violation or five committed. The SuperBeater Mirada was known for doing laps around the Pacific Northwest late at night as some kind of automotive therapy session, and its last major act was to drive from the Seattle area back to Arizona. That was the trip where bikers had to help me into a gas station on Highway 93 because I was probably minutes from heatstroke. Who knew driving a car with no A/C and whorehouse red velour interior was a bad idea in the desert?
This weekend was the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, and yours truly had an invite as a featured vehicle. That meant thrashing on my ’76 Charger Daytona until literally two hours before I was to hit the road. That meant replacing major suspension components, checking everything with a fine-tooth comb, and saging the car so that I might have a hope in hell of not having to call AAA to come save my ass off of the side of the road. By the time zero hour had arrived, the car had just come from the alignment shop and was stuffed like a thanksgiving turkey so I could hit the road. I was so caught up in leaving on time that I forgot to put the front fender well covers back into the car.
For the first hour, I was pure nerves. I was listening for anything that sounded out of place – every clunk, every tick, another icicle of fear down my spine. Louisville was my abort line. If I wasn’t comfortable by then, I’d turn around, cancel hotels, and head back home. Happily, by the time I blew past Elizabethtown, Kentucky I was beyond comfortable…aside from the heat, anyways. As the sun started to drop below the horizon around Columbus, Ohio, I felt immensely better and kicked the lights on. Mile after mile, the Charger behaved wonderfully.
Anyone who was at the fairgrounds this year can tell you, it was one hot mother. We’re talking the kind of hot and humid that is properly dangerous. At no point did the car threaten to overheat. At no point did the car not want to start. Throughout the weekend, I talked with many show-goers who were curious about the Daytona script, who dug the Halibrand wheels, who had “I had one just like it” stories. Even as I was pushing my limits of heat tolerance, I drove the car in the Malaise Era Parade on Saturday and it was great to see the audience response.
The best part of the show was meeting people who I’ve known online for years, decades even, but have never met in person. And one of them had a gift for me. Michael Westfall had bought a part off of me back in 2012 and he felt like I deserved to have it back:
That’s the Tuff wheel that came from my old Mirada, one of two relics from that car I know exist. It needs to have the outer wrap re-done, but still…this is the steering wheel that was attached to the car that helped me get my head straight and, honestly, put me on the track to being where I am at today. It will get restored, then it will be put into the car that is the culmination of how far I’ve come since.
This weekend, I drove the Charger 1,522 miles, bought over 90 gallons of gas, and wound up getting about 15.9 miles per gallon. I drove the car rain or shine. I ripped across Ohio’s midlands doing 85 mph in as much comfort as you can have without modern amenities. No shit, I’d love air conditioning, but the sound of the 360 barking away with the windows down would be lost.
But the most memorable point came when I was driving back home through West Virginia. A Dodge Mirada, painted Graphic Red with a flat-black hood, wearing chromed mag wheels, ripped by me, sounding as pissed-off as ever before continuing on into the ether. Kind of “full-circle”, in my eyes.
I’m looking forward to the next cross-country excursion.