Not the Cannonball, Day 6: WASHington & The Finish

After rain in the east, and snow in the west, the car is filthy:

The dirtiest Mercedes ever.

So after breakfast at the hotel and a gas stop at Costco, we head to the “Hippo Car Wash” in Coeur d’Alene to get the car cleaned up. They do a great job!

The hosedown.

getting all sudsy!

Ready for the blow dry.

Presto! Clean as a whistle.

The car looks great and we tip the car wash staff generously. On our short drive to I-90 from the car wash we encounter a 1949 Chevy, not something you see everyday!

A 1949 Chevrolet in CDA, ID.

We point the car west on I-90, and soon enter Washington, pass through Spokane, and head out into the dry grasslands between Medical Lake and Ritzville:

Failing to live up to the Washington state nickname at Milepost 237 of I-90.

Knowing the distinct lack of a sense of humor by our fine State Troopers, I keep the Cruise Missile at a 9-over speed along I-90. I’ve never traversed the state without seeing lots of them patrolling. This conservative behavior changes when an newish E-class Mercedes with British Columbia plates blows by me at 90 MPH. Glad to have a rabbit I fall in behind and pace him about a quarter-mile behind. That is until a left-lane loafer delays me so much I loose sight of the flying Merc. Oh well.

Just past George the freeway dives into the gorge formed by the Columbia River.

I-90 crosses the Columbia.

We gas up and switch drivers in Ellensburg, with Dad at the wheel I can shoot with something more substantial than my phone. High clouds move in though taking away the sunshine.

Mt. Stuart. Of course no towering peak in Washington can be seen from any highway without power and telephone wires in the way!

Approaching the snowshed on westbound I-90 east of the top of Snoqualmie Pass. Westbound cars have no protection from avalanches. Go figure.

Guye Peak at the top of Snoqualmie Pass

Something other than green does happen here in the Cascades occasionally.

McClellan Butte east of North Bend.

The drive over Snoqualmie Pass was uneventful, with minimal road works going on (WasDOT must wait until busier weekends to shut down lanes!) and we descended to Factoria where we stopped for lunch. We didn’t turn north as you would expect however. Instead we drove south to Sea-Tac where Sue had left her car as she was away for the weekend. I picked it up and drove it home. We test-parked and test-covered the 450sl in its new home in my barn:

Dad touches up the now clean Cruise Missile in the barn.

The car will live here as a driver for my parents when they come visit. Tomorrow Dad is driving it south to Seattle (to my younger sister’s house) for my older sister and brother-in-law to use on their upcoming trip here later in October.

This car was purchased in 2000 specifically to make a repeat run of the Cannonball Classic in 2001. The hope was that unlike the E-type, it would make it all the way across the country with minimal drama, or mechanical issues. The 2001 Cannonball Classic was cancelled, and the event has never been run again, so we have not had the chance to see if that prediction was true.

Dad came up with the idea of bringing this car out here to end their reliance on rental cars when they visit. Mom & Dad love the car and have put 50k miles on it, both rallying and daily use, since its purchase in 2000. At first he considered shipping it, but then thought about answering that question from nearly a decade ago: would the car make it on a cross-continental drive?

Now we know the answer, which is a resounding YES.

The 450sl is a great car. Built at a time when Mercedes-Benz really was the best in the world at the craft of designing and building automobiles.

Read on for the terrifying finale of the 1999 event. Please note that I believe that the 65E could make that cross-country trip with ease today. Since it was finally and “properly sorted” by Geoff Pickard of Chilliwack BC, in the summer of 2004, it has been a very reliable machine. This has been proven on several long-distance drives, including three GTTSR’s and my west coast roundtrip road trip this past July. Prior to that the clearly incompetent wrenches at Classic Jaguar of Austin, TX had created a car which, while looking great, never ran very well and was not up to the task of long-distance driving. Here is exhibit A…

Saturday, October 2nd: Eureka, NV to Redondo Beach CA.

Last night at dinner we decided as a group to leave an hour early. This was because we wanted to get the jump on the local constabulary who were said to be ready and waiting for us in the bushes outside of town shortly after our scheduled leave time of 7am. After a quick breakfast we left town in the pre-dawn light and headed first west on US 50, then south down the Big Smoky Valley on Highway 376. We were delivered yet another gorgeous sunrise. The roads were empty and fast but we were limping a bit and kept it under 90 and in 4th gear. The clutch was all but gone and the vibration we noticed beginning in Nebraska was now a roar anytime in 5th gear.

Above: Leaving Eureka… Steve Loudin’s Plate. Gassing up The Fairlady. The Challenger from Tokyo.

We make good time anyway, as the roads are all but empty.


Above Left: Mountains and the shadow of a cat. Above Right: Buying some catfood in Tonopah with the Cunningham C4R.
Below Left: "Curves, we don’t need no stinkin’ curves!" Below: Right: The Mercedes 280.

Above: Twisty canyon approaching the California border.

Just east of the California border, we roll up to a group of event participants to find our old friend Jim Van Gusten has rolled his beloved DeTomaso Mangusta. It seems his right rear tire de-treaded on him and threw him and the car into the ditch. Jim is all right… shaken and I’m sure despondent over the state of his car, but at least he his unhurt except for a small cut and a stiff neck. The Nevada Highway Patrolman announces: "If he were going any faster than 60 kmph, he’d probably been dead." Jim is a survivor.

We head into California and down the eastern Sierra towards the Mojave Desert. We follow the Ferrari of Sherman and Scott Wolf, hoping that we might get a clue to a good lunch spot since Scott is a "local" (lives in LA, skis at Mammoth) and probably knows the good spots. Unfortunately they out-run us as dad is in no mood to drive faster than about 80mph. The car is doing okay and we stop for lunch in a tiny town called Inyokern. We hit the road again in about 25 minutes and are doing real good. It is real hot outside and our primary worry at this point is avoiding a sunburn, when somewhere between Johannesburg and Edwards Air Force base the Jag’s entire electrical system goes wonky. Our first indication is the radar detector making a really weird sound then going dead. I fiddle with it a while and declare it non-functional. Dad is driving and he notices all the gauges registering odd things.

150mph! Yeah right!

We figure it wasn’t the radar detector, but the electrical system. We know that we will need to top up the fuel tank before we can make Redondo, so we figure we’ll stop at Four Corners and fill up. Dad wonders out loud if it is OK to fill a car with gas without turning off the engine, to which I reply "sure! I don’t think we have a choice."

We pull into a Shell station and dad says… "I’m going to turn it off" I say "I don’t think…"and it is off. I fill it and wash the windshield while he goes to pay. I take a leak (Trust me this is not a good car to ride in with a full bladder… I think we fell into the 2 hour driving shift thing because of the need to "run on empty" … if you know what I mean. Sorry Mom, I know you don’t want me saying things like this in public… but hey, that’s the truth!) and when I return dad has discovered (surprise!) that the car will not start. I hate being right sometimes.

I head over to a shady spot near the road, hoping to flag down one of the other two E-Types, especially the red one from California as I suspect they may have a spare alternator. The alternator is the single remaining Lucas Electric (aka, "The Prince Of Darkness") part in the car, and of course it is dead. We know we can run on the battery, but have doubts that it will carry us all the way to Redondo Beach. As I am still looking for another jag, the ferrari-driving Canadians pull up and are chatting with my dad. Apparently they have a fully charged battery with them and offer to loan it to us should ours die. Dad takes them up on the offer and they push-start the jag. Dad pulls up, tells me about the battery deal and we are off. About 5 minutes later the canucks pull away and leave us behind. I guess I’ll have to take back every nice word I’ve ever said about Canadians, as these guys were obviously wankers. Needless to say our battery gives out about 10 minutes later and the car dies a wheezing death in the Middle of Frickkin Nowhere of the Mojave Desert.

Shit. 116 miles from the finish and we are dead.

Left: Our final resting place somewhere between Four Corners and Adelante. Our shade is provided by a lone power pole and our ambiance lended by blowing dust from a dry lake bed to the west.

We sit in the lone strip of shade provided by an electrical power pole and contemplate our situation. Should we try and buy a new battery? Should we get a tow to a town and try to repair the car? Should we get a tow to Redondo? We try for a long time to call the event mechanics with no success. (It turns out later that their truck’s transmission died in Tonopah, Nevada.) Finally, at Martin Swig’s suggestion (he pulled over for a short stop in the 1950 caddy) we call a tow. By dumb luck we get the right rig.


Above Left: The cat cooks in the Mojave Sun.
Above Right: Even that gawdawful "Phuse+ Activator" swill became palatable after a few hours in the Mojave!

Left: The Flatbed arrives to give the cat a piggyback ride to Redondo.


Below: Easy as 1, 2, 3!



It is a beauty… a big flatbed, perfect for the task. After haggling a bit, we decide to carry the Jag all the way into Redondo Beach. That way we will at least arrive in time for the celebration dinner. The tow driver is a nice guy, a former cop named Mark Boyd. Mark got run over by a cruiser while chasing a suspect on foot, so he was out of the law enforcement business.

He hauls us into Redondo and we get to watch a rocket launch over LA from Vandenburg AFB. I don’t manage to get a good photo of it with my crappy camera, sorry… But it is spectacular. All I can figure is that either it is just a satellite going up or the world as we know it will end by midnight. It turns out to be neither, instead it is a test of some new "star wars" technology.






Mom is waiting for us at the Portofino Hotel in Redondo. Unfortunately it is dark so we have no pics of us crossing the pier in the truck with the jag on the back.

Above: Pics from the awards ceremony.

Dinner is cool, though I am still in my sweaty gritty clothes I’ve been wearing all day. The awards ceremony is sort of anti-climactic. So afterwards I say good-bye to my folks, shower and head for the bar, hoping to find the limey auto journalists to get my promised business card (I want my buddies in the UK to send me a few copies of the magazine when the issue comes out… "Car & Classic Car" is the mag name I think… somebody correct me if I’m wrong!) The Brits aren’t there (well, *one* is but he is busy with Mr. Swig and he’s the one that doesn’t have a card on him anyway). I had assumed the Brits would be found where the beer was…but was proven wrong… go figure! Anyway, Wes McNay was there so I had a beer with him and his wife. I’ll try and make it to S.I.R. when the vintage races come through town in July and say hello. I head to the room, pack my bags, make one more run down to the Jag to drop off a few parts I had in my pocket, arrange a cab to LAX in the morning and head off to bed.

Roadkill Tally for Saturday: (You will know we are in the West by this count!) 14 Jackrabbits, 1 DeTomaso Mangusta, 1 Snake, 2 Coyotes, 1 Roadrunner, 9 indistinguishable piles, and 1 Gila Monster.

And of course: 1 silver-blue 1965 Jaguar XK-E 4.2.

I have to thank some folks:

First of all my wife Sue and two sons Christopher & Nicholas. They patiently allow me to go off on these adventures.

Of course thanks to Brock Yates, Martin Swig, and Pam Yates for their organization of this event.

Thanks to Carol Goolsbee, my mother for hauling my bag with jacket & tie coast to coast, as well as moral support throughout.

Thanks also to the folks that leant a mechanical hand along the way:
The Markowski’s at RPM in Vermont.
Evan & Jule Silvi. Evan for the repairs and both for the delivery into NYC.
Brock Yates Jr. & Barry Brown, the official mechanics of the event.
Charlie Key of British Cars of America in St. Louis.
…and of course Mark Boyd of Freedom Towing in Barstow California, without whom we’d have never finished!

Most important: Thanks to Charles Goolsbee, my father for having me along! Thanks Dad.



Left: Back in Seattle again! Ironically my flight was delayed for 2 hours at LAX while they replaced a part in our 737. Boeing doesn’t use Lucas Electrics do they?

7 thoughts on “Not the Cannonball, Day 6: WASHington & The Finish”

  1. Congrats on making the trip unscathed, save for the ticket.

    I think next year I’m going to go on “automotove walkabout” and drive my GTO through the Rockies, Arches National Park, Grand Canyon, Vegas, Hoover Dam, visit my cousin the Oregon State Trooper in Baker City, then back through Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota. Not cross-country, but essentially a big loop… just head out with an idea of where I’m going to go, with no defined timeline. Want to do this in a high-HP grand tourer before gas prices explode again…

  2. Thank you for another enjoyable roadtrip blog, Chuck! Reading your ’99 adventure seemed familiar, and then you mentioned the British journalists in the Subaru…

    I checked my back-issues of Car Magazine, and sure enough, the story “Duel Carriageway” by Paul Gregory documented their adventures tagging along with the ’99 Cannonball Classic in the Subaru Impreza STI 22B. Back then I was living in Japan and supporting Subaru’s team in the World Rally Championship, so the story stuck in my mind as more proof-positive of Subaru awesomeness. My, how times have changed.

    You probably did manage to get copies of the story back then, but if not let me know. It looks like your E-type made one of the photos in the article as well.

    Thanks again for the blog, and the memories!

  3. “Boeing doesn’t use Lucas Electrics do they?”

    Well, no but, British Airways did, in the Concorde..Rotax!

    Aviation-grade Lucas electronics are referred to as “Rotax” and AFAIK, were quite good.


  4. mvisible: “You probably did manage to get copies of the story back then”

    NO! I knew the Subie was filled with reporters from various magazines, but only ever saw one article that came from it. I’d love to see another!

  5. That sounds like a great trip Robert. When you get to Arches/Moab be sure to head out to Dead Horse Point, a small state park. Best to go there around sunset. Best large-scale vistas in the Four Corners area IMHO.

    Let me know when you’ll reach your northwestern apogee, and I may be able to dash down in the Jaguar to meet up.

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