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!
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Not the Cannonball, Day 6: Spinning through the Montana Snow

The car begins a climb up a mild grade. I can’t recall if it was me pushing the pedal just a bit more, or the automatic
transmission kicking down under the load, but the rear end kicks out just slightly to the right. Only a few minutes
before I had remarked to my father “it feels like I have more grip here.” Well all grip was now gone, and we’re starting
a lazy spin at about 45 MPH headed for the median between the lanes. Dad grabs the dashboard and says “oh god”
with obvious fear in his voice. Oddly I’m calm and have no feeling of dread. I really do not want
to cross the median and put us at risk of oncoming traffic. I manage to correct our counter-clockwise rotation, only
to exchange it for clockwise, but at least now we’re headed for the shoulder and not who ever is driving eastbound.
I am looking ahead, oddly through the driver’s side window and considering our options. I’m not in fear for us, so
much as I am the car. I’m calm and my brain is telling me what to do. “Don’t slam on the brakes.” “No crazy wheel
motions.” “You are going to be OK.” “Just find a soft landing spot, and aim for it.” We’re not really moving that
fast, and we’re wrapped in three thousand pounds of German steel. Mind you it is German steel that is tumbling like
an off-course V-1 rocket in a flat spin, but for some odd reason I have no fear for our health. I’m worried about
over-shooting the shoulder and going too far into the ditch. If that happens we could be stuck and seriously damage
the car. I’m also worried about running over any of the reflector posts spaced at intervals along the roadside.
I’m able to make minor adjustments to the car’s attitude but have no hope of recovering fully from the spin at this
point. I tell Dad, “Hang on.” I’ve got the spin stopped and now we’re just sliding sideways, but inexorably also
towards the shoulder. I’m completely off the pedals now and decide where I want to come to a stop. A place between
two reflector posts, and short of a dead tree in the ditch. As soon as the front tires hit the grass I brake and turn the
wheel to the left, which pivots the rear end forward and completes our 360° spin, bringing us to a halt with the car
facing the westbound direction of travel in the grass.

You ask yourself “How did we get here?”

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Not the Cannonball, Day 3: The Midwest.

Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota.

I love to explore new places, and re-explore places I’ve been before. For navigation in these sorts of situations I prefer to follow my nose and my whims. Today however we follow the nagging voice of some bitch named “Garmin”. She’s demanding. She’s heartless. She sends you on wild goose chases with no reward.

The 450sl is like the E-type in one way: It is deceptively small, while appearing large. Here it is in the hotel parking lot in Indiana.

Dad has a GPS unit and fiddles with the damn thing all the time. I actually had a GPS back in the 1990s. It had no UI, just a serial cable to my old PowerBook, and fed data into a mapping program. It was a cool toy to play with, but I threw it away after a short while as it only served to distract me from the ENJOYMENT of exploration. I have chosen to go old-school… just an atlas, my innate sense of direction, and my whims. My father would rather trust Mrs. Garmin though.

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Not The Cannonball, Day 1: Vermont & New York

The red-eye flight from Seattle to NYC is miserable, but a smiling Dad is there to meet me for the next leg to Burlington, VT. I am able to catch some sleep on the next flight. The nice folks from RPM pick us up at Burlington and provide a ride to Vergennes. The 450sl is washed and waiting for us there. We pack up our stuff in the generous trunk.

Way more room than the E-type!

Before we leave (around noon) however we take a moment to get a quick tour from Peter Markowski of their shop and current projects…

Always fun finds at RPM. For example, here's a Ferrari Monza.

Continue reading “Not The Cannonball, Day 1: Vermont & New York”

Not The Cannonball. Introduction.

A full decade and a few days ago, my father and I were participants in what was likely the most insane vintage car event we had ever done, before or since. It was the 1999 Cannonball Classic. A week of crazy cars and crazy people, traversing the continent. We drove the 65E, and it ran great for the first three days… then a host of small issues eventually brought us to a grinding halt just over 100 miles form the finish in Los Angeles.

We vowed to participate in this event again, and Dad selected a car specific to the task: a Mercedes-Benz R107 chassis machine. 4.5 Liter V-8. Legendary reliability. Understated style. Large trunk to carry bags coast to coast. We planned on a repeat in October of 2001.

Then… 9/11 happened. The rally was cancelled. We’ve since driven the Benz on several rallies, but never on anything epic and transcontinental.

Fast-forward a decade and we’re finally going to do it. Not in an organized rally, but we are taking the car from where it has been stored in Vermont, to my home in Washington state (where it will be stored for the time being.) I’ll post a running daily diary of our drive, and supplement it with a reproduction of my diary from the original event in 1999.

In 1999 I had a web server, a crappy low-res (640×480!) digital camera, and really poor writing skills. Now a decade later in 2009 I have a web server, a pretty nice camera, and mediocre writing skills. Come along for the ride!

They are calling boarding for my red-eye flight to the east coast, so I’ll leave you with “Day 1” of the original to get us going. See you tomorrow!

Sun. Sept 26, 1999 – NYC to Scranton PA.

Dinner last night was cool. We met a few of the participants…
Less tony, and a bit more looney than the vintage rally crowd that I’ve seen at the events done by Rich & Jean Taylor… but then again they are Rich & Jean Taylor, and this trip is organized by Brock Yates and Martin Swig, so there should be no surprises there. Not that this is a bad thing, quite the contrary… this is certainly an event that should redline the bonzo meter. We head down to Rockefeller Center for some breakfast and a look at the cars assembled for the Louis Vuitton Concourse. As soon as I get a minute (like after this week ends!) I’ll throw the pics up on their own page.

We head back for the hotel to find our graciously delivered mount, courtesy of Evan & Jule Silvi. Evan in many ways has saved our asses because he was responsible for the finishing touches of getting the jag roadworthy for the event. Without his assistance we’d still be in NYC! Thank you Evan!

Dad packs our bags into the envelope masquerading as a trunk.

Rather than the "organized by age of car, orderly start" outlined at dinner last night – New York City is giving us a dose of harsh reality and reminding us who is really boss here… so the cars are straggled out around the hotel, and no real indication is given for a "go!" so at 2pm we just fire up the Jag and our small send off committee of the Silvi’s, Joe & Rosie Bonamussa, and my Mom, gives us all hugs and handshakes and send us on our way.

The loonies in their bin.



Our sendoff committee... Jule Silvi, Evan Silvi and Carol Goolsbee.

We fight our way through Manhattan, which despite it being Sunday is still at near gridlock and is the usual maddening collection of honking horns, lunatic cabs, and dazed & confused morons. Since we don’t get anywhere fast we have a few conversations with folks along the way, telling us Jag stories, giving us opinions on this and that, etc. At one point we have a total asshole on a motorcycle yelling a constant stream of expletives at us because we were actually trying to obey the law and move over for an emergency vehicle. He gets his just desserts later though as his whole exhaust system falls off his bike on the FDR freeway about 2-10ths of a mile ahead of us. Of course he doesn’t realize this until he is way past it and I’m sure several taxis have crushed it into a wad of foil. We heckle him as we drive slowly by and he is staring at what remains of his bike between his legs.

Lucy, Desi, and Steve Jobs thinking Different with two Saab 96 V-4s on Third Avenue in Manhattan.

Of course we miss a turn and end up heading for the Bronx instead of over the George Washington Bridge. Then the hood rattles loose and threatens to pop up on the excessively bumpy roads… we try and re-latch it from inside, but it just gets looser. I unbuckle myself and reach around to hold it down. I motion Dad off the freeway towards Yankee Stadium. As I’m trying to hold down the hood my digital.forest cap blows off my head. But unlike the last time this happened I at least have a mild chance of recovering it. Dad stops the jag at the bottom of the off-ramp and we secure the loose hood, and while he reconnoiters a route back on-course I walk up the off-ramp to recover my cap. He figures a quick way back and we finally Escape From New York!

Escape from NY!

The drive to Scranton, PA is uneventful. We pick up a dog to our rabbit, in the form of a Mangusta. It seems its driver, Jim Van Gusten of Oshawa, Ontario is driving alone and would rather follow than try and both drive and navigate. He pulls alongside us and tells us "I need gas!" It takes us a little time to put all the bits together and realize what he really needs (to follow us) so we pull over and stop for gas somewhere in New Jersey.

The Mangusta draws a crowd in the gas station.

He follows us along the curving and pleasant Highway 6 all the way to Scranton (Excellent roads in Penn!) where we all unload into a gorgeous hotel in an old railway station, the Lackawanna Station Hotel.

Some of the cars at the Lackawanna Station Hotel.

We head off to dinner for some Italian food and some good conversation. We get regaled with tales of the original Cannonball Run by Oscar Kovaleski. He is outrageously funny, but since he made us all swear not to repeat what he told us, I can’t tell you any of the stories. After all I don’t want the Polish Racing Drivers of America parking a Chevrolet van with 300 gallons of gasoline and a Polish welder in my driveway! All I can say is they involved many famous race car drivers, modifying a chevy van for a 120mph cross-country run with no fuel stops, copper tubing, Johnny Carson’s wife, binoculars, 120 octane fuel and FAA approved pumps, a welder, and way too much meatloaf. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blanks.

We have to be up at 4:30am (that’s 1:30 am for me!) for a 5:00am breakfast, driver’s meeting and 6:00am start, so I’m off to bed. See you tomorrow!

Moment of Pure Americana: Finding a Live Bait Vending machine in front of a gas station in Pennsylvania. Pop in a buck and get a can of worms!

Road Kill Count for Sunday: 2 Deer, 1 raccoon, 1 squirrel, 1 exhaust system of NYC Asshole’s Motorcycle, and 1 fan belt from 1950 Cadillac (OK, the last one was merely a road wound…)