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…)


Car Photo of the Day: When men were men, and dashboards were wood!

A 1910 Brush Runabout’s dashboard with its dual ignition control.

I’d love to drive a brass era machine some time. A Brush would be a nice choice, since the engine rotates counter-clockwise, so the hand crank starting won’t break the arm of the starter if it misfires!

Anyone need a co-driver for the London-to-Brighton run? I’m available! 😉