Waking up to a steady drizzle in my room at the Motel 6 in Effingham, Illinois, I had lost track of time. My watch said 8:30 a.m., and I had wanted to be out the door and on the road by eight. Another late start, or so I thought. I had passed into the central time zone the previous evening, so local time was just 7:30 a.m. I was actually on schedule for a change; I just didn't realize it.
This today, like those to follow, would be a marathon drive: a 600-mile, 10-hour haul to Oklahoma City. My friend Mark Fletcher had discovered another unusual Hurst-built car, this one a 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Is there a recurring theme here? Yes, Mark has a deep interest in Hurst cars.
This Cutlass was a bit out of the ordinary. Back in 1968, Hurst found a way to install the complete front-wheel-drive package from an Oldsmobile Toronado, all 455 cubic inches. And to make the drive to see this vehicle even more worthwhile, the car hadn't moved from the owner's garage in more than a quarter century. The only problem was that the owner is a pastor. If I didn't get to Oklahoma City before sundown, I'd miss the opportunity to shoot it. And at that point, I was still under the impression I was leaving the Motel 6 almost an hour late.
It was the Passport iQ that finally set me straight. I had reset the clock on my radar/laser detector/GPS unit the previous night and saw my error once I was in the car. I grabbed a breakfast at the Sonic across I-70, topped off the tank, and was heading west towards St. Louis at 8:10. I consider that a victory... and I didn't leave anything or anyone, like Savannah, behind.
St. Louis was an important part of the trip. There I would start picking up all my favorite Route 66 landmarks--including a stop at the Weiseham Brothers Sinclair station on Chippewa Street in St. Louis, one of several Route 66 alignments that have passed through the city.
The Weiseham brothers have operated filling stations in St. Louis for almost 70 years. They opened their first station the week before Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, and to this day, they provide their customers with full service. And here I was, making my first trip on Route 66 in a Japanese-built Suzuki Kizashi. That, as much as anything, tells us how far we've come in 70 years.
Less than three miles away from this landmark station is Ted Drewes, home to the most renowned frozen custard on Route 66. Arriving before 11:00, I had to wait until they opened. The manager remembered me from my 2005 muscle car tour, featured in Automotive Traveler last winter.
Several of the young crew members took a few minutes off to pose with Savannah. I should mention that, even though it was just a few minutes after 11, there was already a line of locals in front of the counter waiting for their custard fix. The frozen treat is that special.
With St. Louis in my rear-view mirror, I continued west on I-44 to Lebanon, where I took a few minutes to check out the legendary Munger Moss Motel. In all my Route 66 trips, I have never stayed at this classic. The reason is quite simple. I usually follow a fixed, six-day itinerary--with stopovers in St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Albuquerque, and Williams, Arizona--that gives me the opportunity check out several remaining sections of Route 66 while making steady progress westward. Stopping my first night in the St. Louis area always means missing out on the chance to stay at the Munger Moss.
I promise myself that next time, when I have more time, I will make a point to stay at the Munger Moss. Owner Ramona Lehman warmly greeted me, letting me photograph the toy truck collection in the lobby and showing me one of the rooms. The place is immaculate and period correct in almost every way. With wifi and a great pool, the Munger Moss is a great stopover on this section of Route 66 and should not be missed.
It was close to 3:00 p.m. before I was back on I-44. Plugging my destination into the Passport iQ told me that, if I stopped only for fuel, I'd make Oklahoma City by sundown. Just in time to shoot the car.
Mark wanted a photo of the car in the garage. With the sun setting below the horizon, I grabbed my tripod and fired off a few quick shots before the owner (who wishes to remain anonymous), his son-in-law, and several neighbors pushed the 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass out of its tomb of more than a quarter century.
The owner said it was purchased as a used car from an Oldsmobile dealership in Woodland Hills, California. The details on how the car got to the dealership are murky but look for a full feature on this front-driver Cutlass in an upcoming issue of Automotive Traveler.
At that point, I was craving K.C.-style ribs. So, back in Wisconsin, Mark was checking to see if there were any dog-friendly BBQ restaurants nearby. He found one whose website said they were dog-friendly. When I arrived, the server said no. Savannah waited patiently for me to rush through dinner. The ribs were flavorless--a difficult thing to achieve with BBQ--and I thought I saw Savannah smile as I walked back to the car.
Next on the agenda was to find a Motel 6 on I-40 on the west side of town. Arriving at the first one I found, it was in a neighborhood best characterized as "challenged." Using the Passport iQ, I found a second Motel 6 fairly close by. Unfortunately, construction had the ramp between I-40 and I-35 shut down, so it still took almost an hour to get there.
Although it appeared a step above the previous location, I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that the security guard seemed to be packing some serious heat as I checked in. It didn't matter much. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light.
The next day would be another marathon drive, from Oklahoma City to at least Albuquerque, possibly beyond. I'd shoot for Grants or Gallup, depending on how I felt. Every mile I drove past Albuquerque was one less mile to drive on the home stretch the following day.
Normally my overnight stop, Amarillo was simply a pit stop today. Still, I couldn't go through without visiting the Big Texan, "home of the free 72-ounce steak," where I saw they had moved around the photos of past visitors. I finally found the plaque from my 1997 visit when I was the editor of Car Audio and Electronics, driving through from Chicago to SoCal in a brand-new 'Vette.
Back in the car I continued west, not taking another break until I got to the mid-point on Route 66: the MidPoint Cafe (the opening photo for Part One of this saga). There I met the Davousts, a couple from France, who were armed with several magazines and guidebooks, including a dog-eared copy of the French edition of Geo. We followed each other to the Texas-New Mexico border where Glenrio stands as a ghost town, a forlorn Pontiac Catalina hardtop a requiem to what once was.
Next stop was Tucumcari, famous for its "Tucumcari Tonight--2,000 Motel Rooms" campaign. The slogan has morphed into "Tucumcari Tonight--1,200 Motel Rooms" today, with attrition having taken its toll over the years.
Long known for being the town two-blocks wide and two-miles long, Tucumcari's main stretch, Tucumcari Boulevard, follows the pre-interstate alignment of Route 66. As with the Munger Moss, I have never stayed at the town's most iconic lodging, the Blue Swallow Motel. (See sidebar at right for more details.) I always seem to be pushing on through to Albuquerque when taking my Route 66 adventures.
Having lived in Albuquerque for five years, it's always one of my stopovers--just for dinner this time, to catch up with my buddy Dave Ely. We took advantage of the al fresco and dog-friendly dining at Kelly's in Albuquerque's Nob Hill section over by the campus of the University of New Mexico. Dave, who is an avid reader of Automotive Traveler, told me his father had been was instrumental in the design of the GMC MotorHomes when he owned Albuquerque's Buick-GMC dealership.
Refreshed by a great meal, I decided to head on to Grants, about an hour west. This would leave me just 700 miles from home. A piece of cake, or so I thought.
It's mostly a straight shot home on I-40 until it ends in Barstow where it junctions with I-15. Through Winslow, Arizona--where I got the obligatory "standing on the corner" photo--on through one of my favorite towns, Flagstaff, I rolled into Williams around three the next afternoon. There, I stopped for lunch at the Cruiser's Cafe 66 for a great burger, a far cry from the fast food fare causing distress to my waistline.
We made another obligatory stop in Seligman to check out what's new at Delgadillo's Snow Cap, then pushing on to Kingman for a final stop about 250 miles from home. With a cruising range well in excess of 400 miles, and averaging 27 m.p.g. overall, both Savannah and I were looking forward to getting home.
Fate intervened as I approached the cutoff for the Route 66 alignment east of Amboy. Should I head home, or race the sunset on the outside chance I'd be in time to photograph the Suzuki Kizashi at the famous Roy's Cafe? Check the next page for the answer.
Although it has been supplanted by no less than five different interstates--even serving as their roadbeds in many places--Route 66 remains the Main Street of America, drawing devotees from all over the world. Although the interstates are certainly faster, there's an attraction to driving the old road with its myriad mom-and-pop establishments, many surviving over the past 80 years.
Yet so much is now gone, lost to the passage of time and what we call progress. Each time I drive Route 66--this is my eighth trip--I can see where more landmarks have disappeared. While new businesses have risen in their place, many (like Lucille's in Weatherford, Texas) with some of the same main-street values as their predecessors, it's just not quite the same thing no matter how good the intentions of well-meaning proprietors.
Route 66 is uniquely American, and that is an integral part of its enduring appeal. All I can suggest to my fellow road-trippers is that you plan to make your own pilgrimage on the Mother Road before it is gone forever.
What a great idea! Combine two windshield-mount accessories... a full-feature GPS nav system with a radar/laser detector. You're saying to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"
I was approaching the Weiseham Brother's Sinclair station on Chippewa in St. Louis when the Passport iQ served up a red-light-camera alert for the intersection ahead of me. Although the light changed to red, the car in front of me shot through the intersection anyway, a move sure to earn him an expensive citation.
That's the beauty of the Passport iQ 3D GPS nav unit with its built-in radar/laser/red-light-camera detector. This handy $650 device, which can be continuously updated to stationary threats (speed and red-light cameras) via an optional subscription, protects your driver's license while providing an easy-to-follow, voice prompted nav system.
With all my freeway driving on this trip, one feature of the Passport iQ I really appreciated was the programmable "over limit" warning. I set it to 10 m.p.h. over posted limits (the Passport iQ is pre-programmed with posted speed limits along most roads).
The touch-screen interface of the Passport iQ is intuitive for anyone who's used a stand-alone GPS. And when the gas gauge is pointing to E, accessing its powerful database instantly locates the nearest gas station.
The price tag does seem a bit high at first glance. Compare the cost to purchasing both a radar/laser detector of similar capability and a touch-screen GPS nav system, however, and it appears Escort has priced its Passport iQ right in the road-tripper's sweet spot.
While there are 1,200 rooms in Tucumcari--as the billboards announce on your approach--where you choose to stay has a lot to do with which era of Route 66 you want to experience.
Road-trippers who want pre-War or the period immediately following World War Two, the Blue Swallow Motel should be at the top of your list. Built in 1939-1941, it is known as one of the best-preserved pre-War Route 66 motels and is duly famous for the distinctive neon sign that has greeted weary travelers for decades. The Blue Swallow even retains its distinctive garages, which were characteristic of early motor courts.
Just down the street from the Blue Swallow you'll find the newly renovated Motel Safari. TripAdvisor members rate it the best motel in town. Gail Talley and her husband Rich, a former engineer who spent time working for Marriott and the Intercontinental Hotels Group, have lovingly restored an Atomic Era gem. With luxury bedding and mattresses and 32-inch flat-panel TVs, visitors enjoy a dash of retro with modern amenities.
Had the Motel Safari allowed dogs, I probably would have stayed there the night. (The Talleys say they're working on changing their status to "dog-friendly.")
What initially drew me to the Motel Safari was Rich's 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 four-door sedan, which he uses to shuttle guests around town. For the full-Monty retro experience, this simply can't be beat.
Driving a car 3,000 miles really gives you a chance to see how it measures up. I had come away favorably impressed with the Suzuki Kizashi when it was the subject of a Behind the Wheel review in a previous issue of Automotive Traveler magazine.
As I wrote then, and can repeat now, the Suzuki Kizashi is a supremely capable sports sedan. That it was able to tackle the rough roads of Russia on the 7,000-mile Motor Trend "Tokyo to L.A. the Hard Way" adventure comes as no surprise to me. With the exception of the passenger-side front wheel bearing issue, the Kizashi was trouble free. Over the course of my own 3,500 miles in its driver's seat, the Kizashi delivered a respectable 27.4 m.p.g. over a wide variety of driving conditions.
There's something a bit ironic about having driven the Chevy Cruze and Suzuki Kizashi back to back, coast to coast. The Kizashi was originally reported to share a common platform with the Cruze. When General Motors divested itself of Suzuki, however, the Suzuki engineers took the Kizashi in another direction. The Kizashi is bigger, sportier, and decidedly more up-market. This is especially true on the inside, where the Suzuki has one of the best-finished, most comfortable interiors in the mid-size class.
Interesting, too, is how Suzuki has aligned itself worldwide with Volkswagen since its divorce from GM. In a way, the Kizashi finds itself slotted between the smaller Jetta and the slightly larger, all-new, U.S.-built Passat. When I got out of the car for the last time, I said to myself that the Kizashi is the car the Jetta should have been.
Suzuki is to be congratulated for not dumbing down the Kizashi for American tastes. With the six-speed stick, Suzuki has produced a class-competitive mid-sized sedan that offers a sporty alternative to the default choices in the class, especially the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion.