Steinbeck immortalized it as the Mother Road in The Grapes of Wrath. Bobby Troup's 1946 musical composition suggests we get our kicks on it. In the early 1960s, it became a cultural icon as a popular TV show. Route 66--the very definition of America at the midpoint of the last century. It's the perfect road for a period-correct, cross-country blast from Chicago to Los Angeles in four classic muscle cars dating to the years Detroit dominated the automotive landscape. In other words, the mother of all road trips.
Five summers ago, I had the opportunity to participate in two extraordinary road trips. One, a week driving a Ferrari 599 Fiorano from Lima, Peru to Quito, Ecuador The other, serving as the guide for four muscle-car owners on a six-day drive from Chicago to Los Angeles along historic Route 66.
The story of our trek along the Mother Road was originally published in the first itineration of Motor Trend Classic in the spring of 2007. And while it was an outstanding presentation over eight pages in the magazine, I always felt that I ended up leaving a lot of great material, especially photographs, on the cutting room floor. Here, then, is a fresh interpretation of our experience with a slice of America that continues to vanish from the national landscape.
Day One: Chicago to Litchfield, Illinois (250 miles)
If you plan to drive Route 66 East to West, start to finish, it's essential to set out from under the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. Brown-and-white signs designating sections of the Route were preserved here after it was formally decommissioned.
Begin with a hearty brunch at Lou Mitchell's, an integral landmark on the Route for well over a half century. You'll get complimentary Milk Duds with your meal, and find a long line of patrons out the door. Over coffee and a hearty meal, our participants got acquainted.
From California came a stunning 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1, a 10-year-old restoration owned by Arnold and Jann Marks. With the exception of a fresh set of tires, the Mach 1 was ready to run when the call came to represent the Blue Oval. Arnold is the owner of Mustangs Etc., a California-based specialty restoration shop.
Next, a 1969 AMC SC/Rambler, which had been assembled from more than 20 boxes of parts just two weeks earlier. Owner Mark Fletcher couldn't make the start of the trip (he'd join up in Winslow, Arizona). So he designated Aaron Green and Brian Heitkam of Arizona Autocraft to shepherd the car for the first 2,500 miles.
From the Detroit area, Brian Veit and his friend (and mechanic) John Nicles brought a 1967 Dodge Charger that's been in the family since it was new. Brian inherited the black-on-red 383-powered Charger when his older brother passed on the opportunity.
Also from Michigan came Kenny Walters. His 1969 Camaro SS/RS benefited from some judicious suspension modifications by a prior owner, a GM engineer, who gave his Camaro the most contemporary ride and handling characteristics among this group. Kenny's wife Gina opted to stay at home. Spying the functional, factory air-conditioning system aboard, I decided to ride shotgun.
As often happens on road trips, we started out later than anticipated. This would be an issue that dogged us most mornings, as we tried to get to breakfast and back out on the Mother Road as early as possible.
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