Oshawa-built Impala westward bound (Photo gallery)
Road trip: Oshawa-built Chevy Impala the ticket to adventure through western U.S.
Yeah, yeah. If we had lights, lettering and a meter, we’d be cruising in a cab. Get over it!
Road trips are cool, whatever you’re driving. Even a Chevy Impala.
After I toured the southwest with my California friend Jim Fisher in a Mustang convertible, people kept asking, “Who was Thelma and who was Louise?”
I was the cute one.
A great trip but we didn’t drive off a cliff and, after the first day, we hardly had the top down. Too windy, too dusty, too hot. Sunburn City.
I’ve crossed the continent in a C-class Mercedes and a Hyundai Accent. The Merc was lush and surprisingly economical (on premium gas). The Accent had great seats, kept up with the traffic and sipped two-star with the delicacy of my “teetotal” grandma who carried a little whisky flask “for my health.”
My wife Lesley and I are on a two-week, 5,000-kilometre jaunt through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California in an Oshawa-built gold Impala LT, which at least retains its iconic name. We’re renting from Hertz at Denver airport to cut out dull days crossing the Midwest. “Never-ending Nebraska” would make a good licence-plate motto.
Not including gas, the tab is about $1,300 (with a CAA discount). Another $200 a week would get us a Camaro SS but, nah! I’d consider a Dodge Challenger R/T if it wasn’t $4,000.
I only touch the Impala’s cruise-control once — to make sure it’s off. With my foot on the accelerator, as providence intended, the car averages 7.5 L/100 km on two-star gas. That includes mountain roads 4,000 metres above sea level and desert temperatures hitting 48C (118F on the car’s non-metric gauge) near the California/Arizona state line. At 130 km/h, the tachometer’s showing less than 2,000 r.p.m.
It’s roomy and comfortable — 850 km in a day is no hardship. Not the sharpest handler but responsive enough, and the 3.6-litre V6 and six-speed slushbox get the job done. I like the Impala more than I expected.
I’ve covered some of this ground before but Lesley, a Pennsylvanian, hasn’t been here since she was a kid. She’s a good navigator. When she yells at the GPS, she’s usually right.
We’re struck by how many communities are replacing four-way stops with roundabouts. Highway 89-A into Jerome, Ariz., has about 130 mountain curves in 20 km when driving in from the east and, driving out to the west, five roundabouts.
They were anathema in the U.S. for years — just another example of drive-on-the-left British eccentricity — but the southwest has obviously realized how much sense they make. Pay attention, Ontario!
Our first overnight is in Silverton, Colo., great fun, a rough-and-ready little town (only two of the streets are paved) almost 3,000 metres above sea-level at the end of the “Million-Dollar Highway,” a two-lane switchback that puts the Alps to shame.
There are several old vehicles working for their keep and several derelict but complete Model T Fords just sitting there that restorers would give their eye teeth for.
That’s true of a lot of places we visit: Vehicles well past retirement age but still going strong without having been turned into pampered pets.
A Jerome hotel owner has a 1940 Packard 180 awaiting restoration. It’s said to have been owned by theatrical great John Barrymore, with the front passenger seat removed to fit in his wheelchair. Its garage-mate is an immaculate 1928 Rolls-Royce.
Escondido, near San Diego, has taken what some places would regard as a problem — car and motorcycle cruisers choking downtown — and turned it into an asset.
Every Friday evening, a couple of streets are closed off as a show area. The main drag is for driving, with the police taking a laid-back, friendly approach. Shops and restaurants stay open late, drivers rarely get out of hand and the town fills up with people seeing and being seen. Everybody wins.
My favourite car isn’t a rod but a 1958 Austin A35, one of the dullest British sedans you could buy. The owner’s father was a mechanic who maintained the A35 for the guy who bought it new in England and finally wound up buying it himself. The current owner, who emigrated to the States in the ’60s, went over to visit family last year, found the car on blocks and shipped it back.
It’s very cool to see a radical T-bucket hot rod roll by with the passenger pointing and clearly saying, “What the heck is that?”
Which is what I said crossing the Arizona desert when we passed a three-axle, 10-metre-long RV with a Harley strapped on the back, and towing a full-size pickup truck with two more Harleys in the bed. Ready for anything, I guess.
As always, one of most fun things when you’re on the road is the signs you see:
Who knew there was a website called webuyantlers.com or that Yuma, Ariz. has an 8-1/2 E Street? Sounds like a shoe size.
New Mexico must have a healthy infrastructure budget. Even obscure back-roads are well-maintained. We’re heading for Silver City and come over a rise to find a gentle slope with a beguiling S-bend, good sightlines and no traffic.
There’s an unremarkable silver Jeep parked well off the road. Unremarkable? Hmm. . .. I get off the gas and, sure enough, it’s a cop with a radar gun. We go by still over the limit but not enough to rouse him to action. Phew!
Happiness is a road trip that ends as it began — with a clean licence.