Eye Candy: The Drive Home, 3 classics, cross-country, in the cold

Classic cars and drivers take a coffee break in eastern Utah somewhere along Route 6 | Steve Purdy photos
Classic cars and drivers take a coffee break in eastern Utah somewhere along Route 6 | Steve Purdy photos

David Madeira is always looking for ways to get cars out of his museum and into the real world. Rod Alberts is always looking for ways to expand and promote his Detroit auto Show. This inspired project was a way to do both.

The LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, grew out of the largest private collection of vintage and collector cars in the U.S. It opened in 2012, housed in an architectural masterpiece. The museum displays hundreds of special automobiles and a dozen special exhibits.

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is one of the world’s five most important motor shows. Traditionally hosted the second week in January, NAIAS is notable for both its importance to the auto industry and its typically harsh winter weather.

Madeira, chief executive of the museum, and Alberts, executive director of the auto show (he’s also on the museum’s steering committee), hatched this plan over cocktails and cigars about a year ago. The idea was to take cars out of the museum and drive them across the country to Detroit just in time to help open the auto show.

Harsh weather could be expected and that would be part of the challenge. These cars could do it when they were new. Why couldn’t they do it now?

So, on the last days of Decembe,r the cars were thoroughly prepped, shod with new Michelin winter tires and positioned in front of the museum — a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Ford Mustang representing the dominant Detroit automakers of their day.

Then, off they went, south into Oregon, east past Mount Hood in heavy snow, across eastern Oregon to Boise, south to Salt Lake City in intermittent snow squalls, east though the Rockies to Denver, across the Great Plains and into the upper Midwest to Chicago and on to Detroit. A few journalists were invited to drive portions of the trip. I drove from Boise to Denver. Car clubs, enthusiasts and supporters joined in at various points along the route to cheer them on.

The mileage tally – nearly 2,900 miles. Time – 11 days. Breakdowns – none.

Once in Detroit, a series of social and media events brought the cars finally into Cobo Center for the opening of the NAIAS and right on time. Among the events was a news conference and evening party in Washington Square Park downtown where holiday decorations made a colorful backdrop. About 20 more old cars joined the drive for the final 15 miles in a sort of mid-winter Woodward Cruise.

The three intrepid old cars are on display at the auto show, still proudly covered in nearly three thousand miles worth of grime. There was some controversy about whether to wash them before putting them on display. The overwhelming vote was to leave them in that wonderful patina of the road.

Photos by Steve Purdy

4 thoughts on “Eye Candy: The Drive Home, 3 classics, cross-country, in the cold”

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Reminds me of a Peter Egan Road & Track Article about a road trip in a Ferrari 246 through a Midwest snowstorm. That was long ago when an old car was just an old car and the ravages of road salt meant little. In my opinion these gentlemen are poor stewards of these historical artifacts

  2. Steve C. thinks we’re being poor stewards of these cars. I see his point but I’m 100% behind the LeMay’s decision to do this project. Those cars were impeccably prepared and maintained and made the whole journey without incident. They are not so rare that they cannot be repaired easily. The attention they received throughout the project did more to promote the museum, the auto show and the love of old cars in action was immeasurable. I applaud David Madeira (museum CEO) for his philosophy of getting the cars out of the museum where they can be shared more widely.

  3. Late to the party, but I agree with Mr. Purdy. They are cars, mass produced, fairly common models, and can be readily fixed. I also liked that they were displayed as they arrived, grime and blemishes and all. As one who has grown up in, and still drives “scruffy old cars” as daily transport, I often entertain comments along the lines of “how could you?” Easy, get in, start it, and select a ratio. I have had some sheet metal succumb to the New England winters of salt, but regular washing would slow it. Agricultural tread snow tires and a ballast box fixes any traction issues. I use my tow strap to un-stick the front wheel drive cars with their “all season” tires. Kudos to the organizers for proving that old cars are NOT just static objects!

  4. If I had to choose just three cars to represent USA in my collection, I guess these three would be the ones. The fact they made it all the way without a breakdown suggests they were well prepared (including some rust protection?). I assume that before they’re put back in the museum afterwards they’ll receive a good underbody clean to remove any possibility of rust getting a hold.
    I have a 1972 Pontiac wagon I bought in Illinois, won a trophy at the Crusin Tigers’ 2015 Indian Uprising with it three days after taking delivery (having done nothing more than black the tyres and wipe the dust of it) drove Route 66 to Albuquerque, up to Reno (where it was bought new by its only previous private owner), west to San Francisco and down California 1 to LA where I had it shipped home to New Zealand.
    Get them out on the highway and drive them, I say – especially museum pieces. There is no better way to enjoy classic cars. It’s Christmas Day today. I’m visiting friends for lunch and taking them ALL for a cruise in my 8-seater wagon. Mind you it is the middle of summer here in the Southern Hemisphere.

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