DRIVING MISS ASTOR
I’m not sure if it’s the same for people born in the U.S.A., but for those of us born on the small, crowded island of Great Britain, there’s a romance surrounding long-distance road trips across America. My first trip was in 1973 and we rode choppers from LA to Oregon and back. Two thousand grueling miles on a motorcycle with minimal front suspension, no rear suspension and my wife on the back. It was a long, sorry-ass trip.
Since then I’ve driven back and forth many times in cars, motorcycles, trucks, trucks with trailers towing racecars and in hot rods and I have to say that driving a hot rod on a long road trip is, without doubt, the most fun. My problem is, I tend to fall asleep, even if I’m driving. Consequently, I usually get relegated to the passenger seat and made to do directions. That’s easy now that we have the internet but in the days of the ‘M-ap’, it was not so easy. Nevertheless, it’s always fun and often quite eventful.
Example. I recently got a call from my friend David Steele, Executive Director of the American Hot Rod Foundation who, in passing, said, “I’m driving Henry Astor’s ’32 Ford Roadster back from Indianapolis. You remember Henry? He was the first director of the Foundation.”
“Really?” I replied. “Can I tag along? I love road trips.”
“It’s an open roadster and has no top.” Responded David.
“Sounds good,” I said.
“I’m driving straight through. I’m stopping to gas and piss is all.”
“Perfect. See you in Indy.”
I took the red-eye and David picked me up at the airport. There’s no parking in the white zone. I looked at my phone. It said: Drive time 1 day 4 hr, and that’s if we didn’t stop for gas or a leak. Having been awake all night I leaned my head against the soft Naugahyde and dozed off. I woke up in St. Louis as we passed the Gateway Arch. It’s the tallest in the world but looks like half a McDonald’s sign. It was 7:16 AM and cold. I hunkered down under the dash and went back to sleep to the comforting hum of a tri-powered, small-block Chevy. Next stop, Kansas City.
I was awake now, having slept for half a day. Unfortunately, Kansas is a whole lot of nothing. Just mile after mile of flat earth confirming the world is not round. Somewhere around Salina, David got a phone call. I couldn’t hear because of the wind noise but at the next pit stop, I heard that we’d been invited to join the Cobra Owner’s Club in a little jaunt around Zion National Park. Sounds good to me.
We pressed on. Bugs kamikazed into the windshield until you could barely see through the splatter. No wipers on a hot rod. It was 0-dark-thirty when we pulled into the Majestic View Lodge near the entrance to Zion. The big topic of discussion concerned Marty Langsam whose genuine Cobra had burned to the ground the day before. Marty had entered the Mount Carmel Tunnel and had an electrical fire. Unfortunately, due to the volume of traffic in both directions, the fire trucks could not reach him before the car burned up. Or, is that down? Either way, it was done to a crisp. When asked if it could be rebuilt, one smart-aleck replied, “We can build two.”
At that point, David did a deal with our friend Roger Morrison to swap rides. He would take the Deuce and we slipped behind the wheel of his original 289 Cobra. In a way, a Cobra is not that dissimilar to a ’32 roadster. Both have buggy spring suspension front and rear, both have a brutish power-to-weight ratio, both are open to the elements and both are a lot of fun. We found out how much fun ripping along two-lane blacktops to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and back.
All too soon, our time in the Cobra was over and we headed back on Interstate 70 towards I-15 and the road to Las Vegas. We could taste home by now so it was pedal to the metal. We ripped through Sin City in the dark stopping only for gas and the usual wondering what nefarious deeds were being done at that early hour. Somewhere south of town, we hit the inevitable construction zone but we were on a mission. Didn’t even see the cop until our world turned blue. He pulled us over. Thankfully, even though it wasn’t our car, the paperwork was all in order. We were doing good, I thought, until I asked, in my best Beatles accent, how old he was. He looked all of 14. Well, he wasn’t 14 so I asked why he hadn’t shown much interest in the roadster. Wasn’t like you saw one every day doing 80 in a 50 zone. That’s when he pulled out his ticket book. Poor David.
Back on the road, all was quiet. David didn’t say much so I went back to sleep. Woke up in Los Angeles. Job done.