Keith’s Blog: Which Car for a Road Trip?

 

In just a few days, Bradley and I will be heading out for a 1,600-mile road trip.

This journey is long overdue. It’s been almost two years since we threw our bags in the back of a car, put the top down and headed out from Portland.

Our travel and vacation options are limited in this COVID-19 era. Last December, Bradley and I went on a cruise in the Caribbean. I can’t imagine doing that now. We would be immersing ourselves in an ocean-going petri dish with narrow hallways and large inside dining rooms.

I had decided that the United States’ glittering array of National Parks would be a good destination when a notice about a one-week glamping and naturalist experience in Yellowstone came into my inbox.

It was attractive and appeared safe. The camp is located on the B Bar Ranch, near Emigrant, Montana — about 30 miles from the north entrance to the park. There are just 16 people in the group, and everyone is in individual tents.

We are required to get COVID-19 tests within 72 hours before our check in, and bring proof of negative results.

Once we enrolled for the experience, the next question was what car we should take for the trip.

As my collection has pivoted towards machines with two pedals, we had some choices.

The simplest one would have been our daily driver, the ever-dependable and loyal 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT.

Safe but boring.  If Bradley and I are going to have a memorable father/son adventure, part of the fun should be in what we drive.

Bradley and I walked through our other choices.

1965 Volvo Amazon.  Although it finally seems to be reliable, I would hate to find out I was wrong somewhere outside Spokane, WA, and ended up spending my vacation waiting for a fuel pump to arrive. Further, the car has no a/c and is a little buzzy on the freeway. Turning up the music on the JBL Bluetooth speaker does drown out the road noise.

1971 Jaguar V12 coupe. Ever since we had the cooling, suspension and exhaust pipe issues fixed (that’s a short list for this era of Jaguar E-type, by the way), it has run like a freight train.

The updated R134 a/c blows ice cold. The car cruises easily and quietly at 80 mph. There is plenty of room for luggage behind the seats.

Still – this phrase beat a tattoo onto my brain. “49-year-old Jaguar. 1,600 miles.” “49-year-old Jaguar. 1,600 miles. “

Somewhere the thought, “What could possibly go wrong?” snuck in. It was followed immediately with, “What was he thinking?”

Perhaps if we were traveling in a classic car caravan, even one with just three cars, I would have been more optimistic. But given that much of our route was in areas with no cell phone service, well, I chickened out.

Our only choice was to buy a car just for the trip. Isn’t that the perfect SCM solution? Something fun, reliable and affordable.

That’s when the Mercedes SL 55 AMG came into my life.

SCM contributor Philip Richter was the first to push this car onto my previously “Mostly All Alfa All The Time” radar. “It has 550 Maranello performance at a used Subaru price,” he remarked.

Sensing a quick conversion to the tribe of the three-pointed star, contributors Pierre Hedary and Dean Laumbach piled on. I didn’t have time to vacillate before friend Allen Stephens of the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance threw the dart that pierced my pocketbook.

He forwarded me an advertisement for a 42k-mile 2004 SL 55 AMG, collector owned. Once again ignoring our own John Draneas’ advice about moving slowly, having an inspection and being prudent, by the next day I had wired funds.

Final price delivered to Portland from SoCal was under $25,000, which fit my budget.

Bradley and I had a grand car for grand touring. For both of us, this is a modern car – especially compared to the Amazon or the Jag. It has a retractable hardtop, making it a true dual-purpose car.

The hand-built 5.4-liter supercharged V8 cranks out nearly 500 hp. We had the car checked and serviced locally at Burback Motors. They said it was one of the nicest SL 55 AMGs they had seen, and appeared to have been well-cared for — with all updates and maintenance items performed. This included the ABC pump for the suspension and the hydraulic struts for the top.

We will be packing the car this week. There’s plenty of space behind the seats as well as in the trunk, even with the hardtop down. Most important, we have a fun car to take our fun trip in.

Of course, this is still at 16-year-old car, and anything can happen.

But imagine this. You are standing in front of the Benz, the Jag and the Volvo. You are asked to put $5,000 on the hood of the car most likely to go 1,600 miles without any issues.

I know where my money would go — and what we are driving.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market, now in its 33rd year. Keith has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and had his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity. He has received many honors, including the Lee Iacocca Award, the Edward Herrman Award, was inducted into the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame and more. He is on the boards of directors of The LeMay Museum and Oregon Ballet Theater, and was formerly the chair of the board of the Meguiar's Award.

Posted in Keith Martin

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. The Mercedes will do this trip no problem. My SLK320 is 20 years old, 97,000 miles and I would not hesitate to take it on a trip like the one you are planning. Have fun and the best of luck.
    Geoff from Oakville, Canada

  2. Hi Keith – I cannot imagine a better way to send a holiday with your son than this. Hd is a lucky kid to have a Dad to take him on long trips in great cars! Best Wishes, Joe Freeman