I’m just back from a visit to the High Desert Museum. Located in Bend, Oregon, about 150 miles from Portland, it’s a jewel.
It’s true to its location, the desert, and to its mission, which is to help us understand the ecosystem of Central Oregon’s high desert — and the colorful history of the area.
Last time I was in Bend was in late January of 2015, when Bradley and I came over in our just-acquired 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo. It was a grand trip. The 911 was easily the most competent and comfortable supercar I have ever owned. Bradley enjoyed the trip, as he could recline the passenger seat and enjoy our progress on his iPad.
Part of the joy of the trip was the car itself. Just looking at it, with its black paint and upholstery — and aggressive GT3 wing — brought a smile to my face.
This trip, we came over in the SCM Chevrolet Suburban. I bought it on my birthday, December 22, in 2002. We’re coming up on 14 years of ownership, one of the longest times I have owned any vehicle. The odometer just turned 90,000 miles. I have probably put more miles on this rig than all of my collector cars combined.
It’s red with gray leather interior, and it is a fully loaded half-ton model. Its window sticker showed a list price of $44,410. Over the years, it has been the SCM business vehicle of choice. Loaded with magazines and gear, it has made the trip to Monterey every year.
At other times, it has towed, boats, motorcycles and car trailers. We have kept it maintained by the book. It lives a pampered life, as it is stowed in a heated garage.
Was my trip any less fun as Bradley and I came across Mt. Hood in the big red Chevy than it was in the Turbo? it was equally satisfying — but in a very different way.
For those of us with gasoline in our veins, any chance to get behind the wheel and get on the open road is a chance to come alive. It’s even better when the vehicle you choose has the capabilities you need for the task at hand.
Our trip would take us up on Highway 26 through Government Camp on Mount Hood, and the temperature was forecast to be in the low 20-degree range. There was a chance of snow. I had about 180 miles to travel to a friend’s house outside Sunriver, Oregon — and then the same distance back two days later. I had some miles to cover, with possibly challenging weather conditions.
The Suburban was the ideal tool for the task. It has four studded tires and an all-wheel drive system, along with a limited slip diff in the rear. The heated leather front seats and high-end stereo with a subwoofer are a bonus.
The long wheelbase makes for a very smooth ride, and the fabled Vortec V8 has enough power for any situation. I have an adapter that lets me play Pandora from my iPhone through the radio, so I can travel with my tunes.
Does the Suburban handle or stop? After a fashion. It isn’t a sports vehicle, so I don’t put it into situations where its limitations will create problems. I’ve considered putting on performance sway bars, shocks and springs and decided I would rather have the soft stock ride and accept the limitations of the vehicle as-delivered.
I love to drive. And this quick trip across Mount Hood gave me a chance to sit behind the wheel of our big highway cruiser and enjoy it while it does what it does best, which is chew up the miles. I also felt reasonably safe; the rig has multiple airbags — and enough bulk to hold its own with the oversized trucks and SUVs that populate today’s roads.
If I had driven the Turbo, I wouldn’t have explored its performance potential. I would have had the underlying concerns about hitting a patch of ice and losing control. I also would have driven among towering modern vehicles — often under the shaky control of distracted drivers.
I recently drove the same route, in dry weather, in a 2017 McLaren 570GT. There was barely an opportunity to explore the car’s immense capabilities – unless I wanted to go triple the posted speed limits.
I considered driving our 1967 Giulia Super over, but compared to the Suburban it’s a noisy car, and it does not have all-wheel drive or airbags. Further, while the Super is a well-sorted car, there’s always a chance of a mechanical breakdown with an old car. Being stranded on a mountain road in the dark, with snow coming down and my 9-year-old in the back seat wasn’t a very appealing scenario.
Vintage cars on road trips belong in convoys of like vehicles, so there are others around if you need assistance.
I bought the Suburban five years before Bradley was born. It’s the most practical car of SCM’s fleet he has ever known. And my daughter Alexandra was just 11; she too has grown up with the rig. So just as I have enjoyed many life experiences with my kids in my vintage cars, they’ve also had lots of adventures that are tied to the Suburban.
I’m not going to claim that “Big Red” will be ever be collectible or vintage. But what I can say is that it has made as many memories for me and my family as my old cars have. For the right blustery winter day, with snow coming down and a 4,416-foot elevation mountain pass to cross, it’s the perfect gearhead’s ride.