Our car guy wonders what’s the wrong car for a hard job
As with many of my writing-about-cars peers, I’m an inveterate road tripper. I drag my family along back roads to everywhere, including taking the kids to school in the morning and when there’s an excuse to go somewhere, I take it.
What I really love, however, are big, unrealistic journeys, and I’ve had the pleasure of taking a few of them, going back about 25 years now. They’re all memorable; the best was probably a 1,700-mile round trip in a Caterham 7 (a 1,200-pound roadster) which included breaking down for three days in Robbinsville, NC (population 620, sa-lute!).
The worst was when I was working for a dude named (no kidding) Bill Hickock, and we drove round trip in two days from near Albany, New York to Golden, Mississippi, to pick up two loads of flat trailers. He had the Jimmy 3500 utility truck; and I had the 1985 Dodge Tradesman 3500 van. I don’t know if the worst part was the lack of sleep, unholy August heat, or the way the van had a series of electrical failures and lost all of its lights, including the gauges, on the way back.
These and other adventures have only made me seek out more, and I’m currently planning the next. This one, however, is a little different.
Thanks to another gig, I’m planning for a trip to the end of the road. Right now, I’m deciding between two places in Canada, either Cartwright in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is the farthest northeast you can drive in North America; and Caniapiscau, Quebec, which is the end of the Trans-Taiga Highway, a 926-mile round trip on unpaved roads from the nearest town.
The best part is that it’s all paid for—including the car, which is a bit of a dilemma. We could easily borrow a Jeep from Chrysler and drive without incident, but that would be a boring story. Much more entertaining would be to buy something highly inappropriate and unreliable, say a small British sports car or huge Seventies or Eighties American barge. Then everyone could just sit back and laugh.
As we (I have a longtime co-conspirator) are leaning toward Caniapiscau, it has to be a vehicle hypothetically capable of making it. I like the idea of an old American barge, and one of the editors’ ideas is to take something big enough to live out of, so the bears (and mosquitoes) don’t eat us while we’re fixing breakdowns.
There’s also the matter of gas. One car I really like, a 1976 Cadillac Coupe deVille, has the monster 500-cu.in. (8.2-liter) V-8 and even with a 28-gallon tank, the 13 mpg—at best—presents a challenge, because we’d need a minimum of 75 extra gallons of gas to make the trip.
That’s not only 450 pounds of weight, but fitting in those 15 big jerry cans would be a challenge, even for a car that size. There’s also the $5 (US) a gallon gas up there which adds up to probably $1,500 for the trip. If we went small—I’ve got my eye on a 1979 Honda Civic wagon—we’d cut the gas requirements by maybe two-thirds, but while reliability goes up, too, parts get mighty scarce.
It’ll be a compromise and a challenge no matter what, which is kind of the point. Easy trips aren’t just boring, and in this case boring to read about, they’re bad for the soul. Caniapiscau isn’t just going to be a 2,800-mile round trip to nowhere, we’re also going to make it as hard as possible. It’s easy to find adventure, you just need to tolerate the journey.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. He welcomes the inevitable and probably richly deserved kvetching about Air Bag and anything else on Twitter as @proscriptus.
Photo by Seigo Nohara