For much of a recent day, my view through the windshield was pretty much what you see in the photo above these words: the back end of a minivan, its tailgate open and the lens of a television camera staring at me from within the van’s cargo area.
The town in this case was Traverse City, Michigan. The roads we drove from morning to beyond sunset were the narrow, hilly, winding, shoreline two-lanes up and down and across the Old Mission Peninsula that splits Grand Traverse Bay into its East and West Arms. Though the day was gorgeously sunny and the cherry trees were breaking out in blossoms, the air cooled suddenly and considerably as the sun set and the breeze picked up off water finally freed from a particularly cold and hard winter’s thick ice freeze-over.I’m not complaining, well, except that the speeds we were driving were pretty pokey — much slower than most of the cars I was driving ought to be driven — and by the end of the day, it was pretty chilly driving back to town in an open car with no heat.
While what I saw for much of that day on the road was the back end of that minivan, sometime around in late September you’ll be able to see what I was driving when the National Geographic Channel presents a two-hour special, Driving America. The program is being produced by Silent Crow Arts, the New York City-based documentary television and film production company led by Matt Bennett.
Among Silent Crow’s credits are Deadliest Catch, a special on the Large Hadron Collider (The Next Big Bang), Garbage Moguls, Barnwood Builders, Mad Scientists, NatGeo’s live coverage of the Lambrecht auction of field-found vehicles last year in Nebraska, and NBC Sports Network’s Road To Ferrari.
For some reason I’ve yet to understand, Matt Bennett asked me to be involved in Driving America, which in two hours and 10 acts will document our nation’s historic road trip and our on-going affair with the automobile.
My role, other than suggesting some background reading material for writer/producer Russell Pflueger, was to spend a day driving and the ensuing day talking about cars and their influence on American culture.
The cars I drove were, in order, were:
- A 1915 Ford Model T (yes, I crank-started the thing and in the process took some skin off my thumb but — fortunately — neither bones nor the car were broken),
- A split-window 1963 Chevrolet Corvette,
- A 1960 Porsche 356 Speedster,
- A 1956 Ford Thunderbird,
- A 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS,
- A 1962 International pickup (with manual steering and braking only slightly better than Fred Flintstone’s cars),
- A 1966 Jaguar E-type roadster
Thanks to McKeel Hagerty and Jonathan Klinger, those cars were made available from the Hagerty garage, which at least in part explains why we were in northern Michigan.
A few quick observations: Several of the cars triggered music in my mind — for example, I kept thinking Nelson Riddle’s Route 66 television show theme (not the traditional Get Your Kicks) while driving the split-window; In My Merry Oldsmobile while driving the Model T (I know, an Olds song in the Ford doesn’t make sense, but, hey, it was my mind and sometimes I cannot explain what happens inside there); the theme from the movie, A Man and A Woman, while in the Porsche; the theme from Laverne & Shirley in the Thunderbird.
I had no song in the Camaro; that V8 rumble was music enough.
But as nice as that sound may have been, the Jaguar produced the sweetest sound.
And while the Speedster is the car I’d want to borrow to impress a date, the T’bird is the car I’d want to for a long road trip.
Of course, much of what I drove and said (and even sang — I was having so much fun driving I forgot I was wearing a live mic) may end up on the cutting room floor. But that doesn’t really matter because I had a great day of driving some amazing vehicles and got to see some old friends and make some new ones.