The Drive Home III, the annual cross-country classic car tour held by America’s Automotive Trust for the opening of the North American International Auto Show, covered nearly 2,500 miles in a weaving path to Detroit, and was accident free – until the last hour.
The tour began January 3 from Boca Raton, Florida, and wound northward, stopping at notable car collections, museums and sponsors along the way. This year’s route was expected to be kind to the six cars participating, but record-cold weather sweeping the south posed additional challenges to the vintage vehicles. Like many old cars that come out from static display, these cars needed a shakedown cruise to work out some of the bugs.
This year’s event invited other entities and like-minded organizations to participate in the drive, and one of the first to jump aboard was classic car insurer Hagerty with their 1962 International Travelette. The pastel-colored truck was spotted for sale at auction a few years back by a Hagerty employee who sent pictures to boss McKeel Hagerty, who promptly replied with only three words: “Bring That Back!”
As miles accrued on the crew-cab IH, weaknesses surfaced. A faulty voltage regulator and failed heater core were repaired enroute by driver Tabetha Hammer, who is also Hagerty Senior Manager of Car Culture.
Also experiencing difficulty was a 1955 Chrysler C-300 from the Nicola Bulgari Center for American Automotive Heritage in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The car had been professionally resto-rodded by NASCAR builder Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, North Carolina, but an overenthusiastic burnout in Florida had produced an engine knock, relegating the car to the trouble trailer that followed the group.
When the Drive Home swung through Charlotte, Hendrick’s team diagnosed a bad wrist pin in the Chrysler engine. The part could not be located, so the car remained inside the trailer. Strangely, by the time it was taken out of the trailer in Detroit, the noise had noticeably subsided and the car was free to spin its wheels once again in front of Cobo Center.
This year, a retro-motorcycle joined the tour. AAT Vice-Chairman David Madeira logged more than 1,000 miles on a 2014 Triumph Thruxton “Ace” provided by the Ace Café in Orlando, Florida. The riding was only limited by icy road conditions along the route.
One of the stars of the event was a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville entered by the Concours d’Elegance of America and Kettering University. The car was donated to the university by a former Kettering professor and is used now for marketing purposes. The car ran flawlessly, but a vibration in the driveline limited its speed to 70 mph.
The RPM Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to promoting vocational education in the automotive restoration trade, was branded on a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS provided by the LeMay-America’s Car Museum. Arguably the most popular of the cars of the group, its 350 cid engine with four-barrel carburetor and 4-speed manual transmission worked beautifully. Attending an on-track touring event at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, the Camaro kept up behind a sporty Lotus pace car, leaving the rest of the pack in its wake.
A 1959 Plymouth Fury, which began the trip showing only 6,500 original miles, was perhaps the best all-around driving car. Pilots Mike and Dawn Fisher own and operate a car enthusiast clubhouse in Traverse City, Michigan and brought the car from their collection to represent the Concours Club, a group of philanthropic car collectors who advocate for classic car use and enjoyment.
At a stop at Michelin headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina, the car was fitted with Michelin’s X-Ice tires for the sometimes-icy climb through the Smoky Mountains. It never missed a beat.
The last car, a 1972 Chevrolet El Camino, was fielded by the LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. The 350 cid engine was suffering from retarded ignition timing that failed to properly advance under higher rpms, causing a sooty burn condition. Combined with an open-element air cleaner that disabled the PCV emissions plumbing, it was the least-favorite vehicle to drive in or behind, due to the fumes.
Despite all the miles logged, the first crash damage in the three iterations of The Drive Home event occurred outside the team’s hotel near Detroit, just as the cars were leaving to stage for the final run down Woodward Avenue.
A wayward hotel shuttle bus sideswiped the parked El Camino, scraping the driver-side front fender and mangling the wheel opening trim and marker light bezel. A technician from the Lincoln of Troy dealership – the starting point for the final Woodward parade – was able to brush-touch the large and ugly scratch.
As is tradition on this event, a straw poll is taken by the drivers and NAIAS staff as to whether to leave the cars with their well-earned road dirt or to detail the cars for display in the show. The crew decided to retain the road patina, which will conceal the damage on the El Camino but also add intrigue to the display for attendees of the North American International Auto Show when it opens to the public January 20.