CC Outtakes: Carspotting On A 6,000-Mile Road Trip

1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and 1951 Mercury

Vacation photos typically involve scenery or family members, but this year I added one more subject – interesting vehicles that I came across.  And this was a giant road trip.  More precisely, our trip took us from Virginia out to destinations in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, for a journey totaling about 6,000 miles.  Of course, I was only able to capture a small portion of the photo-worthy cars that I came across (they always seem to pop up at the most inopportune times), though I still wound up with pictures of several vehicles that I haven’t seen in many years.  So, hop in for a ride and let’s look at some sights.

Our trip largely followed the above route.  Along with the changing scenery, we were treated to a changing automotive landscape, as the types of vehicles one sees in the midwestern and western parts of North America differ significantly from those on the east coast.  For example, a pre-1980 pickup is considered rare here in Virginia, but one encounters several per day in Idaho.

2018 Kia Sedona in Utah

Incidentally, for this trip, we used our 2018 Kia Sedona, which I wrote up in detail here.  In the four years we’ve owned it, our Sedona has logged 50,000 miles and driven through 31 US states.  I’m happy to report our ownership experience has been overwhelmingly positive so far – only one non-routine maintenance issue has cropped up, which involved the power sliding doors not consistently latching.  Kia replaced the door motors under warranty (good warranty, but aggravatingly poor customer service at the dealership… the dealer service experience has been my only grumble so far).

Over the course of this summer vacation, the Sedona once again performed excellently – on highways, back roads and unpaved roads, we had no complaints regarding comfort or durability.  Considering that our family of four drove as much as 1,000 miles per day, that’s mighty high praise.

Well, now for our two weeks of car sightings:

1992 Geo Metro LSi convertible

photographed on I-79 near Fairmont, West Virginia

We’ll start with this 1992 Geo Metro convertible.  When I first saw this Metro from a distance, I wasn’t quite sure what it was – due to the color combination.  I don’t recall seeing a yellow Metro with a white top before.  When I think of yellow Geos, I think of Trackers or possibly Storms, but back in the early 1990s, vibrant color offerings came and went quickly, so it’s easy to overlook some cars’ color availability.  The other unusual feature of this Metro are the tires: It must be mighty tough to find wide white wall tires in the Metro’s 165/65R-13 size!

1986 VW Vanagon Westfalia

photographed on I-70 near Columbus, Ohio

Vanagons aren’t exactly rare, but this well-outfitted example deserves special attention.  And it’s not like this gentleman is just taking his 1986 Westfalia to a nearby lake or something – he’s already 750 mi. from his home state of Massachusetts.

Demolition Derby Car at gas station

photographed in Marshall, Illinois

Here’s something I’ve never seen before: A demolition derby car filling up at a gas station.  My guess is that the car is based out of a nearby wrecking yard or other such facility, and in small towns, things like whether a vehicle is “technically” street legal can be overlooked.  The driver here is climbing in to what appears to have been a Thunderbird (the doors are welded shut).  Beforehand, he filled the fuel tank, located where the rear seat ordinarily would be, and accessed by stretching the pump nozzle through the rear window opening.  Seems like filling a gas can and bringing that to your derby car might be a bit easier, but then again I’m sure it’s amusing to drive one of these on the street, even for a short distance.  I’ve never paid much attention to demolition derbies, so I was surprised to notice a new-looking passenger seat in this car.  Being a passenger in an actual derby event must take some getting used to.

1st generation Volkswagen Jetta

photographed in Tipton, Missouri

Seeing a 1st generation Volkswagen Jetta has become increasingly rare, so this one warranted a photo, even if it’s in grass growing up to bumper-height.  Back home in Virginia, these early Jettas have all but disappeared, and it’s usually the 2nd generation cars that are left to graze outside of folks’ garages.

1978 Oldsmobile 88 and 1951 Mercury

photographed in Goodland, Kansas

Now here’s an interesting twofer – a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 painted in a not-so-exciting shade of Light Camel Beige… and driving in the background is what appears to be a 1951 Mercury Sport Coupe.  It’s amusing when the 44-year-old car is sitting immobile, while the 71-year-old car cruises on by.

1988 Subaru GL wagon

photographed in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

This 1988 Subaru 4wd GL wagon might not be an unusual sight for people who live west of the Rocky Mountains, but I haven’t seen a roadworthy Subaru of this vintage for several years.

1979-80 Pontiac Trans Am

photographed in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

I had first noticed this 1979-80 Trans Am in traffic, but wasn’t able to get out my camera quickly enough to take a picture.  Fortunately, as I merged onto I-70, I again saw the Trans Am driving along a parallel street – my wife was able to take this in-motion shot when we caught up to it, with a couple of somber-looking F-150s looking on from the Ford dealership in the background.  The only thing missing from this Trans Am was T-tops…

1979 brown Corvette with t-tops

photographed in Price, Utah

…but my thirst for T-tops was quenched the next day when I spotted this 1979 Corvette in Utah.  When I think of brown cars from this era, I tend to imagine station wagons, small Toyotas, etc… but not really Corvettes.  I’m still unsure whether I like this color – regardless, with its T-tops off, this car looks like it’s just beckoning for a long Interstate road trip.

1992 Mitsubishi Expo LRV

photographed in Price, Utah

For a 180° change from the Corvette, we can feast our eyes (or not) on a 1992 Mitsubishi Expo LRV.  Somehow, Mitsubishi missed all of the emerging niches with this car – it wasn’t ruggedly endearing like Subaru’s Outback, or appealing to large segments of consumers like Toyota’s RAV4, or a cult classic like Honda’s Civic wagon.  It was just… forgotten.  Maybe Mitsubishi thought that having a single rear door on the passenger side would start a new trend?

Toyota Enterprise Camper

photographed near Price, Utah

One characteristic of western states is that there’s many more interesting-looking recreational vehicles than back East.  I saw several old Toyota-based campers on this trip, but this one (surrounded by even older iron) was most memorable.  These Enterprise campers don’t seem to have been terribly common, but the few ads that I found for them indicate that they were fully equipped with a range, oven, toilet and shower, and slept 6.  All powered by a 2.2-liter engine!

2020 EarthRoamer LTi

For a completely different universe of pickup-based RVs… there’s this.  I’d never heard of EarthRoamer before, but apparently this is an ultra status vehicle that costs upwards of $750,000.  Not my thing; but now I know what they are, should I happen to come across one again.

1980 Fiat 2000 Spider

photographed in Spring Creek, Nevada

OK, let’s go back to thinking small.  This 1980 Fiat 2000 Spider looks downright diminutive parked next to a pair of modern CUVs.

US Forest Service Aerostar

photographed near Hollister, Idaho

I always enjoy seeing former US Forest Service vehicles – easily identifiable by their distinctive shade of green paint.  I saw several on this trip, but here’s a vehicle I’ve never before seen in Forest Service Green – an Aerostar.  Unusual enough that I figured it was worth a slightly blurry long-distance shot.

Jeep J-10

photographed in Albion, Idaho

One could spend hours writing about older pickups seen in just one day in the rural west, but I’ll just include my favorite from this trip, which is this hardworking Jeep J-10.

California Trail wagon

Now for a vehicle from a much earlier age, this covered wagon (parked behind a National Park Service facility) is evidently a mostly-original survivor from the California Trail days.  I was particularly pleased to see this relic, as I’d recently finished reading a book on the California Trail emigration, which occurred during the 1840s and 1850s.

California Trail marker in Idaho

Portions of the original trail are still visible in places – I found this one alongside an unpaved Idaho road about four miles north of the Utah border, among scenery that hasn’t changed much in 170 years.  The white post is a historical marker erected by the state, and the trail itself is the slight depression next to it.  It’s remarkable to think of countless emigrants from the East trudging along here with exhausted livestock and decrepit wagons after several months of enduring hardships and deprivations.  The California and Oregon Trails represent an extraordinary story of both human perseverance and conquering a transportation milestone.

photographed on I-80 in Utah and Wyoming

Modern travelers have it much easier.  A surprising number of rental trucks can be seen hauling classics – it’s unclear whether people are moving, and taking their cars along, or whether folks rent U-Hauls just for the cheap tow vehicle and trailer.  Anyhow, they make for some easy Interstate car-spotting – as this Datsun 280-ZX and Chevy Malibu attest.

photographed in Gothenburg, Nebraska

I saw quite a few Suzuki Samurais on this trip, largely in rural areas and often on farms (I also saw a Suzuki Jimny on an Idaho farm, but was unable to photograph it).  This example is representative of the Samurais I saw – often modified, used hard, and still running.

photographed along I-80 in Wyoming

Which vehicle on this car carrier is different from the rest?  Well, on long road trips, little things can count as entertainment, like the sight of a car carrier with eight new Teslas and a Honda Element.  Incidentally, the tractor is a Western Star, the least common among the major big rig brands.

Red Oldsmobile Achieva sedans

photographed in Rock Springs, Wyoming and Percival, Iowa

When I saw the Oldsmobile Achieva on the left, in Wyoming, I thought “Wow, I haven’t seen one in years.”  Then the next day, 800 mi. down the road in Iowa, I spotted its twin.  I’m undoubtedly one of the few to admit this, but I actually liked the Achieva’s conservative styling when new, and would have looked at one if I’d been in the new car market at the time.  Perhaps its best that that didn’t happen.

That wraps up my car sightings from this trip.  Our trip odometer at the journey’s end measured a total of 6,067.9 miles driven, and the elapsed time indicator showed 112 hours of driving time.  While carspotting wasn’t the main attraction, it sure provided a nice diversion.  I just wish I was able to photograph that Subaru BRAT I saw in Idaho!