Curbside Road Trips: Bay Area to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon

seligman, arizona (1)

LA to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway was a fantastic road trip on its own, but we weren’t done yet. We still had a rental car for another week, and two more states to visit.

k car

A little while away from San Francisco in San Jose (we knew the way), I spotted this K-Car. I also learned where first-generation Infiniti G20s go later in life. Seriously, in a couple of hours, I spotted half a dozen. I missed out, though, on photographing a beautiful 1975-77 Chrysler Cordoba, a 1979-85 Oldsmobile Toronado and an Eagle Vision.


And if you’re in San Jose, you need to go to Winchester Mystery House. Sarah Winchester, the widow of rifle magnate Samuel Winchester, used her considerable fortune to construct a mansion in San Jose. It wasn’t just any mansion, though: She employed contractors to continue building additions 24/7, 365 days a year for thirty-eight years, until her death in 1922. The commonly held theory is that the very spiritual Sarah was following the instructions of spirits to keep building in order to confuse other spirits who had died from Winchester rifles. Well, no one ever said the realm of the occult was logical.

chevrolet beretta

This Chevrolet Beretta GT was parked right by the Mystery House…

XX challenger

…and this gorgeous Dodge Challenger was a few blocks away. We idolize the Challenger today, but it was hardly a critical or commercial success in its day, and arrived much too late to the pony car party. The Beretta was more successful and carried some gutsy engines, but you certainly won’t see one at Barrett-Jackson. It’s funny how nostalgia works.


After San Jose, we were on the way to Las Vegas. What we were excepting to be a lengthy, boring drive yielded plenty of nice scenery and breezed by. I’d heard about how visually impressive it is to drive into Vegas at night, with people awestruck by the bright lights. It just looked like another city to me and that sort of initial disappointment summed up Vegas for us.

It’s probably a fun city when you have specific plans to see shows or gamble, but otherwise it’s not really my kind of city. Still, I fired my first guns, drank jumbo cocktails on the street, saw an amazing exhibit (stay tuned!) and our hotel was a big glass pyramid, so there’s that.
buick reatta
During the daytime, we were driving along the strip–you need a car because it takes 10 minutes to drive to a hotel diagonally across the strip, or 20 minutes to walk – and something caught my eye in the rear-view mirror. Could it be?

buick reatta 2

Yes, it was my first Buick Reatta spotting. The paintwork looks a little worse for wear, but this car still looked sharp. A crying shame, then, that the Reatta’s looks wrote a check the car’s performance just couldn’t cash. Blame GM for repositioning Buick right as the Reatta launched; Turbo V6s and T-Type editions were axed, and Buick became the “Premium American Motorcar” brand.

pontiac grand prix

Most of the car-spotting action was indoors in Vegas, but I did spot this 1981-87 Pontiac Grand Prix in a casino parking lot. While these have some neat styling details, the G-Body Grand Prix was one of the few instances where I didn’t like the Pontiac derivative of a GM platform the most. The Monte Carlo, Regal and Cutlass Supreme just looked cleaner and less frumpy.

chrysler lebaron

LeBaron convertibles are still plentiful in Vegas, but I didn’t see any Sebring convertibles. The facelift pretty much ruined the J-platform LeBaron’s looks. Hidden headlamps are always cooler.

chrysler lebaron

See? Much better. These always remind me of that scene in Jumanji in which the giant mosquitoes are trying to attack Robin Williams through the soft top.

fisker karma

Fisker Karmas are absolutely going to be collectible classics one day, for two reasons: First, they are extremely rare with their stunted production run; and second, they are absolutely stunning. The Tesla Model S is a marvel of engineering and much better packaged and more successful–but although it is handsome, the Karma has it beat in the looks department.

oldsmobile aurora

On one of our days in Nevada, we set off to cross state lines and visit the Grand Canyon. Stopping in Boulder City for some food, I came across this gorgeous Aurora being driven by one of the younger employees of one of the local restaurants. The second-generation Aurora had to serve not only as the luxury flagship of the Oldsmobile marque, but also as its lone full-size sedan. Accordingly, the Aurora picked up the 3.5 Shortstar V6 in addition to the carryover 4.0 Northstar V8.

oldsmobile aurora

This generation seems to be overlooked because the styling wasn’t as bold as its predecessor, but look at those handsome side creases and flowing lines and tell me that this car’s design hasn’t stood the test of time. These are extremely handsome in person, and it’s such a shame that Oldsmobile didn’t earn a reprieve, considering how much more handsome their cars were than contemporary Buicks and Pontiacs. Still, perhaps GM gave Oldsmobile enough of a chance to turn around two decades of declining fortunes.

I didn’t realize that you could still drive across the Hoover Dam, considering the new bridge was open and security is an ever-present concern with such an iconic and important piece of infrastructure. I can now cross “drive across a dam” off my list of things to do.

seligman arizona

A friend had told me about a quaint old Route 66 town on the way to the Grand Canyon but I completely forgot the name. Imagine my surprise when, upon pulling off the highway, I stumbled across the very town: Seligman, Arizona. We were pressed for time and wanted to reach the Grand Canyon by nightfall, but I stopped briefly to snap some pictures of classic cars along the town’s main drag.

seligman arizona

Seligman is charmingly rustic, with a few nice coffee shops and souvenir stores, but also a few pretty rundown buildings on the main road. We saw plenty of tourists.

seligman, arizona (4)

A 1959 Edsel Ranger is parked outside one of the coffee shops. The Edsel line’s sophomore year had a much more harmonious front end design than the “horse-collar” or “Oldsmobile sucking a lemon” 1958 model.

seligman, arizona (3)

It’s interesting to see cars that are five or six decades old that haven’t been buffed to a fine sheen. This Edsel has been driven and is proud of it.

seligman, arizona (2)

I didn’t think Edsels would have been a popular choice for a taxi company, given their price premium over contemporary Fords.

chevrolet corvair (2)

We pulled into a diner parking lot so I could get a cup of joe, and I spotted something over towards the train tracks.

chevrolet corvair (4)

This old Ford Ranchero lay derelict in the grass, but I was more excited by what was keeping it company.

chevrolet corvair (1)

A first-generation Chevrolet Corvair coupe!
chevrolet corvair (5)

The old girl was looking a little sad up front, but otherwise the bodywork was pretty solid. Love the baby blue paint job, although second-generation Corvair coupes were a bit more conventionally handsome. Still, these are utterly charming cars.

chevrolet corvair (3)

It was a Corvair trifecta, having spotted the wagon in Morro Bay. All I needed was a van to cover the whole range but alas, there were none. I don’t know how these beautiful cars came to sit and decay in the high desert. Look closely and you can actually see grass growing into the cabin.


I joke that the true worth of a trip is how many photos there are of you in front of famous things. Here we are at the Grand Canyon, which was chilly but fortunately still sunny by the time we arrived. It was a long drive to and from the Grand Canyon, but the view was worth it. American highways are also much more enjoyable than Australian ones. Here, we live with the ever-present fear of the camera flash of a disguised police speed camera unit. On the drive to the Grand Canyon, totaling around four hours, we saw one police car. Thus, the speed limit seems to be more of a recommendation, because plenty of people were driving 100 mph. But, uhh, not me.

oldsmobile cutlass (2)

We checked out of Vegas a night early to head back to Los Angeles. Being back in Australia, I had been missing all my favorite American junk food–Popeye’s, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen–so we made a pit stop in Baker, CA, so I could get a Blizzard. The glare of the setting sun made it hard to shoot these two Cutlasses I saw. It was 80 degrees in March in Baker, so I can’t imagine how hot it would get in the summertime. At least it would be a dry heat, and this desert climate helps preserve these old cars (if not their paintwork).

oldsmobile cutlass (1)

That brings our trip and my two-part article full circle. I tell people they could put me on a street anywhere in the world and I would find something interesting. During the trip, I continually did annoying things like gasp whenever I saw an interesting car, or remark what cars were surprisingly common.

On that note, I should mention how surprised at how common Oldsmobile Intrigues and Saturn L-Series are in California, and how the most common cars in Vegas seem to be the Dodge Challenger, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Lincoln LS. I’m pretty happy with the road trip I planned out, and we had a great time. You know you’ve found a keeper, too, when you aren’t criticized for spending 10 minutes driving around looking for a Chevrolet Lumina Euro you spotted in the corner of your eye. What a fantastic trip! Where to next?