Classic Travelogue: Road America and the Silver Trashcan

A little while ago, Jason Shafer asked for our car of choice for a road trip across and around the United States, in 1976. In my response, I cheated a bit and offered up a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, and quoted Mel Nichols in CAR Magazine with David and Jeannie Davis as an example of how to do it.

So, it only seems right to share this with the CC audience. Settle back for a good holiday weekend read.

First published in June 1977, when the 450SEL 6.9 was brand new in the US, the template was very simple.

Nichols, editor of CAR at the time, flew to LAX, met with the Davises and joined them in a straight forward road trip to New York, crossing along the Route 66 – California, Arizona, Texas, crossing the Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, the Appalachian mountains and finally New York. Having dined with Dan Gurney the night before, obviously.

Not only was the Mercedes new to America, America was new to Nichols (actually Australian, rather than British; CAR has long tradition of Australian contributors) and his impressions of the sights, sounds, tastes of the US form a major part of the story. The car takes a back seat.

Another major element of the journey was the use of the CB radio, mostly to track police speed checks, and some weather alerts. Nichols becomes convert during the trip.

And the Mercedes itself? Nichols was impressed, with a few reservations. There was a mechanical failure close to the end of the journey but you sense that few cars could have done this quite as convincingly. The cost of £23000 is equivalent to £145,000 now.

And other thoughts? I’d forgotten how few illustrations magazines had in 1977, the quality of the paper is little more than newsprint and the text small. The story runs over several pages and then “continues on page 75” at the back of the magazine as well, alongside an LJKS Aston Martin feature.

And some of the inferred attitudes around women drivers and the terminology around Native Americans could well grate a bit too.

CAR is based in the UK, and innovated by using the travelogue in its coverage of the car and its appeal, and this, along with its more blunt and certainly not sycophantic coverage of the industry including UK players, at times brutal product coverage, scoop features as well as some excellent writers – LJKS comes to mind of course. The magazine still has such travelogues on a fairly frequent basis. Recent highlights include crossing Australia in a MINI, a Rolls-Royce Phantom to Istanbul from London and driving a Land Rover Discovery to Timbuktu.