It started with a one-word e-mail: "Gumball."
Like the better-known The Cannonball Run, the 1976 flick The Gumball Rally was about a cross-country race from Manhattan to the Pacific Ocean. The competition is triggered by phone calls and telegrams relaying that one word. The e-mail was sent by my friend Dan Watkins, who recently acquired the (yes, the) Mantide, Stile Bertone's styling exercise built for last spring's Shanghai auto show. Based on the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 chassis and 638-hp V-8 powertrain, it has a custom-made carbon-fiber body and interior.
Dan was going to show the Mantide at Pebble Beach, and he wanted to take his McLaren F1 there, too, along with two Ferraris - a 612 Scaglietti and a brand-new Scuderia Spider 16M with a $23,000 pearlescent white paint job. And rather than ship them, he proposed that we drive them. "It will be just like the Gumball Rally," he said, "only without the car wrecks and the police helicopters. Hopefully."
The road trip of a lifetime - driving across the country in more than $5 million worth of exotic cars - was taking shape. To complete the team, we recruited friends Mark Nolan, who, like Dan, is a Brit, and Glenn Farrell, who lives in Maine. With just three weeks left before departure, planning shifted into high gear. We mapped routes and stockpiled supplies: UHF radios, Valentine One radar detectors, a digital trunking radio scanner, AAA memberships, plenty of cash for bail, and a roll of duct tape.
Two issues remained: If we blew a tire, it could take days to get a replacement. And the McLaren F1 had been imported under the DOT's Show or Display exemption, which meant that it was restricted to 2500 miles annually. So Dan decided to bring along his Toterhome RV, which carries two cars, stacked. We loaded spare tires for all four cars and planned to truck the F1 for the long haul over Midwest interstates. The RV would leapfrog our route, to ensure that it was no more than a few hours away. Yes, it was over the top, but bringing along a rolling garage made the plan bulletproof. Or so we thought.
Our goals were simple: get all four cars from Manhattan to Monterey in eight days, take in some of America's best national parks, enjoy some great roads, and avoid getting arrested. For my part, I had one more goal: to find out if the Bertone Mantide is the answer to The Corvette Question.