In memory of our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., Automobile Magazine editors are choosing our ten favorite American Driver columns and will be posting one each day over the next two weeks.
My first transcontinental drive was in June of 1955, my honeymoon. In October of 1954, I’d been jailed for reckless driving with a revoked operator’s permit--a mandatory seventy-two hours in the slammer under Michigan law at that time. (A couple of years ago, I applied for a permit to purchase a Ruger target pistol, and the sergeant on duty brought me up on the computer to see if I was a wanted serial killer. “Aha!” he chuckled. “You’ve been a guest of ours.”) Since I was a short-timer, they didn’t take me out to the county farm the next morning with all my roommates, and I had some time to reflect on my misdeeds. I decided that the cure for my troubles was marriage to a strong, sensible woman, and that woman was Norma J. Wohlfiel, a high school classmate and co-star in several theatrical productions. By the time I was out of jail, I’d written my marriage proposal and mailed it to Norma in California. Her letter of reply said, “I’ll be home in December to see if you’ve lost your mind.” We were married in June, and although Norma was too strong and sensible to stay married to me, the marriage actually lasted twenty years.
We drove cross-country in my MG TF 1500, with the side curtains in and the top down. We both got terrific tans, and it was a wonderful way to see the Republic. We stopped for service at a British-car dealership in Denver and met a young racing driver named Dabney Collins who was delighted to talk cars with me. They had a beautiful aluminum-bodied competition XK120 Jaguar (we called it the “Silverstone Jag”) on the showroom floor, and I could tell that I was getting closer to the fulfillment of all my dreams. We crossed the desert at night, so that the MG wouldn’t overheat, and were almost hypnotized by the hundreds of jack rabbits crisscrossing the road in our headlights. We wound down out of the mountains into northern California on Saturday morning, and even Highway 99 seemed beautiful to a wide-eyed enthusiast from the Midwest. We slept that night in the house Norma had rented in Manhattan Beach, and I had already seen all the manner of interesting cars, as well as my first open-air California automotive repair shop. It really was the promised land!
I’ve lost track of my cross-country trips since then--in an Austin-Healey, a Chevy van, a Saab, a couple of Suburbans, a V-8 Plymouth Barracuda, a Peugeot 404, a couple of Volvos, Mercedes old and new, a Studebaker Hawk, a couple of Ferraris, and a dozen others--but two stand out.