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.
There are worse things than a black Ferrari 328GTS. There are worse things than being picked up by your wife in a black Ferrari GTS at the West Palm Beach aerodrome for a drive to Ann Arbor, Michigan, by way of Lynchburg, Tennessee. Lynchburg is, after all, the home of the Jack Daniel distillery, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, made famous by an inspired low-key advertising campaign and decades of Joe Clark’s black-and-white photographs. However, the whiskey itself deserves most of the credit for that fame. Jack Daniel’s Black Label–a charcoal-filtered sour mash called “Tennessee whiskey”–is the libation of choice for an awful lot of drinkers around the globe. People who take sides in the Scotch versus Bourbon wars accord Jack Daniel’s a special place, a sort of good-humored demilitarized zone where discussions are carried on at a more leisurely pace and in a more laid-back tone. A visit to the distillery explains why that is so. More to the point, a visit to the place where they make Jack Daniel’s Black, in a black Ferrari GTS, helps one to appreciate that a world without great whiskey and great automobiles would be a sorry place indeed.
Having finished that paragraph, and now rereading it, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will receive pious letters of outrage from blue-nosed Pecksniffs scourging me for mentioning whiskey and fast cars in the same space. They should not waste their paper. I will open their letters, snort with derision, and throw them away. I know that drunk driving is stupid. I know that it kills more people than all other automotive causes of death combined. I am an ardent supporter of the good works done by people like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But I am also an enthusiast of good cars and good liquor, though I strive to keep them separated. I’m fortunate in this regard, because my wife doesn’t drink much and is delighted to take the wheel whenever I determine that I may have surpassed the legal blood-alcohol limit. Nonetheless, I have no interest in being preached at. So save those cards and letters, Pecksniffs.
I came by the black Ferrari 328GTS in the usual way. Pure luck. Dr. Emilio Anchisi–president of Ferrari North America, interviewed in last month’s Automobile Magazine–called to discuss our shared passion for shotguns and shooting and, in passing, mentioned that he had a black 328GTS–one of his new ones with ABS–at Shelton Ferrari in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Perhaps, he suggested, I might like to drive it for a while. “Do chickens have pointed yellow lips?” I asked. “When can I pick it up?”
A deal was struck. J.L.K. Davis would fly to Fort Lauderdale, collect the Ferrari, visit her sister in Boca Raton, and meet me at West Palm Beach the next morning. I would give a speech to the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association, formerly Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association) management group at their annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, then fly to Dallas and check into an airport hotel so that I might watch the Detroit Pistons humiliate the Boston Celtics on television while I lounged around in my underwear and gnawed on ribs from room service. Next morning I would rise at five and fly on to the rendezvous with the Ferrari and the woman who changed my life.
Coming out into the fetid midmorning air of West Palm Beach, I looked in vain for the Ferrari. I heard it, but I couldn’t see it, fifty yards away behind an assortment of bucks-up civilian machinery. It accelerated smartly around Hertz buses and waiting Jaguars and rolled up to my feet. Top off. Very black. Very sleek. The driver, my wife, looking very pleased with herself. She popped the front and rear lids, and it was clear that the only way the nylon garment bag containing the navy suit and blue blazer was going to fit would be if I rolled it up. Done. My Automobile Magazine weekend bag and briefcase went into the little rectangular space behind the engine where they would be perfectly secure at a constant 150 or 200 degrees Fahrenheit. We headed north on the Florida Turnpike, where an astonishing percentage of the traffic seemed to be moving at speeds in excess of eighty miles per hour.
At seven-thirty that evening we were checking into the Hilton Hotel in Macon, Georgia, sunburned and happy. We’d done 550 miles in about nine hours and the car was our friend for life. We asked the doorman, the bell captain, the security guy, and the lady who checked us in to recommend a superior barbecue place. After washing up, we went to their unanimous choice, a couple of blocks away. The barbecue was okay, but not superior. Memphis and San Antonio put Macon on the trailer, barbecue-wise.
The scene back at our hotel was not conducive to late-night hell-raising. The main floor was thronged with lugubrious-looking people attending a regional convocation of Alcoholics Anonymous, drinking some unidentifiable soft drink from plastic glasses in grim silence. We rode up on the elevator with a guy who’d been drinking something more easily identified. He leaned precariously and stared at my wife as though he’d never seen one of those before. We hoped that he was not a fallen member of the AA flock.
We were in Lynchburg, Tennessee, by noon the next day. Departing Macon at dawn, we’d left the top panel in place. With its roof on, the GTS is not so terrific for tall guys. I am six feet two and rather long-waisted, so I must drive it as though I were balancing a basin of hot water on my pelvis, or maybe doing the limbo, the former being more likely than the latter. As soon as the sun was up, we stopped at a Bob Evans restaurant for breakfast and removed the top. Ahhh. Much better. I could sit up like a normal person. I could see. My backache disappeared. The top of the windshield frame was almost touching my eyebrows, virtually guaranteeing that I’d be killed deader than Kelsey’s nuts in the event of a collision, but did I care? I know that when I was born by the light of a kerosene lamp in Pulaski County, Kentucky, a prancing horse reared in Maranello. We’re talking destiny here. Decapitation seems a small price to pay.
Jack Daniel was about five feet tall and wore a size four shoe. His statue stands welcoming visitors to the very spring that provides the water for the whiskey, and the statue’s feet are too big. It was the only way they could securely anchor his graven image. Mr. Daniel bought the land at Lynchburg in 1866, and they’ve been turning out the magic elixir ever since, interrupted only by the Republic’s irrational fling with prohibition, 1920 to 1933. The tour is a must. One sees everything, from the great barrel-houses–there are forty-three of them, each one holding over a million gallons of whiskey–to the tall ricks of locally grown maple waiting to be turned into the filtering charcoal. We stuck our fingers into the vats and tasted the rich, powerful beer which is distilled to become the essence of Old Number 7. (We couldn’t get any whiskey because the surrounding county is dry. Savages!) My question: “How many people work here?” Their answer: “About half of us.” Actually, there are 350 employees, none of whom seem to be particularly stressed. With the tour behind us we drove into town, to the Lynchburg General Store, where we bought some Jack Daniel’s shot glasses and a country ham. I also bought a black Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7 baseball cap–the first one of that style ever to look good on my head–which I wore to the Pepsi shop where I consumed two chili dogs and listened to the proprietress, an Auslander from the suburbs of Detroit, bitch about the local citizenry. She must be very popular with her neighbors.
Central Tennessee is as beautiful as any place in North America, and we enjoyed a glorious drive north into Kentucky on the two-lanes, including some marked as scenic routes in our Rand McNally atlas. The best of the best was the drive from McMinnville to Mount Crest on route 30, and thence to Crossville on route 101, beautifully maintained roads that twist and dive over the Cumberland Plateau through incredible scenery. Even if the rest of the 1667 miles had been drudgery, which it most emphatically was not, this afternoon’s drive would have made it an unforgettable day in a lifetime of unforgettable days.
The Ferrari never put a foot wrong. It may be the best-damped car of its type I’ve ever driven. It handled everything including some dirt road without a hint of harshness or crash-through. The clutch and shift linkages were perfect, and the combination of large vented disc brakes and Goodyear Eagle VR tires was so effective that I never got into the ABS, even though we worked the car very hard. I believe that this was the first time I’ve ever exceeded 140 miles per hour in an open car, save racing cars, and not only were wind and noise beautifully managed, but my Old Number 7 baseball cap stayed on. Even so, we averaged slightly more than twenty miles per gallon. I only wish I could have introduced Enzo Ferrari to Jack Daniel.