Quest

Australian Muscle Car - - My Muscle Car -

The great Amer­i­can road trip. It’s on many an Aus­tralian trav­eller’s bucket list and had long been on mine. I ticked that box re­cently via a Brady Bunch/Gris­wold­style hol­i­day mi­nus the misad­ven­tures. The West fam­ily’s month-long hol­i­day in the United States in­cluded a week clock­ing up 1200-plus miles (over 2000 kays) tak­ing in Cal­i­for­nia’s Yosemite Na­tional Park, Eastern Sier­ras and Death Val­ley, en route to Las Ve­gas, Nevada and our ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion, the Grand Canyon, in Ari­zona.

Our trav­els through Amer­ica’s west­ern states fol­lowed a few days in San Fran­cisco, in­clu­sive of en­joy­ing the 2018 Indy­car nale at Sonoma Race­way. Of course, with the jour­ney be­ing just as im­por­tant as the des­ti­na­tion, the choice of ve­hi­cle for a car-guy like me was crit­i­cal. As the ed­i­tor of a pub­li­ca­tion with the words mus­cle car in the ti­tle, I was ea­ger for the ‘Griswest fam­ily truck­ster’ to be an Amer­i­can­built per­for­mance car. How­ever, the size of our trav­el­ling party – two adults, two long-legged teenage boys and four big suit­cases – ruled out read­ily avail­able two-door ren­tal cars such as the Ford Mus­tang, Chevro­let Ca­maro and Dodge Chal­lenger. This left a high-per­for­mance Dodge Charger model as our only prac­ti­cal op­tion. Fine by me, as I’ve long con­sid­ered it a trav­esty Chrysler hadn’t pro­duced mod­ern Charg­ers for right­hand-drive mar­kets. Given the her­itage and halo that sur­rounds the Charger name­plate in Aus­tralia, surely any of the hot Charger range (en­com­pass­ing R/T, SRT, Day­tona, Scat or Hell­cat mod­els) would nd a wil­ling cus­tomer base down un­der. En­cour­ag­ingly, sev­eral ma­jor ren­tal com­pa­nies’ web­sites pro­moted the four­door Dodge Charger RT as be­ing read­ily avail­able, with Avis dis­play­ing a big, red and click­able “Re­serve” op­tion on its site. That’s all well-and-good in the­ory, but in prac­tice big ren­tal com­pa­nies can­not guar­an­tee a speci c ve­hi­cle. The use of the phrase “or sim­i­lar” dur­ing the book­ing process is a pointer to the fact in­di­vid­ual ren­tal out­lets don’t ac­tu­ally know what cars they will have on-hand when you pick up your ren­tal. Their in­ven­tory is too uid to guar­an­tee a par­tic­u­lar car. They might not even be able to pro­vide a ve­hi­cle from the class/ cat­e­gory, let alone a speci c model sup­pos­edly ‘re­served’. Smaller ren­tal com­pa­nies may of­fer the guar­an­tee of a speci c model, but re­quire the ve­hi­cle to be re­turned to the pickup lo­ca­tion, which we could not do as we wanted to off­load the car in Ve­gas.

Thus, I spent hours pre-trip at­tempt­ing to se­cure and guar­an­tee a Charger from Avis’s big down­town San Fran­cisco out­let. My ef­forts in­cluded over­seas phone calls, emails and pre-pay­ing to in­crease the odds of ut­ter­ing ‘Hey Charger’ when rst sight­ing my ren­tal car.

Yet, when we lobbed on pick-up day, Avis had al­lo­cated me... wait for it... a Nis­san Al­tima! Fair dinkum!

Thus, an ugly Aus­tralian tourist – me – was heard to ut­ter words to the ef­fect: “Our bags won’t t in the boot, so I’ll be stand­ing here at

the counter un­til you nd me a car in which they will.”

Not want­ing a SUV, the only model they could of­fer that had any ap­peal was a Chevro­let Im­pala, mostly for the name. It con­jured up men­tal im­ages of 409s, SS badges and the TV shows of my child­hood.

Yes, I know... the mod­ern Im­pala is a world away from my day­dream­ing and cer­tainly no mus­cle car, but at least we could tackle our big Amer­i­can road trip in a large Amer­i­can sedan be­fore the genre dis­ap­pears. Ford al­ready an­nounced it’s ceas­ing pro­duc­tion of sedans and it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble the other mem­bers of the big three will fol­low suit.

Truth be known, I was just re­lieved our bags tted in the boot and the mis­sus was happy. Be­sides, the ini­tial driv­ing in­volved ne­go­ti­at­ing rush hour traf­fic in a car-clogged for­eign city, driv­ing on the op­po­site side of the road in a LHD car. When you’re in sur­vival model, the model of car is in­con­se­quen­tial.

It was a dif­fer­ent story when we cleared the city and was on the open-road, but I found I ac­tu­ally en­joyed the Im­pala – a big, com­fort­able Amer­i­can car that nicely tted the stereo­type. While not bounc­ing along like large yank tanks of old, our ride was cer­tainly sprung softer in the rear than the last of the Aussiebuilt equiv­a­lents.

The four-hour drive from San Fran­cisco to Yosemite Na­tional Park be­came in­creas­ingly scenic and we were soon pay­ing the park en­try fee to a felt-hat­ted ranger straight from cen­tral cast­ing. One who didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate my joke about Yogi Bear sight­ings and stolen “picker-nic” bas­kets.

Yosemite is less about bears and more about tow­er­ing gran­ite moun­tains – like El Cap­i­tan, an im­pos­ing ver­ti­cal rock for­ma­tion that tow­ers a kilo­me­tre from its base. Yosemite is also about gi­ant Se­quoia conifers, with the odd plung­ing wa­ter­fall thrown in for good mea­sure – if you lob in spring and early sum­mer when the snows melts. We vis­ited in fall (au­tumn) so there was lit­tle wa­ter spilling over, but this de­tracted lit­tle from a spot that lives up to the hype. We spent a day-and-ahalf in Yos­mite, which was enough the see the main sights and sites, for those not un­der­tak­ing walk­ing treks.

The 100km stretch of the Tiogo Road that crosses Yosemite NP – and there­fore the moun­tain range – from east to west is a magni cent driv­ers’ road. It’s the high­est sealed road in the state of Cal­i­for­nia, with a dif­fer­ent stun­ning vista around vir­tu­ally each of its thou­sand or so bends. Magic!

The Im­pala han­dled the twists and turns re­mark­ably well. It wasn’t un­til we hit this wind­ing moun­tain road that, cour­tesy of its steer­ing dy­nam­ics, it dawned on me that it was fron­twheel drive. It wouldn’t be its only sur­prise. And I’m not re­fer­ring to nd­ing a bowl­ing al­ley with its own lo­cally-ac­claimed steak restau­rant af­ter this se­cond day on the road.

Death Val­ley and 40 de­gree-plus tem­per­a­tures awaited us the fol­low­ing day in the aptly-named Fur­ness Creek, ahead of ne­go­ti­at­ing the ma­ni­acs on Ve­gas’s free­ways at the end of a six-hour driv­ing day.

Hit­ting the road the next day our des­ti­na­tion was Tusayan, the gate­way town to the Grand Canyon Na­tional Park, four hours driv­ing time east of Las Ve­gas. The canyon’s south­ern rim is the tourist hub with an ex­ten­sive sys­tem of shut­tle buses the only way to reach the prime view­ing spots.

The Grand Canyon is ev­ery­thing you could hope for and more – just make sure you book well in ad­vance. The lodges within the NP are booked out at least six months in ad­vance. Tusayan ho­tels, 10 min­utes drive out­side the park, also need to be booked in ad­vance, oth­er­wise you’ll have to stay about an hour away.

We re­traced our steps back to Ve­gas, with the speed limit 75mph (120.7km/h) for about half of the four-hour jour­ney. Lost Wages was where we off­loaded the Im­pala... at the Ex­cal­ibur Casino on The Strip, strate­gi­cally cho­sen for its Avis counter.

The mighty Sil­ver Ice Metal­lic-coloured Chevy proved an ideal, sure­footed and un­stressed in­ter­state cruiser. Although built for com­fort and far from a rock­et­ship, it proved a sur­pris­ing per­former. At least in the sense that when I Googled the ca­pac­ity of the Im­pala’s six-cylin­der en­gine I was stunned to nd out that our LT model was ac­tu­ally tted with a 2.5-litre nor­mallyaspi­rated

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