13 Years On The Road

                  It’s been a great ride

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – That many lucky years ago this week I talked a top editor at MarketWatch.com into letting me author a weekend road test column for the website.

 I told the very likeable David Callaway that all of the major newspapers had one and we should too. At the time I had no idea of how I would get vehicles to write about, but such tiny details could wait until later.

 Success was achieved when he told me to submit a sample and Honda delivered my first vehicle in the form of an Element. Over the next decade, things got progressively more interesting when Ford offered a GT for exactly 24 hours, and I got the left seat in a McLaren in California, a Ferrari in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge area and a Lamborghini in the Arizona desert.

 Some memories:

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 I stopped in rural Hancock, Maryland for a quick reprieve in a burger joint. This is one of those towns where dogs and trucks prevail among the locals so it was no surprise that the red Ford GT was surrounded by four teenage boys when I finished the high cholesterol dinner. They got a chance to sit in it, and when I asked what they thought, one said, “We don’t get many cars like that out here.” For understatements, that is a world’s record.

  The twisting roads in the San Bernardino Mountains were the perfect place for my introduction to the McLaren brand. But with a factory rep riding shotgun, I was hesitant to push the car too hard on roads where I expected to see the Road Runner chased by his nemesis. I was not sure how cautious he was going to be with a stranger driving this six figure MSRP until he uttered the words I never thought a rep would say: “You could go a little faster.” That led to an incredible road he knew back to flatter ground that was just perfect for this extraordinary GT car. Later at a track I talked one of the factory’s test drivers into a few laps to show me what this puppy could really do in the hands of a pro. Let’s just say it is a good thing that a blood pressure monitor was not optional equipment. I have been a McLaren fan ever since and it’s my Powerball winning choice.

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 Two great tales came out of the Ferrari trip in Oregon. A few auto writers were invited to the annual owner’s rally that we were told we should not even attempt to win. At breakfast after the first day owner’s swapped stories of their experiences.

 One said he was stopped by a Highway Patrol officer who cited him for going 110 in a 60 zone. Fortunately he received only a very stern warning. “Thanks goodness he did not see me before I crested that hill,” the owner said. “How fast where you going then,” I asked. “Oh, about 130!”

 That was topped by the owner who was stopped by a hulking, NFL ready trooper in a crisp uniform and aviator glasses. The owner was concerned about jail time since he too was well over the limit. He got his butt chewed, and time behind bars was threatened if he were stopped again. The owner deeply exhaled more than a few times when the trooper returned to his cruiser without issuing even a ticket. But then he was spied returning to the bright red Ferrari, and the owner was sure the officer had changed his mind, but he said only, “One more thing. NICE CAR!!!”  Oh, the Ferrari was a big hit with two short-short wearing older teens at a fuel stop. I never had more fun losing a competition in my life.

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 If you have ever been stopped by a radar wielding officer of the law, you will like the Lamborghini story. They allowed us some laps at the Phoenix International Speedway behind a pace car. Up on a mesa was a black and white with a radar gun attached. He just sat there and watched the entire proceedings so we named him the most frustrated cop in all of Arizona.

 The Ferrari F430, Ford GT, Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera and the McLaren were all that you imagine   they would be and more. The Lambo was pure Italian testosterone on wheels, the Ferrari was fast but more refined, while the GT was just pure driving pleasure on exit ramps, entrance ramps, and rural roads and in some foot to the floor breathtaking acceleration runs. It is great that Ford is bringing it back.

 Other remembrances:

 The phone rang at work with a contact telling me, “You know that car we were supposed to deliver to you tomorrow? Well, it got run over by a train yesterday in Baltimore!” (The driver escaped.)

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 Had a Rolls-Royce for a few days thanks to an official who heard my business reports on the radio and produced a video of the experience. Ran out of time before I could gauge the reaction by taking it to a McDonald’s drive thru. Ended the video by saying that the car cost, oh, something like $120K. “But just up the road were some homes for sale that were marked down to $1.1 million. So as you can clearly see, the Rolls is a bargain.”

 Passing one of the world’s biggest semis on the Washington Beltway in a SmartCar was an experience.

 Other memorable moments included interviewing Carroll Shelby at the Detroit auto show. Sure we talked performance cars but his eyes sparkled when I asked about his ranch and the making of “real” chili. And I had a most delightful hour long chat with Bob Lutz at the show as well. Talk about someone who will tell you what’s on his mind! Mr. Performance surprised me with his support of electric cars.

 Long before this odyssey began, I got my first speeding ticket. In a 1970s’ era VW Gold Bug as I was racing, (well as much as one could in that car,) back to the newsroom to file a story.

 Plus there was that great sign I spotted in a very rural Vermont town one day. “Town Clerk, Town Treasurer, Town Selectman, and notary Republican.”

 Drove my new Porsche 914 to Lancaster, N.H., deep in the White Mountains to see if I could rattle the owner of my favorite gas station, an unperturbable old Yankee. I raised the hood to pump the gas, and then made like I was looking for something in the trunk. The old Yankee watched all this from afar as I popped the little lid behind the rear window to check the oil. “It’s in there,” I said indicating the location of the engine. “Figured it was in there somewhere,” was his response.

 Thank you all for your support and now, bring on the next 13 years.