Road Trip ’95

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Almost everyone enjoys a good road trip – but not many road trips are like the one I made in two hours and 23 minutes back in the late summer of 1995 in a brand-new Mustang Cobra R.

The trip from the DC suburbs to downtown Manhattan normally takes about four hours, but I was in a hurry. And the R was just the right tool for this mission.

It was not my Cobra R – a street-legal race car that came without back seats or a radio but did come with the last 351 V8 (5.8 liters for you Millennials) that Ford ever put in a factory-made Mustang, paired with a heavy-duty Tremec five-speed manual transmission.

Fuel cell. Race brakes. Headers.

Just two air bags.

No ugly plastic cover to hide this beautiful engine.

It had heavy-duty cooling systems for everything except the driver. The R did not have AC – but who needs AC when you are doing 147 MPH through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at three in the morning with the windows (manual) rolled down and the 351 screaming near redline in fourth?

That kind of speed keeps your mind focused on other things.

The Tunnel, in those days, was a kind of underground Autobahn. There was no place for cops to hide and – back then – no speed cameras, either. So if traffic was light, you had a green light.

You were free – and immune.

I-95 up the northeast corridor is another matter – then as well as now. It is a payin’ paper prowling ground and if you’re not discreet or simply unlucky your day may end badly or at least expensively. But it was nighttime and the Mustang wasn’t obviously obstreperous – except for its exhaust, which was as healthy as a ’70 Boss 302’s even with catalytic converters. I didn’t check but would not have been shocked if they were dummies. Those were different days and the car companies were still run by gearhead types who weren’t averse to a little no-harm-done “cheating” in the interests of a good time.

In any event, it had plates – and I had the keys. For one whole week of the best times I ever had and got away with.

The R belonged to Ford – which built it for SCCA road racing. Just like back in the day, when Chevy offered the first (1967) Z28 Camaro, which almost no one had ever heard of until the word got out about this very special Camaro you could buy if you knew the magic words (i.e., “Z28”).

To qualify for the SCCA racing circuit, these cars had to be two things.

First, they had to be “street legal” – equipped with all the required safety and emissions folderol. But they were usually not equipped with anything more – such as a radio. Or even – in some cases – heat. Definitely not AC and forget an automatic transmission.

In order to deter the wrong sort from even being interested.

The cars also had to be “homologated” – i.e., a certain number had to be built and at least technically available to the public.

The catch (officially) was you had to have a valid SCCA road-racing license to order an R and (unofficially) a friend within Ford who would sign the right paperwork to make one available.

I had something better: A press pass.

That gave me access to the Ford press car pool – the fleet of new cars made available to journalists who test drive and review new cars. But something more than that was necessary if you wanted to get your hands on an R, which was no ordinary press pool car. It was – as mentioned – a race car.

That made it a car not handed out lightly.

You had to be someone Ford trusted enough to be let loose with one on public roads because of the liability Ford would be exposed to if you couldn’t handle a car like the R. Apparently, I cut the mustard. It was probably because of the time I spent doubled up in another brand-new Ford with a Ford exec (whose name must not be unsealed until all parties are long dead) on a two-day “long lead” – press preview – in Arizona a couple of years prior.

Cacti shed their needles; the asphalt still bears the scars.

Of course, it was understood what the trusted journalist was going to do with the R. What else would you do with a car like the R?

The unsaid understanding was, simply: don’t get caught.

Tally ho!

So I gassed up the R’s fuel cell with the highest octane premium I could find and called this girl I used to know, who lived in NYC. I asked her what she was up to – and whether she might want company.

She said she did.

Before the phone hit the receiver – this was in the days before cell phones – I was fishtailing out of the driveway, the R’s Z-rated rubber leaving greasy double S smears in my wake. Though fuel-injected, the 351 moaned like it had an 850 Holley double pumper mounted on an aluminum high-rise. The Tremec five speed emitted a glorious keening gear whine that made you glad the R lacked a radio.

Exactly two hours and 23 minutes I was through the Brooklyn Battery tunnel and parked outside my friend’s building. The R’s headers heat-ticked audibly into the twilight as I headed up the stairs to see her.

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  1. I used to regularly make the trip from NoVA to NH and back. Maryland staties and Connecticut were the worst. Jersey, of all places, the best.

    One time I was north of Baltimore where the speed limit on 95 was still 55. I wad tooling along between 90-95. The road had a big, gentle bend to the right. Suddenly the traffic opened and I saw him; statie in the median. Fuck.

    Figuring I was nailed, I moved over top the right lane and slowed to 55, expecting to be pulled over shortly. But I must have caught him napping. He obviously knew I was speeding but couldn’t prove it.

    So he pulls in behind me, no lights, and just follows. For miles.

    Eventually we approach an exit and he exits, but I keep an eye on him. The exit led to an overpass if you went left, but the companion onramp was straight across there intersection.

    Sure enough, he rolls right through and back down behind me, hoping to catch me speeding up after he exited. Not today, buddy.

    A few more miles and he’s had enough, floors it and disappears ahead.

    Meanwhile, in all my trips, I never saw more than 4-5 staties combined on the Jersey pike. It was clear sailing, 90+ the entire way, especially if you took the bus/truck split.

  2. Eric,

    I just did a Google Maps search from Fairfax, VA to Brooklyn, NY. It says the approximate distance is 249 miles. Dividing that by 2.3833 (2:23), you get an average speed of about 104.5 mph. That’s MOVING! Guess you wanted to see that gal bad, huh?

      • eric, I still did that into the 80’s in the middle of the day. The wife and I left Ruidoso, NM and headed for west Texas. It was a 345 mile trip we made in 4 hours and 5 minutes. That was stopping to fuel up, adjust my carb and let the wife puke for 15 minutes. She got better as time went on. But there’s just something some people can’t tolerate and speed and a wavy surface and lifting and falling are too much. I’m lucky in that it never bothered me.

        The closest I ever got to being sea sick was after a really long day on really rough water in a bass boat. I never even though of being nauseous till we sat down in a cafe in a booth and the walls had distinct lines right about eye level. Every time I’d look up from my food I’d see the walls going up and down. I just ate and ignored it.

        • 8, that reminds me of when I had my clam boat- I get home and be sitting in a chair, and I’d still feel the boat rocking. (I loved that feeling- hated when ut would end after an hour or two).

  3. Great story. Nice to have some pleasant reading instead of the usual Police State/Nanny State reviews.

    I guess the NJ State Po aren’t out there at 2 am much. Or weren’t.

    The fastest I’ve done in my big Chrysler 300 C was around 115 on a nice straight downhill highway that plugs into I-10 in the middle of nowhere. You can see down that for 20 miles or so though I-10 is closer than that. I worried about a stray cow, rock or ranch pickup turning out, but few side roads. Feelin’ lucky, I always take that ride down if I can. Wife wasn’t too happy about the speed though. In that big car it was a smooth ride though starting to get jittery at the top speed.

    • Back in 1977 my sister bought a used 75 Chrysler Newport all the luxuries and a 440 motor with W2 heads. Was an ex copper car that came with we later found out as cracked heads due to overheating. Brother and I replaced the heads with junkyard heads and had them rebuilt. Then we took it on a drive on I465 southside Indy. We hit 120 mph at night, smooth as a young girls bottom.

        • eric, a buddy had an ex DPS Fury “undercover” car which mean it was baby shit yellow but still had a spotlight and those huge whips they used back then but it was “undercover” to a blind man I guess.

          It seemed to handle better than the normal car and it would run like stink. We used it for good purpose. Since we were cowboys anyway, we’d just put on Silverbelly hats, aviator sunglasses, long sleeve white shirts with something shiny on the left hand pocket and completely ignore the speed limits. We’d meet a couple troopers in a black and white and they’d just give the same finger up we did. We never got stopped in that car.

  4. Are you sure the statute of limitations won’t be reinterpreted? You confessed to multiple felonies publicly, have a history of criticizing the wondrous government of the United States whose only mission is to show the kulaks ere uh citizens how much it cares for them.

    President Bloomberg surely will take a look into you!

  5. Great story, Eric. Ahh, youth, fast vehicles (cars & motorcycles), and romance. I enjoyed those days too!

    I didn’t check but would not have been shocked if they [catalytic converters] were dummies. Those were different days and the car companies were still run by gearhead types who weren’t averse to a little no-harm-done “cheating” in the interests of a good time.

    They’d be motivated to do that, I’m sure, but wouldn’t the stock car race officials be keeping a sharp eye out for any corner-cutting of their rules?

  6. I love this article- such awesomeness.

    A fast car and a fast girl.

    Who among us wouldn’t cut their commute in half for the love of a promise?

    Ah, youth and the willingness to do as you please with the youthful exuberance that helped you be confident enough to know that no AGW would be likely to be able to stop you.

    I’m reminded of the 4 cops who still wish they had caught me but couldn’t.

  7. I’ve seen things you Millennials wouldn’t believe. Powerful V-8 cars ripping up the tarmac before universal surveillance. Machines that we could drive rather than them driving us. All these moments will be lost in time, like freedom in America.

    • I remember when I was a little kid, I’d always here the loud engines and screeching rubber late at night off in the distance many nights- the real muscle cars doing their things on the late-night empty streets. In the early 70’s, that was almost a nightly sound. By the late 80’s, ya’d here one car once in while… (NY was communized early).

  8. Good thing the statute of limitations has long since run out, or Big Brother might take an interest. 🙂 Sounds like a GREAT time. But I’d not even attempt a trip like that at my age. Mores the pity.

    • Hi Anon,

      I wouldn’t attempt it today. Because it’s not America anymore. Surveillance everywhere and a guaranteed Hut! Hut! Hutting! for something like I did, back then.

          • She was geared for high speed eh? What was the top end supposed to be on it?

            I used to say I’d never been fast enough till a friend wanted me to ride in his just completed Camaro drag car. We were out there on a 4 lane street, seemed safe enough, and he had wound it(no speedo)up to somewhere around 120 since it was a 427 and the quarter was quite a bit higher than that so it might have been much faster, and approaching the livestock auction, a bunch of farmers just pulled off across the road(must have been some that left together since that’s common)and I didn’t know if we’d get her whoad up and they were what you describe as “glacial”.

      • Eric, today many States are making as little as 15 MPH over their arbitrary limit felony reckless.

        My friend told me about his friend, an attorney, who took his 16-year-old son for a ride in his 911. Wisconsin State Trooper clocked him at 175 MPH, putting him in a world of hurt. Felony reckless, felony child endangerment, a whole slew of charges. Had he not been a wealthy lawyer, his life would have been over. The final order from the judge, after some jail time and thousands of dollars in paying paper; “I want to see a Bill of Sale for your Porsche before I discharge this case and give you your parental rights back”.

  9. Man, what a great trip and story! And you probably got laid too!

    Back the day when Ford wasn’t stupid enough to name a electric SUV a Mustang…………… That wasn’t THAT long ago, what the hell happened to our “car” companies?

    Imagine if we had an actual real free economy, with the cheap gas we would like be in the middle of some kind of muscle car boom again. Not this lame electric and self driving nightmare.

  10. Cool story! I thought I was reading the plot to a sequel to “American Gigolo” or “Risky Business”!

    I really miss the ’90s. I was only a young kid, but still, it was a far more enjoyable time to live in than today.

    • I didn’t know you were that young, Handler. Darn…you should’ve been around in the late 60’s – early 80’s- you would’ve gone NUTZZZ!!!!!!

      • Unfortunately! My brothers were able to experience the last of the good ol’ days as they’re 15 years older than me. They got to grow up in New York, too.

        • Oh, man! They got the good stuff! My sisters are 17 & 18 years older than me- they got to experience the 50’s and all of the 60’s!!!!! Seems to have been wasted on them though.

            • it was amazing in the 70’s and 80’s. My sister lived there. I’d visit and literally walk all over Manhattan at all hours, and never once did I feel threatened.

              Sadly, I have no desire to go there now or to any large city.

            • My uncle as a ten year old in the late 1940’s would go to Yankees games alone (sometimes with a friend or two), and get there via bus and train from Jersey. Imagine a kid even trying that now!

  11. Man Eric that takes me back! I recall the urgency of getting to my girl’s place back in the day- I had a 1974 Honda 750-four with a 4 into 1 Kirker and jetted carbs. Back then that was a fast bike- now not so much but the intent to get there fast was the real deal. I think I probably coulda done a better job getting there slow if ya know what I mean…but I was 17 and she was 15. Wow that was a lonnnnngggg time ago. How many laws did I break in an evening? Not as many as there are today! I should have married that girl…..she turned into quite a great lady.

  12. Cool! And you probably could’ve even knocked some time off of that if ya had taken the Holland Tunnel!

    The best part was: When you went home. (Sheesh, ya like them commie-librul girls, dontcha?)

    Shoot, with the tolls in NYC today….one could just stay home and hire a Congressional-level escort (I believe the Guinea Gangplank [Verrazano Bridge] is up to $19 now…(

    • Cripes, Nunz, I remember when that bridge opened as I was still living in New Yawk at the time and it was a Really Big Deal. I think the toll was 50 cents then, though granted that was collected in both directions in those days – so $1 round trip. Even allowing for inflation, $19 today is highway robbery!

      • Hey Jason!
        Yeah…now they only charge ya the toll leaving Brooklyn- ’cause who the hell’d pay it to get in?!

        I was talking to an older friend last week who was born and raised in Brooklyn a little before my time- he remembered taking the ferry from Brooklyn over to S.I. before the bridge was built. He and his friends would take their bikes, and then when they got to S.I. they’d ride to the Boy Scout grounds and sneak in and camp there. (Imagine 13 year-olds doing that today!).

        It’s truly stunning how a place and a people can change so drastically in the space of just one lifetime!

        Optional: If you don’t mind, what part of the city didja live in back then?

        • I’d lived in various parts of the city over the years, but like your friend I was born and raised in Brooklyn as well! As a kid my buddies and I would ride our bikes all over, go for rides on the ferry, and even take to the subways ourselves. To paraphrase Ralph Kramden, how sweet it was! (Today parents would probably be arrested who permitted anything like that.) New York was a great place to be in the 1950s and 1960s. These days they can keep it.

          • Heh, yeah, Jason- even by the 70’s, those days were over for kids in NYC. When I was a kid in the then paradise of LI (60 miles east- Suffolk) we’d go to visit relatives in Queens- and while it was fun for a kid to see all the “cool stuff”, I always remember being very grateful that we didn’t live there, ’cause there were no woods to walk in; nowhere to ride bikes; nasty-ass people/crime, etc. We realized that if we lived there, even then, we would’ve been relegated to being inside or in organized activcities all the time- YUCK!

            Then we moved to Astoria, Queens when I was in the later half of my teens…but it was cool for a time, just being able to explore the whole city, and being to go anywhere for fifty cents at the time, via subway or bus…..but by my 20’s, I was sure glad to get out!

            Left NY entirely 18 years ago- and have not set foot there since…and never will again! Nuke that freaking place, along with CA!

            • Hi Nunz!

              I was born in NYC; didn’t grow up there (folks moved to Stamford, CT and then to Northern Virginia) but in my youf I used to visit the city all the time. When I drove up, the sight of the Towers in the distance let me know I was close. I have not been since Nahnlevven (say it like The Chimp) and don’t plan to ever go there again.

              • ***”Nahnlevven (say it like The Chimp)”***

                LOL! [Damn, I couldn’t stand that prick’s voice….and then Obozo came along- even worse!]

                Hey, I left a message on yer sailfawn last night… must’ve been trying to drive the eGolf to NYC….[takes 2 days instead of 2 hours]

  13. The funny thing is, in many parts of the world intercity travel by highway at this sort of speed it still possible. The Germans love their Autobahns and elections have been lost because of efforts to geld the monster machines that get you there. Once you’re in town it’s another story (and large sections of the Autobahns are speed limited because of traffic). One of the big reasons for the French gilets jaunes protests was all the speed cameras on the highways. Sure, all the roads in France have speed limits (and they change with the weather) but no one ever really enforced them. And I’m pretty sure the Italians aren’t going to put up with that shit either.

    But that’s probably going to come to an end as the generations who built the highways die off. Pitty that.

  14. Wow. Those speeds are up in Shinkasen and Beech Bonanza territory! I raise my glass of Evan to you.

    Beats my old road trip from an undisclosed location between Dallas and Jackson, MS to another undisclosed location in Southern California, by way of Yellowstone. In a Pinto. In the summer. Did you know Coors acts as a very good cooling system cleaner?

  15. Enjoyable tale. And well past the Statute of Limitations.

    Bet there’s more where that one came from. Do you have any that fall within the “Sea to Shining Sea” genre?

  16. quite a pleasant read! I live about an hour and 20 from this boy I used to know. Now, I’m no road racer, but I’ve gotten to him in well under an hour. 😉


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