Detailed writeup of the trip - enjoy!
I bought my 1940 Buick Super 56S back in 2012. It had a whole host of issues, most of which I have described previously in many threads on the Pre-War forum. Finally, around 2017 I started to consider the Buick to be fully reliable and started to take it on day trips.
Of course, it still needed little things fixed as well as periodic maintenance, but overall I really started to "groove" (the teenagers call it "vibing") driving it, and 2 years ago started to think maybe a longer trip was in order. I had been saying for quite some time that I thought it could go to California, and perhaps it was time to put the Buick where my mouth was!
Naturally, COVID dashed any plans for last summer so I concentrated on getting my '38 66S finished. Finally, this year seemed to be "the moment" and I planned to drive the '40 to the Strongsville BCA National.
The next issue was a travelling companion. My wife is partially disabled and it is getting difficult for her to do road trips, especially in an 80-year-old non-air-conditioned car in the middle of the summer, so that idea was out.
My next thought naturally fell to 16-year-old Ben, a neighbor's son and my intrepid assistant, protege, and friend. He is very interested in old cars and has been working closely with me since he was 10 years old. Since he has been involved with every repair on the car for the last 5 years and we get along very well he would be perfect for the trip. Of course, he was perhaps a bit less enthusiastic considering the no AC angle but promising some driving time (he has a learner's permit), some first-class food, and especially control of the music I talked him into it.
As planning was underway word was passed that both meets were cancelled. I gave brief thought to trying for the substitute meet at Auburn but decided it was a bridge too far. So, I started looking around for somewhere to go about the same distance from home as Strongsville. Finally, I settled on Charlotte since it has the Mustang Museum (Ben recently acquired a '65) and the NASCAR museum. And no big mountains to cross!
We settled on July 5 to July 10 and appropriate reservations were made. I started in with final preparations on the car, getting all of the periodics taken care of. I put Diamondback Auburn Wide Whitewalls on it last year and it cruises pretty well. In mid-June, I ran it up to Hershey PA for the day as a final test. Over 200 miles and it did fine.
As the departure date approached, I started getting "stuff" together. I made a pretty comprehensive list of parts, tools, and consumables to take. Personal items were mostly an afterthought, although I did pick up a Sharper Image seat that circulates the air underneath of you. It worked pretty well and later I was very glad I had gotten it.
By the night of July 4, I was all packed. The car stuff took up the entire trunk leaving the tiny back seat for our clothes and other things. One item I thankfully did take was an old large period-correct thermos jug I got on eBay which we kept filled with ice water. That was one of the most-appreciated things we took with us.
A family emergency delayed our departure one day but finally we were ready to leave the morning of July 6. The weather called for low 90's and humidity. The forecast appeared to say that the first day would be the worst, and that we would be into lower temperatures the remaining days. How wrong they were!
Day 1 July 7 2021
We left Rockville MD at 10:35 am, all windows and vents open and the JBL speaker pounding out some recent rap-or-other. We went out MD 28 towards Point of Rocks MD to cross the Potomac into Virginia. The plan was US roads and to avoid Interstates. Finally, we went across the bridge and headed down US 15 around Leesburg and to the south. The heat was bad but we managed by keeping the inside of the car like a wind tunnel. Lost a few bits of trash out the windows too.
We continued south past Haymarket, Warrenton, and Culpeper, stopping at Orange VA to gas up and get some lunch. We were trying to avoid chains so we found a Mexican place that met our Basic Requirements: air conditioned, lots of ice water, and edible food. Afterward we continued down US 15 past many small towns, getting on US 360 at Wylliesburg and picking up US 501 at South Boston. These last two, unlike much of US 15 here in Virginia, are 4 lane roads and we were able to pick up the pace a bit. Finally, we arrived in Roxboro, NC by continuing on US 501, arriving at 6:15 pm, having driven 285 miles.
For dinner we found a small bar and grill in town that met the requirements above, plus cold beer! The AC in our rooms were cranked down and, tired and wind-burned, we slept like the dead.
The Buick ran absolutely flawlessly. Nary a cough or stumble. The engine temperature stayed remarkably steady, usually at about 170 to 180 degrees, rising to about 190 while crawling through the small towns. In these conditions my auxiliary fan would kick in and the temperature would stay steady, even under the terrific heat. Oil pressure was a solid 45 lbs at 55 mph. The car liked 50 to 55 mph, but could easily do 60 mph in a pinch, although I don't like to keep it there when it's this hot. The brakes are outstanding since I swapped the front shoes the week before we left, and the cars tracks about as expected for a car of this age - in other words you have to stay on top of it but it doesn't wander on its own.
Day 2 July 8 2021
During the night the remains of Tropical Storm Elsa rolled in. We awoke to rain and much cooler temperatures. Gas was obtained and about 1 pint of oil was needed to top off the stick. We rolled out at 10:55 am and proceeded to NC 49, a 2-lane road. It was raining pretty good so I started up the vacuum wipers which worked well - at least at first. Since it was cool there was no worry about overheating, either us or the car. However, we were constantly readjusting vent wings and windows to minimize water ingress, kind of like a window crank ballet. There was a fair bit coming in through the cowl vent but we just put one of the several beach towels that I had brought underneath it.
Lunch was on-the-run and I was steering and running through the gears with a cheeseburger hanging out of my mouth! We rode NC 49 down to Burlington, more-or-less bypassing it through Graham and going through Liberty, Asheboro, Richfield and finally into Concord. We went up US 601 from NC 49 to I85 and then to our motel. Arrival time was 2:30 pm and we drove 137 miles.
The only issue was that the wipers were beginning to lag a little after several hours of operation with v-e-r-y s-l-o-w wiping with significant pedal. I had assumed the booster on the dual action fuel pump would have handled that but maybe something is amiss, will check on return.
First thing we did after arrival was to visit the Mustang Museum in Concord. There are plenty of examples to satisfy any Mustang fan. Almost all of their exhibits are loaned from collectors, so the collection changes about every six months. I would guess there were about 40 or more cars on display when we were there.
At the suggestion of Brian DePouli, we went to the Midwood Smokehouse for dinner. This was the best meal of the trip. Lots of good brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. It was a trek from the motel but definitely worth it!
Day 3 July 9 2021
We stayed around Charlotte today. We went to the NASCAR Hall of Fame downtown. They do a pretty good job and I highly recommend it. Afterward we went to see Brian DePouli. He has a beautiful '69 Charger that Ben was drooling over. To tell the truth, I was drooling a bit as well! Dinner was an Italian restaurant that met the Basic Requirements from Day 1. They all can't be gems!
Day 4 July 10 2021
Considering how well the Buick was running, I made the decision to utilize 4 lane roads for the trip back. Some Interstate, but mostly US roads. The chosen route was I85 up to Business 85, then US 29 to US 15 in Culpeper, VA and then home using the Point of Rocks bridge and MD 28.
We started at 11:15 am. The weather was supposed to be hot but it actually wasn't too bad early in the day. The wind tunnel was appropriately set, classic rock blasting, and we were on our way. We went through Salisbury, Lexington, and around the eastern side of Greensboro. Once the Interstate was behind us, we felt a little safer with fewer trucks blasting around our humble 55 mph pace.
After we went by Reidsville and approached Virginia the outside temperature went from Hot to Roast. We dragged into Danville VA for gas and ate inside in a Chick-Fil-A for a nice air-conditioned break. Then back to the hot asphalt, going through the improbably-named Tightsqueeze, Altavista, and around Lynchburg. Frankly, the 4-lane road, even non-Interstate, was more boring than the varied NC 49, but with the heat neither of us was interested in adding more time to the trip by this point. We continued on past Amherst to Charlottesville with Ben driving the last hour. Arrival time was 5:10 pm with 250 miles driven. As per usual the Buick ran flawlessly.
Dinner this time was a bit of a treat at the Aberdeen Barn, with outstanding steaks. Once again, we retired to our rooms with the AC set on Arctic.
Day 5 July 11 2021
Since we didn't have that far to travel today, Ben was understandably starting to go into Get-Home-Itis mode, and frankly I was starting to feel the same. Unfortunately, the temperature was at Roast on our departure, soon increasing to Blast. Note to self: next time do this in the Fall. Ben had run through all of his playlists by this time so the music took on a more random character.
Leaving Charlottesville at 11:15 am after adding another pint of oil, the miles sort-of flew by and before too long we had passed Culpeper, Warrenton where we gassed up again, and Leesburg. Lunch was McDonalds eaten on the move. Soon we crossed the Point of Rocks bridge and it was downhill from there. After flying down MD 28 I dropped off Ben at his house at 3:15 pm, and arriving at mine about a minute later. 145 miles for the final leg, and 957 miles grand total for the trip.
So ended the Great 1940 Buick Road Trip Summer 2021
Most people are at least aware of the classic Road Trip stories, such as On the Road by Kerouac, Blue Highways by Least Heat Moon, and one of my favorites, Travels with Charley by Steinbeck. Obviously, this trip was not one of those.
Appropriately, though, Steinbeck wrote, "A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us."
Like Steinbeck, I was not sure when we started if this was going to end up being a story of overcoming adversity, of finding and fixing problems as they crop up on these old cars. I do find those interesting to read although I imagine they are not as fun to experience. Fortunately, that did not happen to us. In fact, out of all of the car stuff that I had packed, we only ended up using the tire gauge, oil, rags, and a funnel. So our story is more simply about the journey itself, a journey in an 80-year-old Buick and putting ourselves in a place to re-live a trip as it would have happened many decades ago, before powerful engines, power steering, and air conditioning.
But I had plenty of time to think as the wind roared around us and prevented most conversation. Even the music could not be clearly heard. The primary reason I wanted to do this before we set out was to challenge the Buick, in effect to validate my faith in the car and all of the time, effort, and money I had put into it. And by validating my faith in the car I was validating my faith in myself and what I could do, turning a poorly running car into a finely running machine that reflected the skill and imagination of its designers and makers even many years later. And I think that I fully accomplished this.
But what was also clear as we rolled along was acknowledging and understanding all of the comments, thumbs up, horn honks of recognition, and outright appreciation of the Buick's very existence by the folks we encountered, at gas stations, fast food joints, hotels, and other places where travelers gather. These people were of all ages, races, and outlooks. Although making any sweeping generalizations is not possible over such a short journey, it's clear at least in a micro sense that there are things that transcend differences, that the sight of an old car ploughing down the highway brings out a certain feeling in people, one that harkens back to the commonality and unity of the American Road.
And I think that this was probably the best part of the trip.