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Car and Driver: LeMay Museum Drives Three Classic Cars from Tacoma to the Detroit Auto Show

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-Classic cars tend to congregate only in the most favorable environments: grassy lawns under warm, sunny skies, and far far away from the old-car kryptonite that is road salt. So when were told that the LeMay American car museum in Tacoma, Washington, had freed a trio of classic mid-century American rides from its collection and set out across the country in late December to make the opening day of the 2016 Detroit auto show, it was most surprising. It also sounded far cooler than most everything else at the Detroit show.


-A 1966 Ford Mustang, a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, and a 1961 Chrysler 300G left Washington on December 27th. At the wheel were LeMay president David Madeira and a rotating group of automotive journalists. The cars were gone through to ensure reliability: Besides the expected fresh fluids, belts, and hoses, they also received new wheel bearings, tie rods, ball joints, batteries, brakes, weatherstripping, heather cores, and radiators, plus alignments and tune-ups. In preparation for the winter weather they each got a set of Michelin winter tires and clear paint wrap over much of the body. The merry convoy was followed by two chase vehicles, including a Ford Super Duty pickup with a trailer—just in case—and brought along snow chains. Despite hitting snow on the first day, the team never needed to use the chains, but Madeira told us that the winter tires certainly were helpful.


Asked why the LeMay museum undertook the journey, Madeira’s answer was simple. The museum believes cars should be driven and preserved, not babied and left for static display. Cars are mobile things, so seeing one parked in a display removes half the fun. And what better way to deliver that message than through a cross-country road trip during which these classics would be treated like any other car. (After all, 50 or 60 years ago, these were just normal cars.) The LeMay squadron’s route from Tacoma to Detroit took them south through Portland, then on to Bend, Boise, Salt Lake City, and Grand Junction before turning east and making for St. Louis via Kansas City. Next, a quick jaunt north carried them to Chicago before one final jog east to Detroit.


-Early in the trip, Madeira decreed slower speeds 0f 55-to-65 mph in an effort to minimize the drivers’ natural tendency toward turning the event into a race. The focus was to be on endurance, not speed. Yet after a few days, it became clear that none of the three cars were working all that hard, so speeds pushed up to 70 mph and beyond for the rest of the trip. At stops along the way, local car clubs hosted the convoy for lunch, held impromptu car shows, and several like-minded classic-car owners even linked up with the group and drove their personal cars for a few hundred miles. One fan followed the journey in his ’68 Dodge Charger—all the way to Detroit. Fittingly, the trip was branded by LeMay as “The Drive Home,” a reference to the cars’ Detroit origins. Somehow, the only significant snow the team encountered was on the first day of the trip. Even so, the cars rolled into their hometown covered in grime and road salt—and that’s how they were put on display at the North American International Auto Show.


If the trip proved anything, it’s that seeing classic cars out of their element was a ton of fun for enthusiasts across the country. We hear that the poor Mustang went nearly unnoticed, at least compared to the far rarer Nomad and 300G. That being said, the drivers found the Mustang to be the most responsive to drive, with less wandering than the older Chevy and the enormous Chrysler. Will LeMay do it again next year? Naturally. Only it wants to change up the story with new cars, and it’s open to ideas. We may have a few . . .


You can read more about LeMay’s Drive Home at the museum’s blog here


-2016 Detroit Auto Show Full Coverage


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