The Displaced Nation

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6 kinds of road trips and the best cars, real and fantasy, to travel in

To take a road trip, one must have a suitable mode of transport. Most of our road trips were made in a soccer-mom-mobile — a 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan, high in practicality but decidedly low in street cred. For our young family 14 years ago, however, it was perfect as we traveled through Maine, Quebec, Ontario, and New York.

Robert Pirsig’s Honda motorcycle, no matter how charismatic the ride or perfect the windshield-less view, would have been unfit for purpose if the purpose was to transport two children under the age of four.

So when people ask, “What’s the best vehicle for a road trip?” the answer will depend on another question:

“What kind of road trip?”

1. The Ghost Hunters Trip

The Fantasy – The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine.

The Reality – While the exact make and model of the Mystery Machine is unclear in the original cartoon, and a search on Google images brings up all manner of vehicles painted to resemble it (including a Dodge Grand Caravan — now, why didn’t I think of that?) I feel there is only one van that will fit this role: the VW camper.

A child of the hippie era, the VW encapsulates the eccentricity required for a ghost hunting trip. Film maker Elliott Bristow made a 500,000 mile trip around America between 1968 and 1982, much of it in a VW camper in which he had his own supernatural experience on an old Indian battle site.

Optional extras — large slobbering dog, at additional cost.

2. The Paris Hilton Trip

The FantasyPenelope Pitstop’s pink car from Wacky Races. In a 2009 survey by women’s motor insurer Diamond, around a fifth of the polled female motorists admitted to applying mascara while driving, and three per cent admitted causing an accident by doing so. These numbers statistically equate to “half a million road crashes caused by women applying make-up.” Penelope Pitstop’s pink car with its automatic lipstick applicator, therefore, would be an ideal choice for young women whose multi-tasking ability is limited to watching the road and changing gear.

The Reality — While Penelope’s car may be a reality at car shows (yes, I’ve seen it at Goodwood Festival of Speed) it probably, alas, doesn’t come with a lipstick applicator. All is not lost, though. Earlier this year, Google was lobbying for legislation to make Nevada the first state to allow their self-driving cars on the road, and which would include an exemption on the ban of texting — and therefore, one assumes, the application of lip gloss — at the wheel.

Optional extras — Bring a Southern Belle accent by all means, but leave the Southern Comfort at home. I’m pretty sure even self-driving cars wouldn’t be exempt from drink-driving laws.

3. The Girls’ Weekend

The Fantasy — A blue 1966 Thunderbird, as driven by Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise.

The Reality — There are still quite a few of these cars around, at varying prices. Try eBay. However much you pay for the car, don’t expect to find a hitchhiker who looks like Brad Pitt.

Optional extras — Radar detector where legal. Hitchhiker ejector seat.

4. The Flying Visit Trip

The FantasyChitty Chitty Bang Bang. Now, how useful would this car be? On a long stretch of dull highway or upon approaching a traffic jam, to press a button, unfold a set of wings, and zoom ahead like ET on a bicycle. Or when you come to some obstacle in the road — like, say, the Grand Canyon. (See “The Girls’ Weekend”.)

The RealityThe Terrafugia Transition. Is it a car? Is it a plane? It’s both. You land on the runway, fold up the wings, and drive home. The Massachusetts-based manufacturer estimates that the first delivery of this machine will be late 2012, and it will cost just under US$300,000.

Optional extras — Call me pessimistic, but a parachute would be nice.

5. The Great Lakes Trip — without waiting for a bridge

The FantasyJames Bond’s Lotus Esprit. You know the one, in The Spy Who Loved Me. Roger Moore and Barbara Bach take a dive into the sea in this car, which miraculously turns into a submarine. Useful for crossing large stretches of water.

The RealityThe Lotus Elise sQuba. Concept car designer Frank Rinderknecht adapted a Lotus Elise to travel underwater. It can manage about two hours — until the batteries or oxygen run out. Sadly, this car remains just a concept.

Optional extras — As in Hitchhiker’s Guide, never travel in this one without a towel.

6. The Christmas Road Trip

The Fantasy — Santa’s Sleigh and Reindeer. I used to think Santa Claus’s transport was a very neat trick — time travel and flying deer in one machine.

The Reality — No reindeer, but an elk of sorts. This week we came across a road trip post at Sarah Melamed’s site, Food Bridge. (Do check it out. Some great photos, and other wonderful posts on food.) Sarah and her husband rented an RV for the summer and traveled from New York through Maine to Nova Scotia. The RV — pictured above — had a large dent in its front, apparently due to the previous renters crashing it into an elk in Montana. Hence the name Sarah gave it: the Elk-Mobile. The large dent, Sarah says, gave her and her husband credibility among the RV clan, even though they were “amateurs” in the RV world.

Optional extras — deer, readily available in your own back yard, to add a few dings where necessary.

If only I had known it was that simple to gain street cred when I owned my Caravan.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, on the diner food sometimes encountered on American road trips (It’s Food!).

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Image: MorgueFile

3 responses to “6 kinds of road trips and the best cars, real and fantasy, to travel in

  1. Kate Allison September 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    At this moment, I am watching the UK version of Top Gear on BBC America, and am totally confused. The ‘boys’ have taken four caravans and a Jaguar XJS, removed the wheels, and replaced them with train wheels. If these vehicles go cross country now, is it a road trip or a railroad trip?

    • ML Awanohara September 19, 2011 at 8:37 pm

      @Kate
      I’ve always found “Top Gear” a bit confusing so can’t shed any light on these capers. But thanks for highlighting some of the vehicles I would otherwise know nothing about. The Terrafugia Transition, how extraordinary is that — though I share your sentiments about the parachute. And the Lotus Elite “SQuba”? Wow! Rest assured, I always travel with towels. Girl Scout motto and all that… (Actually, it’s because I have two dogs!)

      • Kate Allison September 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

        The programme wasn’t always like it is now. If you watched it during your time in England, you’ll remember it as a much more staid affair, with presenters commenting on the accessibility of the car radio from the driver’s seat (Sue Baker) or commenting on the safety of a car (always Chris Goffey). Then it turned into the mayhem it is now, which is less informative from a practical point of view but far more entertaining. The old-style Top Gear became 5th Gear, I think.

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