RE: NSX on Route 66: PH Dream Drive

RE: NSX on Route 66: PH Dream Drive

Monday 23rd July 2018

NSX on Route 66: PH Dream Drive

Chicago to Santa Monica is surely on more than one PHer's bucket list. We spent a week living the dream...

When it comes to dream drives, perhaps no road trip is more famous than Route 66. Spearing across the United States Route 66, travelled today mostly as a tourist route, wends 2400 miles west from the edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago, to the Pacific shoreline in Los Angeles. Or you can go the other way, obviously; it's not the world's most convoluted one-way system.

But mostly it's travelled east-to-west, because before, during and after Route 66's designation as a US Highway in 1926, that direction was the traditional migratory route: Americans went west in search of gold in the 1800s, to escape drought in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and have done for warmer weather and greater fortunes before, during and since.

And today? Mostly they go in search of nostalgia, history, or just for a long ride or drive with a destination in mind. That's what drew me in. It's modern north America's nearest approximation to a pilgrim route. And my, are there signs to light the way.

The most famous way to cross America doesn't actually cross America, as you'll know. Chicago feels like a coastal city owing to its harbours and the bitter cold of late March, when PH makes the journey, but if you landed in Maine, the easternmost point of the US mainland, you'd still have a 1300 mile drive west to the start of Route 66.

PH doesn't start in Maine or on the edge of Lake Michigan, but five hours south east of Chicago in Marysville, Ohio, where we've collected an all-American sports car for the trip. A good ol' Uncle Sam product, hand assembled in the, er, Honda Performance Manufacturing Center. Yup, it's a Honda - strictly, here, Acura - NSX. Because when Honda wanted to revive the NSX, its HQ in Japan gave the job to its American arm. It donated them just three engineers, veterans of the original NSX project, which raised the total number of engineers on new NSX project who'd previously worked on a sports car, to three.

But the car's good, as you'll have read. It has a mid-mounted twin-turbo V6 engine augmented by electric motors - one at the rear, and one at each front wheel to balance the handling and improve acceleration. That means there's no boot in the front, but a Lotus-style one behind the engine: wide, but short and shallow. And warm.

The guide books suggest you'll want at least a fortnight, perhaps a month, to traverse Route 66 properly. We gave ourselves eight days.

The freezing temperatures of Chicago in late spring make it easier to understand why you'd go west, then and now. And it's easy to pick up the route of Route 66, given the plethora of signs alongside it. When they're not there, it's relatively straightforward to follow your nose, too.

The landscape of America's highways is today rather different to 90 years ago, and as a result so are its towns. Follow Route 66 to the letter and you'll find 80% of the original roads is still accessible. A lot of times it has become, or runs parallel to, the Interstate system that has overlaid so much of it.

In the first half of last century, bustling small towns emerged to fill the needs of travellers. There were loading stations for cattle, and places to maintain and refuel vehicles and trains. Today it's different: an Interstate rounds a town, because a truck can drive at 75mph all day without stopping. Nearby trains a mile and a half long honk as they pass on similarly determined agendas. So unlike in Britain, where a bypass frequently rejuvenates an ancient town centre, in America, where success was built on motorised transport, it sucks the life out of it, creating a vacuum that no amount of antique shops and Route 66 museums can fill.

You can spot these places on the map, no matter which of Route 66's eight states you're in. See where the Interstate goes: if it makes a double curve to round a town, then the little unmarked road that goes straight on where the Interstate bends will be labelled, if you zoom your sat-nav right in, 'Historic Route 66', and the town centre will feel like Radiator Springs.

It'll be quaint, cute, likeable, and perhaps slightly weird. Like Hill Valley, only without Michael J Fox and with an antique shop, some painted Route 66 signs on the main drag, and perhaps a twenty foot tall moulded statue holding a rocket, or a hot dog, or shovel. God America's weird.

And so on, and on, it goes. A mix of biggish cities with the same hardware stores and supermarkets and drive-thru eateries; half-empty small towns trading on summer Route 66ers; and places to visit, old and new, sublime and ridiculous.

Of the ridiculous? Take the huge fibreglass and metal whale, built in a lake a few decades ago apparently as an anniversary present (and actually quite endearing); there's the novelty outpost of Uranus ("just stupid," says our hotel receptionist in Lebanon, Missouri, the next town along); or the Pink Elephant Mall, a high school turned into the biggest antique market you'll have been in (I'd gladly have taken home a UFO the size of a one-bed flat).

Then there's the famous Cadillac Ranch, ten cars, famously, half-buried in a dusty, windy field on the roadside near Amarillo. Each car has been spray painted over decades to the point that components bulge like boils and colours have gorily hardened mid-ooze. Surrounding them are ten thousand empty rattle-cans, which mildly-embarrassed looking parents watch their kids scavenge among, in the hope they find one with a few faint streaks left in it, before they toss them back out into the corn stubble, where they become somebody else's waste, somebody else's problem. It's a shrine to all that's grim about modern America.

Of the sublime, though, there is even more. An immaculate drive-in movie theatre that gets 40,000 visitors in season. Window Rock, the Navajo capital, with its moving tribute to code talkers, Navajo troops whose language was better than wartime code. It's as quiet as anywhere in America, which means a background rhythm of birdsong and occasional woofle of V8 pick-up truck. The Petrified Forest is as beautiful a place as I've been to, landscapes sculpted millions of years ago when mudslides cleared and buried grand old trees. Minerals in the ensuing flood waters seeped into the wood, hardening and effectively fossilising it. Driving through what's now a national park, you can spot where the original Route 66 used to go: there's a line of wireless telegraph poles, and a faintly observable scrub adjacent to it with a small crown. The interstate bisects the scenery less discreetly.

And there's Monument Valley, where you can take the picture that, perhaps, defines Route 66 - miles of straight asphalt, dawn sunlight beaming onto the front of vast distant rocks and a cold blue sky. Only it's a cheat. It's not on Route 66 at all. We get up at 2:30am to drive north of Route 66 to get there, and we don't get back onto Route 66 until 11am. It's like saying Cheddar Gorge is a feature of the M25. But it's worth the detour.

A lot of travellers give up Route 66 at that point, head from there to the Grand Canyon, and onto Las Vegas. But if you like driving, don't. The Sitgreaves Pass, Arizona, after hundreds of miles of mostly straight road, is the reward. They put all the corners in one place. It's like the best roads of Wales, only warm and with phone reception. It's a road so good that they put a 20mph speed limit on it which everyone ignores. And here it is really worth having a Honda NSX. America's car culture means that everywhere you go it's worth having an interesting car - whether people know what the NSX is or not, and it's probably 50:50, everybody wants to talk about it. This is a country whose success has depended on the car, realises it is the machine that changed the world, and cherishes it. Apart from its stupidly steep driveway ramps.

Sometimes it's easy to mock the 50%+ of Americans that don't have a passport; a higher proportion again in the middle states. But out here, in a great wilderness, you can understand why it's so. You can't fly to Portugal in two hours for thirty quid. Hell, you can't fly anywhere in two hours. But you have untold amounts of space and, for the most part, nobody to tell you what you can't do with it. So you have a truck and trailer or an RV, and a buggy or a dirt bike or a quad bike or a Jeep, and you load it all up and immerse yourself in one of the world's grandest, most accessible landscapes. It's what I'd do. Wheels bring you freedom.

Maybe it's because of how many people detour, maybe it's because some people spend too long doing Route 66, but as California beckons, you get the impression that Route 66 matters less. Perhaps they've just got more going on. But the signs peter out and Route 66 fades rather than crescendos when it gets to its end, along Santa Monica Boulevard. There's a small plaque at the end of that (though the original highway finished a mile inland), but a few years ago the 'official' end was relocated to Santa Monica Pier.

Which, perhaps, is fitting. Because while this is a dream drive, the dream for Americans was what came at the end of it, not the drive itself.



Roy m

Original Poster:

72 posts

158 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
Definitely on my list. Somewhere on the web is a list of every connection to follow the original route exactly. I downloaded it once and it was like a decent size paperback. I will do it one day but as a "guide" route to dip in and out of rather than trying to trace the 'original.

Fishy Dave

568 posts

190 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
What a fantastic write up and selection of photos. My wife and I drove some of the Western sections in January (CA, AZ, NM), Route 66 was almost deserted, you can feel the history, especially when staying in the original Motels. The vastness of the place is the thing that continues to amaze me, you can drive for tens of miles without seeing anything; cars, people, houses, nothing at all.

Dave smile


2,937 posts

100 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
Good read.

Black S2K

867 posts

194 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
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Possibly the best article on here in a long time - really good to read.

And I do love a moody shot of a Peterbilt wrecker!


29,008 posts

71 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
No mention of the historic midpoint, and its utterly kitsch retro diner...

(About an hour west of Amarillo and Cadillac Ranch - and no guesses how we happened to trip across it)


14,112 posts

200 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
A fantastic car on a great road.

Kenny Powers

2,282 posts

72 months

Saturday 21st July 2018
quotequote all
Amazing car.
Great article.
Fabulous photography.
Rendered useless by abysmal image quality.
Sitting on cars should carry the death sentence.



357 posts

142 months

Sunday 22nd July 2018
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Nice article. We traveled a couple of small sections of Route 66 earlier this year in Kansas and Illinois, including stopping by the Rainbow Bridge and the Paul Bunyan statue in Atlanta.


13,619 posts

152 months

Sunday 22nd July 2018
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Have covered every inch of it. There are some amazing eccentrics to meet on the Route and always something new.


6,127 posts

152 months

Sunday 22nd July 2018
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Has to be done in a muscle car or a lazy convertible, no rush, no agenda, just cruise and enjoy, explore and photograph somewhere that is disappearing!

Yacht Broker

2,946 posts

212 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
quotequote all
Did it 2yrs ago and loved it! Rented a Maserati just to be a little different. Took 9 days.

Currently typing this from Boston where we have just completed a West-to-East from Seattle via Yellowstone, Chicago, Detroit, Niagara and Newport RI. 3,800 miles in 8 days (allowing for enough time to do a full lap of Yellowstone).

Next year we're planning San Francisco to Alaska. Have already done the Pacific Coastal Highway from SF south, the deep South and various other US trips, so running out of adventures!


2,210 posts

210 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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What an interesting and well written article.

Did this a couple of years ago with 6 pals on Harley's, a real 'bucket list' experience with the best memories.


460 posts

62 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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The OP has the worst job in the world... :/


50 posts

99 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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Is the image quality in articles getting worse, or is it just my eyes?

Scottie - NW

876 posts

178 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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I always thought Route 66 finished a little further North than Santa Monica pier, was there again last year and took this photo of the end point.


2,536 posts

79 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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What a stunning car


3,616 posts

86 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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Rekindled my major want to do this trip! Camera in hand.. Would love to do it in a muscle car too, but finances probably mean I will be in a bog standard rental.


931 posts

107 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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Michael77 said:
Is the image quality in articles getting worse, or is it just my eyes?
I'd be insulted if I were the photographer


178 posts

128 months

Monday 23rd July 2018
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I did most of 66 a few years back.
Rather than rent a car I shipped out my C5 Corvette to Baltimore then joined Route 66 south of Chicago ,having visited the Corvette factory and museum en route.
I would recommend taking "Road Trip USA" by Jamie Jenson. It was invaluable in following as much of the old road as possible.
When entering a new state there is nearly always a tourist office where you can get a free detailed map of the route in that particular state.
My favourite stretches were the loop up to Oatman in Arizona which involves a steep twisty climb up to the old mining town., and also the loop up to Santa Fe in New Mexico.
I cheated a bit when I entered California and headed north to Las Vegas ,then Death Valley (118 degrees!) Yosemite and San Francisco.
Final part of the trip was down Highway 1 to LA finishing up in Santa Monica.
I was lucky to be able to devote six weeks for the trip and by the time the Vette arrived back at Bristol Docks I had added over 5000 miles to the mileometer.
I would do the trip again tomorrow given half the chance.


11 posts

131 months

Monday 30th July 2018
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I'm American. I've never had any interest in driving "Route 66". Actually, it's not clear to me why this is such a British obsession. "Route 66" is nothing but a bunch of tourist traps and depressed small town backwaters. The route itself has been gone for 30+ years, it's seemingly only around for British tourists to rent a "muscle car" and traipse around pretending that they're "doing America" while getting fleeced by fat guys with huge beards. It's weird, depressing and the food is terrible. Maybe that's what people look for in a vacation, not me. Also, it's hardly an accurate "representation of America" as this article and numerous other make it out to be. No one drive is going to "capture America", New England isn't much like Louisiana which isn't much like Seattle which isn't much like San Antonio which isn't much like Miami. "Route 66" captures what dead or dying towns in the west are like, that's it. So no, you're not really "finding America". In fact, if you leave the US thinking that driving "Route 66" really got you to the heart of America, I pity you. Perhaps it's scenery you're after. In that case, I can assure you that there are many far superior scenic drives in this country. Overall, I don't get it.