Experiences Matter: An Evening Road Tour In A 1968 Buick Riviera

On the first full day of the 2019 International Meet of the Riviera Owners Association, the final event was a Guided Rallye through Gettysburg and the surrounding country. I do not currently own a Riviera, and, though other cars were explicitly welcomed on the tour, my preference was to be in a Riviera. However, I didn’t know anyone from the ROA either than virtually prior to attending the meet, so I didn’t think my odds were good.

As it happened, I met one of my virtual acquaintances as we were listening to the pre-road tour briefing. Mike offered me shotgun in his striking Aqua Mist 1968 Riviera, and I jumped at the chance. In a total coincidence, his car was on all the meet materials, including the t-shirt. I wonder how many t-shirts I would buy if my car was on them …

Following four visible Riviera generations on the road tour.

We left the hotel parking lot slowly with a total of about 17 Rivieras. My number one observation is that the second generation Riviera is a very comfortable car. At no point in our approximately two-hour tour did I feel remotely cramped, despite my 6’2″ and a little over 200 pounds.

Another thing I noted was how much visibility these cars have. I actually managed to take some decent pictures during the tour, largely because of the wide views I had available to me in almost all directions.

Finally, it cannot be ignored that Mike’s 1968 is quite spritely. Even with an all-in weight that was likely around 4,700 pounds, The Aqua Zephyr (likely only a week older than I am—another wild coincidence) got up and went when he asked it to.

So, thank you, Mike, for giving me the experience of being in a sixties Riviera driving through the Pennsylvania countryside. I’ll never forget it.

Returning Home

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve been celebrating the five year anniversary of the trip that inspired Lincoln Highway 101. As I’m sure you may have guessed, this will be the last of those posts—against (some, many, ?) odds, we made it back home.

Trip odometer photo
Final mileage—77,427 and change

Ivelis and I arrived home safely but quite spent at our house in Bryn Mawr on May 31, 2014, at roughly 3:40 pm. We had traveled approximately 6,314 miles, and we had (amazingly) made it in our 29 and a half-year-old car. I felt like both we and Lauren should have received some kind of medal!

The three of us had been on the road for a total of 15 days. One day was spent “staging” to Times Square, New York City, eight traveling from Times Square to Lincoln Park, San Francisco on the Lincoln Highway, and six returning home (actually five and a half because we stopped for significant amounts of time at those two amazing museums on our second to last day out). I have to give credit to the weather in mid to late May of 2014—for the most part, it was near perfect. So many of our photos of this trip include beautiful blue skies.

For all of my worries and concerns about our ability to successfully complete this trip in this car, we ended up having only two major issues—the passenger door and the stalls. For the final eight days of our journey, I remained quite concerned that the passenger door would disintegrate even further than it had in Ely, Nevada. However, Ivelis and I were able to use both the manual door lock and the inside door handle all the way back home. Despite these problems, I’m very glad that we took this excursion in Lauren—I think that this choice of vehicle made the experience more special.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

We Made It!

It was precisely five years ago that we completed the Lincoln Highway portion of the trip chronicled in Lincoln Highway 101. As I’ve mentioned before, this was not a done deal and was fraught at points. But, we made it.

We finally arrived at Lincoln Park, the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway, on May 25, 2014, at 3:50 pm. Interestingly, Lincoln Park was dedicated in 1909—a few years before the Lincoln Highway came into existence. It seems hard to overstate the power of the 16th president of the United States’ name in the early 20th century.

According to the reasonably accurate trip odometer (it needed to be quite precise to pass an NCRS performance verification in June 2011), we had traveled a total of exactly 3,250 miles in nine days. Our Lincoln Highway portion had been about 3,150 miles in eight days or approximately 394 miles per day. The odometer also showed us averaging an absolutely astounding 26.0 mpg with that relatively large V8 and very rudimentary engine controls that were designed in the late 1970s. Still a little doubtful about this mileage, I confirmed the accuracy of the trip computer’s numbers with our gas station receipts after our trip was complete—it turned out to be off by well under 1%.

Jordan welcoming us to the finish in style

Despite our painfully substantial delay, our friend Jordan was (still) patiently waiting for us at the circa 1924 Legion of Honour in Lincoln Park with very unexpected but excellent champagne and tasty cheese—undeniably taking a lot of the edge off what had been an extremely trying last day of our Lincoln Highway experience. He did seem quite perturbed that he had somehow left some accompanying bread at his apartment, but we were certainly not complaining! The three of us spent a little more than an hour together eating, drinking, and talking on that breezy late afternoon. Afterward, we parted ways, with Jordan departing on his snazzy BMW R1100R motorcycle and the two of us driving a final five miles to our stop for the night.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

Amazing: The Bonneville Salt Flats

One of the strongest memories from our Lincoln Highway trip in May 2014 was our visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats. This also made it one of the easiest sections to write about.

Both of Ivelis and I had agreed quite early in our planning process for this trip that we positively wanted to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah, something that has been on our automobile racing related “bucket list” for many years. If the salt is dry enough (and it isn’t always so), the land speed record attempts happen every year in the middle of August (a streamliner with a twin-turbocharged small block Chevrolet V8 was clocked at 437 mph in 2013). The rest of the year, the salt flats are a “special recreation management area” managed by the Department of the Interior.

Once we had passed the ghost town of Arinosa, we left Interstate 80 just east of the Nevada border and drove slowly out on a several-mile-long ribbon of asphalt. The speed limits are aggressively low—as if the civil engineers involved knew that there would be speed freaks driving along this road. The pavement ends in a kind of cul-de-sac, except there are (of course) no houses. What you do (if the salt is dry enough—and we were lucky that it was when we visited) is just gently drive off the asphalt and onto the actual salt flats.

Front quarter view of Lauren on the Bonneville Salt Flats
An outtake from Lincoln Highway 101—
I ended up making a poster out of this picture.

There were six or seven other cars and trucks of various types (we spotted everything from minivans and crossovers to late-model Mustangs) on the salt flats. Everyone present tried hard to avoid getting into each other’s camera angles—I believe because all of us understood the flats’ relevance. While Ivelis waited patiently, I spent about twenty to thirty minutes cleaning up Lauren’s exterior enough to make me comfortable with taking some (perhaps way too many) pictures.

The eerie silence for the entire distance you can see and the absolute emptiness of the famous salt flats were both impressive and also striking—and not just for the beautiful pictures it produced. Finally getting a chance to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats after so many years met both of our high expectations.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

Visiting Franklin Grove

Continuing with my “exactly five years ago” series—by this point we had made it to mid-Illinois and one of our carefully planned stops.

Parked quite stylishly outside the national Lincoln Highway Association headquarters in little Franklin Grove, Illinois

In the quiet village of Franklin Grove, about five miles southwest of Ashton, we stopped for a little over an hour in the early afternoon at the national headquarters of the relatively new but very active Lincoln Highway Association. Ivelis and I walked in and quietly signed the guest book. Already inside was another couple traveling the Lincoln Highway in what they told us was a far more leisurely fashion (measured in many months versus a few weeks) than ours. They were driving in an impressively well preserved and maintained (and evidently quite functional) 1980s Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia—I neglected to get the precise year.

An amiable woman named Lynn Asp (in general, folks were wonderfully gracious to us during this entire trip) spoke to us at length about the Association and their various upcoming events. It was only well after departing Franklin Grove that we realized that there is a picture of Lynn in one of the many Lincoln Highway-related books that we were carrying with us in Lauren’s rear compartment—we definitely should have gotten her to sign it!

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

The relatively newly reconstituted Lincoln Highway Association’s online presence includes much useful information, context, and advice, but the absolute star of their site is a fantastic, stunningly detailed, and extreme accurate Google Maps overlay of all the Lincoln Highway routes.

Starting Along The Lincoln Highway

It is exactly five years ago today that we started the actual Lincoln Highway portion of the journey chronicled in Lincoln Highway 101. For some reason, it’s important to me to travel all of whatever route we are taking, so starting our trip on the Lincoln Highway had to be at Times Square.

Driving old cars in Manhattan is not for the faint-hearted, so I attempted to limit our vulnerability by leaving the hotel at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning. We drove over to Times Square on what seemed to be fairly awful even for New York City streets. From the book:

Where it begins: early Sunday morning, Times Square, New York City

When we arrived at Times Square itself (our precise starting point was 47th and Broadway), I slammed Lauren’s long-suffering THM 700-R4 (the THM stands for Turbo Hydra-Matic—a General Motors trademark dating all the way back to 1964) automatic transmission into park. Next, I wrenched the long and substantial driver’s side door open and dashed across 47th Street to take a few of the all-important “beginning of the trip” pictures. If you look extremely carefully at the photograph, you might be able to sense Ivelis waiting just a little impatiently in the passenger’s seat as Lauren’s “Tuned Port Injection” engine rumbled as it idled—making the entire car twitch.

After leaving Times Square, it was off toward the west side of Manhattan. Early Lincoln Highway motorists took the New York Central’s steam ferry across the Hudson River from 42nd Street to Weehawken, New Jersey—the NY Waterway company runs a similar route today, but its modern boats do not carry any vehicle larger than a bicycle. Instead of traveling across the surface of the river, we took an almost empty one and a half miles in the Lincoln Tunnel about 100 feet underneath the Hudson to Union City. It seemed that our plan of leaving Manhattan quite early on a Sunday morning was working out!

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

It Is Five Years Ago Today

It is five years ago today that Ivelis and I began the trip that I would end up writing about in Lincoln Highway 101. In spite of our many preparations, both of us were quite aware that there were many unknowns, including whether we would even complete the trip successfully.

This situation was something that had not been true of our two previous “Big Trips” back and forth across the United States. The possibility of a catastrophic failure of some essential component of our 1985 Corvette was part of an honest and realistic assessment of our plans. A few of our friends heightened this awareness: they were quite enthused by our trip—until they figured out that we were driving it on our own.

Despite this concern, we hit the road with optimism. I’ll let the second edition of the book take it from here:

After a final check or two, we departed from our home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Once we had traversed a few local roads, we drove up to New York City via first the Pennsylvania Turnpike and then the New Jersey Turnpike on what turned out to be a lovely spring afternoon—definitely a good sign at the start of this long and potentially fraught trip. As I had hoped, it was generally “smooth sailing” on this particular Saturday as we drove slightly over 100 miles. Ivelis and I encountered our only significant traffic issues during the day as we traversed the many merges (including The Helix—yes, a merge with an actual name) into the Lincoln Tunnel before it deposited us right into the center of Manhattan on West 38th Street.

Corvette Sting Ray poster in Times Square
Immensely motivating banner for the then new
Corvette Stingray as we near Times Square

From there, we drove along 42nd Street through Times Square itself toward our hotel. On our way through “The Crossroads of the World,” we passed a giant billboard advertising the (at that point) almost brand new 2014 Corvette Stingray—very cool and definitely another good omen. I would eagerly search for any positive indicator I could find throughout this trip.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition