Last September I crossed America filming a documentary about a remarkable Irish event – ‘The Ford Mustang Drive Experience’. I was part of the largest group of new model Ford Mustang convertibles ever assembled to travel Route 66. Maynooth based Celtic Horizon Tours set up the event to honour the Mustang’s 50 years. We were also celebrating the fact that it was being built in right hand drive for the first time – which of course means that it would be for sale in Ireland.
Route 66 winds its way from Chicago, Illinois, to the boardwalk at Santa Monica, California. In all we racked up about some 4,000kms in our ‘Stangs’ over two weeks. Along the way, Route 66 offered up a wealth of interesting characters and places. I’ve a lot of experience of the Mother Road having crossed it three times before – but always on two wheels. The first time was back in 2002 when a Harley Davidson was my chariot of choice.
As motorcyclists account for about 2% of the motoring population, the Mustang opened up the famous highway to so many more drivers and people who wanted to live the dream. Just ask anybody how they’d like to cross Route 66 and they’ll say in a Mustang drop top.
Route 66 traverses eight States and the distance is so vast you have to set your watch to three time zones. Route 66 is also a gateway to the Grand Canyon and many other amazing sights. We made the journey even longer by adding a ninth state to the journey when we visited Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam.
Also known as Main Street America, or The Will Rogers Highway, Route 66 is steeped in history. It was commissioned in the 1930s and built by tens of thousands of workers – including thousands of Irish migrants. Over time, countless souls have travelled 66 in search of a better life heading west. Often people settled wherever their cars or trucks broke down, while the ultimate dream was to reach sunny California.
Route 66 was decommissioned in the mid-80s as modern ‘Interstate’ motorways took over. Route 66 lost its function but it is slowly being brought back to life by tourism. Thanks to the power of nostalgia, Route 66 was recently re-commissioned and the old song “Get your kicks on Route 66” continues to be a handy guide to the wonderful cities and towns on the route.
Muscle cars like the Mustang have a special place in people’s hearts stateside. There is relatively little choice on US roads with Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and Chargers turning heads. The odd low slung Corvette catches your eye too, but it’s the trucks, pick-ups and 18 wheelers that really keep America moving. The scale of America is best understood by taking a road trip like this. The iconic American imagery that you see in the movies and TV is what you get to see on this road. It allows you to get up close and personal.
I’m very proud of the film I made and you’ll hopefully get to see it soon. Some of the highlights that come to mind are when we got to drive our convertible Mustang down the road to nowhere, crossed the Mojave desert, had a train driver stop his three mile long train in the desert just to chat to us, and had a police motorcycle escort with sirens blaring on to the pier at Santa Monica.
What a trip, what a car!