FIRST PUBLISHED MARCH 1995
ROAD TRIPS, A WHEELS STAPLE, ARE PERHAPS THE MOST EVOCATIVE MEANS OF TELLING A CAR STORY.
COMBINE THIS WITH FASCINATING TRAVEL AND IT’S NO SURPRISE THEY REMAIN SO POPULAR.
Most of all, the best of these stories demonstrate the continuing fascination of a long journey by car. America, home of the road trip in popular culture, has often been the location for such tales that, mostly, involve the latest and greatest models.
‘Caddy Cool’ was different. Author Col Menzies, a wonderfully talented, former Wheels assistant editor, and his mate, fellow journalist Frank Robson (two Walkley awards for feature writing) simultaneously suffered a mid-life crisis. They believed their predicament could only be solved by flying to America, buying a proper, big yank tank – budget $1000 – and spending four weeks playing Kerouac, O’Rourke and Hunter S.
Mostly, it went to plan though they ended up way over budget and paying $1500 for a 14-year-old 1981 Cadillac Eldorado coupe; two tonnes, 5.2-metres, 368 cubic inch (6.3-litres) V8, power everything, crimson leather seats, and elsewhere on the interior, red velour upholstery. Perfect, then, for the coast-to-coast task. It was to be, in Menzies’ words, “hedonism on a grand scale”.
Menzies discovered one of the great truths about America: cars look different in the land of the free. Even the Lincoln Town Car, “which 95 percent of the world’s non-American citizenry rightly consider hideous, suddenly appears much more subtle and stylish within the United States. I won’t admit, even now, to thinking of our Caddy as ugly.”
Their journey took them east from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where, worried about the possibility of the prized Cadillac being stolen, they asked the hotel proprietor about car park security, only to be told, “No-one’s gonna steal that old junker.” They almost hit the bloke.
As they travelled through Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Texas, their adventures mostly seemed to involve other bar patrons. They came to appreciate that “nothing is more deadening” than rural American Interstate driving, but also that “nothing is better aside from air travel to cover ground quickly.” Even with the cruise set to 70mph, (113km/h) the dominant traffic of huge semi-trailers, many driven by women, streamed past. The other travellers were mostly holidaying families in outrageously proportioned mobile homes towing the family car behind them.
They returned to Los Angeles in plenty of time to sell the Caddy, managing to find a buyer prepared to pay them $1000 for their (by then) “beautiful” Eldorado.
In Wheels road trip tradition, Caddy Cool is a lovely piece of writing. Makes me, and I’m sure you too, want to replicate the idea. Why not?
Col Menzies (below left) joined Wheels as assistant editor to Phil Scott with the June 1988 issue.
He returned to his first love of newspapers around July the following year. He later died of cancer in 2011 at just 61. Scotty remembers Col as one of the great sub-editors, producing some of Wheels’ best headlines and intros: Phil’s favourite was on a road test of an underpowered Peugeot. It simply read: Gallic Bred; No Herbs.
We dig around under the skin of the R35 Nissan GT-R; Brockie joins us to help find Australia’s fastest car – it turns out to be a Porsche 928 GTS that pulls 262km/h; oversized journo Russell Bulgin squeezes himself into the cockpit of the Simtek F1 car; Carey gives a spanking to the 5.0-litre V8 in the TVR Griffith 500.
Wizard Smith’s attempt on the world land speed record
In May 1995, Adelaide learns that Melbourne has pinched the rights to hold the Australian F1 Grand Prix. Not everyone is happy: protesters rally to prevent Albert Park from closing for the six-day event.
Despite overwhelming evidence, American hero O.J.
Simpson is found not guilty of murdering his estranged wife and her partner. Simpson would be found ‘responsible’ in a civil suit in 1997.
Members of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo launch an attack with sarin nerve gas on Tokyo’s subway.
Twelve people are killed; thousands more injured.