Toward the end of World War Two, Malcolm M. of New York, and Phyllis L. of Maryland, met in California. Mac was an Army chief warrant officer teaching radar systems, after Signal Corps duty in the Solomon and Fiji Islands. Phyllis was a draftsman for the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company, after deciding she didn’t like working as a nurse in Baltimore. She had moved to the west coast in the early 1930s to become her own woman.
On May 30, 1945, they married. On that day began a relationship filled with the ups and downs of middle class American life of the post-war period.
Without dwelling on the details of their “ups and downs”, these pages will briefly describe my plans to drive across the USA, as Mac and Phyllis – my parents – had planned to do when they retired in 1982. Unfortunately, as they were preparing for the trip, cancer and heart attack prevented them from fulfilling that dream. In their memory, I’ll be driving a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 220S, similar to my parents’ car, which I’ve been restoring over the last twelve months.
So after a slight delay, Mac and Phyllis take a trip.
Starting and ending in Connecticut, my major target areas are: Glens Falls NY, Toronto ON, Athens OH, Metamora IL, Appleton WI, La Crescent MN, Spokane WA, San Jose CA, Logan UT, Tucson AZ, Albuquerque NM, Edinburg TX, Fort Worth TX, Clarksville TN, Williamsburg VA, Annapolis MD, Alexandria VA, West Caldwell and Teaneck NJ, Allentown PA, and points in between. I’ll be visiting family, friends, former students and former colleagues along the way.
I hope to make the trip a balance between interstate and two lane blacktop. Older cars – and older drivers – can be weather sensitive, so if I leave in the Fall, I’ll start driving west on the northern tier. If I leave in the Spring, I’ll start with the southern route.
Why am I doing this? When I retired in 2003, I began learning to restore cars of the 1950s. I also began reading period automobile magazines; one in particular was the June 1959 issue of Motor Trend.
In that issue was an article entitled “Is the Diesel the coming economy car?” Turning to page 32, I enjoyed reading the text, and seeing pictures from a drive made by a new 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190D from coast to coast across the USA.
The entire article is available here:
But what really caught my eye was a small picture at the top of the first page of the article, showing a man in a 3/4 length coat, hands in pockets, fedora on head, with two little boys. They were closely inspecting the engine of that 190D. I was dumbstruck; the man was my Dad, and the boys were me and my brother Steve.
Note: in 2013 I was finally able to verify that the 190D did indeed pass through Fort Worth Texas.
Dad was personnel manager for the Sinclair Oil Corporation, southwest division, in Fort Worth Texas, from the late 1940s to 1966. He was always fascinated with the latest developments in automobiles and engines; he loved taking me and my brother to see the “new and experimental” cars that came through Texas, including a fuel test vehicle with dozens of carburetors and fuel lines, and an early gas turbine car.
I so well remember the way Dad looked in that coat, always with his hands in his pockets. And of course, those two kids are exactly the size of me (age ten) and my brother (age eight) in 1959, wearing the typical hats and coats kids used to wear in the 1950s.
Eventually, Mom and Dad purchased a used Mercedes-Benz 220S, and later a 190b similar to that 190D in the photo; the body style is called “ponton”. Mom and dad were very proud of those cars. Considering that they had always talked about making a cross country “retirement trip” in their own old Mercedes, coupled with my growing interest in restoring old cars – well, seeing that picture gave me quite a kick in the head. I decided to “pull it all together” and make the trip for them.
July 15, 2013 update: departure is now scheduled for the third week in September. I’ll be taking the northern route toward Washington State, then south to California, then east across the Southwest, and back up to Connecticut. With the help of the British Car Forum, and the International Ponton Owners Group, I’ll have some mechanical (and psychological) support along the way if needed.
Although not all destinations are shown, here’s the general idea: