Singing the Praises of the Summer Car Convoy
Each July, 70 people in more than 30 performance cars head to Maine -- just because they can.
With the exception of funerals and the moments leading up to JFK’s assassination, I’ve always had a weird draw to motorcades and vehicle convoys. There was a time, when my friends and I first got our Connecticut driver's licenses, that I made everyone drive separately, for no reason. I loved doing that. In hindsight, it was a very bad idea to have four hormonal teenagers following each other, because none of our old Camrys and Oldsmobile Eighty-Eights were meant to sustain 100 mph. In January, my grandmother died and I had on my flashers and a bright orange placard hanging from the mirror of the Porsche Cayenne loaner I had that week. For the brief ride to her grave site, we could break every traffic law on the books. I hated every second of it.
The better convoys I remember involved my parents and grandparents, both en route to Ocean City, Md., in an identical pair of white Volvo 240s. Then there’s my annual convoy with the New England Motor Press Association, the Ragtop Ramble and Crustacean Crawl, in which a group of journalists and PR reps drives from Boston to Kennebunkport, Maine, every July. The only purpose is to try out expensive convertibles -- and kill dozens of lobsters. In terms of what Motor Trend now labels “Epic Drives,” this is it.
Think about it. At what other time do 40 brand-new cars magically show up on an immaculate lawn in front of a 19th-century chateau-inspired horse stable?
And is there any other moment when you know this guy cruising in a Daytona Prototype with freakin’ window nets is going to the same place you are?
(He’s Gary Cheney, the owner of this Factory Five GTM, a kit car that weighs only 2,300 pounds and produces 505 horsepower. Factory Five also sells kits for those hairy-chested Cobras.)
Certainly, there are other press clubs -- particularly in Miami -- that replicate this sort of thing quite well. But in stuffy New England, where people dress in Nantucket Reds and polos instead of sporting waxed bikini lines and Pauly D muscle shirts, it’s a spectacle that shuts down highway rest stops and perplexes people stopping to pee.
Unlike other road tours and model-specific car clubs that try to stage scenic rallies, my group doesn't care how anyone gets to Kennebunkport, so long as the mandatory driver change at the New Hampshire rest stop in Hampton is included. One year, we tried diverting the cruise off the highways to Routes 1 and 1A, which run right along the coast. But the pain inflicted from following another convoy of cars -- that is, Mainers and tourists chugging at 15 mph at the height of summer vacation -- meant that, in the future, we’d never see a side road again.
Also: When problems happen on a convoy, they're not really problems -- like when the rear brakes froze on one of the Cobras. Breaking down in someone's driveway with everyone watching is just exciting.
The only bad part, if there is one, is starting off at 25 mph for the first few miles. Having 40 fast cars ride together makes local police itchy to write tickets, despite the event’s safe and generally reasonable 15-year history. If you don’t think law enforcement can trap your speed from behind a tree trunk, think again.
Speed, however, isn’t the goal, even with all the lumpy cams and straight-piped exhausts we had on this year’s ride. Like every convoy -- and unlike most manufacturer-sponsored press trips -- the Ragtop Ramble is my chance to go somewhere with people I actually want to be with, on my own terms and in my own car. That’s reason enough.
Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving and riding in cars he doesn't own. He was raised in Volvos and has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He lives in Boston, is a member of the New England Motor Press Association, and has reported for The Boston Globe, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and The Times of London.
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