I don’t particularly like the term “bucketlist” – it all just seems somewhat hyped nowadays. But there really are certain things which we ought to experience while we still can. Cruising through Las Vegas in a sixties droptop Cadillac is clearly one of them.
First of all, a word of warning to all our American readers: The following will be packed full of preconceived ideas, prejudice and clichés all targeted at the USA, your culture and not least of course your fabulous Yank classics. And all of it of course seen from a European perspective. It’ll probably make you cringe, but I’ll ask you to simply bear over with us Europeans and hopefully you can see the amusing side of it as well…
But I have just experienced the American Dream. Albeit only for 24 hours. And I absolutely loved it!
There is of course no end to the entertainment which can be found in Las Vegas. But it’s much more than merely slot machines, card games and dices. Luckily, there’s something for all of us with a profound passion for classic cars too.
DriveShare by Hagerty is a fairly new way of experiencing the joys of a classic car. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it without banging on and on and on, is if you just imagine a sort of Airbnb for classic cars. Owners of a classic car can put their prized toys up for rent on the website, and DriveShare will then vet potential clients in an attempt to ensure that they will treat the classic car with due respect and care. At the moment this vetting system is only set up to work with US residents, as one aspect of the process is checking your US driver’s license. However, one email to DriveShare and I was meet a very helpful team which were pleasantly accommodating, and before I knew it I was approved to book the car which I found most suitable for my US adventure. I was also ensured that they are currently working to improve the system so that it can deal with overseas clients as easily and hasslefree as it already does with US clients. There are currently more than 500 cars to choose from on DriveShare – some modern exotica, but mostly a broad variety of classic cars spread out all over the US of A. Looking at what was on offer at my destination, Las Vegas, it was immediately clear to me that it would simply have to be the flamboyant 1961 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible.
After a few emails back and forth with Mike, the owner of the Cadi, the day finally arrived where I meet up with him at his shop, Classic & Collectible Cars. Much as I wanted to hit the road, I had to allow myself a quick look at his stunning inventory – there was much to like! But soon enough, I was comfy in the vast bench seat of the Cadillac and turned the ignition with great anticipation to be meet with a deep yet subtle burble of the huge 390 cu.in. V8. Bring it on America!! Of course I had chosen to the one day a year where it rains in Nevada – typical. But a Scandinavian living in north England wasn’t about to let a bit of moisture spoil the fun – instead I kept chanting to myself “I thrive on precipitation” as I splashed the big Cadillac onto the streets of Vegas – hood up.
I quickly found the 159 and headed westbound out of town. As Vegas shrunk behind me, the mountains rose ahead of me. The rain was still coming down relatively hard as dark and heavy clouds barrelled in over the mountain tops. It was a stunning view which almost had me forget my longing for a bit of top-down cruising. I must confess though – I did feel a degree of disappointment as I reached the turn-off for the Scenic Loop Drive through Red Rock Canyon only to find it closed off due to water masses.
Not about to give up just yet and encouraged by the Cadi’s fabulous V8 burble and ultra-comfortable ride, I continued southwest on the 159 instead. Even from the main road, the scenery was utterly stunning and despite the rain, several stops were made for the mandatory photoshoots. I’ve driven more classic cars in my life than I care to count, but the big Cadi was a massive culture shock for a European brought up with small, nimble and efficient European and Japanese cars. But it was clear that the Cadi was on my side, and as we continued to put more and more miles behind us our friendship and trust in one another grew. Soon enough we made it as far as the turn-off for Bonnie Springs dating back to 1947. I guided the enormous Yank tank off the main road as it was time for lunch. It couldn’t possibly have felt any more authentic as the big ice blue Cadillac quietly cruised into the tiny western style town. The Cadillac was my trusty stead and I was John Wayne riding into town with the locals turning to see the stranger arriving. Luckily, the locals turned out to be friendly, so I dodged a couple of peacocks in the street, and made my way to the charming local diner for a burger and an ale.
As my hunger disappeared, so did the rain. Clear blue skies met me as I walked back out to the Cadi, so (finally) the electrically operated top was promptly lowered. While the early sixties Cadillac actually looks surprisingly good with its white top up, it still just looks a million times better with it down. Just like every other stop I had made so far, more small talk was made with random people passing by. Everyone – and I mean everyone – wants to know more when you drive a car like this! Many had their own story to tell too, as they, their father or uncle had inevitably owned one the same or something similar back in the day. It’s amazing just how much of a conversation-opener such a Cadillac Series 62 is, and it all adds to the experience as well.
Back out on the 159 I turned in a northeasterly direction – back in the direction I had come from. The sun was beating down on me and my hopes were high. This time I wasn’t disappointed either as the gates were open to the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center. I navigated the big old Cadi onto Scenic Loop Drive, bypassed the visitor center and cruised slowly into the canyon. Top down and windows down, I had quickly adopted the perfect cruising position: left arm resting on the window sill, bum sunk deep into comfy white seat and just one finger resting gently on the big steering wheel, being careful not to disturb the overly-servoed power steering while enjoying the panoramic views beyond the jukebox style dashboard. It was at this point that the penny dropped. America, I get it now. In this environment, your humungous Yank tanks aren’t flawed. Not one bit! In fact, while the Cadillac probably doesn’t possess a single attribute which us Europeans typically rave about when discussing ultimate driving satisfaction, this was indeed pure driving satisfaction as well – just in a very different format. I couldn’t possibly have been any more relaxed – except of course for my facial muscles as I was grinning ridiculously from ear to ear.
Out there in Red Rock Canyon, I just couldn’t care less what the speed limit was. The breath-taking scenery combined with the smoothest blacktop was just too good to be true. So I proceeded to burble along lazily at about 20mph in top gear and the big V8 virtually at tick-over all the time. Ahhhh… soothing. The vast red mountains truly are stunning, their colours so bright within the abruptly changing layers of rock. It’s quite the spectacle. Needless to say, this called for more mandatory photoshoots, which in turn lead to more enthusiastic and inquisitive conversations with people passing by. As the Scenic Loop started to twist and turn through the canyon, it dawned on me that had I been behind the wheel of a Lotus Seven or a longhood 911, I would have probably been quite a nuisance for my surroundings. But the friendly old Cadi made me a better person. There was no rush as I took my time to enjoy the cruise, the scenery, the weather, the photoshoots and all the chit-chat with friendly strangers. And not least, the exquisite details of the lovely Cadillac…
It would be all too easy to launch into all the usual “just don’t ask it to turn or to brake” criticism. But even as I started to approach multiple switchback turns, I honestly didn’t experience this as a problem. It’s just not that kind of a car, and anyone attempting to drive it as such has clearly thoroughly missed the whole point. Listen to the lazy V8 and then adapt the same attitude to the road ahead. Suddenly you find yourself at an appropriate speed and braking or turning isn’t a problem at all. Reclined and relaxed, the Cadi is your friendly travel companion.
The whole Cadillac experience on US soil was highly educational for me. Previously I would have probably stuck some mindless moniker like “Big Beast” on the Cadi. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong, as there’s absolutely nothing beastly about it. It’s more like a warm and friendly – albeit slightly obese – elderly gentleman who is always there to help you and comfort you. I found a real friend in this Gentleman and truly enjoyed his company as we came towards the end of the picturesque Red Rock Canyon and turned back towards Sin City.
Of course, with Sin City comes temptation and I wasn’t about to let the day end just yet. I picked up a friend who despite minimal interest in classic cars loved the idea of cruising the Strip in an open Cadillac, and off we went into the night. I think it’s safe to say that I have never before been at the receiving end of quite that much attention. Everyone points at you and takes pictures as they shout “Vegas, baby!” But it was all in such a positive and pleasant way, that it was thoroughly enjoyable. Up and down the Strip and then into the real Vegas around old Fremont Street. Sharing the tarmac with modern Corvette’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and McLaren’s, it was clear to everyone that we were in the coolest ride of them all that evening.
I don’t particularly like the term “bucketlist” – but I had just ticked the box on one of those entries on that list which I tell myself that I don’t have. What a day. What a night. What a car. What an experience. Thank you America for enlightening me!