The original Cannonball Run is a fond memory to those of us who recall the no-holds-barred road rally of the '70s. The brainchild of then-Car and Driver editor Brock Yates, the Run involved high-speed cars and Interstate shenanigans played out from New York to Los Angeles, with participants vying for cash prizes and doing their best to avoid speeding tickets along the way.
Then came the 55-mph speed limit, a police crackdown, and a spate of negative publicity, all of which spelled the end of America's most famous race held on public roads. After an 11-year hiatus, the Cannonball concept was off to Europe where, in 2000, entrepreneur Tim Porter began conducting annual competitions under the name "Cannonball Run Europe."
This Arctic White '07 C6 convertible...
This Arctic White '07 C6 convertible would serve as Des and Hece's home during the six-day coast-to-coast rally.
After running seven of these events abroad, Porter decided it was time to bring the spirit of the original Cannonball home to the U.S. The first of these races-promoted under the name "The Great American Run"-took place from July 29th to August 4th, with participants undertaking a time-to-distance run from four cities-Atlanta, Miami, New York, and Washington D.C.-to Los Angeles.
VETTE magazine was invited to follow along with Netherlands native Des and Finlander Hece (they asked that we use only their first names) of the European auto enthusiast group Team Tangospeed (www.tangospeed.com), as they tackled the inaugural Run in an '07 C6 convertible. Their only goal? To make it across the country in six days while maintaining an average speed of exactly 61 mph.
Des pilots the now-graphics-plastered...
Des pilots the now-graphics-plastered Vette through Miami's South Beach before the event.
This wasn't the team's first road rally, but it was their first American cross-country event, as well as their first time behind the wheel of a Vette. "We chose a Corvette because it's a real American icon. Add to that the concept of an all-American, six-day, coast-to-coast driving adventure, and you have a perfect match," Des tells us.
But what prompted this Euro duo to traverse the Atlantic, commandeer a drop-top Vette, and rally all the way from the tip of Florida to the California coastline? "Doing a coast-to-coast rally in the United States was one of my dreams for a long time," Des recalls. "As a writer for on-line rally magazine GTspirit (www.gtspirit.com), I stumbled upon the Great American Run back in November  and couldn't wait to do it myself. Until three weeks before the start of the race, it didn't look like I would be able to fulfill my dream. But then Hece became very interested, and we started talking. He managed to source the Corvette C6 at the very last minute, and we were good to go!"
The starting time clock was...
The starting time clock was set at the event's launch point in Miami. Des and Hece would find tough competition from four other C6 Corvettes, along with numerous other American-built and foreign sports cars and sedans.
Given the "anything goes" nature of the original Cannonball, we were curious as to how the rules of the Great American Run were set up to discourage scofflaws. "The objective was not to get there first, but to complete the total distance at an average speed of 61 mph," Des explains. "Based on every day's start and arrival times and the distances [involved], it was possible to calculate our current average speed and the average speed required to [achieve] the overall average."
Cannonball Events founder Porter agrees, adding, "It is a safe and sensible rally that matches exotics against muscle cars. Anybody can be the winner."
Six fun-filled days in the C6 left the two Europeans with a lasting impression of the great American sports car. "We were certainly surprised by the fuel economy and the comfort inside," Des tells us. "We didn't drive with the roof down much, as the temperature was between 90 and 105 degrees (F) most of the time.
"The handling of the car was good fun, although the gearbox and the stability and traction controls are far from smooth...the TC kicks in like a huge axe at some points. At higher speeds, the soft suspension did not instill a lot of confidence, but up to 100 mph, it provided a very smooth ride.
A checkpoint girl signals...
A checkpoint girl signals the start of the event's first leg, from Miami to New Orleans.
"With the gearbox in sports mode and all electronic aids switched off, it's a great car to burn some rubber with. Everywhere you go, people turn their heads and ask you to rev it."
In the end, Des and Hece clocked an average speed of 61.016 mph over the 3,061-mile course. The speed was good enough to earn them a Second Place finish-a mere 0.008 second behind the Grand Prize winner.
Des says he'll be back next year for the Great American Run '08, once again behind the wheel of a Corvette. "I won't do it again in a convertible, simply because we drove with the roof up all the time. But I wouldn't mind taking a Z06 out for another coast-to-coast adventure," he says.
For 2008, event organizers are promising a $250,000 grand prize and a total purse that could go as high as four times that amount. For more information, visit www.thegreatamericanrun.com.