Detroit was a little more than 700 miles from Minneapolis. I had done 800 miles on day two, so I figured that hitting the road before the crack of dawn would get me home by around dinnertime. The X factors would be the morass of the Chicago area and hitting Detroit at rush hour. The morning’s drive, however, was scenic and enjoyable, as the Corvette soaked up a Wisconsin countryside that presented postcard-perfect dairy farms nestled in green valleys around every bend. You couldn’t have asked for a better stretch to drive in a Corvette.
My mood and the scenery shifted as soon as I hit the Illinois border, as the first of countless toll booths appeared on the horizon, and the road morphed from a smooth ribbon of asphalt to craggy slabs of haphazardly placed concrete. It was annoying enough to stop every few miles to hand the state a few more bucks: I forked over more than $12 in tolls in the roughly 100 miles it took to reach the Indiana border. For that outlay, one would expect a modicum of quality. Illinois’ body-rattling stretch of I-90 was more like the Outback highway in The Road Warrior. I totally expected a truck full of leather-clad scavengers to spike the Corvette’s tires and siphon its precious juice.
I made it around Chicago without being attacked by wasteland mutants, rolling briefly through Indiana on I-94 and back into Michigan. My home state’s roads aren’t anything to crow about, either, but they were nothing like that stretch in Illinois. And while we may not have quite the science-fiction roads of the Chicago area, if the world ever does go the way of the Road Warrior, Michiganders will easily be the best positioned for the roadway anarchy illustrated in the movie. We’re almost there now.
First of all, there’s the speed. Michiganders drive as if every mile is the final qualifying lap for the Daytona 500. We abhor gaps between vehicles, too, so it’s not enough to drive 25 mph over the speed limit; you must close the gap with the car on the horizon, too, with as much velocity as your rusty, 15-year-old Grand Prix can muster. Otherwise, you can’t tailgate that driver and muscle him over, allowing you to kick the throttle and rocket past in a show of self-perceived authority.
In other cities, like Manhattan, aggressive driving is common, but done with mutual respect: He who gets his car’s nose into traffic first is rewarded. Not so in Michigan, where disdain for your fellow man is the norm. A friend who lived for years in New Jersey, and visited Detroit often, once commented, “I think people in Michigan would rather roll their car over in a ditch than let you in front of them.” Absolutely right. And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not personal. It is.
With my blood pressure rising with the water-temperature gauge in rush-hour traffic, I knifed through Detroit’s mean streets and arrived home by early evening. The bear hug from my four-year-old daughter capped the road trip, which went off without a hitch. The Corvette performed flawlessly, and that Chicago-to-Detroit leg, which included stop-and-go traffic in both cities, returned 29.9 miles per gallon.
When all was said and done, the Corvette averaged 29 miles per gallon with the cruise control set at 75 mph for most of the trip. Think about that for a moment: There are plenty of new compact cars today that could duplicate that mileage, but this was a 22-year-old sports car with almost 120,000 miles on the clock. U-S-A! U-S-A!
The L98 engine didn’t use a drop of oil, and no problems popped up with the rest of the car. It was literally the easiest, most uneventful cross-country drive I’ve ever done, and I’ve done more than my share of them. In the interest of full disclosure, however, since I’ve had the Vette back in my garage, it’s started to puke out some coolant after long drives. I’ll have to chase down that problem, but the system seemed overfilled when I bought the car, so I’m hoping it’s simply related to that.
With the benefit of a few months’ hindsight, I still believe the car represents an excellent value. The yellow paint generates a lot of positive comments, and the body feels tighter and quieter than I assumed a 120,000-mile C4 would.
And while this story would have been more dramatic with a tale of roadside mechanical calamity, it’s telling that nothing at all went wrong during the drive. I wouldn’t hesitate to jump back in the car and do the trip again. For the money, it’s a lot of fun—and a great, inexpensive way (so far) to enjoy the Corvette hobby every day.
11| Back in the “D”—and just a couple blocks from Chevy’s downtown-Detroit headquarters. 12| A riverfront view of the Motor City, with GM’s Renaissance Center visible at left. 13| In corn country, the public-service announcements leave no room for ambiquity 14| Just outside the city limits, the eight-story-tall Uniroyal tire has been a welcoming symbol of Detroit since its installation in 1965. The structure had served as a Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair a year earlier.