Three weeks, seven states and over 4,000 miles – a dream American road trip for any car enthusiast. But this wasn’t a road trip for me; this was one for my wife and daughter, the equine enthusiasts keen to ride horses and visit ranches.
As an extreme car nerd living in Scotland, I’m into a different kind of horsepower.
While I had a couple of car-related places saved on Google Maps that I hoped to visit en route, I didn’t want to turn this into a purely automotive-fuelled family trip, as I may have accidentally done during a visit to California a few years ago. All was going well with this plan during our first few days in Austin, Texas. Of course, there were a few cars that caught my eye, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary for a big city.
From Texas’ capital we made our way to Dallas and Forth Worth, and this is where I really started to realise just how engrained car culture is in America. While driving on the highway into Dallas, I looked over to my right to see around 100 classic cars parked up together. ‘Sorry babe, we’re going to need to take a detour’.
Speaking to one of the individuals loading a car up onto a truck, it turned out I had stumbled upon the back end of a classic car auction, and all of the sold vehicles were now heading off to their respective buyers. We have specialist car auctions in Europe of course, but I had never seen such a concentration of high quality-built and restored vehicles in one place like this before.
And to think, all of these stunning cars had been available to purchase less than two hours prior… It’s a good thing we got there when we did, otherwise I might have been a few dollars lighter and desperate to figure out a way to fit a Chevelle SS in my carry-on luggage…
That evening we headed to Fort Worth for a rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum, followed by a walk around the Stockyards to see some of the local sights. Again, I had zero automotive expectations and considered the earlier auction situation a pure coincidence, but once more I had underestimated American car culture.
The Forth Worth Stockyards on a Saturday night is probably as close as I’ve ever felt to being in a Fast and Furious movie (if Dominic Toretto drove a pickup). There was a constant stream of lifted and slammed trucks, low riders, sports cars, and even the occasional horse cruising the strip. What impressed me more, is that this seemed to be an unorganised event. I think it’s just part of the usual Saturday night routine.
Fort Worth was an experience, but we had a lot of miles to cover so we hit the open road again, onwards to Tennessee via Mountain View, Arkansas. A slower pace mostly off the beaten track, there were definitely fewer petrol-powered distractions for me. This gave me a day or two to reflect on the automotive barrage I had just experienced before hitting Nashville where, unbeknownst to me, things would escalate even further.
Now, remember how I said there were a couple of places I’d saved on Google Maps to visit? Well, one of those was a specialist dealership called Maple Motors, just outside of Nashville. I’m not sure where I heard about these guys originally, but as an owner of a 1973 Chevrolet C10 (one of many seemingly never-ending projects), they must have popped up on my feed and I’d followed as they always seem to have awesome stock. Conscious that these guys had a job to do I didn’t want to intrude too much, but the team were amazing and took the time to talk me through their inventory, while chatting about the associated car culture. The passion for what they do really shone through.
Then came the curveball. ‘Oh, you have a C10 back home in Scotland? Then you’ll definitely want to check out C10 Nationals at the Nashville Speedway tomorrow’. Now, we were planning to hit the road and move onto our next spot, but I had heard of C10 Nats many times in the past and never even thought to check when it was and whether our trip would coincide. Seriously, what are the odds!?
‘Babe, yeah, we’re going to stay an extra night in Nashville…’
And there I was the next day, at the C10 Nationals. The only C10 I have ever seen in the UK is my own, but all of a sudden – and again by total coincidence – here I was surrounded by what seemed like thousands of them, including many that I have followed in the online world for as long as I can remember. The atmosphere was palpable; there was smoke in the air and the sound of burnouts echoed around the facility. Everyone was having a great time. But the builds… wow, they were just next level.
The C10 Nationals could have easily had its own dedicated article, but in the interest of keeping this road trip rolling, let’s move on.
Next, we headed south towards Atlanta, Georgia to visit another ranch and the Coca-Cola factory. Oh, and also where another Google Maps pin I had saved earlier directed us to a Summit Racing shop.
This place blew my mind. With a real lack of any American automotive specialists in the UK, I’d ordered parts from Summit before, but with shipping and taxes, the price of parts from the US is eye-watering. Here I was, in what can only be described as Toys”R”Us for petrolheads.
Due to the extra night spent in Nashville earlier on the trip we were now against the clock. From Atlanta, we headed straight across Alabama and down to Mobile in one day, with the intention of heading to New Orleans the next day. But what was awaiting us on that short stint along the coast caught me completely off guard.
As we set off from Mobile after a few beignets, there were increasing numbers of classic cars on the road and signs saying ‘Cruisers Welcome’. Ten minutes later we were surrounded by them. We had stumbled across an event called Cruising the Coast 23.
Literally thousands of classic and muscle cars lined the streets and cruised the strip, with people of all ages and backgrounds roadside to catch the action. Never before had I ever seen anything on this scale. It honestly seemed to go on for miles, and I lost count of how many times I nearly veered our rental Jeep into a lamppost because I was too distracted by some of the cruisers.
Overwhelmed, and having taken twice as long as we expected too, we finally made it to New Orleans. From here, we had a pretty packed itinerary staying at different ranches and visiting different sights, but I regularly saw cars that would stop traffic at home and sparked up friendly conversation with strangers in car parks.
As a European looking in from the outside, the perception of US car culture is one of big trucks, big blocks and big builds, but part of you expects this to be exaggerated in reality (or just a concentrated view as it’s something I actively seek out online). What you don’t expect is to see these things on every street corner, and for it to be so engrained in American culture itself.
Despite not purposely looking for the culture, every turn we took led to another awesome car, meet, show or shop that blew me away, really putting Europe car culture into perspective.
Then there are the people behind the cars, who despite being surrounded by the culture 24/7 are not desensitised to it, and are enthusiastic about spending 20 minutes with a stranger talking fuel pumps and big blocks. Maybe, when it comes to car culture, it wouldn’t hurt for us to be a little more American…
How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.