It’s a lot of fun to talk about cars as art and marvels of engineering. But cars would just be big beautiful paperweights if we didn’t have anywhere to drive ’em. 2021 felt like a tough year for a lot of reasons, but getting out on the road and driving around still made for some great memories. Here are a few of the best drives the Car Autance took this year; hopefully these inspire you to do some more exploring yourself in 2022.
All the way across America in U-Haul with my Scout on a trailer and my Montero riding escort. A few months ago, I had to move two vehicles and a whole lot of housewares from an apartment Los Angeles to a cabin in the woods about 100 miles north of NYC. I’m dubious of movers and I straight-up don’t trust inexpensive auto transporters (no offense to my friends running wreckers) so I had to come up with a more hands-on solution. That ended up being a convoy of a rented U-Haul Ford E-450 chassis cab with an auto transporter trailer carrying my Scout and my Mitsubishi Montero running alongside it. Straight up Smokey And The Bandit shit… except with none of the urgency or law-breaking, and less impressive facial hair.
My wife Sydney, sister Luna, and good friend David Tracy who you’ve read on Jalopnik saddled up with me to shunt these three machines across the country. For a week, we spent something like 10 hours on the road, loping along watching America roll by at about 55 mph. Even though this was my eighth time driving coast-to-coast, I had a completely new (relaxing and reflective) experience at this very gentle pace.
The only time things really got hairy was coming up, and then down, the Vail Pass in Colorado with that poor U-Haul rig loaded near its max capacity. Watching the speedometer drop steadily even with the gas pedal completely floored was pretty… exhilarating. And reaching the other side of the mountains after safely crawling down the descent, was similarly elating. Look for a full review of our hardcore U-Haul ride in 2022, just revisiting it for a few sentences here makes me realize that truck deserves a more complete rundown.
Anyway, I got to know my sister a lot better by the end of the ride. That was the real highlight for me personally.
Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu canyons in my 300ZX. I feel like I’m cheating a little bit here because I ran a loop between West Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast Highway, and a few select roads in the Malibu mountains so many times I could hardly consider it exclusively a 2021 experience… but I had some of my most memorable laps of this area this year.
While I still haven’t gotten around to painting my Z31, everything else got effectively finished this year. It’s now running great, running cool, shifting smoothly, and tracking true… none of which I could say a couple of years ago! My non-turbo 1984 300ZX is not particularly fast or even valuable, but it’s an extremely pleasant driving experience on a dry, warm evening in the hills above busy LA County. I can’t wait to pull it back out of storage and cut it loose on those curvy roads again.
Minnewaska in my International Scout. Obviously, I had a few misgivings about shipping my largely un-rusty 1975 Scout from sunny Southern California to a perpetually moist section of rural New York (where my wife and I got a place to stay for a bit). But even though open-top driving season is a little shorter in this corner of the country, the truck is far more fun to drive on long and lonely roads than it was in LA traffic. Just cruising around in fourth gear, not having to galumph its way up from a stop every few seconds, it really feels like it’s living its best life. I really only got one chance to do country-road cantering this year before I put the rig away, but that one ride convinced the truck it’d be happy in its new home on a farm Upstate.
The lost mountains of the Bay Area in my GTI “Six Iron”. I haven’t had the opportunity to go on long road trips on my own too many times in my short time possessing a license. Most of the time, I’m driving my family around for vacations or journeying with friends. Also, my somewhat frugal mentality results in some solid guilt-tripping into taking one car as a more efficient solution.
This time, I said screw it and took my own 2010 GTI. I let my parents leave a day before I did so I could meander up backroads the next afternoon, and I took my time. Just west of my stay in Tracy, CA, there is a mountain range that is part of the Ohlone Wilderness that I decided to explore. There are approximately three ways in and out of the mountains and I plunged deep.
Tight, twisty Bay Area roads are the antithesis of the wide-open SoCal canyons I’m used to. Six Iron felt less than optimized but the feeling of utter desolation is something that doesn’t happen on Angeles Crest Highway. Snaking through the San Antonio Valley in the twilight, emerging at the top of Mount Hamilton as the last pink drained from the sky, was spiritual.
I spent three hours driving 60 miles, such was the snaking, slow nature of the road. I was kind of scared that it was getting dark and lonely, but it’s drives like this that bring people closer to their machines.
I met god in a 911 GT3 Touring. 2021 was the year of driving sick-ass cars for ol’ Chris. I’ve made some generous friends that have allowed me to drive their cool cars on Angeles Crest Highway. I drove a lot of personal firsts this year, but my friend Misha’s Porsche 911 GT3 Touring was a highlight.
Misha gives me a lot of shit for criticizing the steering and front-end feel of the big 911, but I always remind him that I still really loved driving his car. I wrote about it for Car Autance and the experience of spinning that 4.0-liter flat-six to 9,000 RPM haunts me like a spectre. A friendly one, though. Like Casper.
Nobody needs to hear about how good Porsches are again so if you get a chance, go rip one. Take it to redline. Feel The Thing. Also, read my piece.
Angeles National Forest in a McLaren 620R. This was the best couple of hours I’ve ever experienced behind the wheel. The McLaren 620R utilizes an immense 610 horsepower to haul around its 3,200-pound, carbon-fiber-filled, mid-engine self. Everyone’s called it a GT4 car for the road, and that is entirely accurate. My perception of cornering speed and acceleration on this region’s beautiful roads was forever altered after hustling this beast through them.
It’s $300,000 of grip, G forces, and theatrics. The latter bit is amplified by the roof scoop that’s like an internal combustion conch shell that transmits all the turbo noises. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time ripping around my absolute favorite roads in this beast, but the mileage limit on my loan was tough due to some other fun things I had planned that weekend. I truly, sincerely hope I get the chance to drive a 620R again sometime because it’s held strong as my number one dream car since I returned it back in late February.
Hudson Ranch Road (Rte. 95) in my Mazda 2. Back in late April, my girlfriend and I took a trip up to Pine Mountain Club, California for a relaxing weekend in the woods. It’s a gorgeous area up in the San Emigdio Mountains about an hour north of Los Angeles. On one particular afternoon, we decided to go for a drive further up the main road that goes through this cute little town, which is Rte. 95, also known as Hudson Ranch Road.
What we found out was that this road is absolutely, astonishingly beautiful, especially during the late afternoon light it was painted in as we made our way through its winding mountain crest tarmac. I didn’t even drive too enthusiastically, I was inspired to just cruise as slowly as possible to take it all in, as well as routinely pull over and feast my eyes upon all the gorgeous scenery. I gotta head back there in Spring 2022 for sure.
Nelson Ledges, in my Fiat 500 Abarth. Out of all the contributors here, I have the least track experience of all of us. What good am I as an automotive journalist, without the baseline to properly evaluate a vehicle’s dynamic qualities? Well, as you’ve likely read by now, that little bit of track experience gave me totally different insight on cars as a whole.
Nelson Ledges is a tiny track, narrow and older. It favors small cars; a Camaro or Corvette is almost too much car for the track. But, my Fiat 500 Abarth was the perfect scale for the course. After a lap or two, I became incredibly familiar with the dynamic nuances of my tall, hotted-up Italian city car. Can’t wait to go back in 2022.
Somewhere near Boulder, Colorado, in a Hyundai Ioniq. I wish I had been shrewd enough to take note of exactly where I was, but I ended up on a mountainside in a rental Hyundai Ioniq. The Ioniq isn’t exactly the paragon of dynamic performance, but the drive isn’t always about the car, is it? The Ioniq took me to the highest I’ve ever been, more than 7,300 feet of elevation, among houses situated on what felt like mountain terraces. The Ioniq made surprisingly decent work of the twisty roads, but the beauty is what I remember most.