FOR the past week or so we’ve been tracking Street Machine columnist Mark Arblaster, his mate Steve Reimann and photographer Luke Nieuwhof as they road-trip the USA in Mark’s turbo LS1-powered VG Valiant, POR440. Having begun their journey in LA, they’re heading for Illinois to take part in Hot Rod Drag Week.
On Wednesday morning in Gallup, New Mexico, Mark and Luke were on the road early, tracking back a few miles along the I40 to Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona, one of the many Native American-managed tourist stops along the highway.
What makes Yellowhorse unique is that it is set into some spectacular desert cliffs, making it an ideal spot for some snaps of POR440 in full desert mode. While Mark traded for an ‘authentic’ Native American necklace with a passer-by, the rising sun made for some awesome images of the Valiant in what was certainly not its native landscape.
Photo op completed, Mark and Luke headed back to the Microtel Inn, Gallup, to pick up Steve, and then they were off to experience more of what Route 66 had to offer. With the need to chew up miles pressing, the team spent more time on the I40 than on the old road, but deviated through Albuquerque to follow the longest urban stretch of Route 66.
Thanks to POR440’s excellent new cooling system, heat was not a worry, even in the middle of the day while driving through the roadworks of a busy town. That said, this part of Route 66 was disappointing. Albuquerque is a modern city, and modern growth means much of the romance of the route has been lost. Some of the old motels, gas stations and signs remain, but compared to the quieter desert sections of the road, this was just another piece of urban America – strip malls and chain stores as far as the eye could see.
The 66 Diner was one of the highlights, with its collection of signs making it a popular spot for tourists taking selfies – or Australians road-tripping a nine-second Valiant.
Onwards to Santa Rosa, where the team were hoping to check out the Route 66 Auto Museum. Unfortunately the Val had other ideas. Mark was coming to the end of an interstate exit when the brake pedal went to the floor. Fortunately the car pulled up, and after an inspection at a nearby gas station it was found a brake line had cracked.
A nearby NAPA Auto Parts fortunately had a suitable line, with Mark and Steve conducting repairs in the car park. By the time the brakes were sorted, the museum had closed. Mark had to console himself by looking at some of the old metal that just sits by the roadside instead.
Next stop was Tucumcari. This Route 66 stretch is like a ghost town in places, with motels and gas stations in ruins through much of the outskirts. There are a few restored and well-maintained motels in the downtown area, one of the most well-known of which is the Blue Swallow. Colourful neon out front attracts visitors, but the unique part of the stay is that each room has a garage next to it, providing a safe spot to leave your pride and joy overnight.
From Tucumcari it was a drive through the night to rack up more miles. A stop was finally called at about 2am in Shamrock, Texas, ahead of a day in Oklahoma City just up the road.
Check out all the adventures on Arby’s road-trip to Hot Rod Drag Week!