A long time ago I enjoyed a Car Talk episode where a listener asked Click and Clack what car he should buy for a cross country road trip.
Click and Clack right away started making suggestions about late 1960’s or early 1970’s great American cruisers. Their argument was simple. Those cars are not expensive, they are comfortable, mechanically reliable and easy to fix with readily available parts by just any garage if there is any mechanical trouble and they are kinda cool on the American road.
They warned against going for high priced american classics like convertible GTO’s and instead to think in terms of run of the mill Impalas or Galaxies. It seemed like great advice and during that broadcast I dreamed about taking to the open road in a classic American car.
Meanwhile, Anne and I have had the chance to hit the open American road, but always in rented cars or used one of the family cars. Generally we have not really cared about the cars we rented, but sometimes we got lucky (sort of; on our honeymoon we were upgraded free of charge from a Chevy Chevette to a Lincoln Towncar and drove it on dirt roads in Joshua Tree National Park), and occasionally we would walk by the Hertz upgrade line up and rent a Camaro SS convertible or a Shelby Mustang, just for the hell of it. That was fun for a few minutes, but then it just became apparent that for road tripping these cars stood out too much. And mostly they did not fit my image of the American Cruiser.
A few months ago for a business trip I was upgraded to a Chrysler 300. I always liked the looks of the car (I will discuss that later), but never spent much time thinking about it. However, the car was a revelation. I though that the Great American cruiser was dead, but this one may be the last of the Mohicans (pushing the simile here, but it feels good), and may also be the acme of the type.
There are other great cars for the open road, but all of them are either in the European style or work hard to copy the European style. An American cruiser needs to look and feel American. Cadillac makes great cars today, but do they say: I am American? Not to me. A number of years ago I drove a super fancy Cadillac and it had a fancy Bulgari clock mounted in the dashboard. Ridiculous.
But here we have a Chrysler and it does not even try to look like any other car. It is a Chrysler, it is spacious, it has gobs of power, is not embarrassed by its chrome, it suggests class but not too much, it cruises like a dream, and has tons of bell and whistles.
Are there better cars? For sure. Are there better car for American road tripping? I can’t think of one other car that comes close. The Dodge Charger is essentially the same car, but let’s face it, a valet may leave a 300 next to the restaurant entrance, but I doubt it will happen to a Charger. Someone may suggest a 1960’s classic (Pontiac Tempest) or a 1940’s classic (Buick Roadmaster convertible woody), but they are not better cars, not even close, they are fun, but only from a nostalgic point of view.
Meanwhile, the Chrysler 300 has no direct contemporary competition and that means that the market is small and maybe dying. Or maybe there no longer is an appreciation for this type of car.
I think the car is very attractive and even timeless (especially considering it has been built in this shape since 2004). It is reported to have been a hip hop favorite and even Obama owned one (drop that mike). So is there a customer appreciation for cars of this type or do all cars have to become anonymous blobs?
I don’t know why there is so little iconic design out there. Somehow I feel the world is poorer for it. Maybe the real American road trip is dead too, but not to me.
Since 1986 Anne and I have road tripped in 48 of the 50 states with only Minnesota and North Dakota remaining. Last week we decided to finish the list, and ordered tickets and reserved a car to be picked up in Minneapolis-St Paul. For once I decided to make sure we were doing it with just the right car and I ordered a Chrysler 300. There is no accounting for taste, but I challenge anyone to suggest a more appropriate ride. We finished the last of the 50 states with probably the last of the great American cruisers. There may be greater cars today, but, when regarded as a package, what else would I want; American design on American roads, power (quite decent gas mileage too), all the bells and whistles including moon roof, sun roof, adaptive cruise control, lane holding etc, superb control lay out, really decent handling (and AWD in case of snow) and space; inside and outside the car. You can argue about looks and color, but you cannot argue with design when all the pieces fit like a glove.
I felt like I owned the road and when we stopped at the Fargo North Dakota visitor center we even got a T shirt for saving North Dakota for last. It does not get any better than that. Goodbye American roads. On to the next adventure.