As previously threatened, we were to drive a 2013 Audi S7—the Great White Whale, we had initially dubbed it—from San Francisco, the day after Pebble Beach, all the way to Detroit. It was a distance of approximately 2,400 miles. We would have a week to make the drive across nine states, half of them being among America's largest.
Spoiler alert: we made it.
Here, then, is a chronicle of our journey across all seven days; as to not bore you with the minutae, you can read the full version at Autoweek, where we discuss (in no particular order) the merits of Nebraska's Runza, traffic jams in Colorado, Nevada's Basque heritage, the best burrito in the world, Bass Pro Shops, the finer points of German reliability, manhandling a 1948 Willys CJ-2A across Belle Isle, why everybody needs a Corvette engine inside their petite Japanese roadster, why the Red Wings suck, and why Jeppson's Malört is set to be the hot new party drink of 2014 that will make Red Bull and vodka look like chamomile tea. We here at Autoweek have our fingers firmly on the cultural pulse of the nation.
Oh, and we get a whopper of a speeding ticket.
Day One: Driving Clean to Frisco
The one rule of the road that I've always adhered to — next to the adage about keeping the rubber side down, and the one about the greatness and nourishing fulfillment of beef jerky — is this: Before embarking on a cross-country sprint, one should thoroughly wash the car. Then, don't wash it again until the destination has been reached. Marvel at the bugs.
It's great fun. It's even greater fun when a week's worth of grime and dust disappear under the hose. It's a strangely satisfying experience — like a great cleansing of our automotive sins, we witness the automobile reborn anew.
But for now, the first wash.
"Damn, that thing is badass!" said the man from Rancho Car Wash in Carmel, California, who was busy wiping down the mirrors. "What's it get up to?"
"One fifty-five," I told him, quoting the Audi S7's governed top speed.
"Well, that sure breaks my record," he said. "I had a '91 Infiniti. Q45. Four-hundred horsepower! I only ever did 135 in it, on the freeway. Then I got scared and sold it. I guess that's why you got all those cop detectors, huh?"
Day Two: This Lady's Not For Turning
Perhaps I was haunted by the spirits of Chinese workers who labored on the Transcontinental Railroad, a mere 1000 feet away. But soon after I passed Donner Pass the Audi became plagued by electrical gremlins. First, the rear spoiler deployed and wouldn't sit back down, like a peacock ruffling its feathers. This was fine except for the part where the S7 beeped at me with a "REAR SPOILER SYSTEM FAILURE" with the same incessant urgency as if I had left a baby stroller, with contents, on the roof.
Then the turn signals went. I pretended not to notice.
But it became especially irksome when the adaptive cruise control and Audi's automatic braking system failed to comply, rendering a fun new state of frustration for the Great White Whale. Have we become spoiled by technology?the pundits ask. To which I say, most certainly: after all, how was I supposed to cruise across the Great Expanses of America in sybaritic comfort, traversing the continent at near-illegal speeds? Am I supposed to use my feet, like a peasant? The outrage!
Day Three: I Am the Highway
I ask you to understand my boundless fury at road construction.
Consider the S7, a fine machine, finer now that all the electrical kinks have mysteriously vanished. A car that can cruise 155 mph all day, its electronic limiter for us simpletons, but ask the fine folks at quattro GmbH and they'll be happy to oblige for a check and a waiver. Buy the ticket, take the ride. All these big, silly, powerful machines like the S7's ilk elicit the same reaction: the uniquely singular experience of gazing down at the speedometer, inevitably ticking over some triple-digit speed, and thinking, "Really? That fast?" Chuck Yeager probably felt the same thing the second his ears popped in the Bell X-1.
I find a bit of context at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Day Four: Colorado's Corvette'd Miatas
Flyin' Miata knows a thing or two about putting Chevrolet engines where they don't belong.
I spent my lunch break from the road driving a 2004 and a 2009 model, both armed with LS3s. After a meditation chamber like the Audi S7, it's good to drive with the top down, hearing the brapping and braying of a hot-cammed small-block echoing off the hills of Uncompahgre. It's the most disconcerting experience to look down at a Miata interior—my Miata interior—and hear what amounts to a raucous, unvarnished Grand Sport Le Mans racer emanating from the custom rear pipes.
Day Five: Consider the humble Runza
It's said that every culture has a sandwich-type entrée in its cuisine. The sandwich itself was purportedly invented by Brit John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, which like toilet paper and the Motorola StarTAC is one of those things that begs the surprise of having actually needed to be invented. Mysterious meat filling, wrapped inside some sort of substance that would get a disapproving finger-wagging from Vilhjalmur Stefansson, is essentially what constitutes a sandwich. What is a xiaolongbao if not a doughy Asian sandwich? An empanada, if not the similar from Mexico? A Hot Pocket, if not the same but wrapped in a purified layer of shame and available at two for $4.25 at your 24-hour CVS? All meat, all vague suggestions of vegetables, all wrapped in some carbohydrate that suggests the unholy union of firmness and one-handed convenience, which allows operators of motor vehicles and heavy machinery to get back to the important task at hand of looking up "Despicable Me 2" tickets on their iPhones.
Day Six: We christen the S7 'Baxter'
It smelled like Kool Aid and paint stripper. "It smells like bad Listerine," said Heather, turning up her nose. "And I know what bad Listerine smells like. My dad thinks that Listerine has all these weird healing qualities, and he thinks that they changed the formula, so it's not as good as before…so he has, like, these 30-year old bottles of Listerine that he pours on wounds and paper cuts and stuff. It's the grossest."
Well, I needed something to wash the Runza down, right?
Day Seven: The thrilling end!
Remember the Autopia ride at Disneyland's Tomorrowland? Driving Rory Carroll's 1948 Willys CJ-2A is exactly like those gas-powered, glorified go-karts, only without that pesky track. The little Go-Devil engine is surprisingly stout, and makes a great wallop of a noise eerily reminiscent of bumper bashing around Disney's vision of future motoring. See the future, circa 1948! We headed downtown and followed a camouflaged Alfa Romeo prototype down Woodward, as one does around the Motor City. We drove onto Belle Isle and around the Grand Prix track, its apex curbing left year-round as a reminder of the island's motorsports potential. Sadly, we didn't time a lap. But we'd estimate that with our overloaded seats, and my CTS-V racing school experience, I could churn out a lap of somewhere north of 10 minutes.
And then we snuck onto the roof of the Cobo Center and inadvertently annoyed a security guard.