1971 Chevrolet Corvette Cruising in Phoenix

By any other name…Phoenix and its environs would still make for one sweet drive

Steve Temple Apr 22, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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Before there was ever a city named Phoenix in Arizona, there were pumpkins—lots of 'em. So many, in fact, that the area was named Pumpkinville. Patches of these orange gourds flourished along the canals a few miles east of the current city center. So while not exactly as romantic sounding or socially sophisticated as a mythological bird of fire, this early fruit-inspired appellation was nonetheless appropriate.

The name Phoenix eventually won out because the city was born from Indian ruins, much like the eponymous creature that arose from its ashes. Those pumpkin-lined canals actually dated back to much earlier times when the Hohokam Native Americans lived there for about 2,000 years, building some 135 miles of irrigation ditches and turning the desert into arable land.

Pumpkinville Arizona 2/8

As you might expect in such an arid area, water resources have traditionally dictated the ebb and flow of the fortunes of Phoenix. After a combination of extended drought and severe flooding, the Hohokam were forced to abandon what had become a substantial trade center.

Yet some infamous events have also influenced the city's colorful, "Wild West" character, which in the long run turned it into an ideal destination for touring, especially in a souped-up Corvette. No surprise then, that Phoenix has nearly a dozen different clubs for Vette owners. But before touching on those various sights and routes, including the area's passion for cars in general, we should provide a bit more information on the background that gave rise to the city's auto-centric culture.

With the arrival of Confederate Army veteran Jack Swilling in the 1860s, the ancient Indian water system was revived. It would endure to serve as the foundation for some modern-day water projects as well. And while railroads were also a key factor in the growth of Phoenix, the city's streetcars eventually became a source of contention. Their suspicious torching in 1947 led to the development of an extensive road system, with automobiles subsequently becoming the preferred method of transportation.

1971 Chevrolet Corvette Arizona State 3/8

Concert halls, along with sports and other activities, can be found on the campus of Arizona State University.

This shift to reliance on cars and trucks no doubt contributed to the area's current automotive enthusiasm, evidenced by the massive collector-car auctions held each year in Scottsdale. So whether you plan on bidding on or selling a collectible, or piloting a new Stingray at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, there are all sorts compelling Corvette "roads" to explore in and around Phoenix.

To aid us in our quest, we turned to longtime resident and Corvette owner Chuck McCleary, who was generous with his time and knowledge of the area. He's owned his matching-numbers Miglia Red '71 Vette since 2005, and he's put thousands of miles on the odometer exploring the city and environs. Powered by a 350 and backed by a Turbo 400, it's a dependable runner, and it gives a good account of itself when tooling around town or through the canyons.

Speaking of in-town touring, another Phoenix native we contacted—John Washington of Reaction Research, which makes a Ferrari GTO–style body conversion for the C4—pointed out how the streets are laid out in a systematic grid, with the traffic lights all operating pretty much in sync. That makes for fewer stoplights starts, plus simpler navigation.

If you prefer to stay close to town, one of our favorite stops is Papago Park, dotted with eerie sandstone formations and surrounded by walking trails. The park is also home to a couple of the city's more popular destinations, the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden.

1971 Chevrolet Corvette Papago 4/8

Interesting historical side note: This location was once the site of a WWII–era POW camp. German soldiers interned there hatched an escape scheme that involved floating down the Salt River to Mexico (a questionable stratagem, considering that Mexico had declared war on the Axis powers in 1942.) What they didn't realize is that the bed of this waterway was mostly unnavigable, so they were left high and dry, and were quickly apprehended.

Escaping from Papago Park to other sights in the area is much easier by road. We'd recommend a visit to Scottsdale's Old Town district, to savor its rustic Western style. Located a few minutes northwest of Phoenix, downtown Scottsdale is a tony spot that combines cowboy and couture, as it's chockfull of art galleries, restaurants, shops, museums, and nightclubs.

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