The second day of the trip started mostly like the first: lots of rain, but in a different state. The gray, sodden clouds didn’t completely dampen the scenery, however, as the mountainous terrain and wide vistas in Western Montana were still breathtaking. In this part of the country, the varied scenery and largeness of the landscape is a marvel to a native Midwesterner who’s used to rusty, abandoned industrial sites or flat, rural monotony.
It was all too easy to draw comparisons between the people who make up this country and the stereotypes we affix to them. To a small-town Montana rancher, the burned-out crack houses in post-industrial Detroit must seem like the real-life embodiment of a RoboCop movie, while the snow-capped peaks and wide-open spaces of the Treasure State must seem pure and unspoiled to a Detroiter. But that Montana rancher likely hasn’t had the opportunity to discover the beauty beneath that Motor City blight, and the Detroiter may be surprised—as I was—at all the signs posted in those seemingly idyllic mountain towns, imploring residents not to get swept up in meth. It’s the scourge of small-town America, particularly out west.
I made another gas stop in Montana, and this time I thought the C4’s electrical system was giving me a new problem to deal with. After about 450 miles, there was no way the digital readout for the fuel level should have been so high. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when the pump clicked off, yielding an average mileage of 27.8 miles per gallon for that leg of the trip.
It took several more hours to drive the length of Montana, along I-90 and I-94—nearly 700 miles altogether, or approximately the distance from my Michigan home to Boston. And this was just one state. I ended the day in Bismarck, North Dakota, making about 800 miles for the day. I filled up and checked the mileage again, which had increased to more than 29 mpg since the last stop. Wow. That 3.07 axle was a performance ratio, all right, albeit for fuel economy.
No problems popped up with the car in the first couple of days. I kept that to myself when I checked in with others along the road. I’m not superstitious, but it was sort of like not uttering anything about a no-hitter for fear of jinxing it.
Bismarck, North Dakota is a boomtown these days. The oil-and-gas industry has more stakes in the ground there than Starbucks has coffee shops in Seattle. The traffic is heavy, and finding a room the night before was difficult. As I headed east out of the city, I was thinking how clean and well-kept the highway appeared—especially compared with the neglected condition of most Detroit-area highways.
The balance to that myopic opinion came with the local news on the radio, which described how North Dakota’s towns were struggling to deal with the immense amount of trash that had come with the truckers of the burgeoning oil and gas businesses. Besides the burger wrappers and cigarette butts, the most contentious problem was the plastic bottles of urine that truckers were leaving on roadsides throughout the state.
Day three was a short one on the road, as I stopped in the Minneapolis area by the early afternoon to catch up with an old friend and colleague, Anh Le, who served as the art director at Corvette Fever back in the early ’90s. At the same company, I was the managing editor of Musclecar Review.
By the way: That more-or-less-flat leg of the trip between Bismarck and Minneapolis returned 30.3 mpg from the Corvette. I was beyond impressed. I also hadn’t experienced any problems with the car, apart from those already known at purchase, including the airbag light and a low-coolant lamp that flickered on from time to time, despite the system being full. I was heading into my final day of the drive having avoided a roadside help call to Editor Heath.
06| The west is still filled with well-preserved old cars, and there are more than few on the outskirts of Billings, Montana. The Ford wagon in the foreground seems like the perfect candidate for an LS7 engine and Corvette-suspension swap. 07| Yes, the speedometer works into the three-digit range. We tested it in rural Montana, just to make sure. 08| Interstates 90 and 94 in Montana offer a bounty of scenic photo ops. 09| A decision was made to not test the reasoning behind this road’s ominous name. 10| Curbside in Glendive, Montana. We were unable to locate the $1.50 hotel rooms, sadly.