There are no more infuriating words to a father’s ears than the words, uttered from the backseat on an extended road trip, a short distance from the last rest stop, Dad I gotta go again. Being inordinately fond of road trips and having seven children, this is a phenomenon I have experienced many, many times. I wish now that I knew Louie Mattar back then, maybe I could have borrowed his car for my road trips.
I love being on the road. I’ve come to believe that road trips have a spiritual aspect for me. The open road is where I learned about meditation and the quieting of my mind before I knew what meditation was. There’s a comfort out there, maybe it is just the freedom of it all, maybe the rhythm of the road, the seeing of new things. I don’t know, I just love road trips.
But I really have to take a back seat to Louie. He fashioned himself a car that never had to stop. When he hit the road he just kept going and going and going.
His hope was endurance driving, his goal: a 6,320 monster trip from San Diego to New York City and back, with just one little caveat. He didn’t want the car to ever stop moving. So on September 20, 1952 Louie and two friends drove out of his driveway in San Diego, went to New York City, turned around and came back, not bothering to stop the car for seven days.
Louie explained in a special interest auto magazine article of October 1979, “…the goal to set a long-distance non-stop driving record didn’t jell all at once, it sorta grew, until the ache was there to do it.”
It took me a while to get my mind wrapped around exactly what Louie and his two friends accomplished. Driving in five hour shifts they drove straight through, meaning they didn’t stop the car for gas or any maintenance. If the had a flat tire, they didn’t stop. If any had a call of nature, they didn’t stop. If they were hungry, they didn’t stop,
Here’s a rundown of what this car could do while moving down the road. It could refill the radiator and change the oil automatically. The axles were drilled so tires could be inflated while turning. Special cooling systems protected engine bearings, tires, brakes and transmission from overheating. A special “catwalk” allowed for refueling the car while moving. Protection was added in the form of cockpit access to the engine compartment to service coils, condensers, generators and any one of the four fuel pumps.
Louie’s car featured a nationwide mobile telephone (long before you and I got our cell phones.) Need to freshen up and take a shower, the car could accommodate. Thirsty? It had a water fountain. Need a restroom stop? Not in Louie’s car; it was equipped with facilities. You could also do some laundry should you need to. Or lay down and take a nap on the fold-down double bed in the back seat for that matter.
Of course, a refrigerator, cooking surface, sink and all the needs for food preparation were provided for. In our modern world of luxurious motor homes, all this may not seem like such a big deal, but Louie packed all of this into his white 1947 Cadillac. He did have the advantage of a trailer he constructed to tow along for extra storage, but he wasn’t cheating, the whole shebang was self-contained.
Refueling was done, like everything else, on the move. At airfields in Kansas City, Camden and Omaha Louie was met by fuel trucks that drove alongside him while the 230-gallon tank was filled.
In the spirit of once is never enough, Louie and friends set off from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico City, Mexico in 1954 for a mellow afternoon drive of 6,320 miles, with the added complication of international border crossings and inspections. Which were of course, with much pre-planning and coordination, done on the move.
At one point in their travels, the change in diet routine produced some serious constipation problems, but that was no problem. A few phone calls located a doctor that suggested some aids for relief, and it was arranged for the state patrol to pull up alongside and deliver the solution. It was in this spirit of cooperation and support that Louie and his Fabulous Car traveled.
She now sits in the San Diego Automotive Museum available for all to see. She won’t be going out on the road anymore, even for a trip around the block. She’s a testament to one man’s vision of the possibilities and his answer when his inner voice spoke and he felt “the ache was there to do it.”