My 1984 Nissan 300ZX Handled 2,000 Miles in Five Days Like a Champ
Halfway through an extended adventure crossing the United States, this Z31 is working hard to prove itself as a still-capable long-hauler.
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On Friday, October 7, I left a car meet at Newcomb's Ranch on Angeles Crest Highway in my 1984 Nissan 300ZX. The ultimate destination was, and is, the Larz Anderson Auto Museum on the other side of the country. Today I'm checking in from a little over the halfway point and am stoked to say it's been a hell of a ride so far.
I left this car in storage in Los Angeles a year ago. Last week I blew the dust off of it, fixed some broken parts, and set off for Brookline, Massachusetts to exhibit the car at Japanese Car and Motorcycle Day on October 16. Well, that's ostensibly the objective. Really, I'm road-tripping for the same reason I always do: It's hella fun.
The Route So Far
I've been going out of my way to scoop up as much good driving as possible. My pre-running and route planning has been fairly loose; I'm just looking for squiggly lines on Google Maps and running that against where hotels are in the sweet spot of "cheap but not dingy." This has mainly been achived by avoiding interstates and making my overnight stops in places that aren't particularly popular destinations.
Kicking off the journey from Angeles Crest was an incredible prologue, and the elevation of that road gave me a good sense of what the car was capable of. A 38-year-old non-turbo engine is working pretty hard at high RPM a mile above sea level. But the VG V6 ran smooth and cool up and down the big hills of Angeles National Forest, and frankly it's only been sounding healthier the more mileage I add to its odometer.
Taos, New Mexico, and the area around it are visually breathtaking. This is the one town I wanted to make sure I saw on this trip, and that was definetly a good call. I got an incredible plate of huevos rancheros at a restaurant called the Plaza Grille that an Instagram friend recommended—though I'm pretty sure this joint's long been discovered based on how crowded it was. I also saw a group of cattle herded by working dogs, which was cool and cute. Des Moines, Iowa turned out to be pretty fun too and I was surprised to learn that the nightlife scene was pretty lit on a Monday. Other than that, let's see...
Route 64, New Mexico
If you followed me on Instagram, you'd have already seen some updates from the magnificent road in and out of Taos. Long, lovely turns, incredible views, engaging elevation changes—it amazed me. And turns out October is a great time to hit it, too. It's too early for snow to fly, but the leaves are in full Fall-color form and the ambient temp is low enough to make the mountain ascents a little less taxing on an old car.
The Postcard Motel
A few hours into my first day on the road, I realized that my original plan of making it all the way to Flagstaff was foolish. I popped open Priceline (my preferred hotel-aquiring app) and found that the only non-gross looking joint that was reachable, cheap, and had vacancy was something in a town called Seligman. That ended up being a really cool place to stop; it's kind of like a living monument to the old-school idea of Route 66 as a primary travel corrodor. The diner down the road, Westside Lilo's, served me up some coconut pie that I'm still thinking about.
The Postcard, I learned, is a recently re-named and modestly rennovated version of a joint formerly known as The Romney. It has a fun midcentury vibe and seemed decently tidy for the price.
Flagstaff Flea Market
I love old junk—as if that's not obvious, coming from the guy who's road-tripping a 1984 car for fun—so when I see "flea market" I pretty much light up the brakes on whatever I'm driving. I was really glad I did this time, because I got two super cool old off-road rally jackets from one dude, a funny button, a couple of neat old books, and a gift for my special lady back home.
Speaking of wifey, Flagstaff happens to be the first place we ever got together so rolling through always sparks pleasant romantic memories. It's a fun place to visit even if you don't have a personal connection to it, though. And if you like high desert air I highly recommend you put it on your list.
Sagebrush Inn & Suites
The hotel I found in Taos, New Mexico also had retro energy, albiet a very different flavor of it. The Sagebrush Inn kind of looks like an off-brand theme park's depiction of an old Mexican town. I dug it, though—made me feel like I was on a real adventure. Great water pressure, too.
Red Beard Coffee
The day I shuffled out of Dodge City, Kansas I was pretty motivated to make tracks, so I rolled up to the first coffee place I could find near my hotel. I wasn't sure what to expect but was immediately impressed with the modern vibe at Red Beard. They have a diner-style counter with stools, which is unsual at hipster coffee places, which I availed myself of and got an exceptional dark roast coffee from the proprietor.
"You must be Red Beard," I said to barista who, you guessed it, had a red beard hanging off his chin like an ancient stalactite. We chatted for some time; seemed like a good dude who poured great coffee.
The Sounds Of Oklahoma
After hours of hauling ass with my car's t-tops off, standing in Oklahoma's vast agricultural expanse was overwhelmingly quiet ... but, like, in a peaceful way. It was really soothing to listen to the chrips of birds and bugs and nothing else for a few seconds before cranking up the speedometer and my hair metal playlist for another couple of hundred miles.
A Kansas Sunset
Not always, but often, when I tell people that I'm driving cross-country I get a response along the lines of: "Ugh, but you have to go through Kansas!" Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa are also citied as "slog states" by people who either have never seen them or don't appreciate solitude. Country singer Jason Alden touches on this in the 2012 song "Fly Over States."
I'm not the midwestern evangelist that Mr. Alden is, but I wholly reject the notion that the so-called "flyover states" are best seen from the cruising altitude of an airliner. A Kansas sunset really is spectacular, and the huge sky out there is an exceptional canvas to see it get splashed on.
On a more introspective level, running wide-open across the middle of the U.S.A. is a great opportunity to reflect on your own insignifiance. It's like zooming out in open ocean in a little boat. Or, what I imagine it'd be like to fly through space in a small starfighter. In fact, driving from Californa to Wisconsin in mid-Fall kind of had me feeling like Luke Skywalker commuting from the desert planet Tatooine to the Dagobah swamp world in Star Wars. Driving a vaguely X-Wing-shaped wedgemobile from the '80s was no small contribution to that vibe.
The piece of plumbing rubber I used to make an intake duct appears to be holding, the Z's cooling system has shown zero signs of stress, and I can't find any obvious leaks besides one. All the Z's problems for the first 2,100 miles of this trip have been mercifully minor.
I've got a little power steering leak to keep an eye on, but it's so slow I haven't had to add fluid since LA. The car still doesn't love to idle when it's cold, but I suspect that might be rectifed once I fit a proper intake hose. I did also notice that one of my inner tie rod boots is blown to smithereens and a few bushings up front are looking pretty ragged; there's probably a steering rebuild in this car's future.
Oh yeah, and for about an hour one day, the speedometer decided to max itself out. Before I could think too much on what had happened, or even download a speedometer phone app to hold me over until I could fix it, it healed itself.
Idle Thoughts And Takeaways
I really wish this Z had a turbocharger. I'll never deal with the labor and expense to drop one in, but a little more torque and like 30 extra HP would go a long way. Maybe I should see what it'd take to plumb in nitrous.
I need to build some kind of cargo management system that lets me easily carry stuff and secure the t-tops when they're off. And maybe my future NOS tank?
This might be my favorite (of, now, eight) cross-U.S.A. road trips I've done. Flying solo adds a nice element of self-reflection and peace; a classic grand touring car is perfect for such a mission on so many levels. In fact, I'll have to do another post articulating that more completely.
I really hope I never have to get rid of this 1984 300ZX.
I gotta watch the original Star Wars movies again soon.
As you're reading this, I'm rolling out of Madison and making my way toward a random hotel on the eastern edge of Ohio. That'll be a long and straightforward transit stage—I have about 550 miles to do, so unfortunatley I won't be able to dally much in Chicago, Cleveland, or anywhere else nearby.
However, the payoff for that slog will be a (hopefully) interesting ride through Pennsilvania. My plan is to rip the short Route 666 (it's real—Google Maps says so. Is it haunted by Satanic demons? That's what we shall find out). Then I aim to make my way over some other squiggly map lines on to a city called Williamsport by the Susquehanna River. I've never heard of that place, but it had a nice selection of hotels that were reasonably priced so, Williamsport, here I come!
After that, it's another fairly long trip across the familiar territory of New York, Connecticut and Western Massachusetts to whatever hotel I'm inclined to splurge on near Brookline, MA. Then, finally, if nothing breaks or stops me, onto the Larz Anderson Auto Museum at around 8:30 on Sunday morning for Japanes Car Day 2022. Hope to see some of you there, by the way. I'll be wearing a big coat that looks like a piece of Southwestern hotel furniture—the same thing I've been rocking since California. Flag me down and say hello if you see me!