The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, or the Cannonball run as its known was a simple idea, get as fast as possible from New York City to California as quickly as possible. Conceived by car magazine writer and auto racer Brock Yates and Car and Driver editor Steve Smith, the Cannonball was a moving protest against the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit being imposed upon 1970’s America.
The Cannonball was run through various years from 1971 to 1979, its spiritual successor The US Express took its place in American automotive folklore from 1981 to 1983.
During these run’s many cross country records were set and broken as drivers were able to achieve faster and faster times during their pursuit across 2,800 mile distance of the United States, notable records include the 32 hours 51 minutes set by Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborugh in a Jaguar XJS V-12, the final record was set by Doug Turner and David Diem in the 1983 US Express race, they came in at 32 hours 4 minutes in their Ferrari 308.
After 1983 no more Cannonball’s were held and the time of 32 Hours 7 minutes stood for many years until October 2005, when Alex Roy and David Maher set a time of 31 Hours 4 minutes in Roy’s modified BMW M5 E39.
The Roy/Maher record stood until October 2013, when Ed Bolian, co-driver Dave Black and support passenger Dan Huang shattered Roy’s record with a time of 28 hours 50 mins driving a decade old modified Mercedes CL55 AMG.
So, you have taken complete leave of your senses and you have decided you want to attempt the coast to coast dash in pursuit of the record, to do this you’re going to need a car, a fast one at that, however before we get to the car choices we need to talk about the route.
Now it has been well documented that the Cannonball run route did change throughout the years, Alex Roy and David Maher set their record from the Classic Car Club garage located in Manhattan, New York City, ending at the Santa Monica Pier, the duo covered a staggering 2,794 miles at an average speed of 90.1 mph.
For arguments sake we are going to go with the classic Cannonball route, starting at the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street in New York City, ending at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California, this is a total distance of 2,814 miles to cover.
Now, the cars, you have many many cars to choose from, but before you do you will have to remember a few key points:
Build Quality and Reliability
Yes, three keywords, also the reason why you may not want to consider taking a hand built exotic supercar as you may well end up by the side of the road with your attempt in ruins as the words ‘hand built’ are simply a replacement for the words ‘breaks down a lot’.
Size and Capacity
Now whilst you may well be tempted to take a two-door, two-seat exotic of reasonable build quality, however for a run like this you are going to need a few things, one of them being space, a fair amount of it at that. The two most recent record runs were partly achieved by fuel capacity, as in the ability to double or even triple a cars fuel capacity by the installation of additional fuel tanks, twin 30-gallon fuel cells should do it, this in addition to the likely standard 20-gallon stock fuel tank will mean less time wasted on fuel stops, the kind of thing you need on a cross-country record attempt. To carry this kind of weight and size around you are going to need a full sized sedan or Luxo-barge coupe at the very least.
In addition to carrying around all this very explosive fuel you are going to need gadgets, lots of them, previous and current record holders Roy and Bolian filled their cars with a vast array of gadgetry in order to help them find the fastest route while avoiding law-enforcement, such items as multiple GPS navigation systems, radar detectors, even thermal night vision will help you along your way. All of these gadgets take up a lot of space meaning you’re going to need a sizeable car to carry them all along with your co-drivers.
Power and Speed
In order to cover so much distance and carry all of the equipment and fuel you are going to need a powerful car, it’s fairly obvious that a Toyota Prius is not up for this job.
Using the cars of previous record holders as a benchmark, you are going to need a powerful car with around 400bhp to 500bhp or greater with a top speed of somewhere in the region of 170mph to 180mph at least.
A super powered diesel sounds like a good idea, but just stop and think for a moment though, the BMW 740d fits the bill in most ways, power, build quality, space in abundance for all of the kit and people, strong fuel economy, just think of a 740d equipped with an additional 50 gallons of fuel tanks which could in theory cover almost a thousand miles between stops. However, let me just stop you right there as to why this is a terrible idea, firstly, top speed, even with the removal of the speed limiter the 740d would be capable of speeds within the region of 160mph or greater, which is not fast enough, a petrol powered V-8 motor will run all day at 160mph to 180 mph or greater but won’t suffer while doing it.
Lastly the 740d is not available for sale in North America, this leads us nicely on to the next point, the car you chose has to be available in North America, importing a car into do the run, big and resounding “don’t do it”, the USA has a 25 year import rule on importation of cars, if you import a foreign model in, the Feds will likely sit up and take notice, not to mention a car on foreign plates at twice the speed limit, easy to spot and will simply result in you being carted off to the slammer in double quick time, think worse still, get arrested in Ohio and you will likely face the death penalty…….. or not.
Stealth and Staying Under The Radar
The final requirement is actually not getting caught doing the run, two car choices which I feel would be more than capable of meeting all of the requirements are the Nissan GT-R and the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.
The biggest issue with both of these car choices is simple, they both shout from the roof-tops, “look at me I’m speeding, please arrest me’. If you blow the doors off a trucker who is busy on his CB radio looking to ‘not be lonely’ for the night, they will immediately switch to their new task of grassing you up to local law-enforcement, who will in turn easily find you in your Ferrari or Nissan as in the middle of nowhere you stand out a country f**king mile, so much so, if you put a large neon sign on the roof with an arrow pointing downwards then it would make their job slightly less simple.
The Cars You Should Chose
Now the car choices, I admit all of these choices are based on money is no object, Roy’s choice of M5 E39 was simple, because he owned the damn thing in the first place, Bolian simply chose his CL55 because it was the choice that fitted in with his budget, both car choices, however, were able to meet the criteria I have gone through so far.
The Cadillac CTS-V Sedan
The first easy choice, it’s got a 6.2 litre, supercharged V-8 motor producing 640hp and 630lb-ft of torque, 0-60mph in a very swift 3.7 seconds and a 200mph top speed, also it’s simply a Caddie sedan, equipped with an 8-speed auto box, this thing should be as easy to drive as a shopping cart.
Simply choose your direction of travel and you’re off, at great speed and then some.
Also, the CTS-V has Brembo Brakes as standard, always helpful when trying to slow down from 200 mph to avoid an upcoming radar trap.
Lastly is the stealth factor, if this thing blasted past you on a darkened interstate unless you’re a real car nut could you identify it? Doubtful, but anything that increases the stealth factor has to be an added bonus here.
Any colour will do as long as its black for superior stealth ability
The Jaguar XJ – 5.0 Litre V-8 Supercharged
Now, bear with me on this choice, I have my reasons as I shall now explain. The big Jag is here because of its size, its ability to carry many things and people in comfort and style, the 5.0 litre V-8 supercharged engine produces 550hp, all this wonderful power dispenses with 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds, top speed is a slightly sedate 174 mph, I know it’s the slowest car here but bear with me a little longer.
The reason for the Jag’s inclusion is that it will carry you in comfort and quietness across the USA in record time, rather than carry you across with a broken spine and bleeding ears as you may find in a more hardened sports sedan. I mean it’s a Jag, it’s going to be comfortable and quiet to a certain extent, spec the long wheelbase version and you can give a third passenger, even more room whilst they assist you with the task of police spotting and navigating.
The only slight downside with the Jag is the chrome teeth at the front, which are a bit ‘look at me’, the upside is rarity, some truckers may not recognise the Jag as you blast past which could result in less hassle with law-enforcement.
The BMW M5
I have chosen this car as it’s the one I would choose to attempt the record in, the BMW M5 is powered by a 4.4 litre, twin-turbo V-8 motor, 0-60 mph, 4.0 seconds which is not to be sniffed at.
The top speed after removing the limiter, 190 mph plus, which is more than capable of getting the job done.
If you option the car in black and retain the standard 19-inch wheels, remove the huge amount of ‘M’ badges from the car and you have got a BMW that looks like just another 5-series, stealth and speed in abundance.
Also, perhaps a small part of me would want to pay homage to the Roy/Maher run, given that they used an M5 E39, this could be seen as a slight tribute to their record.
Whatever car you chose, chose something that is both fast and powerful that won’t get you arrested before you reach the end of what is going to be an utterly epic journey.