It was as if there was no other choice. The 2012 Chevrolet Corvette"Centennial Edition" arrived just in time for the weekend when the state of Arizona began the celebration of its centennial as the 48th and final of the contiguous United States. We had to do a road trip. Let's see... Corvette convertible... centennials... of course! The Mother Road! Old Route 66.
We left Phoenix and climbed to Payson -- climbing being no challenge at all of the manually shifted 6.2-liter, 430-horsepower V8 beneath the Corvette's hood -- and then on up onto the Mogollon Rim, and then northeast across the Mogollon Plateau to Holbrook and its historic Wigwam Motel, where each of the 15 "rooms" is a stand alone unit shaped like a Native American's teepee.
At one time, there were seven such Wigwam Villages, stretching from Kentucky to Florida and on to California. This one was constructed in 1950 by Chester Lewis, who had seen the original in Kentucky and agreed to a rights fee that gave him the building plans in exchange for installing coin-operated radios in each teepee; the dimes inserted into those radios were forwarded as what amounted to a franchise fee.
Lewis ran the village until Interstate 40 took traffic away from the Mother Road, though his children reopened the facilities in 1988.
What better way to begin our Route 66 adventure than by spending a night in the Wigwam?
The sunrise was gorgeous, but the temperature didn't rise with it. Twenty-eight degrees! The top stayed down as we traveled west on the Interstate.
"Don't forget Winona," Bobby Troup wrote in his lyrics to "Route 66." We didn't. That's where we left the superslab, but after we did we wondered what had made the small cluster of homes so memorable to Troup back when he drove the road soon after World War II.
What is now called "Historic Route 66" zig-zags through Flagstaff, and then becomes little more than the I-40 frontage road -- and at one point it even turns to red rock gravel as it climbs through the pine forest west of that city.
Further west, the city of Williams has time traveled itself back to the 1950s and '60s in an ongoing Route 66 celebration, which seems only fitting because Williams was the last original Route 66 downtown to be bypassed by the Interstate system. Enjoy that cruise through time in Williams, because as you head on west, you're forced back onto the Interstate for nearly 20 miles, until just east of Ash Fork.
Finally, we've reached the longest continuous remaining stretch of the original Mother Road -- 158 miles from just east of Ash Fork all the way to bank of the Colorado River. And not only are we departing I-40, but the weather has warmed enough for the top to depart from overhead -- though we'll still make use of the Centennial Corvette's heater and seat warmers.
Chevrolet celebrated its 100th anniversary as an automobile manufacturer late last year. Part of the celebration included the creation of a special Centennial Edition 2012 Corvette.
The Centennial package -- a $4,950 option -- provides special Carbon Flash Metallic paint with satin-black graphic racing stripes; special badges featuring a CHEVROLET 100 YEARS logo with Louis Chevrolet at the steering wheel of a racing car; crossed-flag Corvette emblems with "100" instead of the fleur-de-lis; Satin Black Centennial wheels (replaced on our test car by $1,850 optional chrome-aluminum rims); red brake calipers, Magnetic Selective Ride Control -- basically, turn a knob and your ready for the race track; leather-covered dashboard and door panels with red stitching; microfiber suede-wrapped steering wheel, shifter and seat inserts; and embossed centennial logo on the headrests.
With black-on-black stripes, black power convertible top, and black interior, the Centennial Corvette looks as menacing as its 430-hp V8 sounds when you nail the throttle.
On the other hand, once you're up to speed and simply cruising down the highway, the car is rated at 26 mpg (16 in the city), and we averaged 27.1 on our 890-mile centennial celebration drive.
By the way, base price on the 2012 Corvette convertible is $54,525. In addition to the Centennial Edition package and those wheels, our car was equipped with the 3LT Preferred Equipment Group, which for $7,995 provides sport seats with power bolster and lumbar, heat and memory; a power convertible top; tilt and telescoping steering column; Bose premium audio with nine speakers, navigation, XM satellite radio (which we keep tuned to channel 5, listening to the same songs as Route 66 travelers in the 1950s, CD player and Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connection; head-up display -- a wonderful feature that projects information such as your speed and how many g's you pulled in that last turn onto the inside of the windshield so you don't have to divert your eyes from the road -- and a net in the trunk for smaller cargo items.
Speaking of the trunk, with the top down there's still 7.5 cubic feet of cargo, but think duffle bags not hard suitcases for your weekend trips.
Seligman is the last town for the next 80 miles with both an Interstate exit and a Route 66 heritage. From Seligman, the old road heads northwest across the high desert, past the Grand Canyon Caverns, where you can descend into a limestone cavern more than 200 feet underground. A few miles on, the road turns southwest and goes through Peach Springs, where, if you're driving something more suitable for off-pavement travel than our Corvette, you can pay a small fee and drive north on a trail that ends at the Colorado River, making this the only place you can drive to the river within the Grand Canyon.
The road loops south through Valentine, back northwest through Hackberry, then southwest again for a 20-mile run into Kingman. Beyond Kingman, the road runs flat through the Sacramento Valley until the topography takes a dramatic turn as you approach Cool Springs and work your way up through Black Mesa to Sitgreaves Pass.
The road is narrow, curves are right and the drop-offs may have you holding your breath -- and wondering how people drove this route back in their Model Ts. In the days of sputtering engines and gravity-fed fuel systems, some cars had to be driven up the hills in reverse, a skill perfected by local residents who were paid by the tourists to get their cars safely across the pass.
The Corvette has no trouble negotiating this hills, but at one point near the Goldroad mine the downhill switchback is so tight and steep that the chin spoiler scrapes along the pavement.
And soon we find ourselves at a dead stop. We've arrived in Oatman, an old mining town (also where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent a night on their honeymoon) famous for the wild burros that roam its streets and for the wild west history it relives by staging gunfights right there in the middle of the road for tourists. We arrive just as such a shootout is about to take place, and have great seats for the show as it unfolds right in front of the Corvette. In fact, after taking pictures of the shootout, some folks turn and take pictures of our car!
Beyond Oatman we descend into Golden Shores in the Mohave Valley and drive along the tamarisk trees and the shoreline of the Topock Marsh.
The historic route rejoins the Interstate to cross the Colorado River into California. We do as well, but not to cross the river. Instead, we head east and south and home.