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A classic road trip in classic cars

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 11, 2013, at 6:17 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, May 11, 2013, at 6:19 a.m.

Everyone loves a classic show car that has been lavished with the owner’s time, money, creativity and skills. We all treat these machines with respect and deference when they are on display at a show, with spotlights and mirrors highlighting all their key features.

But who doesn’t also have the thought: “Man, I would love to slide in behind the wheel of this beauty and take it for a nice, long cruise.”

And what would be better than having a small convoy of buddies along for the ride?

That’s what a group of Wichita-area car guys are about to embark on. In fact, they are probably pulling out of town just about now, as you are reading this.

“We just got to talking one day and thought we’d ought to get a couple of old cars out and do Route 66. They’ve got a museum in Santa Rosa (N.M.) that has some cars in it and it’s a pretty popular spot,” Phil Rapp said.

“On the way back, we’re going to stop at the Gateway Museum in Colorado,” added Don Bolain. The Gateway Museum is a relatively new showplace, but has some of the most historically significant cars of the 20th century in its collection, including the famous 1954 Olds F-88 concept sports car that sold at auction for more than $3.2 million in 2007.

One idea led to another and soon the tour group was talking about driving up Highway 101 from San Luis Obispo across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco.

“`Boone” Reichenberger, who will be driving the support vehicle with his brother John, said the trip sort of morphed into an old Highway 40 journey from the original Route 66 plan. “We’ll be going down Highway 40 at 66 miles an hour,” he grinned.

They plan to hit such tourist favorites as Las Vegas, the Hearst Castle, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and maybe ride the famous trolleys in San Francisco before heading back east through Tahoe, Nev., Moab, Utah, and Denver on their way home.

Their vehicles will probably generate as much attention as some of the tourist attractions along the route.

Rapp will be driving his upgraded 1955 Ford Thunderbird. “I had always thought about doing a ’55 T-Bird,” he said. “A buddy of mine bought it in Pennsylvania and I bought it from him. That old engine in it was tired, so I found a 5.0 HO engine in an ’88 Lincoln in a salvage yard and completely rebuilt it.”

The fuel injection intake was removed and replaced with a 4-barrel carburetor setup for simplicity’s sake, but the Lincoln’s automatic overdrive and rear end were used for dependability and better gas mileage. Vintage Air and cruise control were added, along with a custom dual exhaust system, a rebuilt front suspension and steering package, and the T-Bird was completely rewired. The final touch for the turquoise two-seater is a set of PT Cruiser power seats upholstered to match the stock interior.

Bolain will be behind the wheel of his 1965 Buick Riviera GS, painted in his favorite shade of Lexus purple. “It was a real rust bucket when I got it,” he said. “We did a full rotisserie restoration on it. We totally rebuilt just about everything,” he noted.

The original 425 cubic inch “nailhead” V-8 was rebuilt, but the dual 4-barrel carbs were set aside in favor of a more fuel-friendly single 4-barrel setup. A later model GM Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R automatic overdrive was installed to further bolster gas mileage at freeway speeds. “It’s a cruiser now,” Bolain said.

The support truck belongs to Bolain and also is finished in Lexus purple paint. It’s a 1983 Chevy pickup that has been equipped with a 350 Chevy V-8 crate engine and a 700R4 automatic overdrive, along with an Edelbrock intake and carb and the absolutely vital cruise control and Vintage Air air conditioning. The bed of the truck will be packed with tools and parts for possible roadside repairs.

Ron Bowring will be at the controls of his amazing custom 1951 Mercury convertible for the duration of the journey. The Merc features virtually any amenity you could want in a modern car, let alone a vehicle that rolled out of the factory 62 years ago.

Bringing up the rear in his Competition Orange 1969 Cougar Eliminator will be Steve Walker, who won’t be able to leave town with the rest of the group because of a business meeting.

“I’m going to miss the first part of the trip, but I will try to catch up with them by Bakersfield,” he said. The Cougar was his high school car, which he tracked down 30 years later and should be the perfect choice for his ride down memory lane.

Since we couldn’t break away to ride along with the group, we have asked them to keep notes and shoot photos of the highlights of their travels. Phil Rapp seems pretty skilled with a camera, so we’re counting on him to help us out with a follow-up report on how this once-in-a-lifetime road trip turns out.

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