Two drivers -- Alex Roy and Dave Maher -- recently managed to motor across the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles, in 31 hours and 4 minutes. Usedcarsalesman salutes them.
To the uninitiated, this time doesn't seem particularly indicative of "high-speed-travel" or really anything all that great. You might think: "It took them 31 hours to get across the United States? Heck, I can hop on a jet plane and get there in under 5 hours with a good tail-wind. What's the big deal? They had to average 90mph? I go 90mph every day in my Civic, man!?"
Well, consider that these guys needed to maintain an AVERAGE speed of 90mph over close to 3000 miles of U.S. road-ways. That's means that every minute of that 31 hours on the road, their vehicle had to move at an average of 90mph! Stationary while refueling? Still 90mph. Stopped to swap drivers? Still 90mph. Get pulled over by police and lose an hour? Still 90mph.
And does Usedcarsalesman need to mention that U.S. highways don't exactly look like deserted roads in films like Night of The Comet? Does he need to mention that Montana and other north western states with more liberal highway speed limits are not exactly on the most direct route from NYC to LA?
And what about the other issues that fight to degrade a 90mph average rate of speed across the U.S.? What about when you must slow for weather? What about those low speed roads you are forced to use that have a posted speed limit of 25-45mph? What about numerous irritated Dads with cellphones and a minivans full of kids who'd get no greater joy than seeing that Super-Sedan driver that just blew by at 130mph getting a "wood-shampoo" from a team of incensed county mounties? What about when you run in to the legion of U.S. law enforcement officers (highway patrol, local police, sheriffs, etc) armed with a diversity of speed measuring (revenue collection) tools and a coordinated force of vehicles that are almost impossible for one fast vehicle and its after-market, electronic speed defenses to counter or out-maneuver? What about car mechanical issues (lose oil pressure or clogged filter and the trip is done) ? What about driver error and fatigue? What about good old Murphy's Law ("yeah, we were doing great until we hit that Armadillo in Arizona while we were doing 155mph")?
Obviously, you'd need to orchestrate ways to defend your 90mph average velocity versus the aforementioned gauntlet of speed-sapping threats. In the case of Roy and Maher, it appears Roy was the one to fund and masterfully organize the electronics, navigation, sedan, its legal and illegal modification and the chase plane that made it happen. He also did some driving, too.
But it sounds like it was Maher who was the "offensive" missing link in helping Roy to set a new coast-to-coast record. He was the one who had no reservations about opening up the M5 sedan to between 2 and 3 times the posted speed limit while weaving in and out of lanes, driving the road shoulders, and passing slower traffic while going 100mph faster to keep their team average up.
So, what does this record mean?
The old, documented "Cannonball" cross-country record time from NYC to LA was 32 hours 7 minutes. That was accomplished in 1983, when there were probably only a few thousand cars -- European sports cars with very low production numbers -- licensed in the U.S. that could make the needed speed for such a record. You also had a few less expensive European makes and models that could run at 120-130mph, but these only numbered in the 10s-of-thousands in the U.S.
Roy and Maher recently beat the old record by 1 hour and 3 minutes. Congratulations, but so what, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Today is a different age in terms of mass-market, automotive performance. For example, in 2007, probably 2% of cars -- German, Japanese and high-end U.S. sedans, many sports cars and some so-called "pocket-rockets" -- on U.S. highways can easily, safely cruise at 155+mph in the hands of adequately trained drivers. Probably 20% of the cars on U.S. roads -- like some of the best-selling Camry's and Accords -- have top-speeds in excess of 130mph.
Do the math and you see that, unlike in 1983, there are millions, if not 10s of millions of automobiles now on U.S. roads in 2007 capable of cruising (and handling/stopping) at speeds well in to the 3 digits. Why, now, do we not have a few, true autobahn-style roads, cross-sectioning the United States, that would allow the aforementioned vehicles to lawfully perform within their higher, modern design parameters?
In a later post, Usedcarsalesman discusses how the Roy/Maher record, together with today's faster mass-market cars, the trend towards privately-operated highways and improvements in automotive technology may suggest the feasibility of Autobahn-style roadways in the U.S.