What is the best car for a full on assault on the Cannonball Run record? I’m not talking about rallies by any name. I’m talking about a full-on, balls out race from New York to Los Angeles, where the right gear and police avoidance are paramount.
By now the right cars should be obvious. A supercar on a Cannonball Run? Try sneaking through JFK in a Bin Laden costume.
Sadly, people still don’t want to listen. Let’s face facts. The wrong car will lead to one of two outcomes. Death. Or jail. Actually, there’s a third. A visit to a mechanic, assuming you didn’t bring one with you, in which case you’ve probably already lost. To save those with too much time and money on their hands a lot of time, money and jail time, here’s a list of vehicles to avoid for your next illegal cross-country race:
11) White Ford Van w/275 Gallon Fuel Cell—This is a fun suggestion from the stealth crowd, inspired by the legendary Polish Racing Drivers of America (PRDA). Packing a 275-gallon fuel tank in the back would be no problem. Making it cross country without stopping would be no problem. But let’s count the ways it could go wrong at 100-plus mph. Fumes? A spark? A minor accident? Flipping the truck? There’s a reason tanker trucks look like they do. There’s also a reason you don’t see tanker trucks hauling ass. If you like fireworks, this is the one for you. Bring fireproof suits, and not three-layer Nomex. Actual fireproof suits. I wouldn't want to wear those for 30 some-odd hours.
10) Fake Ambulance (Transcon Medevac)—This is the original Cannonball Run disguise, and arguably the best. It makes sense at first glance. But, like a real ambulance, this is big, heavy vehicle—heavier still once you’ve replaced the patient and doctor with a 275 gallon fuel tank, in which case you’re breaking even more laws than the team in the Ford Van. Modern Cannonball Run times are way faster than they were in the Seventies. Again, not suitable for triple-digit speeds, and of course, EVERY COP IN AMERICA HAS SEEN THE MOVIE. Not smart.
9) Ferrari F40—The one we all want to take. Who wouldn’t want to break free from reality and blaze a path cross-country in a red Ferrari? But there are issues, and not just wear and tear on a classic car. The $10k you’ll pay for wrap, something like Ceramic Pro; the likelihood of a pothole at 150 mph, and the $10k or $50k damage it’ll do. Also, the likelihood that a red Ferrari will be pulled over. Because red Ferrari. And this is an F40, after all: The cops cool enough to let you go would be the same ones pulling you over just to get a better look. I love this car, but there’s literally not one good reason to take one on a Cannonball. Not one.
8) Mercedes-McLaren SLR—Has any car ever looked more like a sex organ? And those scissor doors—you’re guilty as soon as a cop sees the door pivot up. The worst part? I saw three different brand-new SLRs on the Gumball 3000 back when I did it, and not one finished without at least one breakdown. One owner apparently had Mercedes send technicians to Rome—and they still couldn’t resolve his electrical issues. Anecdotal? When you spend this much on a car, it should be able to go 3,000 miles without a hitch. It’s a Mercedes. That SLR from Rome? It broke down again. Right before the finish. I’ll take an AMG-GT.
7) Lamborghini Murcielago/Aventador—The spiritual inheritor to the most famous Cannonball car of all time, the Countach. Like the F40, this one speaks directly to the heart of everyone who wants to Cannonball. Also like the F40, you might as well drive yourself to jail. Tied with the Popemobile for title of Most Conspicuous Car, any halo Lamborghini is a no-go for getting cross country non-stop unimpeded by law enforcement. Amazingly, modern Lambos have been very reliable on various cross-country rallies. Audi mechanicals, no doubt. A better choice than a Ferrari, but still not a good one.
6) Pagani Huayra—This is a funny one. Conspicuous as all hell, but so random and unrecognizable as to add a possible excuse from getting a ticket. You’ll still get pulled over by every cop who just wants to see what it is, but you can always say, “it was those assholes in the Ferrari.” Or the Lambo. For what you paid, you’re going to want to protect it with Ceramic Pro (again), and you certainly won’t be able to fit a proper extra fuel tank. And you don’t want to cut into the dash or electrical system to install all the gear you need. So, even if you make it with being stopped, you have absolutely no chance of winning. None. Zero. Reliability? That awesome Mercedes powerplant suggests it will make it...straight to the impound lot.
5) Any Koenigsegg—If money and legal issues were no object, I’d take a Koenigsegg. Any Koenigsegg. My favorite supercar. A feat of engineering. All the upsides of the Pagani. All the downsides of a Pagani. plus one. Let’s take the Agera R’s theoretical top speed of 273 mph. This is a fast car. So much faster than almost anything else, I doubt a Cannonballer could stop himself from testing its top end. And that’s the problem. You hit a pothole or even a mild road undulation in this thing and you’re dead. That’s the thing about 150 and up. Some cars are too fast for the task. This one is too good. Too fast. Too dangerous. Spare parts? Don’t ask.
4) Porsche Carrera GT—You can’t fault Porsche for building this car. But you can fault those crazy Germans for not offering Traction Control on the Carrera GT. Come on, guys. Tons of cars had it years before the GT came out. I appreciate the purist’s approach as much as anyone, but you can’t Cannonball in a modern sports car without it. It’s not like Porsche couldn’t have included it with a switch. You’d be insane to turn it off, of course, as was demonstrated by two out of three GTs on the 2004 Gumball 3000 spinning out. Badly. Not to mention what happened to an old friend.
3) Bugatti Veyron—The fastest, most advanced supercar of all time? Whatever. All the problems of a Ferrari or Lambo, and more. I could write a book about all the reasons not to bring a Veyron, but let’s stick to just one. Fuel Economy. At Cannonball speeds, you’re looking at 5 mpg. Yes, five miles per gallon. No amount of fuel you could fit would make up for the time lost refueling. An 8-liter 16-cylinder powerplant? Amazing. But amazingly bad for a Cannonball Run.
2) Vector W8—There is only one supercar I could forgive for being on this list. There is only one supercar I’d be willing to go to jail in. It’s the Vector W8. The vaunted American supercar that kinda, almost was. A Vector on the Cannonball? That will never happen, because the likelihood that I’ll ever get my hands on one is zero. As is yours. Another thing that will never happen? A W8 running under its own power for 500 miles. We’ll have flying cars first. This is the Godfather and Grandaddy of all crazy Cannonball cars, and the only car I would risk it all in. Read the full Wiki about Vector Aeromotive, because the story of the company is crazier than any Cannonball. Trust me.
1) Any TVR—If you have to ask.
Why No Other Porsches?
If you’ll notice, the Carrera GT is the only Porsche on the list. The reasons are simple. Porsches have been incredibly reliable across numerous Cannonballs, U.S. Express races, and countless rallies. Conspicuous? Yes. But more common than Ferraris or Lamborghinis, and less likely to get pulled over just for driving by. Lastly, they’re the best value in serious two-door sports cars capable of triple-digit speeds.
Drive safely. Oh, and here’s my recommended Cannonball Run car list, as of last year, just in case. I’ll have a new one. #Soon.
Alex Roy, entrepreneur, President of Europe By Car, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, and author of The Driver, set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in a BMW M5 in 31 hours & 4 minutes, and has set multiple "Cannonball" endurance driving records in Europe & the United States in the EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.