Le Grand Détour


What will I miss?

23 August 2017

Today I am leaving the United States of America and thus the North American continent, heading back for the old world. And as I am about to leave, I reflect on what I will miss.

Most obvious of all, I will miss the people I have had the great fortunate to meet throughout my trip forth and back the continent. It is hard for me to appropriately express my appreciation towards this quite large group of people. I hope that these people enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs.

I feel fortunate and priviledged to meet so many initial strangers, who were willing to let me into their homes and even at times let me stay in their homes. Them I will miss most of all. And I hope to have the fortune to meet them all again.


My last view my car, as it waits for the ship Themis to arrive in Port Newark, New Jersey. In late September, I shall be reunited with my car, as I see in more familiar surroundings, in Bremerhaven, Germany.

I will also miss Five Guys, a burger and fries chain in the US, that serves consistently excellent burgers and fries. It is not as if you cannot get good burgers in Europe, but when you are travelling, you really need to know a place, because otherwise there is a high chance of disappointment.

While some will point out that Five Guys operate in the UK, France and Spain, [1] they do not operate in most of Europe, and particularly not in my home country of Denmark.

Most of the food itself, I will perhaps not miss, with a few exceptions, such as the great barbeque I got at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. Indeed, local food tend to be of a far greater quality than the food we normally associate Americans with. Perhaps unfairly, but mainly their fast-food chains are to blame.

I will miss their cheap petrol prices, but not their lower quality petrol. That being said, their cheap prices (between half or a third of the prices I am used to) does make up for their lesser quality in petrol. Good luck finding octane 98 in the US!

As I am writing this, in my last hotel in New York City, there may be things I do not yet realise I will miss, but will first become obvious once I am back home. So do not consider this an exhausted list of things I will miss. Indeed, it is difficult to miss something, when it is not gone yet.


[1]Although, in France and Spain, they only operate in Paris and Madrid, respectively.

American culture

18 August 2017

Imagine having spend the last three thousand years comparing penis size with the guys. It does not take long for one to realise that the male genitalia can only be so large. To compensate, you add decorations, equipment, songs, writing and eventually war to show who's is truly the largest. Or, at the very least, have the others recognise that.

This is the origin of European culture. The United States, on the other hand, have only had a little over two hundred years to compete in this field. While they rely heavily on European designs and ideas, considering their European origins, they have managed a few of their own. And while it is clear who has the largest two speed male stick shift these days, it is not all of their own making. Such is American culture.

It is not like the modern United States itself is entirely to blame, many of the immigrants coming to the new world brought their own culture with them and maintained their heritage fevoursely, even if the details and meanings were lost over the generations.

And then came the fusions. Unlike in Europe, there was a far greater chance on the new continent for people of different cultural heritages to be living side by side with one another. As the cultures and meanings and traditions became mixed and muddled, some Americans decided to look into the past to find the more pure version of these.


Non-assuming US federal architecture.

Washington, District of Columbia, is built as a capital city. An unusual concept for Europeans, where one city would simply eventually become such a city in each country. But this is hardly uncommon in former colonies. Ottawa, Washington, Canberra, Brasíllia and so on are all purpose-built country capitals. But without hundreds of years to obtain their distinct style, they are forced to start from scratch, which help with the city planning but makes the cultural heritage less so.


There are clear signs of not actually being in Paris or Rome, that these buildings are not built of rare material.

So they turned to classic European styles, and Washington is perhaps the biggest user (or should I say offender?) of this. The federal buildings all attempt to emulate a classic European style. I must confess, I am not the biggest of architectural students, but even me there are not fooling.


The US capital in particular is ridiculous. So I did not venture any closer.

But Washington is not alone in this attempt at grandeous, back in Nashville I had the fortune of visiting the Parthenon. You know, the one in Athens. No, not Athens, Tennessee, but the one in Greece. Except, this one is in Nashville, a full size replica of the original.


In your face, Greeks, this Parthenon is not damaged. Although not built of marble but cement.

This was originally built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, effectively celebrating 100 years of Tennessee with culture unrelated to Tennessee. Indeed, someone had decided to nickname Nashville 'Athens of the South' - clearly having not actually been to the real Athens - and that provided the theme for the celebration.


The statue to the goddess Athena, with Nike in her hand. Based on the original statue, which had been lost to the centuries.

A recent addition to the Parthenon was a full size Athena statue replica, which was finished in the early 1990s. And as you walk around in these buildings, seeing this architecture, you cannot escape the feeling one gets when one sees the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas. That it all feels sort of hollow and immitating.

The United States is no stranger to the lavatorial size comparison game, one need only to look at their military spending. And modern American art is creating a flurry of cultural impact upon the Western world and beyond, just think of the New York City skyline. And perhaps, in the future, original American culture will be so vast, it will have no need for these European immitations and replicas, and they will remain theirs all on their own.

Lane Motor Museum

15 August 2017

Nashville, Tennessee is famous for its country music. I am sure country music is pretty great. However, my reasoning for visiting Nashville was not country music, but rather the Lane Motor Museum. Started by Jeff Lane; after getting a thorough interest in cars from his father, particularly starting with MGs, his private collection of cars grew and grew until he finally decided to turn his collection into a museum.


A Peel Trident. An excellent car if you do not like comfort or getting there fast.

The museum is usually closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but I was fortunate enough to be allowed in on the Tuesday I decided to spend in Nashville. Perhaps bringing my own French car from Europe helped sway the argument for keeping the doors open for me. Regardless, being allowed to roam alone among the cars was a treat.


A Peugeot 205 GTI, my most coverted Peugeot.

In particular, the Lane collection focuses on 'interesting cars', as in mechanically interesting vehicles. This generally speaking means cars that were the first to try something that have become common or even standard today, or cars that were the only ones to try something. As a result, the collection has a lot of European and Japanese cars.


The rally version of the Citroën BX. Notice the enormous wheel arches.

It is not that American cars do not have their worth (ignoring my general disinterest in American cars), it is just that American cars were never really on the forefront of innovation in automobile industry. Tougher conditions in Europe and Japan, either from natural realities, the results of war or political pressure in the form of regulations, forced European and Japanese automakers to think differently and push innovations.


A 1978 Tatra T-613. The kind of Czech you would want.

For instance, among the collection is the largest collection of Tatras outside the Czech Republic. It is very possible you have not heard about Tatras, and think of Škoda as the only Czech make. But Tatra was actually more on the forefront in Czechoslovakia. They were the first to encapsulate the drive shaft running down the vehicle as to protect it from the harsh road conditions.

That may seem obvious today, but someone has to be first. Again, terrible road conditions in the interwar period in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe forced Tatra to create more robust and stable cars, hallmarks of which were soon copied in the West.


You may have thought James May was crazy when he combined a Saab and an Alfa- Romeo. But the only part of his craziness lies upon the makes he chose.

While at the museum, I also had the fortune of visiting its storage underneath the standard exhibit, where the cars not currently on display were packed in a large hall. The collection is mainly a European collection, also making it interesting for locals to visit, as it is not your run of the mill American car collection, that is quite - obviously - common in North America. Because while there are some Asian cars and even some Americans, the collection is predominantly European. Although, German cars tend to be the minority compared to the amount of French cars.


A rally version of the Citroën DS. Clearly racing for the Dutch.

As a result, the collection also contained plenty of Citroëns. And while Jeff Lane himself was not there while I was visiting - which to my understanding disappointed him as he wanted to see my Xantia - I got the sense, that perhaps one day, the Lane Motor Museum would also include a Xantia Activa V6. After all, it had a Renault Avantime.

I want to extend my thanks to the museum for allowing my visit and commend it on its excellent collection. Definitely worth the detour I took to Nashville.

Advantage to being a car enthusiast

13 August 2017

In my time as a classic car owner - in addition to my 1998 Citroën Xantia Activa V6, I also own a 1974 Citroën DS 23, which is back home - I have learnt that other classic or exotic car owners are more than willing to showcase their own cars. And some of these people have quite the exotic collections.


Following this Citroën CX Prestige to a car collection.

I had the fortune of seeing one such collection near Sarasota in Florida. Again, I had gotten in touch with the guy who was the main mechanic on the collection through our shared interest in Citroëns. Trust me, if you are a true car aficionado, Citroëns will be part of that interest.


A Ferrari Testarossa. Famous for its hard steering and not being a Citroën.

This collection, however, was not of Citroëns. But rather of another range of exotic cars, such as a Ferrari Testarossa, with other Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, several classic American cars [1] among others.


A Ferrari 365 GTC/4, not to be confused with the 365 GTC.

This experience is a lot of fun, to get to experience these vehicles up close, in a more authentic way than seeing them at a museum. You also get a nice personalised tour as its maintainer walks around showing you the cars, as well as some secrets about them up close.


The Ferrari 365 GTC/4's V12, with six separate carburettors.

This is a common advantage to being part of this culture. I feel like there is so much I do not know about cars when talking with these people, that I both get scared yet also excited. To know that there is still so much still to learn.


A Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. There was also Bentley Mulsanne, which is basically the same car. Why these cars interest me is because they both have Citroën brakes and its self-levelling suspension. I saw its spheres!

And it is always fun to see other makes than the ones I usually engage with, which is pretty much limited to Citroën. But I really do know a lot about Citroëns. And yes, I learnt a lot more about Citroëns while travelling around North America. Ironically enough.


The Testarossa with its lights on. No engine start required.

And I also get to learn something about cars that are not Citroëns. Like, did you know that there are cars that are not Citroëns? What a strange world we live in.


[1]I have to make a confession to make, I do not really care about American cars, so I tend forget their make names.

Go East

6 August 2017

According to Wikipedia, the United States drives on the right (with the exception of American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, for some reason). And while there is definitely evidence to support this suggestion, such as left-hand drive cars, people keeping to the right side of the central divider and so on, it seems like Americans forget this as soon as you present them with more than one lane in the same direction.

It is not like in the UK, where on most roads, you drive on the left, except on the motorways, where you drive on the right. In the United States, you drive... randomly. As a consequence, if there are two lanes on the motorway, the left lane is considered the average lane, while the right lane is the alternating slowest and fastest lane. If you wish to actually head towards your destination at a reasonable speed, you are forced to overtake on the right between lorries, because the slower moving personal traffic will not switch lanes after overtaking lorries.


An uncommon sight on the motorways in the United States. People driving on the right.

This experience is so common, that people who have just overtaken a lorry, hesitate to switch lane - even if they want to - in fear that the car behind them will make a fast move to overtake on their right, rather than - as it would be proper - wait until the slower moving car has switched lane into the slower lane.

This level of uncertainty creates a simple solution that most American motorists follow: Just stay in one lane. It is easier and less consequential, even though overtaking on the right is far more dangerous than overtaking on the left in a country where they supposedly drive on the right. This becomes even more notorious with three lanes, where the slower traffic stays in the centre lane, while the average or fastest traffic moves in the rightmost lane and the generally fast traffic moves in the leftmost lane. This ridiculousness even applies to lorries, which will often stay in the centre lane, forcing motorists to overtake lorries on the right.

It is easy to blame American motorists, and their education in driving obviously deserves blame here. But it is also American traffic engineers. They have forgotten a golden rule for building motorways: When you expand the amount of lanes on a motorway, it is always a new fast lane that appear. Often, in the US, it will be the right lane that expands, and as such when going from two lanes to three lanes, the traffic remains in the two leftmost lanes.


Driving from Grand Canyon in Arizona to Amarillo in Texas, there are numerous signs like this, highlighting the classic Route 66. I may a point of not driving on it.

This is not just a sense you experience, as you head east through the Southern United States, this is common everywhere in North America, including Canada. And while I would previously have focused more on driving along country roads, my trip back to the east coast was intended as a quick run, and as a result, it became mostly motorways.

I had the fortune to meet a fellow Citroënist in Dallas, who had a BX, a rare sight indeed in the US. Although, you can imagine that my Xantia would be even rarer. As true to the spirit of Texas, we ate at very good local barbecue place, that formed a sense for me of more traditional Texan cuisine, rather than the commercialised versions, that one would be used to.


Part of his white BX 19 GTI, still on stilts, as it is still undergoing repairs.

It is not often you have the fortune to experience barbecue this good, along with a strange contraption called a 'special Texas twinkie'. A twinkie is an American snack and quite sweet. The Texas version is not. It is a stuffed jalapeño wrapped in bacon, that actually tasted quite excellent.

The last stretch of my run eastward ended in Florida, where it is constantly hot and humid. Indeed, so far, I have not been in a single place in North America, where it was comfortable outside. Makes one wonder, why people even live here.

Change of plans

6 August 2017

This is a brief update. I have made a significant adjustment to my trip. Already highlighted on my itinerary, but I have moved my depature date from 5 September to 23 August. Or cutting my trip short by two weeks.

I have done a lot of soul searching on this one, and the length of my trip is becoming a burden on me, mentally. As such, a little over two weeks from now, I will be back home in Denmark.

For those of you wondering, yes, it does mean I will miss the solar eclipse this August. But what is a solar eclipse but a ball in front of a light source? Move a ball in front of your lamp at home and you got a total eclipse.

Arizona and Grand Canyon

3 August 2017

The last time I experienced rain was in Yellowstone, or rather just before I entered Yellowstone National Park. Through all of July, I somehow managed to avoid rain. Something which unfortunately cannot be said for my countrymen back home, where they have been experiencing a summer free July. [1]


A small gathering of the local Citroënists and me in Phoenix.

I did not expect the time when I saw rain again would be in Arizona, however. But yet, as I drove Flagstaff on my way to Grand Canyon National Park, I was hit by hard rain. So much rain, in fact, that traffic completely stopped on the motorway. However, in this area, rain is not a joking matter, as the monsoon season can cause flash floods, that had killed ten people in the week before I arrived.


The proud owners stand by their respective vehicles.

Indeed, before I made my way to Flagstaff, I arrived in Phoenix, where I met some of the local Citroënists. Incredible to think that most US states have their own Citroën clubs. However, most of them have fewer members than the Danish BX club. [2] Then again, there are probably fewer Citroëns in total in North America, than there are Citroën BXs in Europe.


Some parts Grand Canyon, some parts sky, some parts vegetation, all photograph.

After Flagstaff, a city which name I find amusingly banal, I made my way to Grand Canyon National Park, where it was not raining as much. Now, Americans are at an disadvantage, because their country is so new, and their language has not evolved yet, so that words have changed form and meaning.


This place is old, so some forest have moved in, apparently not caring about the big canyon nearby.

This is why a lot of names in North America have so obvious names, like Grand Canyon. Oh, it is a canyon and it is big, but it is more than big, it is grand. And this is not the only location like this on the continent, there are numerous geographical location whose names are purely a description of what you can see.

However, before we Europeans start laughing at North Americans' lack of creativity, we must realise that most geographical locations and towns in Europe are also named after something entirely obvious. Our advantage is that our languages have evolved over the centuries, that today we do not recognise these names for their original meaning, and these words only appear in these names. But we too did exactly that.

Perhaps some 500 years from now, people will take a name like 'Flagstaff' at face value, not understanding that at some point, people used to hoist flags in staffs.


Indeed, everywhere you look, the sides of the canyon was covered in vegetation.

But Grand Canyon is apt. They say it is one of those sights that does not disappoint, and I must confess that whoever I am quoting right now is correct. It is just unfortunate that so many other people these days have found a similar interest in also not being disappointed.


[1]In Denmark, a summer day is a day where the temperature reaches above 25° in a majority of the country (only land counted). That did not occur this July.
[2]Great club, by the way. Giving a shout out to fun people and a great car.

Finally, I got pulled over

30 July 2017

In Saratoga Springs, New York, an officer pulled up beside me in T-intersection, as I was heading left and him right, and asked me how many times I had been pulled over for those plates, referring to my Danish number plates. At the time, I had not been pulled over once. But he insisted that I would get pulled over at some point on my trip.

I believed him at the time, as this had been my own suspicion as well. The foreign plates might call some attention, and a police officer unfamiliar with them or what to do in such a case (which may be most US police officers), might be inclined to pull me over.

But as I went through state after state, province after province, crossed the US/Canadian border four times, I had managed to reach southern California without getting pulled over. I began thinking it might not happen at all. A Canadian told me that there is a good chance it will not, because of the paper work required.


The rear plates that meet other motorists' eyes.

It is not that uncommon to see cars over here with European plates on the front. Indeed, a lot of people at the Citroën events I attended had left their cars' original European plates at the front of the vehicle, or had some made that matched the number of their locally issued plates.

In most US states and Canadian provinces, front facing plates are not required. And even some jurisdictions that issue the front plates, do not actually require them to be attached to the vehicle. However, the rear plate must be a proper plate. And that is how you can tell the difference between an authentic European registered car, and one simply 'styling' their vehicle.

And so, along the Californian 78 near Poway in Southern California, a police officer pulled me over. He wanted to know what was going on, and when I told my story and showed him all my papers, he sent me off. He admitted, however, that he had no idea what to do, as it was the first time he had encountered European plates.

In particular, it was my international driving permit that got me off the hook. So that was 25 DKK (~4 USD) well spent.

SM World

26 July 2017

After seeing Peter Mullin's fine collection of Citroëns, I had the fortune to meet Jerry Hathaway of SM World just Northeast of Los Angeles. He is one of three mechanics in North America who knows how to work on an SM. Or should I say, wants to work on an SM.

The Citroën SM has a tendency to divide the Citroën community, compared to the DS that is universally praised. The SM is notorious for its problematic maintenance, considering the highly unique Citroën suspension, braking and steering syste, combined with the specially made Maserati V6 engine.

This - what some would consider unfortunate - combination of French and Italian ultimately led to the car's own demise, as owners were finding it extremely difficult to maintain. The SMs also fell out of favour with classic car collectors for the same reason. But now they are seeing a revival.


Jerry Hathaway's modify Citroën SM, that managed to reach 325 km/h on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1987.

But Mr Hathaway has worked on SMs since before their revival, in fact, he has worked on them since about the time Citroën stopped selling them in the United States. And he remains one of the leading mechanics on this continent for SM maintenance.


Apparently, modifying the SM was quite a simple undertaking. Particularly considering that all it had to do was only go in a straight line.

However, he is perhaps most famous for his modified SM racer that managed 325 km/h combined with the modified SM into a pickup and a fully operational trailer. Of the three vehicles (the racer, the pickup and the trailer), it was the trailer that really peaked my interest.


The modified SM pickup that pulls the hand made trailer that carries the SM racer.

The trailer had the same hydropneumatic Citroën suspension, but custom built to make the system be independent from the vehicle pulling it. As such, batteries in the trailer powers the pump that fuels the suspension. This allows the driver to lower the trailer on motorways and lift the trailer over steep bumps.

Jerry told me that building the trailer was the most interesting part of the project. And maybe, who knows, I will some day be able to give something better suspension.

Mullin Automobile Museum

25 July 2017

Imagine, if you will, that you have a lot of money. And I do not mean, a lot in the sense that you can buy the fancy chicken down at the grocery store, I mean a real lot of money. In this scenario, you have so much money, that you do not know what to do with the money.


An overview of the Citroën exhibit at Mullin Automobile Museum.

There are a few people like that - you not being one of them, unless you are one of those people, in which case you will already be familiar with the situation of which I speak - and some of them have decided to turn their money into cars. Not literally, obviously, as building a car out of cash is probably not doable. Although... but I digress.


Paris Auto Show posters from a bygone era.

Peter Mullin is one such person. And beginning in the 1980s, he decided to collect French cars, beginning with Bugatti. It would not be until a few years ago that he turned his interest to Citroëns, my personal favourite. And in that brief time, he had managed to amass quite a collection of classic Citroëns. Most noticeable, I think, was the five completely unique coach built D models.


A different perspective at the Citroën exhibit. Only a different camera angle, the opinions remain the same.

What made the Traction Avant, the DS' immediate predecessor, so groundbreaking was its unibody construction. Rather than being chassis that the body was built on, the body and chassis was one and the same. The advantage of this meant that the cars could be smaller and lower. This is why the Traction does not have a step, like so many other contemporary cars did, because it was low enough to get into without help.


The 2CV Safari. This vehicle has two engines, making it all, front or rear wheel drive. Whatever you feel like.

As other automakers moved to unibodies as well, the coachbuilders that had made a name for themselves building custom bodies on top of standard chassis found themselves with little business. However, some were still in high demand, and one were Henri Chapron. He took the Citroën DS and built convertibles out of them.


The Mullin Museum had five coach builts of the D by Henri Chapron. These are unique ones-off.

Initially, this occurred without a licence from Citroën, but eventually Citroën made an official convertible « usine » (factory) model, hand built by Chapron. However, Monsieur Chapron was still built some completely unique versions. Some of which have survived till this day.


In 2009, this 1925 Type 13 Brescia Bugatti was unearthed from Lake Maggiore in Italy near the Swiss border. Mullin intends to never restore it.

It was quite delightful to see such a collection of Citroëns, and particular being able to help the tour guide along with some of the facts about Citroën's history. I admit, I am a bit rusty about the early years of Citroën, and it was nice to see a 1919 Type A in their collection as well. All in all, an exhibit worth a visit, if one should happen to be in the area.