I arrived at Rick's shop four days before the caravan began and my first thought upon leaving was, Wow, I can't believe the room in this thing! Leaving Mendota, Illinois, at 2:30 p.m. for a 711/42-hour ride to St. Paul, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the little PT handled the road surfaces and traffic. Sure, the low-profile tires made the ride a little bumpy in spots, but I would definitely do it again. This is truly the first new vehicle I've ever ridden in that didn't require me to stop every two hours to stretch my legs. The seats were roomy, and keeping an eye on the vital signs was aided by the full complement of factory-installed gauges. The only exception was a boost gauge for the turbo (it would have been nice to know how much boost was there when I blew past that tractor-trailer in Wisconsin at an average speed akin to that of a 13-second drag car). Speaking of passing, I didn't have to downshift to pass, so turbocharging is the way to go with these things.

At one point during the trip, I spiked the brakes so hard, the stuff in the backseat ended up being forward compartment luggage; the Wilwood disc brake outfit literally stopped the little PT instantaneously. Speaking of luggage, the fold-down rear seats gave ample room to carry all of my luggage and camera equipment and still have room for car parts. The only downfall was the surfboard on the roof hindered the gate from going all the way up; that difficulty was overshadowed by the coolness of the surfboard itself. Thanks, Rick, for a very cool ride.

Minneapolis, Minnesota-The Northwind Blows SouthAssociate Editor Randy Bolig and ad salesperson Susie Clark were in charge of this leg, with Bolig behind the wheel of Rick Bottom's surf-oriented PT Cruiser (see sidebar). The Great White North tour left MAS Racing at midmorning and made another stop at Muscle Car Restorations in Chippawa Falls, Wisconsin, before the run south through a heat wave in Wisconsin and on into the Windy City-Chicago. After overnighting in Napierville, Illinois, a launch from Koller Dodge in the morning unfortunately resulted in traffic problems to begin the day, so this took longer than expected (though Koller's Keith Johnson got them on the road as quickly as possible). Thus, the faithful rolled into the Paddock in Knightstown for a late, quick meal, then headed east with Columbus as the goal. They arrived on Brice just after 7 p.m.

Wheel Time
So what's it like driving cross-country in the much heralded Stratus-Fear? Whether you love it or hate it, virtually everyone looks at this Hot Rod magazine project car, including your local constabulary. The fit and finish is the quality you expect from a Troy Trepanier creation, but there are many compromises in the name of style. Steve Dulcich and I drove the Dodge from Los Angeles to the Mopar Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, leading the Mopar Muscle caravan out of Memphis' Competition Cams plant. Along the way, we learned to both love and loathe the little red beastie. Let's examine it from the outside first.

This Stratus certainly looks fast. The wheel-and-tire package fooled many into believing the car is rear-wheel drive, which was Hot Rod magazine's intention, with its low-slung form practically scraping the pavement. The exhaust exits below the doorsill on each side. The wheels are 18 and 20 inches front and rear, respectively; low-profile tires stretched over them like rubber bands. The car is a virtual babe magnet-that is, until they got close enough to see Dulcich's and my mugs. All trim, badges, moulding, and handles have been removed and smoothed over and a custom shaker-type hood was built for the Stratus-Fear. A wing has also been added, the source of which will remain a secret (hint: Blue Oval).