10,000 miles, 35 days, one 4,000-pound Malaise Era coupe, and…two young Englishman. Yes, Roadkill reader Marcus Warner sent his story from earlier this summer and we can’t express how eager we are to share it. We’re not even going to edit it down; we’re just just going to let his own words tell the story.
We’re not sure how intentional this was for Marcus, but he happened to pick out America’s last grand personal luxury coupe, the 1978 Lincoln Mark V, for this adventure. Ford downsized the Mark V after 1979—we’ve covered this last gutless holdout in the Malaise Era before—which was after General Motors and Chrysler did the same. Could there be any more perfect way for two young men from England to see the United States? We’re pretty sure not and his tale is at least as Roadkill as anything we’ve ever done (and we’re no strangers to ’78 Lincolns). Marcus is currently making a film about the experience and we’ll be lining up to see it, you can bet.
“I love reading the stories on here about reader’s rides and I’m a huge Roadkill fan, I thought I would make an attempt to be featured or at least provide some mild entertainment for whoever’s reading this. This isn’t a story about working on a car so much, but what it has achieved in the time I’ve owned it.
“Last August, I came over from England to the States for a year as an exchange student on Long Island, New York. In October, I bought an ’85 Grand Marquis—a two-door—supposedly quite rare. It was rubbish. I sold it the following March and picked up this instead.
“A ’78 Mark V. For me as an Englishman, this is a dream come true. This huge, heavy American gas guzzler that barely gets 9 miles per gallon around town and looks like a Rolls-Royce on steroids. I love it and can’t stop looking at it.
“However I’m sure this is probably not that exciting; what makes this car special is the trip that my friend Connor (also from England) and I took it on at the end of our exchange program. A Roadkill-esque adventure: 10,000 miles around the U.S. in 35 days.
“Starting in New York, across to Seattle, down the Pacific coast to San Francisco, across the Sierra Nevada and down to Las Vegas, up north-east passing the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, Woodland Park Colorado, down to Amarillo and Route 66 across through Oklahoma City; then Memphis, Nashville, Philadelphia, and back to NY, hoping that we’d make it in time for Connor’s flight on June 20th. (Side note: We’d covered New Orleans and Florida earlier in the year).
“The trip did not get off to a great start. Four hours into the trip, somewhere in New Jersey, we pulled over for the restrooms and I see a puddle of coolant appearing under the car. After finding the nearest Autozone, burning myself, and then bypassing the heater core, we were back on the road. First night of the trip, we pitched a tent in a quarry somewhere in Ohio.
“First stop was Chicago. We meant to pass through Niagara Falls but were already a day late due to a party we went to (oops). We booked the cheapest AirBnB we could find, $20 a night, and found ourselves sleeping in a house one mile south of Englewood. How the car didn’t get stolen and we didn’t get murdered still remains a mystery to me, though one guy did feign running us over as he drove past us at about 50mph. Hearing gunshots in the night was pleasant too.
“We then headed northwest on Interstate 90 through Wisconsin. Stopped at a cheese shop that had a giant cow outside, the cheese was pretty good. It was at this point I realized we were leaking coolant again.
“I taught Connor how to drive, sort of. I have been filming video as well with the hopes of making a feature length movie later this year and needed some driving shots.
“That night, we stayed in a motel. This was very much against our policy as we had booked most accommodation in advance and were left with no money (I had about $200 in my bank at that point), but this German lady sort of talked us into it. The following day was a pretty dull one, trying to make up for lost time as we hadn’t made great progress the previous day.
“After endless interstate driving, we pulled over and looked for somewhere to pitch a tent that wasn’t too obvious. In the end we chose an abandoned farmhouse. I still don’t know where we were at this point. I didn’t take any photos but took loads of videos explaining that if we didn’t make it out alive, I loved my family. A screenshot from one of them is above.
“We didn’t die, so we continued driving to get to our accommodation we’d booked in Basin, Wyoming, that night.
“We were on Route 16 when it got dark and started snowing. By the time we reached the highest point of the road, we were in a blizzard, there was at least two inches of compacted icy snow on the ground, and I was genuinely debating turning the car around before we drove off a cliff or hit a tree. I didn’t tell Connor how worried I was, but I think he could tell from how quiet I’d become. Above is a screenshot from another video. Due to camera magic, it appears a lot brighter than it really was.
“Just as I thought we could not go further, the road began descending, and the snow turned to rain. We knew we were driving through some incredible scenery, but by this point it was 10:30 p.m. and we couldn’t see it.
“After arriving at about midnight, we woke up around 8 the following morning and proceeded to our next destination, Yellowstone National Park.
“We spent two nights at Bridge Bay campground. I’ve never been so cold in my life as I was in that tent those two nights. It rained, it snowed, but it was worth it.
“Following those three days, we headed out of the west entrance of the park into Montana and perhaps one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. I loved this state, the quietness, emptiness, and vastness.
“We pitched a tent a few miles outside of Butte. Wasn’t too fazed by the isolation until I heard howling in the distance at 4am.
“The next day we realised we had only given ourselves a day to get to Seattle and were way behind schedule. We had to be there that evening, and we were starting in Butte. The Lincoln was leaking coolant again, this time from a weld in the radiator, but we’d spent $120 on accommodation so we had to cross our fingers and hope. We made it all the way through the rest of Montana, Idaho, and Washington with no issues.
“Sunburned, unwashed and exhausted, we arrived in Seattle at around 9 p.m.. Above is a photo of the street we were on. Spent two nights in this city, ate salmon, which was the most we spent on food for entire trip.
“In true student fashion, I forgot about the radiator until the second night and realized that my last day in Seattle had to be spent addressing it before it got any worse. After traversing to the city outskirts, I found an O’Reilly’s that could order a radiator for that afternoon. I was lucky, it was the only Mark V radiator in the state of Washington. Fitted it in the parking lot and changed the oil and filter.
“As soon as it was finished, we left Seattle and returned to the sweet pines and Route 101. The following day was spent traversing around Olympic National Park.
“That evening we were heading south on Route 101 looking for somewhere to throw down a tent, and I saw a sign saying Ruby Beach. ‘I saw the word ‘beach’, that means there’s a beach, let’s try here,’ I think I said. I cannot put into words how glad I am we stopped.
“The following four days were spent heading south on the Pacific Coast Highway, alternating between campgrounds and pitching tents on the beach. We found a wall of mussels in Oregon and cooked them over a campfire and drank beer. A little bit crunchy here and there but still one of the best meals of my life.
“Next up was California. By this point, we’d agreed 35 days was only about a tenth of the time required to enjoy this trip fully, but the ‘dream drive’ cemented this. We went out of our way to find the Lost Coast, a stretch of CA-211 that reminded us of Scotland and is virtually deserted. We nearly killed the Lincoln getting to it, but it was worth it.
“I’d been waiting my whole life to see the Redwoods, and they did not disappoint.
“May 29th, we reached our next checkpoint.
“We spent three nights in another dodgy neighborhood, this time in Oakland because we couldn’t afford San Francisco itself, and commuted in by train, Uber, and then the Lincoln on the final day. Naturally of course, we did Lombard Street. This was a video so only a screenshot, unfortunately.
Following that, we headed out east again towards the Sierra Nevadas. Yosemite was still closed due to record snow, which made us chuckle until we realized we’d be missing Yosemite, which for me was going to be one of the highlights and subsequently one of the things I regret most about the trip was that we couldn’t see it.
“We were heading on Route 50 through the El Dorado National Forest when the headlights suddenly went out, then came back on again. It was getting dark and we were on a twisty mountain road, needless to say I was tense. It behaved for a while and then progressively got worse until we managed to find somewhere more populated, and pitched a tent in some small town on CA-88, or 89, not really sure to be honest.
“Once again, we were a day behind schedule, but arrived at Mono Lake in good time the following morning.
“The camp host at June Lake was from France and super cool. In true French-English fashion, he took the piss out of us with great enthusiasm but was kind enough to move our reservation from the previous night to include the following night as well, so we didn’t have to pay for an extra day (as we had planned).
“The scenery around here was incredible. We actually did some exercise! Hiking and visited the hot springs.
“After two nights, it was time to hit the road again: next stop, Las Vegas. We decided it was in our best interest NOT to go through Death Valley but instead skirted around the north on Nevada State Route 95 (I think). It was…hot. Somehow the Mark V was trundling along only a little hotter than normal, but perfectly happy.
“After one night in Vegas and stumbling back to our $30 hotel at some hour in the morning, the next day we got up late with the plan of heading three hours south to Dolan Springs for a night to recover.
“We ate a huge buffet at one of the less desirable casinos and then hit the road, still hungover and dehydrated. It was then that the fuel pump started to give up.
“We were fortunate for the Lincoln to stall about half a mile away from an Autozone, and as it wouldn’t come back to life, we walked there and bought a new fuel filter, which did nothing. We then limped the Lincoln (now sort of working again) to the Autozone parking lot, where they had a fuel pump in stock, and I began replacing it. The old one came out easily enough, but the new one was a slightly different shape, and proved to be a nightmare. It was 120 degrees that day. Five hours later, night fell and we were still there. Screenshot above of me taking a break to explaining how crappy the situation was.
“11:30pm. We searched for a motel, a hotel, or anywhere that was basically a roof over our heads and a shower. But everywhere was either full, closed, shut down, or ‘having difficulties with the system’. Whilst Connor was asking about beds, I went into a hotel restroom to wash my face and arms. This is what I looked like
“After taking two Ubers to different places and walking between the rest, at 2 a.m., we walked dejectedly back to Autozone trailing our suitcases behind us. I pitched the tent in the parking lot, Connor slept in the car, and I fell asleep instantly. I was woken up at 5 a.m. by a tickling sensation on my face. Yep, it was a cockroach.
The sun was starting to rise and I remember picking the tent up and moving it around to the other side of the car to afford myself a few more minutes of shade. Next thing I know, I’m woken by an elderly lady saying, ‘Is he dead?’ I looked at her and she says ‘Oh, he okay’.
“Top tip: When reattaching a fuel line that screws on, if it keeps popping out of the thread, try detaching it at the other end and then try again. I was cursing myself by the time we left at 11 a.m., but the Lincoln was working.
“That day, we found a campground and for the price of $10 got to use their showers, and this was the hottest we’d been so far. If I never return to Nevada in my life, I’ll be quite happy. But once again, we were behind schedule, and rather than leaving Dolan Springs early and having a long day at The Grand Canyon, we had to hope that we’d make it to Monument Valley that evening and drop in to see The Grand Canyon on the way.
“As the sun began to set, we reached it.
“We were there for two hours before we had to head on. It was then that I remembered about the headlight issue we had been having. We realized it was the switch, when after not using the high beams for three hours, the only issue was the dash flickering at us. Connor and I arrived at our campsite outside of Monument Valley at about 1 a.m.
“The next day is where things got truly crazy. I was so keen to have a lie-in and catch up on about three nights of sleep lost, but yet again I was woken unexpectedly. This time at 7:45 a.m., a bloke pops his head into our tent and says ‘Hey, do you mind if I borrow the keys to your car real quick?’. In my sleep-deprived state, I assumed I’d parked in the way of something or blocked someone in.
“‘What for?’ I ask. He replied, ‘I’m running away. Going on vacation.’ He had a big smile on his face and somehow I came to the conclusion he was joking. ‘Sure,’ I said and handed him the keys. I was so close to falling asleep again when I heard the car driving off. It was as I stepped out of the tent and saw the Lincoln disappearing off into the horizon that I realized I’d made a mistake. Everything we had was in the car.
“We went and spoke to our host. At this point, I was still too tired to be worried—after all, if you’re going to steal a car and run away in it, why take a 1978 Lincoln? Hardly inconspicuous. After describing what the fellow looked like, our host had a feeling he knew the guy. He spoke with his dad, and then we spoke with Utah police and then Arizona police, as we were right on the border.
“We then called my phone (which was in the car)…the guy answered. ‘Oh hey Skye,’ he said to our host. ‘What’s up?’. ‘Stephan, these kids would really like their car back now,’ Skye replied. The phone went dead, but at this point we knew there was a good chance the guy was heading to Kayenta, about 20 minutes away.
“About an hour later we get a call—the car had been found, and converged on by a squad of police officers. The chap that took our car claimed to be himself, then claimed to be me, and then when questioned told the police that the car belonged to his grandad in New York. It turned out the previous evening he had taken a boat-load of drugs, and we’d met him as he was suffering a mental breakdown. I had to give a statement in the police station and they pressed charges on my behalf.
“Miraculously, the car was returned to us undamaged and with all of our contents inside. The whole process from start to finish took about 4 hours. After thanking our host and his dad for their help (they were so good to us), we quickly skirted around Monument Valley. We had to be in Colorado that evening and it was about 11 hours away.
“We cannonballed north east as fast as we could. It was as night fell I realized that my glasses had gone missing in the whole debacle that morning, and so not only was I driving with no main beam headlights, I was also driving half-blind. Connor was in charge of reading out the speed limits to me. ‘If you see a sign with a wiggly arrow on it, please, please tell me.’
“Once again, we arrived at our destination at 1 a.m. We spent three nights in Colorado and the first day just recovering from the previous three nights. But it was time for the car to defy all expectations once again.
“On the way up we had vapor lock, on the way down we had bad brakes (seriously bad after the miles we had put on them). Yet the Lincoln made it up and down Pike’s Peak Hill Climb. Another one off the bucket list.
“The next day we visited Garden of the Gods, a local state park.
“Following Colorado we headed south through New Mexico and then Texas towards Oklahoma City. The photos became a bit lax at this point so I’ll just throw a few screenshots in.
“We enjoyed Bricktown in Oklahoma City, Elvis’s house in Memphis, and spending $100 that we didn’t have (each) on beer and listening to country music on Broadway, Nashville. At this point, though, everything was even more rushed as the 20th was looming and we had to be back in New York. We dropped into a friend of mine who lives in Roslyn, just outside of Philadelphia.
“After sleeping on the floor of my friend’s grandma’s apartment, we headed back to New York for the last two days before Connor’s flight. The last photo of the road trip was of me delivering an emotional speech to the camera about how the trip had been. Here it is.
“And that was our road trip. Following that, I took the Lincoln to a local garage to have it tended it to. It was tired. The brakes were making the car nearly undrivable, the headlights were useless, the passenger window was broken, the radio disappeared for days at a time and would only resuscitate if we hit an especially large bump, we had no heater, no turn signals, and the thing was drinking fuel more than usual. But what an incredible ride.
“I am so proud of this car and the friends that made it possible. I’ve gone back to England now, but the car is still sitting in New York, being slowly worked on by my friends at the local garage and patiently waiting for the day that I can ship it home and be behind the wheel again.
“Perhaps not your average Reader’s Rides article, or perhaps so. I didn’t do anything crazy to this car, just did my best to fix it when it went wrong, yet it achieved something none of us were really sure was possible. It traveled further in 35 days than it had in the previous 10 years of its life, and for a 40-year-old car, I think that’s pretty impressive. Well done, Ford.
“Thank you for reading. I’m in the process of putting together a feature length film about the whole thing, and writing the music for it as I’m a musician by trade. Here is the last photo I’ll attach.”
Now, that’s a story! Thanks for sharing, Marcus! Remember, you can always send us your road-trip stories like Marcus did by emailing to TheGuys@Roadkill.com.