Well before the automobile was invented, humanity has pitched itself against one another in races of speed, distance, and time. Anytime humanity gained more mobility—be it with wheels, hooves, or otherwise—it is not long before it is pitched into the crucible of the racing world. Automobiles are no exception, and over the relatively short life of the car, certain races have gained huge notoriety. In the world of racing for distance and time, these ‘big name’ races include the Dakar Rally, the Peking to Paris rally, and the Cannonball Run (of Hollywood fame), as well as many more.
Of all of these, the Cannonball Run, or as it is ‘properly’ known the ‘Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash’, mentioned above has a certain mystique and allure to it. The concept is simple: drive from the Red Ball Garage on E 31st in New York City as quickly as possible to the Portofino Inn on Redondo Beach in California. The challenge—and the mystique mentioned above—comes from the fact that this was all done both in protest of (then) new 55 MPH speed limits, as well as actively breaking those laws, and many more besides.
While mainly a race of the 70’s, the Cannonball Run has recently gained more fame due to the undertaking of Alex Roy and crew to break the then-30 year-old record, and recording themselves to boot. Since then, it has allegedly been broken more than 6 times, although only one in 2013 has truly been ‘certified’. It seems that the automotive world has soundly conquered the Cannonball Run, and new challenges have to be thought up or found. Luckily for us, history is full of crazies, and one Louie Mattar—certified crazy person—provides an automotive feat still unbroken today, which may soon become fair game.
Louie Mattar’s achievement is a mighty one: in 1952 Louie Mattar and two co-drivers drove from his home in Los Angeles all the way to New York, and back, without stopping. Louie did have a certain respect for the law so we must assume they stopped for stop signs, traffic, and stop lights, although no ‘pit stops’ were taken, making the feat a still-incredible one. Louie’s story begins where it should, with the purchasing of a new car. In 1947, with America flush with winning the war, amateur mechanic Louie Mattar bought a brand-new Cadillac.
Louie liked to tinker, and so the Cadillac did not stay stock for long. Giving himself the goal of creating a car capable of munching the miles, Louie went to work. The efforts took five years, but by 1952 Louie was ready to begin driving. Somewhere along the way of modifying his car, Louie decided that he did not want him or any of his co-drivers, or even the car itself, needing a pit stop. Thusly, the interior of the car was modified to provide all of the comforts they could possibly need. The front cockpit area was modified with a very (1947!) early mobile phone, a public address system, a recorder, a full wet bar, as well as a Turkish water pipe. Priorities were certainly clear.
The rear seating area was much more practically modified, with the seat cushions concealing a refrigerator, stove, chemical toilet, ironing board (it is the 50’s after all), and even the kitchen sink. The fenders were not spared from modification, with the rear fenders containing both a drinking fountain and a shower (the use of these on the move will be detailed below).
While the above modifications enabled the occupants to skip the pit stops, the car featured its own set of mods to enable it to keep going. To provide the radiator a deep reservoir to draw upon, the car had an extra 50 gallons of water in the car, which was shared with the interior appliances. The hot water tubes for the interior occupants were routed near the headers as a form of a water heater. Cool water was automatically refilled into the radiator. Also on board was an extra 15 gallons of oil, as well as an auto-oil change device. Also automatic was the tire inflation device, which required Louie to hollow out his axles. For further longevity, Louie managed to find room for 230 more gallons of gasoline, allowing serious length between refueling.
The item of refueling brings us to the more ridiculous modifications to the car, and steps while driving, Louie was forced to make. With all of the extra gas onboard, Louie only had to refuel three times, despite driving over 6,300 miles on his round-trip journey. However, to achieve his goal of not stopping, he could not simply pull up and refuel. To enable him to keep driving, along the journey Louie organized a tanker trunk to pull up alongside to re-fuel at an airstrip . While hardcore, this was only the beginning of the mechanical measures Louie took.
While the tire-inflation system should enable minor punctures to be ignored, larger tire-related problems are almost inevitable at this point in time over such a long distance. To handle any problems, Louie devised a truly fantastic contraption, comprised of hydraulic lifts and sturdy, tiny tires. Essentially, in the event of a flat, Louie could activate his contraption, lifting any corner of the car on small ‘runner’ wheels. To change the tire, platforms could be deployed along the entire length of the car, enabling Louie or his co-drivers access to the entire outside of the car.
Not only did this enable them to change the tires, it also allowed them to use the shower and fountain on the rear fenders, as well to work on the engine. In this event, Louie had installed clear panels to continue driving while the hood was open.
If it sounds like Louie had thought of it all, he essentially had. After spending more than $75,000 and five years of his life, Louie Mattar set off on his cross-country journey with two co-drivers in 1952. Speed was less of a factor to the trio in the Cadillac, so much as distance without stopping was. Food, medicine, and facilities had all been thought of, and yet Murphy’s Law has a way of rearing its ugly head given the slightest opportunity. This opportunity came from a small oversight on the part of Louie Matter: sitting for so long caused every single one of the trio to become extremely constipated. While they had brought a medicine cabinet, they had not packed any laxatives.
This problem arose after 60 straight hours of driving, too far to stop at a drug store. And yet, they simply could not go on without medication, or the discomfort would become too much. They did the only thing they could think of: they called the local police. From there they were able to get advice from a doctor, who quickly deduced what they were suffering from. After prescribing laxatives, the original problem of getting them to the Cadillac arose again. Luckily, the police were much more open to heavily modified vehicles driving across the country at this point in time, and so came to the rescue. Dispatching a driver with the medicine, he drove alongside to perform a moving handoff. And with that the journey could continue.
Luckily for Louie Matter, he continued to stay on the right side of the law, while his modifications worked flawlessly, and after a total of seven days, from September 20th to 27th, he returned to his Los Angles home. Over those seven days, the trio in the Cadillac traveled 6,320 miles without stopping, achieving his goal. In fact, Louie was so pleased with his achievement, that he furthered his modifications, adding a trailer to the mix. The trailer carried more fluids, enabling further driving (or at least cancelling out the addition of the trailer), but also featured an all-important sitting area for the two not-driving.
Using his improved rig, Louie and his co-drivers continued their journey two years later. Travelling 7,482 miles, the Cadillac drove from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico City. Unlike the Hot Rod Ranchero, it was smart of him to start where the inclement weather could derail the whole shebang, early rather than at the end. Using this journey as a ‘Good will tour’ the car successfully made the journey, non-stop. Over time, Louie Mattar became known for his long-distance driving, sometimes being credited with making the first mobile home (although truck beds had been converted in the 1920’s). When asked about his $75,000 investment—not to mention the time involved—he said, “If I sold that car and had all the money in the bank, I wouldn’t meet the important people I do. That’s worth all the money in the world.”
Please like and comment down below. If you are in San Diego you can visit this car at Balboa Park in the Automotive Museum.
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.