For veteran classic-car watchers, you could consider it speed sightseeing.
We just took a five-day trip to San Diego on Amtrak and much of my time was spent looking out the window of the speeding coach in hopes of seeing antique cars and trucks. It was a productive – and fun – effort.
The good news is vintage tin is out there for the train passenger to spot. The bad news is you don’t have much time to identify these vehicles. In fact, you’ve got to be pretty quick.
Amtrak’s San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains are traveling mighty fast, about 79 mph, through the Valley and maybe a little slower along the coast.
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Trains pass through both scenic spots and areas of profound urban and rural blight. Many of the people who own one-acre plots of land out in the more rustic parts of the San Joaquin Valley seem to have a bunch of old cars and trucks cast aside.
Other neglected gems may be tucked in the back lots of businesses and industries in the bigger cities.
At first blush, some of the cars and trucks wouldn’t take much to be made presentable; others, sadly, are about ready to be reclaimed by the Earth. There’s no chance for a closer look, at least from the train.
Near Madera and Fresno, I spotted a 1967-68 Cadillac two-door hardtop, a mid-1950s Chevrolet pickup and a 1955 Ford station wagon. Also spotted were a 1954 Buick sedan and a 1964 Thunderbird hardtop.
South of Fresno there was an early 1960s Ford pickup and a 1963 Chevy Nova four-door being made into a street machine. Next in line were a 1960 Chevy pickup and a mid-1950s Dodge truck.
A field near Bakersfield yielded a bunch of old pickups and a few 1970 Camaro hardtops. The trains whizzed by the junkyards too fast to pick anything out.
On the street in the Fullerton area was a 1970 Ford Torino. In a backyard around Anaheim, there was a 1963 Thunderbird hardtop.
In Carlsbad, I spotted a 1970 Chevy Nova on the street; and in Oceanside, there was one of the best sightings of all – a 1965 Ford Galaxie two-door hardtop.
Several Volkswagen “Bugs” were seen here and there. Late 1960s to early 1970s Chevrolet trucks were relatively common.
Another of the best sightings was a 1960 Ford Falcon two-door coupe parked next to a 1960 Chevrolet four-door station wagon midway between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Farther south, a 1965 Corvair hardtop was hoping for adoption, along with a 1963 Ford pickup. I also saw an International Scout II off-road vehicle, something that doesn’t show up all that often.
In the San Diego area the scenery is much more lush, upscale and spectacular, not the kind of venue where you would expect to see derelict vehicles. For miles you travel right next to the Pacific Ocean with spectacular, postcard-like views.
Of course, you generally can look out only one side of the coach at a time and will miss what’s on the other side. The trick is to ride on the left side one way and on the right the other way.
I have a feeling I missed more old vehicles than I saw, but it still was a fun endeavor. Life is good when you’re in an air-conditioned coach with plenty of snacks to enjoy while gliding smoothly along the rails. The train trip is all the more fun when you notice near-gridlock on the SoCal freeways not far from the train tracks.
Amtrak and automobiles: It’s a winning combination.