A very common discussion that comes up about the New York to Los Angeles cross country driving record is the choice of automobile. Since the first drive that Brock Yates made in his recon run in 1970, there have been some amazing cars as part of the Cannonball, US Express, and other spinoff events including modern attempts like ours. Here is a bit more history on the progression of the record.
We drove a 2004 Mercedes CL55 AMG.
The previous Transcontinental driving record holders were Alex Roy and Dave Maher with passenger Cory Welles. They drove this 2000 Le Mans Blue E39 BMW M5 with a time of 31 hours 4 minutes.
Prior to the announcement of the record by Roy, the record was claimed by Richard Rawlings and Dennis Collins. They drove Collins’ 1999 Ferrari 550 Maranello with a time of 31 hours 59 minutes. Here are some picture via Bullrun.
1983 was the last running of the US Express event. David Diem and Doug Tuner drove a 1980 Rosso Corsa Ferrari 308 GTS to a time of 32 hours 7 minutes. Photo from Cory Welles.
Their time was the only one from all US Express attempts to improve upon the Cannonball Record time set in 1979 by David Heinz and David Yarborough in a 1978 Jaguar XJS with a time of 32 hours 51 minutes. This car was recently purchased by Richard Rawlings. Photos from Bring a Trailer.
The 1979 winning time improved upon the record from the 1975 event held by Rick Cline and “Cannonball Jack” May in a 1973 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS with a time of 35 hours 53 minutes. Photo via cannonball jack.com.
The time from 1975 only bested the previous record by 1 minute. That record had been famously held since the 1972 Cannonball by event founder Brock Yates and co-driver Dan Gurney in a 1970 Ferrari Daytona with a time of 35 hours 54 minutes.
On the 1971 recon run prior to the first official running of the Cannonball Brock Yates, Steve Smith, Jim Williams, and Brock Yates Jr. drove a Dodge Sportsman Van to a time of 40 hours 51 minutes. This record comes with a bit of an asterisks because Wilt Chamberlain wrote that he once drove from New York to Los Angeles in his Lamborghini Countach in 36 hours 10 minutes. He tended to exaggerate things and that is even more preposterous than some of his other boastful claims so we will give that nod to Yates and co.
That makes 8 total cars that have held the New York to Los Angeles Transcontinental or Cannonball Record since 1971.
Of course there were many other participants in each event. Many of the times in later events were also faster than prior records but this is the list of cars that held the record for a time. I am working with an effort to build a list of all known times for New York to Los Angeles drives and will post that as soon as it gets closer to completion.
Honorable mention certainly goes to a few amazing cars. The 2010 BMW 335xi owned and driven by Greg Ledet in 2013 with a time of 31 hours 17 minutes now ranks third overall. Similarly, the legendary Mercedes Benz 450SEL 6.9 held a second fastest Cannonball time (driven by Al Alden, Dick Field, and Tom Hickey) and fastest all-female team (Pat Jones and Becky Damone). The Mazda RX7 was driven by two teams – Rick Doherty/Will Wright and Jeff Martini/Pierre Honnegger in 1980 to phenomenal times in the first running of the US Express.
Just some more history to enjoy. Drive safe.