Tomorrow's Collectible Cars Today

Every collector car hobbyist has a story of the one that got away. Mine goes like this: I was 15 years old, salivating about getting my first car since I was about 10. My father, a sweet but thoughtful man, said sure, I could buy a car, but it had to be a vintage car that I would "fix up," maybe even "restore." So our family immediately set out on a search for a suitable vehicle, one that was reasonably cheap and in fair but fixable condition.

Within a week or two, the guy who ran the gas station we patronized said he knew of a car that might be just the ticket. It was in a junkyard on the edge of town, but, he said, the body damage was just minor and, according to his sources, the car didn't need much to get back on the road. Certainly, he claimed, it was a car that could be fixed up even by a 15 year old with only fair mechanical instincts.

Okay, we said, we'll go out and take a look. So one night later the four of us piled into the family car to take a look at this potential candidate for our garage. It was a cold, windy Chicago night - this was in February - but we found the junkyard and, somehow, found the car. Just as the gas station proprietor had told us, it was in fairly good shape for a vehicle that was then nearly three decades old. There was a crease or two in the body, and on the passenger side the running board had been knocked askew, but otherwise, from what we could tell by the yellow glow of a flashlight, it looked pretty good.

The junkyard guy who was trying to sell it then fired up the engine, and it sounded pretty good, too. Of course, the sound of a running engine in any car that had the potential to become mine would have sounded like a symphony, but the fact was, it ran. Not a bad recommendation for starters.

What was this amalgam of rubber, iron and steel? It was a 1939 LaSalle opera coupe, a big-fendered, tight-cabined, voluptuous beauty of a car straight out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. Good God, what a gorgeous thing that car would be fully restored with paint and chrome trim gleaming.

So how much did the junkyard guy what for this lovely relic?

Fifty bucks. Fifty bucks! FIFTY BUCKS!

And you want to know the saddest thing? We didn't buy it. I had my heart set on a car from the Twenties: an Essex, a Rickenbacker or, as it turns out, a Nash, so we ended up shaking our heads, thanking the junkyard man for coming out on such a dark and blustery night, and climbing quietly back into the family car.

Less than a month after my encounter with the LaSalle I did buy my first car, a 1926 Nash Light Six that I still own some 33 years later, but I've always wondered what became of that beautiful, ghostly image of a car seen only by flashlight with snow flurries whirling around it out of the blackness. Whenever its dark countenance comes back into my mind, which happens with remarkable frequency, I hope against hope that somebody saved it from the crusher after we turned our backs on it and walked away.

Which brings us to the subject of this article, namely, cars you can buy today that will someday be the equivalent of that late, long-gone 1939 LaSalle opera coupe. Hemmings Motor News, "the bible" of the old car hobby, has announced its 13th annual top 10 picks of what it calls "sleeper cars," in other words overlooked collector cars that should gain in interest and value over the next few years. The list will appear in the November issue of Special Interest Autos, the bi-monthly collector-car magazine. The 10 vehicles were chosen by SIA editor Richard Lentinello for their potential future appreciation in the collector marketplace, which is becoming increasingly dominated by mature Baby Boomers looking for the performance cars of their youth.

Lentinello followed two basic criteria when he selected these soon-to-be-hot "sleepers." First, each car must be available in today's market for less than $10,000. Second, except for truly exceptional cars, the model must have been produced for at least two or three years to broaden the average collector's chance of finding a good example. Lentinello's analysis of price and collecting trends in the hobby has produced the following list, presented below not necessarily in order of desirability but rather in alphabetical order.

AMC Javelin, 1971-74

Having won the Trans-Am racing series in 1971 and 1972, the Javelin became one of American Motors top selling models during the early Seventies. Available in three distinct trim levels, these hump-fender models range from a base model with a straight six to the mid-range SST to the high-performance AMX. Powered by either 150-horsepower 304-cubic inch V-8 or a 245-horsepower 360-cubic inch V-8, the SST was the most popular of the three, averaging more than 22,000 sales per year. The most sought after model is the Javelin AMX, with its 401-cubic inch V-8 putting out a very respectable 330 horsepower, a big block ponycar somewhat on the order of the contemporary Firebird Trans Am.

Regardless which V-8 version you choose, these distinctive muscle cars are extremely affordable, costing about $4,000 in average condition. Several fully restored AMX models have been listed for sale in Hemmings Motor News for only $8,000, and that's just a little more than half the price of a comparable Buick Gran Sport, Chevrolet Chevelle, Olds 4-4-2 or Pontiac GTO. The Javelin is clearly an outstanding alternative muscle car for the enthusiast on a budget.

Buick Riviera Gran Sport, 1965

Considered by many the epitome of clean, elegant personal luxury car design in the 1960s, the freshly revamped '65 Buick Riviera found few detractors when it was introduced to the public. With its concealed, stacked headlamps tucked into tall fenders, cavernous reverse-sloping grille and its smooth, stylish flanks, this car was a looker that offered excellent performance, decent handling and better-than average ride qualities. When optioned as a Gran Sport, the Riviera's already strong performance was enhanced by the 425-cubic inch Super Wildcat engine with dual four-barrel carburetors helping it make 360 horsepower. Backed by the newly introduced Super Turbine 400 automatic transmission and a limited slip rear end, the Gran Sport stunned automotive journalists with its performance and luxury. Inside, true 2+2 seating, tilt-steering, walnut trim and a massive console and dash arrangement are constant reminders that you're in one of the earliest luxury/muscle hybrids.

Whether you're out for a Sunday drive, a trip to the grocery, or a long-distance haul, you'll get more approving smiles and thumbs-up than any Lexus, Mercedes or other modern counterpart -- and it won't cost you the kid's college tuition either. Well, you may have to hit the kid for a semester's worth, as the examples listed in Hemmings Motor News range from about $5,000 for GSs needing some TLC to $10,000 for a decently restored example.

Chevrolet Corvette LS4 coupe, 1974

The most highly-prized Corvettes today are those originally equipped with big-block engines. Powered by very powerful 396-, 427- and 454-cubic inch V-8s, these big-block monsters also carry big price tags. Nevertheless, if your heart desires a big-block Vette but your bank account shouts small block, the 1974 Stingray is the Corvette for you. The last year Chevrolet offered a big-block V-8 in a Corvette was 1974, which makes this model all the more appealing since it represents the end of an era.

First offered in 1970, the 454-cubic inch V-8 produced an emission-control-strangled 270 horsepower in 1974, which was deemed quite worthy by 3,494 buyers. Only recently have these rubber-bumper big-blocks caught on, no doubt helped by the high asking prices of earlier big-block Corvettes. If you're a little handy, you can still locate a decent running example in coupe form with matching-numbers that requires fresh paint and some tinkering with the mechanicals, for about $5,000. A four-speed version in excellent condition was recently offered in Hemmings for $10,500. Best all, these cars enjoy excellent parts supply and support from hundreds of Corvette specialist vendors and clubs nationwide.

Dodge/Shelby Omni GLH-S, 1986

Dodge's "American Revolution" campaign brought America the four-door economy car that put some performance into the low-ball equation. From '84 to '86, the turbo-optioned GLHs made life miserable for the owners of performance imports and, arguably, for their own owners as well. The GLH was inexpensive, quick, and handled on a par with many more expensive rivals. When the 175-horsepower GLH-S debuted in '86, one still got Dodge's rather crudely built economy platform, but it could pummel the competition into submission and give its owner ear-to-ear grins or apoplexy from tire-smoking torque-steer. Only 500 of these Shelby-badged black and silver brutes were built, and today finding one in mint condition is a difficult task as they were, and still are, driven and raced hard and put away wet. Replacing mechanical parts is a simple matter as the Turbo II engine and driveline was used in a variety of Dodge products. The cosmetic pieces (hoods, graphics, interior, etc.) are a little harder to come by because of the limited production run.

That this is an up-and-coming collectible is evidenced by the appearance of restored cars and the few pristine original examples cropping up at Shelby Dodge Auto Club events and Mopar shows throughout the country and the fact that it's a Shelby-modified performance auto. However, great bargains are still to be had, with recent Hemmings Motor News ads listing several GLH-S's needing work in the $5,000 range. Expect to pay close to $10,000 for a restored car or a low-mileage original in excellent condition.

Hudson Super Jet, 1953-54

Cars of the Fifties are among the most extraordinary-looking automobiles ever produced. Among them one of the most sought-after is the Hudson Hornet, but its current price level parallels its desirability. The downsized Hudson Jet of the same era makes a charming and affordable alternative. Smaller than its big brother Hornet, it features the trademark Hudson look with its wide, mouth-like grille opening. The model was produced for only two years, but more than 21,000 Jets and Super Jets were built in 1953 alone, making parts not too difficult to find. Because of their "entry-level" status, most Jets you can purchase affordably are in need of restoration, which makes membership in the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane club an absolute must.

Like the Hornet, the Super Jet features a 104-horsepower L-head inline-six with a very durable chrome alloy block displacing 202 cubic inches. The most collectible Super Jets are those equipped with the optional "Twin-H Power" dual carburetor setup. Other desirable options include the continental kit and rear skirts. (A Super Jet for sale in Hemmings Motor News recently featured all these options yet bore a very reasonable $6,500 asking price). Compared to other Fifties cars, the Hudson Super Jet is one of the most unique, affordable special-interest cars you can buy.

Summer Can Be a Bummer

Trying to relax too hard can be dangerous behind the wheel

America is about to crash into its busiest vacation period of the year, but let's not take the word "crash" too literally. Though summer is generally thought to be a season of relaxation, a new survey has spotted a number of areas in which the season can cause stress, road rage and other dangerous situations. Becoming aware of the trouble signs and warding them off could spell the difference between a pleasant vacation and a potentially tragic one.

One dangerous element to look out for is fatigue. A study conducted by Progressive, a leading Internet insurance provider, showed that fatigue plays a major role in summer driving behavior. While most people go on vacation to relax and get away from stress, it seems that their zealousness to accomplish that actually causes stress. Some 57 percent of respondents said they were more likely to drive when overtired or fatigued while driving home from a weekend getaway. In addition, 59 percent of people reported that they were more likely to drive when they shouldn't have because they wanted to get to a summer getaway in one night.

Fatigue is, of course, a significant but much overlooked factor in traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and as reported in a previous Driving Today feature, drowsiness is the primary causal factor in 100,000 police-reported crashes each year, crashes that resulted in 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths. While that seems like a significant menace, the NHTSA figures might well underestimate the extent of the problem. The NHTSA estimates mean that drowsy driving represents one to three percent of all police-reported crashes and four percent of fatalities, but other experts suggest the problem might be even bigger. A United Kingdom study concluded that as many as 20 percent of police-reported crashes were sleep-related, and an Australian study pegged the figure at six percent. No matter what study you subscribe to, it is clear that fatigue represents an obvious safety hazard. So in your quest to get in as much vacation as you can, don't scrimp on the rest you need to get you and your family to your vacation destination and back home safely. Pay Attention to Driving

A danger situation closely related to driver fatigue is driver distraction. NHTSA says that driver inattention was the primary cause of one million accidents last year, and contributors to inattention are sleepiness and fatigue. When Progressive asked its survey respondents what was most likely to take their attention off the road while driving in the summer, the top answer was fatigue, cited by 34 percent. Distraction number two was "talking on the cell phone" (17 percent), and number three was "singing along with the radio/music playing in the car" (16 percent). Some telephone companies are now running commercials urging cell phone users to park when speaking on the phone or to avoid making complicated or stressful calls while driving, but as yet the recording industry has not begun a campaign to limit in-car singing.

Number four among distractions was "getting angry at other drivers while in heavy traffic" (12 percent), which is but a symptom of a widely discussed problem these days: road rage. The study presented other disturbing statistics regarding that phenomenon. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said the most aggravating time to drive during the summer was on Friday evenings on their way to a weekend getaway, followed by returning from a trip on Sunday evening (27 percent) and returning from a weekend getaway on Monday morning (19 percent). In essence, the problem exits going and coming. And getting back in the regular routine doesn't seem to help much either. Forty-eight percent of respondents reported experiencing road rage while driving to work in rush hour traffic during the summer. After eyeballing the statistics one might conclude a lot of drivers are pretty angry most of the time.

Having children in the car was noted as the number five cause of driving distraction with 10 percent saying this was a problem for them. Children also seem at risk from other behaviors spotted by the study. For example, despite a media blitz that warns parents of the dangers, more than one-fifth of consumers reported taking their kids out of their car seats while driving on a summer trip. The number one reason reported for this patently reckless behavior was "driving only a short distance." Apparently lacking maternal instinct, men were twice as likely as women to drive in the summertime with their child out of their child safety seat if they were driving only a short distance.

Having kids in the car also was discovered to contribute to fatigue. In fact, families with children were six times more likely to drive home from a long day trip while fatigued during the summer than those people without children. Women apparently bear the brunt of the child-induced fatigue. The study reported women were twice as likely as men to drive while overtired on their way home from a long day trip during the summer with kids in the car.

Finally, the survey pointed to some surprising results regarding another well-publicized hazard: drinking and driving. Some 26 percent of respondents reported driving when they shouldn't due to alcohol consumption at summer barbecues. And as with the problem of eschewing child safety seats, 23 percent said they would be more likely to drive after drinking at a summer barbecue if they did not have very far to drive to get home.

With the heavy summer driving season upon us, it only makes sense to make a little extra time and effort to avoid these obvious, well-documented but still-important driving hazards. Very simply, don't drink and drive. Don't drive when you are angry, fatigued or distracted, and by all means, all make certain your precious children are properly secured in approved child safety seats. Vacations are happy times. Don't let yours end in tragedy.

More than 400 consumers participated in the online survey at progressive. The Internet survey was conducted from May 16 through May 24.

-- Tom Ripley

Tom Ripley reports on the international auto scene, art and human relationships from his home in Villeperce, France.

The 13-Step Program for Buying the Best Car

Getting something that is very big and very new is generally regarded as a positive experience. And while most of us humans will acknowledge the previous statement is true, one then has to wonder why many people approach the experience of buying a new car with the same degree of anticipation they usually reserve for accompanying their third-graders on a field trip to the local sewage treatment plant.

Frankly, it doesn't have to be that way. You can make choosing a new vehicle a rational and (dare I say it?) even pleasurable process. As the former editor of a magazine written for car dealers, a former J.D. Power and Associates director of publications and a former editor of Motor Trend (my, you must be saying to yourself, this guy can't hold a job), here are a series of steps that will turn your quest for new wheels from a quagmire to a walk in the park (and I don't mean Central Park at midnight either).

Best Car Buying Tips

Step One: Take a few moments to assess your current vehicle. Determine what you like about it and what you don't. (And we don't mean stuff like the Milky Way bar that melted in your ashtray.) This will give you a good jumping off point to choose your next vehicle.

Step Two: Once you've made a list of the good and bad points of your current vehicle, make a wish list for your next vehicle. Do you want more passenger space? A bigger trunk? More prestige? Lower monthly payments? Something that will attract the chicks? The dudes? Both? Neither?

Step Three: Write down key items of importance to you. Side airbags? CD stacker-changer? Enough luggage space for a set of golf clubs or a dead body? Hey, only you can determine what you really need. This will help you in your decision-making process and aid salespeople at dealerships in understanding what you want when the time comes to visit the showroom.

Step Four: Examine your finances. (Hopefully, without shuddering.) Most cars are purchased with a certain percentage of the price as a down payment and the rest paid monthly over a period of two to five years. Determine how much cash you can afford to spend as a down payment or how much your current car is worth if you're planning to trade it in and use the proceeds as your down payment. Then determine what you can afford as a monthly payment. Finally determine how long you plan to keep the vehicle. The term of your repayment should never exceed the length of time you plan to own the car.

By looking at your finances and the current loan rates, you'll be able to determine how much you can afford to pay for a vehicle. For example, if you plan to buy a $20,000 vehicle, place $4,000 down (or trade in a car worth $4,000) you'll have to be willing to pay something like $700 a month for two years, $500 a month for three years, $400 a month for four years and $300 a month for five years. Okay, so the bus doesn't seem all that bad now, does it?

Step Five: Using your list of key criteria, settle on the type of vehicle that you'd like to acquire. This is a key step, because it is easy to be dazzled and confused by the more than 250 models on the market. When you pick a vehicle type, say, sport utility or luxury sedan, you can compare apples to apples rather than grapefruit to tangerines.

Step Six: To help you in this winnowing process, pick up one or more of the buying guides published by magazines like Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Road & Track, Automobile and Popular Mechanics. These guides do little more than give you a thumbnail sketch on each car, but they do list the specifications and the Manufacturers Suggested List Price. The car magazines in this country aren't very critical, so if a report gives you the impression that the reviewers are only lukewarm about it, that means they probably actively dislike it. A glance at the buying guides and, in particular, at the MSRPs will help you narrow your shopping list to the vehicles within your budget.

Step Seven: Consult the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality and Customer Satisfaction Index StudiesSM. J.D. Power now operates its own consumer-accessible Web site, which contains highlights of the studies. While virtually all carmakers have made giant quality strides over the last fifteen years, the relative quality of various makes and models still varies, but not nearly as widely as in days gone by. Accessing this information will allow you separate the good from the not-so-good.

Step Eight: Once your list is down to two or three models, go to the showrooms, not to buy, but simply to look. Make a pact with yourself that you're not going to purchase (no, really!) and then examine the models you're interested in. Sit behind the wheel and in the back seat. Check out the trunk space. Take a test drive. But don't kick any tires. (After all, what have those poor tires done to you?) This round of eyeballing will help you to decide which vehicle you will be happy driving for the next several years of your life.

Step Nine: As with marriage, be careful what you fall in love with but don't be afraid to fall in love. You're likely to have your new vehicle for several years. Why not spend that time with something you really like?

Step Ten: Once you've picked the make, model and equipment you want, you're almost home free, but you still have to make a deal with a dealer. Though not necessarily as pleasurable as a full body massage, this is certainly less onerous a task than it was 20 years ago, because the dealer community as a whole has made great strides in providing higher levels of service and customer satisfaction.

Step Eleven: A simple tip for dealing with the dealer is this: if you find you aren't being treated as you'd like, walk out. You'll find that same make and model at another dealer, most often nearby. And the deal will be just as good, if not better. Remember this: as a consumer with the financial ability and the desire to buy a new vehicle, you are like gold to the car dealer and his salespeople. And unlike in marriage, you do have the power to say yes or no. Feel free to use it.

Step Twelve: As to price, you'll find that most stories of "giant discounts" and "steals" are just that -- stories. It isn't hard to obtain so-called "dealer invoice" pricing these days, a close approximation of what the dealer paid the factory for the vehicle. Obviously, the dealer has to get more than that for each vehicle sold simply to stay in business. If you shop around at two or three dealerships asking about the cash price for the model you want equipped the way you want it, you'll find the prices various dealers quote you will be very similar. For most models most of the time, a middle ground between the sticker price and the dealer invoice is fair for both you and the dealer.

Step Thirteen: The goal is to buy a vehicle that's perfect for you, not a perfect vehicle because no perfect vehicle exists. (With the exception of my 1962 Corvette, of course.) Acquiring a car that suits your needs, doesn't break down and doesn't make you cry when you write the payment check each month is the goal. Follow these steps, and you'll give yourself a better than even chance to drive away happy.

-- Jack Nerad

Since he couldn't hold a regular job, Jack R. Nerad wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car and now co-hosts the nationally syndicated radio show "America on the Road."

Kids and Cars

The biggest killer of our youth today is not disease, not crime, but the automobile. While child pedestrian and bicycle deaths have declined 67 percent since 1975, the sad fact is that passenger vehicle occupant deaths among children were only four percent lower in 1997 than in 1975. This despite the fact that experts agree today's cars and trucks are significantly safer than those of 25 years ago. This despite the fact that mandatory seatbelt and child-seat laws are the norm across the country and that enforcement of those laws is growing ever-more stringent.

Motor vehicle deaths cause about one of every three injury deaths among children 12 and younger, and the raw numbers are sobering. Some 2,098 children under the age of 13 and 5,697 teenagers died in motor vehicle accidents in 1997.

Almost lost among the grim statistics is yet another type of auto-related child fatality that is even harder to understand - deaths of children in parked cars. Tragic as each instance is, fatalities from auto crashes have a certain inevitability about them. For every x millions of miles driven in two-ton projectiles capable of triple-digit speeds, it is somehow brutally logical that some deaths would result. But deaths of innocent children in parked vehicles are much more difficult to come to terms with.. Yet those deaths occur with remarkable frequency.

According to an organization called the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, last summer one child died every four days on average after being trapped in a parked automobile. The majority of these heat-related fatalities occurred in June and July. Shockingly, the group reports there have already been three known heat-related child fatalities within a two-week period this spring, before summer has even got officially underway. This is a tragic start to a summer season that the National Weather Service predicts will be warmer than usual across most of the country.

The individual stories are heartrending, and contrary to what you might guess, many of these tragedies are not the result of borderline parents putting their children at risk by simply leaving them in cars while they went about their business. Because of their nearly random nature, they are even more frightening.

Consider these two cases: On July 27, 1999, in North Carolina, a 3-year-old climbed into a hot, empty car, buckled himself into his car seat and died in the extreme heat. Each of his parents mistakenly thought the boy was being cared for by the other parent. In Atlanta, two young brothers, both under age three, died on a hot July day after wandering out of their backyard and into an unlocked car parked outside the family home. Temperatures that afternoon had reached about 90 degrees.

In all, data reported by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety show at least 30 children died last year from heat stroke when they became trapped or were left in parked cars. This year the three known deaths that have already occurred were reported in the widely diverse areas of Phoenix, Hampton, Virginia, and Sussex County, New Jersey, where a child was left in a car seat for more than two hours. In the last case, the outside temperature was a seemingly moderate 63 degrees, which shows just how fragile young life can be stuck in a parked vehicle as the inside temperature climbs.

"These tragedies sharply illustrate that adults don't understand how severely and quickly heat affects children," said Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "All adults must understand that any unlocked car can become a deadly playground for small children."

Sadly, a large portion of the population is just not getting that message. According to a recent survey conducted by Bruskin Goldring Research for the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, 10 percent of parents said that it is acceptable for young children to be left in a car unattended. Even more frightening, among young parents between the ages of 18 and 24, some 20 percent feel that it is okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle. What these people don't realize is when the outside temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit, even with a window cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in just 20 minutes and approximately 140 degrees in 40 minutes. In these extreme conditions, children can die or suffer permanent disability quickly - in a matter of minutes.

"Extreme heat affects infants and small children disproportionately," said Martin Eichelberger, M.D., director of trauma surgery at Children's National Medical Center and president of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "Heat rapidly overwhelms the body's ability to regulate temperature. In a closed environment, the body can go into shock and circulation to vital organs will begin to fail."

The problem of children climbing into unlocked cars during the heat of the summer is even more insidious because at least half of all parents do not consider an unlocked parked car to be a potential hazard. The SAFE KIDS survey found that only 50 percent of parents always lock their cars at home, and one out of five parents rarely or never does so. Yet more than a third of the deaths reported last year occurred when children crawled into unlocked cars while playing and perished in the sweltering heat.

The organization notes that unlocked cars pose serious risks to children who are naturally curious and often lack fear. Once they crawl in, they don't have the developmental capability to get out. In several cases, a parent or caregiver intentionally left the child in a car, while in other cases the child was mistakenly forgotten.

In response to these tragic facts, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign is partnering with the American Meteorological Society to issue an urgent warning to parents and caregivers to take extra precautions with children in and around vehicles during the upcoming warm summer days.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign says parents should be especially vigilant about their children's safety on days when temperatures are 80 degrees or higher. The following safety precautions will help you combat heat-related injuries in cars:

  • Keep cars locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.
  • Teach children not to play in or around cars.
  • Never leave your child in an unattended car, even with the windows down.
  • Always make sure that all child passengers have left the car when you arrive at your destination.
  • If your child gets locked inside a car, get him out and dial 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Make sure you check the temperature of the car seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining your children in the car.
  • Use a light covering to shade the seat of your parked car.
  • Consider using windshield shades in front and back windows.

Car trunks can be especially hazardous. Kids get in but can't always get out. In very hot weather, heat stroke may result and could lead to permanent disability or even death in a matter of minutes. Because of this, follow these tips:

  • Keep the trunk of your car locked at all times, especially when parked in the driveway or near the home.
  • Keep the rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent kids from getting into the trunk from inside the car.
  • Put car keys out of children's reach and sight.
  • Be wary of child-resistant locks.
  • Teach older children how to activate door lock switches if they unintentionally become entrapped in a motor vehicle.
  • Contact your automobile dealership about getting your vehicle retrofitted with an inside trunk release mechanism.

More information on keeping your children safe is available by writing to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004 or by visiting the campaign's Web site.

Note: The survey quoted in the article was conducted by Bruskin Goldring Research. The sample size of this national survey was 700 families with children under 18. There is a sample reliability of + or - 3.5% at a 95% level of confidence.

-- Jeremy Hofstratten

Jeremy Hofstratten, the father of two children, frequently writes on safety-related issues.

More Great Summer Drives

Can it be that summer is about to arrive on our doorstep? Again? Last year in this space we at Driving Today profiled a few of our favorite routes, culled from years of driving cars for a living in palatable locales, most often at other people's expense. Because of the unique opportunities offered to auto journalists, we've had the chance to motor in such out-of-the-way regions as Australia's Nullarbor, the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, and the Baltic coast of Russia, Estonia and Latvia. Journeying to those destinations might take a toll on your minivan, so in this space we'll examine two terrific drives in much more accessible regions. Included are drives on the Gulf Coast and in the upper Midwest, varied enough to fill the bill for those seeking history, scenic grandeur or just plain fun.

Even though gasoline prices are up this year, meandering around in your favorite vehicle can be a rewarding experience, and the experience is even better when the trip is made on great roads filled with wonderful things to see. That describes these two routes to a "t" and so, without further ado, here are Great Summer Drives for the millennium.

Pensacola: Beaches, Beauty and More

They say that Pensacola, Florida, is where the "New South" meets "Old Florida." Others will tell you the farther north you go in Florida, the farther south you go in attitude, and historic Pensacola reflects that. As one of Florida's most northern cities, this old and picturesque city can offer a dose of Ante Bellum southern charm, while at the same time feeling thoroughly modern. Best of all, it features lush semi-tropical beauty, pristine white sand beaches and the vibrancy of a burgeoning urban area.

The best place to start a tour of the Pensacola corridor is in Pensacola itself, an easy hop for many in the east and central United States off coast-to-coast Interstate 10. To get the feel of the town, immediately cruise to the historic district a stone's throw from Pensacola Bay.

Known as the "City of Five Flags," Pensacola has been under the rule of the Spanish, the British, the French, the Confederacy and the United States since the first conquistadors landed in 1559, and reminders of this varied heritage abound in a stroll through the Historic District. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this area is lined with restored homes, museums, shops, galleries and restaurants - some more than 200 years old.

From the Historic District it is a simple 20-30 minute drive on Route 98 through the town of Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach, an area boasting miles of pristine white sand beaches. While the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area is known as a winter resort, summer is the season in Pensacola Beach and environs, so be prepared for amiable, fun-seeking crowds. Don't worry, there's plenty of beach for everybody, because the barrier islands that protect Pensacola Bay are little more than long stretches of floury sand. You can travel mile upon mile along route 182, picking your sun and sand spot nearly at random.

The nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches from the Florida panhandle to Mississippi, is one of the best-kept secrets among the world's beach lovers. Windswept dunes are dotted with sea oats, and the waters of the warm Gulf mix their aquamarine with the sand's pure white. A protected environment for more than 280 species of birds, nature lovers will delight in these unspoiled stretches of shoreline. The more active vacationer will enjoy fishing, boating, camping and ranger-guided tours. Pensacola is also becoming recognized as a hub for ecotourism.

Back in Pensacola, you should head west of town to the U.S. Naval Air Station, which boasts the world-renowned National Museum of Naval Aviation and hosts the famous Blue Angels precision flight team. Nearby are the 16th-century Spanish Fort San Carlos de Barrancas and the Old Pensacola Lighthouse.

If you take Interstate 10 a few miles northeast you'll be within a few miles of Milton, a town dubbed the Canoe Capital of Florida. The local rivers won't offer whitewater rafting fans huge challenges, but they do offer kickback canoeing, kayaking and tubing jaunts in reasonably warm, crystal-clear spring-fed waters.

If you like seafood, you will love Pensacola's native cuisine. Gulf red snapper, scamp and grouper are among the best seafood eating you'll find anywhere, and Gulf shrimp boiled ready for the peeling are a terrific, if messy, way to spend dinnertime.

The Black Hills: Unspoiled and Historic

We have to admit that reaching the Black Hills of South Dakota isn't the easiest trek from most of America's major population centers. It's a two-to-three day drive from the East Coast, and still a long haul from Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. Even if you live in the Twin Cities or Denver, you're still quite a distance away. But the Black Hills combine inspiring scenery with a rich history that few other areas can match. If you loved Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves" then you can't help but love the Black Hills.

Rapid City, South Dakota, is the gateway to the scenic and historic adventures in the area. A short drive to the east off Interstate 90 lie the Badlands, many of which are forever protected in Badlands National Park. The Badlands offer some of the most unusual natural formations you will see on this Earth, and they are also a rich digging ground for the bones of prehistoric creatures.

Southwest of Rapid City off route 16 is Keystone, a touristy jumping off point for the famous Mt. Rushmore National Monument. The infrastructure surrounding the national monument has been heavily upgraded in the last few years, and the monument itself, depicting four of our greatest Presidents, is truly inspiring. If possible, visit the monument at night when, most often, the National Park Service will present a short film in the amphitheater immediately below the monument depicting the struggle to complete its gargantuan statues.

From Mt. Rushmore head south on Iron Mountain Road, which features several "pig-tailed bridges," so named for their curlie-cue design. Iron Mountain Road offers great natural flora and great natural fauna, including multi-ton bison that often stroll leisurely onto the road. Be patient and you will be rewarded with inspiring views.

Stone Mountain Road will take you into Custer State Park, named for the cavalry general who lost his life, along with his whole command, to the Sioux at the Little Bighorn. The park is filled with terrific scenery and its state-operated lodges are well-run and relatively inexpensive. A word to the wise here - book early! The area is so lovely that President Calvin Coolidge decided to establish his summer White House here in a structure now serving as one of the hostelries.

Exiting the park by way of Sylvan Lake Lodge, a quick swing south on Route 386 will take you to the Crazy Horse Monument, a yet unfinished attempt to do for a Native American chief what Mt. Rushmore did for four Presidents. In some ways a much more ambitious effort than Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument is still far from completion.

Retracing your wheelmarks a bit will take you back up north to Hill City, and soon after, we recommend you veer onto 385 (the Black Hills Parkway) for the awe-inspiring drive to the twin mining towns of Lead (pronounced "leed") and Deadwood. Both towns have their proponents, but Deadwood has the better-preserved pre-1900 downtown area. No car parking is allowed on the town's main street, so if you squint your eyes, you can imagine you're in the self-same era as when Jack McCall gunned down Wild Bill Hickok as he sat in Saloon #10 holding a poker hand of aces and eights. He and his ladyfriend, Calamity Jane, are buried side-by-side in the Mount Moriah cemetery up the hill from town.

These days, casino gambling is legal in Deadwood. The Saloon #10 is still a place to see and be seen, and gunfight re-enactments by authentically dressed actors who virtually live the roles are an everyday affair. Down the street from Saloon #10, Kevin Costner has opened a casino and restaurant called The Midnight Rose that offers some of the best food in town, and up the street the Hotel Bullock, which claims to be haunted, delivers comfortable period-style accommodations.

From Deadwood a drive west through Cheyenne Crossing will put you onto the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, a four-star road to take you back to the mundane grind of Interstate 90. From there your starting point in Rapid City is little more than an hour away.

-- Jack Nerad