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Spirit of the Cannonball Run! Ed Bolian and Team Breaks Coast to Coast Record Driving a Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG

By   /  October 31, 2013  /  No Comments

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If you wanted to break the cross country driving record from New York to Los Angeles what kind of car would you use? A 2004 Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG was the logical choice for Ed Bolian, his co-driver Dave Black and support passenger Dan Huang.

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L to R: Dave Black, Ed Bolian, Dan Huang.

They made the trip leaving from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan at 9:55pm EDT on October 19, 2013 and arriving at the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, CA at 11:46pm PDT on Sunday, October 20th. They made the trip in just 28 hours and 50 minutes, stopping for a total of just 46 minutes along the way.

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Outside the Red Ball Parking Garage, Manhattan.

The start and end points of the Bolian attempt mirrored the classic (and infamous) Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash organized and run by Brock Yates, a senior editor at Car and Driver Magazine at the time. The first event, held in May of 1971, was won by a 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van that was full of fuel tanks. The race was run four more times, once in November of ’71 and ’72 and then again in 1975, the last event was held in 1979.

Perhaps the most famous running was the 1975 event when Yates teamed with veteran endurance sports car driver Dan Gurney in a 1971 Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona to win, completing the drive in 35 hours and 54 minutes.

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Brock Yates and Dan Gurney with their 1971 Ferrari Daytona they drove on the 1975 event.

The 1979 event saw the Yates / Gurney record fall to Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough in a Jaguar XJS, they completed the trip in just 32 hours and 51 minutes.

It was this series of races that was the basis for the movie “The Cannonball Run” which was written by Brock Yates.

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As a kid, I watched this movie over and over again on our Betamax. A corny movie, but fun in that sort of 80s way.

This most recent drive by Bolian and his crew, in the spirit of the classic Cannonball Run races, beat the most recent record by more than three hours, a record of 31 hours and 4 minutes set by Alex Roy and Dave Maher in a BMW M5 back in 2006.

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On the road again… Maher behind the wheel of the record breaking, and setting, 2004 Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG.

What inspires someone to want to risk points on their license, jail time, even death in a high speed crash to attempt such a high speed run?

According to Bolian, about 10 years ago he interviewed Brock Yates for a high school project about automotive journalism. The subject of the Cannonball Run came up and Bolian mentioned to Yates that one day, he wanted to beat the cross country record.

Ed Bolian happens to be Sales Director at Motorcars of Georgia, an Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Lotus and BMW dealer in Atlanta. He owns a Lamborghini, but when it came time to attempt to break the coast to coast driving record, he chose an almost 10 year old Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG.

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Lots of gadgetry in the car… notice the garage door opener on the sun visor!

The team spent almost 18 months preparing for the trip. The car was outfitted with all kinds of electronics, not all of them legal, technology that Yates and Gurney couldn’t have imagined back in their day. The CL55 was equipped with a police scanner, CB radio, radar detectors, radar and laser jammers, several GPS devices and, if you look closely at the driver’s side sun visor, a garage door opener… good thing they had that! One thing that was common among cars on some of the original Cannonball Run events in the 70s was modified or additional fuel tanks. Bolian borrowed this idea, outfitting the trunk of the CL with two auxiliary fuel cells to allow more time between fuel stops.

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Additional fuel capacity thanks to the fuel cells in the trunk of the CL.

The CL55 seems like a solid choice to me for such a cross country run and one that clearly worked for Bolian and his team. The CL is a car that can be driven very fast safely, it’s truly built to cruise at speeds over 100mph for extended periods. I would imagine more dangerous that getting caught for speeding by police on this run would be other drivers ratting you out if you were perceived as driving recklessly or like a madman on public highways. It’s so easy for someone to pick up their mobile phone and call the police on a car traveling at two and a half times the speed limit, a few miles up the road, you’re nabbed, it happens at the time. The understated nature and styling of the CL served this team well.

If Bolian had opted to take his orange Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago roadster chances are they wouldn’t have made it through Pennsylvania before they were in jail… not to mention, there would have been only two people and very little room for anything else.

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Understated appearance of the CL55 AMG in Horizon Blue Metallic.

The CL is a real sleeper, most people have no idea what they are. When one passes you on the highway they don’t draw attention to themselves, especially when in Horizon Blue Metallic, the sort of medium grey / blue metallic of Bolian’s car. People certainly don’t know the CL is one of the most expensive cars in the Mercedes-Benz line (although this almost 10 year old CL55 probably didn’t cost Bolian $20,000) and few know the CL55 AMG is good for over 150mph.

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The record breaking trio after arriving at the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, CA.

The CL55 was an astute vehicle choice for a cross country run like this. It gets reasonable gas mileage compared to other cars Bolian apparently considered, a Ferrari 612 and a Bentley, but I think the inconspicuous nature of the ultimate executive conveyance, the Mercedes-Benz CL55 must have helped them stay under the radar.

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The final reading from the GPS recording device late Sunday night.

Congratulations gentleman, a three hour improvement on the record is quite an accomplishment. I wonder how long this new record will hold up.

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Battle scars of a high speed cross country trip.

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