When thinking of driving through the United States, one of the first things that will inevitably pop to mind is rushing down a wide open road with a roaring, and gas-guzzling V8 engined behemoth. We have discovered that there are alternatives for both when we took a brand new Ford Taurus SHO down Highway 1 (officially State Route 1) south of Monterey. The road itself was not new to us; for the last few years the route of the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance has used this section of the highway that runs along the entire Pacific coast of the United States. During this hectic morning, enjoying the road and the fabulous scenery is not very high on our list of priorities. In 2010 we made a point of properly exploring the section of the highway between Carmel and Big Sur, which is part of the 'National Scenic Byways Program'. Upon our return to Monterey we also made a detour to the 'Laureles Grade' pass that connects Carmel Valley Road with the Monterey - Salinas Highway.
One of the first signs that something special awaits, is literally a sign 'warning' that there will be winding roads for the next 74 miles (119 km). The reason for this is that Highway 1 hugs the rugged coastline very closely. Accordingly the road not only constantly twists and turns but also keeps rising and dropping. This regularly provides travellers with spectacular vistas of not only the ocean but also the upcoming and past sections of the road. It was constructed as a highway, so the lanes are wide and the bends are never very narrow. One of the more daunting facts of this section of Highway 1 is that south of Carmel there are no intersections with other roads for over 50 miles (80 km). The only turn-offs lead a few miles into the country, usually to a beautifully located house. This inevitably means that the participants in the Tour d'Elegance have to turn around and return the same way they came to get back to Pebble Beach. This is done at Point Sur and allows the many spectators and photographers to capture the fabulous machines twice.
Construction on this section of the 'Pacific Coast Highway' started in 1919 and it took nearly 20 years to complete. Before the road's completion, the coastline between Carmel and Big Sur was one of the most remote areas in the state of California. The most labour intensive sections were the bridges required to cross the vast canyons created by the creeks that flow from the inland to the Pacific Ocean. These concrete open-spandrel arch bridges are engineering works of art. The best known is the Bixby Creek Bridge, which is also known as the Bixby Canyon Bridge. It is 714 ft (218 m) long and over 280 ft (85 m) high. The longest span of the arch is 320 feet (98 m). Frequently used in automotive commercials, it is one of the most photographed structures on the Pacific Coast Highway. When travelling from Carmel, the Bixby Creek Bridge is the last bridge the highway crosses before reaching Point Sur. This is a volcanic rock just off shore that since 1889 has been home to a lighthouse that warns sailors of the dangers of this stretch of coastline. It also serves as a California Sea Otter State Game Reserve.
Unfortunately we did not have time to explore the road further but both in the southern and norther direction the highway remains spectacular; the legendary Golden Gate bridge, for example, is also part of Highway 1. We did venture onto Carmel Valley Road, which is a lesser known treasure. Running along the Carmel River, it gradually becomes narrower and twistier. Like the aforementioned section of Highway 1, it has no turn-offs for many miles until it reaches the Salinas Valley. One of the last of these is onto Laureles Grade Road, which very rapidly rises to 1284 ft (391 m). On the other side of the pass is the access road to the Mazdaway Raceway Laguna Seca and it the Laureles Grade Road that the historic racers use each year for the run from the Motorsports Reunion to The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering.
What we used for explorations was a Ford Taurus SHO kindly supplied to us by the Ford Motor Company. It proved ideally suited to the demands of this stretch of Highway 1. With the ample power available from its sophisticated 'EcoBoost' V6 engine, smooth six-speed gearbox and comfortable ride it felt right at home. With 365 bhp on tap, the big Taurus had no problem at all on the steepest sections of Highway 1 or Laureles Grade Road. The all-wheel drive system came into good use when we went up some of the smaller side roads in search of prime photo locations. The large trunk was also very helpful to transport all our equipment and luggage. Ford have since launched an updated version of the top-of-the-line Taurus but understandably, the drivetrain has remained unchanged.
for a 20-shot gallery of the 2010-model Ford Taurus SHO on Highway 1 and at the summit of Laureles Grade Road.