7 November 2013

You can ride the rails with your collector car

Old-car buffs and train buffs have a lot in common, since their hobbies both include classic machinery in motion. So how perfect is it that there’s a way to combine the adventure of classic car travel with the romance of the rails? It’s called the Auto Train, and it runs every day between Sanford, Fla., and Lorton, Va. — basically between Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1971 as a private corporation and operated by Amtrak since 1983, the Auto Train is the only car-carrying passenger train in the U.S. In addition to the auto carriers, it uses Amtrak’s deluxe Superliner passenger cars.

Tim and Marjorie Suddard, publishers of Classic Motorsports magazine, live just 45 minutes from the Auto Train terminal in Sanford. So they had no problem justifying a trip aboard the rails when they needed to take their Sunbeam Tiger north to attend the Tigers East/Alpines East United meet in St. Michaels, Md. Any lingering doubts were erased by the fact that Amtrak uses the image of a Sunbeam Tiger in its Auto Train marketing.

Tickets are easily purchased online, and the cost can be extremely reasonable depending on the direction of travel. As one might imagine, pricing is highly seasonal, since the service was designed to facilitate snowbird travel between the Northeast and Florida. The Suddards found that if you go against the grain and travel north in October, a one-way ticket including the smallest sleeping accommodations is only about $400. This includes passage for two, a two-bunk mini-sleeper (called a “Roomette”), a wine and cheese reception, dinner, breakfast, and even a movie after dinner. Add another $179 to take your car with you.

“The food was good, the wine was served with good cheer in the Lounge car, and on our trip they showed ‘Casablanca,’ which seemed appropriate,” Tim Suddard reports, “although maneuvering in the Roomette at night is tricky.” Overall, the Suddards say they found the whole experience very upscale, fun, and way more relaxing than towing a car to an event over busy interstates. No matter which direction you travel, the train leaves at 4 p.m. and gets to your destination the next morning around 9 a.m., relaxed and rested.

As for your car, Suddard cautions that you do have to relinquish control to Amtrak personnel, but says, “We encountered no problems and no damage, and the autos are transported in covered cars. Classics are photographed by staff and treated with kid gloves.”

If you are looking for a relaxing way to transport yourself and your classic, or just want to enjoy the romance of the rails, both Suddards say they would highly recommend this experience.

Now if only Amtrak would offer this service on an East/West route so we could get our cars to Monterey and Scottsdale! For more details contact: http://www.amtrak.com/auto-train

Sidebar:

Ever Notice the Tiger on Amtrak’s Posters?

If you look around any Amtrak station or glance at their marketing materials, you will no doubt notice the gorgeous, highly stylized illustrations featuring a Sunbeam Tiger. As you might expect of something depicting such a rare vehicle, this was no accident.

San Francisco-based graphic artist Michael Schwab designed the posters, and when Tim Suddard tracked him down, he readily admitted that he is a Sunbeam Tiger fanatic. While Michael doesn’t own a Tiger himself, he says a local friend with a Tiger allowed him to borrow the one featured.

Schwab says the folks at Amtrak asked for a couple of alterations to make the car more generic, but there is no disguising the Tiger’s distinctive lines, grille and chrome side trim. The poster is available on Michael’s site at http://www.michaelschwab.com/ — and yes, we have already ordered ours.

11 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Chuck Burns United States November 13, 2013 at 13:07
    Nice to see this article. Back in 1992 I purchased a Corvette in Florida and took the Autotrain its entire length, then drove the rest to my (then) home in Wilmington, DE. It was a bit nerve wracking watching them load my new 1970 Corvette LT-1 onto the train, but they took good care of it and all was well. Good memories.
  • 2
    John Hamburger Croton on Hudson, NY November 13, 2013 at 16:47
    Would love to give it a try...but would it work witha lower hot rod? I would be a little fearful that they would bottom out the vehicle or couldn't get it on the train.
  • 3
    Fran Endwell, NY November 13, 2013 at 09:47
    When I was 19...I took the Auto Train from somewhere in Virginia? To Florida. Somewhere in Maryland my rocker arm shaft broke on my 55 Thunderbird, I pulled off the valve cover and saw that the shaft would not let the rockers fly off because the shaft would go against the cover itself...I continued on to Ft Lauderdale....LOL To be 19 and stupid again! What fun....Proof that you should not be allowed to vote until you get a job! LOL
  • 4
    jeff wisconsin November 13, 2013 at 10:00
    It's a great idea unfortunately this auto train service is limited to only a very short route between VA and FL.
  • 5
    Don Robinson Melbourne, Fla. November 13, 2013 at 10:43
    We traveled North on the AutoTrain, in June of this year, carrying my 2005 35TH Anniversity, 350Z. Amtrac took great care of itI I was concerned of course about my baby, but they video taped it and the driver went to a lot of trouble dealing with my concerns! I would also recommend the train highly.
  • 6
    art wegweiser Allison Park (McCandless) PA November 13, 2013 at 22:44
    This all seems to be a great idea BUT why does it start and end in Virginia - still a long ways from NYC and Boston? Why doesn't it start and end in t\hose major cities and attract even more potential customers? What is so magic about Virginia?
  • 7
    Bruce Hill Denver November 13, 2013 at 10:44
    It's about time Tigers received more recognition!
  • 8
    Denise L. Clumpner United States November 13, 2013 at 10:51
    Cool. Do I get to sleep with my GTO???? Sounds like a fun time. Wish we had something like that here in Wisconsin; I'd be outta here and headed to Florida with the Goat FAST!!!!
  • 9
    Larry B PA November 13, 2013 at 11:20
    I don't know if I would trust an AMTRAK employee to drive an old car. Can you imagine watching them trying to figure out how to drive a four speed stick? Worse yet, how about a three on tree?? Would make a good Candid Camera segment!!
  • 10
    GARY JOHNSON miami, florida November 13, 2013 at 12:51
    Sounds like the way to go. Thanks!
  • 11
    Bob Crow Port St. Lucie, FL November 17, 2013 at 20:36
    If you are taking the Auto Train, you HAVE to take your car with you. You can't just go as a passenger. I've ridden Auto Train 6 times now and my 25,000 mile 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am Pace Car received no damage whatsoever. I used to live (in Woodbridge, VA) only 3 miles from the northern station in Lorton, VA. So it was really convenient for me. However people drive down from Canada to VA to ride it to Florida.

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