How long do you think it would take for you to drive from New York City to Los Angeles? Having done the drive myself a number of times, I can attest that a leisurely trip might take three full days, and a foolhardy attempt at setting the record in a banged up, nitrous-injected Ford Mustang can be accomplished in just about 40 hours.
The record — recently set by Arne Toman, Doug Tabbutt, and Berkeley Chadwick — is now an astonishing 27 hours and 25 minutes. But the attempt many of us car guys may be most familiar with is probably Alex Roy’s record-setting (at the time) run of 31 hours and 4 minutes in his “Polizei” BMW M5, back in 2006.
That run, which went on to serve as the basis of Roy’s book, “The Driver,” was accomplished thanks to a variety of tricks Roy and his co-driver Dave Maher used to avoid police detection — including top of the line laser jammers, radar detectors, and even chartered aircraft that flew slightly ahead of their BMW to provide early warnings of any upcoming speed traps.
Roy relentlessly plotted his course and departure time, ensuring that he would hit no stop lights, no stop signs, and no traffic along his route. It wasn’t long after Roy’s record-setting run that my brother and I made our own effort in an old Ford Mustang, which I had stuck in storage prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps. We knew we couldn’t beat Roy’s modified M5, nor could we charter any aircraft — but we were young and foolish enough to think we might be able to make a good run of it anyway through nothing more than brute force and our seriously lacking sense of self-preservation.
This is the part where I remind you that this sort of thing is pretty illegal, and I highly recommend that you not try it yourself. My brother and I may both have a fair amount of training behind the wheel of a car (as a former professional racing instructor, my brother is about as qualified as they come), but that doesn’t excuse breaking the law or putting other people at risk. In the years since, I’ve slowed down quite a bit — and my brother now keeps his fast driving on the race track.
Ultimately, we finished our run in around 40 hours, though our real time would have been much faster if the fuel filter on our Mustang hadn’t gotten clogged up halfway through New Mexico (if you’ve never driven a lowered Mustang up a curb, low crawled under it, and swapped a searing hot fuel filter out 20+ hours into a road race, I give the experience zero stars).
Even still, we wouldn’t have come close to touching Roy’s 31 hour mark… and we never had a prayer of reaching the record of Arne Toman, Doug Tabbutt, and Berkeley Chadwick earlier this year.
To give you a sense of how fast the record is, my brother and I stopped only for fuel, swapping shifts in the driver’s seat each time the thirsty Mustang ran dry. I won’t disclose our average speed, but it was often a lot faster than local law enforcement would have preferred. In Roy’s then-record-setting run, his modified BMW M5 was said to have broken 141 miles per hour… in Manhattan, before going a whole lot faster than that in the wide open spaces of the West. In the newest record-setting run, the guys were said to have reached speeds in excess of 193 miles per hour in their 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63S AMG.
How’d they do it? Well, a huge part of making the run is avoiding getting arrested, and the guys turned to a variety of gear to help them accomplish that feat. The traditional high-quality radar detectors and laser jammers were on board, along with the less common addition of a thermal rifle optic mounted on a removable gimble on the car’s roof. The long range thermal optic helped the crew scan the road ahead for hidden police cars.
“Probably the most trick thing I had was a thermal scope on a roof-mounted gimbal that could be operated via remote control by the back seat passenger,” Toman said. “We picked up a cop warning on Waze and we were able to see the heat signature of the car sitting on the side of the road.”
One of the more interesting inclusions in their police avoidance loadout was an aircraft collision avoidance system meant to help small planes avoid other aircraft. They instead used it to help keep an eye out for highway patrol aircraft.
Other modifications to the Mercedes included a custom fuel cell used to minimize stops, and upgraded turbos since the accompanying air and fuel necessitates an upped horsepower output of around 700 (over the stock E63 AMG’s 550).
Believe it or not, despite having a few different GPS options on hand, they tended to use the common navigation (and police spotting) app Waze for most of the trip. And in what is perhaps the most ironic ending you could imagine, the guys actually got pulled over after the run was over, as they drove to their hotel.
Here’s a thorough breakdown of all the ways these guys managed to evade the cops during their record-setting run: