XJS ( X27 ) 1975 - 1996 3.6 4.0 5.3 6.0

Trip Report: Fantasy & Industry

Old 03-15-2019, 05:56 AM
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Smile Trip Report: Fantasy & Industry

WARNING: Long and probably fairly dull trip report, with far too many photos. Don't say I didn't warn you....

After the lengthy and fairly expensive efforts to track down the elusive Fuel Fail 44, it was time to give Lady Mary a proper test. So we drove her to Tokyo.

Yes, we'd been there only a bit over a year ago. So why go back again? Well, in addition to the fact that my wife loves driving along the Capital Expressway system, surrounded by tall buildings and industry and generally getting the whole Megalopolis vibe thing, there were a couple of specific things she wanted to do.

For a while now, she had been going on about the petrochemical refineries of Kawasaki, and how impressive they looked, especially at night. Seemed like an odd thing to get excited by, but it turns out they are quite the tourist attraction, with cruises to see them and everything. But my wife hates boats, so any visiting would have to be done by car. That's harder--most of these places aren't exactly open to the public. But there are some areas where you can see them from the road, and I spent a while hovering around the area with Google Earth and Google Street View to find the best spots.

Our second goal was Tokyo Disneyland. While we'd been to DisneySea the previous year, on reflection it turned out that my wife hadn't actually been to Disneyland since way back in 1993, on one of our very first trips together. (She has subsequently been to the original Disneyland in Anaheim in 1997, and Walt Disney World in 1998, but never back to Tokyo Disneyland for some reason.) So she wanted to check it out again. I hadn't been since 2009, and although I was in no real rush to return, I thought it might be a chance to get some nice photos.

And frankly, I personally don't mind so much where we go so long as I get to take Lady Mary on a nice road trip....

This was a good time for a road trip, as my wife hates hot weather. Fair enough. She also hates warm sunny weather. She hates cold weather. Basically, she hates weather.... But cold and overcast is preferable to warm and sunny. That, of course, can present a problem when you live in an area of the country traditionally known as the Snow Country. But thanks to global warming, not only is the Northwest Passage now opening up, there had been so little snow this year that even the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway, which cuts down through some of the (normally) snowiest areas of Japan, was free of any restrictions like chains or snow tyres. As I'd never driven it, it made the logical way to go. And the northern half in particular was so empty that at times we were the only car on the road. Last time I remember encountering that sort of thing was in the remoter parts of the American Southwest....

So it was an easy cruise, though with rather too many tunnels, down to the Pacific coast, where we joined up with the Tomei Expressway and headed to Hamamatsu. There were several things there of potential interest in the area, but due to a late start (partially as I was adding a few more litres of fresh oil to the engine), we were too late to see the JSDF Air Force exhibit, and my wife wasn't interested in caves, so we checked out a place called Nukumori-no-Mori.

The name means, roughly, Cosy Forest, and it's a sort of small Ghibili-esque fantasy village with shops and dining areas and shops. A sort of very miniature theme park minus the rides. There's a 300 yen entrance fee (with free parking; apparently changed from 500 yen parking and free entry--so families cost a lot more...), so you're essentially paying to visit shops. Still, that's basically how Disneyland operates, and that costs a lot more money to essentially visit shops. My wife liked it well enough, but there wasn't really a lot to hold our interest. Very much an "only if you're in the area" thing, I think. Cute, somewhat eccentric and well-done, but mainly aimed at young girls, frankly.

Another reason for stopping off in Hamamatsu is because it's probably Japan's best place for grilled eel (unagi). Cheap eel from the supermarket is from China, and is rubbery and flavourless. The eel here comes from the nearby Lake Hamana, and is quite different indeed.

Naturally, there is no shortage of places to eat eel in Hamamatsu. I'd done some research, and decided on the third-best ranked place in Tabelog, Kantaro. The main reason was that due to being on the outskirts, parking was easier. The place opened at five, and didn't take reservations on weekends, so I wanted to be there as soon as possible. We arrived at ten past five, got the last parking spot, and the last table. Everyone else coming in later had to wait. So we timed that just about perfectly. Mind you, it took a fair time for the food to come, despite the relatively small size of the restaurant.

Eel, or good eel at any rate, is expensive (even bad eel isn't exactly cheap). Then again, this was some of the best eel I'd ever had. The skin wasn't a great success, being a little thicker and more chewy than ideal, but the meat was incredibly tender, melt-in-the-mouth goodness. The only real problem was that there wasn't enough of it. One eel is not enough. Luckily my wife was feeling a bit generous.

After an overnight stay at the Shizuoka Country Hamaoka Course & Hotel, chosen mainly because the building looked like a nice backdrop for car photos, the next day we headed to Hakone. My main goal here was to see the old Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone Sekisho/箱根関所), which stood astride the main Tokaido road from Edo [Tokyo] to Kyoto (or Kyoto to Edo, depending on your perspective). Everyone passing through had to be inspected to make sure that they were carrying the correct permits to travel. Especially women--any attempt to smuggle wives or families of the great lords, the daimyo, from their quasi-hostage status in Edo could be seen as a precursor to rebellion. Something the Tokugawa shoguns were very keen to avoid. The penalty for trying to sneak through was simple: death. That was made clear by the abundant display of weapons, including guns, at the checkpoint. Passing through US immigration can sometimes seem daunting - but they have nothing on the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The main reason I'd been able to persuade my wife to visit Hakone was the Hakone Forest Glass Museum, down in the valley. She had no interest whatsoever in the Checkpoint, and in fact stayed in the car (and saved me her 500 yen entry fee, I guess--which went on parking instead). The Glass Museum was rather more expensive, and quite busy. Being a Sunday, it's not all that surprising. It wasn't too bad--there were some rather nice samples of Venetian glass on exhibit. They had a shop, which was my wife's main goal really, but I was lucky: having recently returned from the real Venice, she tended to turn her nose up at the offerings here.

Deliberately making the images a bit out of focus really brought out the colour in the outdoor crystal trees.

Strong recommendation: do not visit Hakone on a weekend. Or rather, do not try to get from Hakone to the Greater Tokyo area on a Sunday afternoon when all the Sunday drivers are trying to do the same thing. There was a traffic jam basically all the way down to Odawara on the Kanto Plain, and a great deal of traffic on the Kanto Plain itself, to the extent that I was tempted to stop somewhere for dinner for several hours. Only the thought of the xiaolongbao in Chinatown kept me going.

One of the big problems with driving in the Kanto region is that so many so-called "main routes" (like large chunks of National Route 1) are mostly one lane each way. The area was developed for housing before cars really became a thing, I guess. And there's not really any room to build bypasses.

But we finally made it all the way to downtown Yokohama, the Hotel New Grand. I've stayed here before and was very impressed with what you get for the money, so it was a no-brainer to choose it again. This time with a refurbished room that was definitely nicer than the old sort. A very similar view, over Yamashita Park out to the Minato Mirai area to the north.

It was already fairly late, so we didn't rest too long--Chinatown is a short walk away, and we headed for Shichifuku (七福), which on Google Maps is called "Sichifuk" for some reason. This was the place with the very good xiaolongbao we ate at back in November 2017. Their all-you-can-eat dim sum for 1680 yen (plus tax) is very good value. Especially when you're as hungry as we were (we'd skipped lunch apart from some light snacks from a convenience store).

The next day, we had two main goals: Enoshima Aquarium, and Zoorasia. My wife is very fond of both aquariums (or should that be "aquaria"?) and zoos. Seeing animals in general. I'd been to Enoshima Aquarium once before, nearly thirty years ago when I lived in the area, but didn't remember anything about it. Besides, this was the New Enoshima Aquarium (新江ノ島水族館), completely different.

We drove out via Honmoku--at least once we got the right road; sometimes the Yahoo Navigation can be confusing. It'll show you on an expressway when you're actually on a parallel surface road, or if the GPS is a little slow, it'll tell you to turn left when you already have, so you turn left again and miss the onramp. No harm done. The reason for going out via Honmoku is that it's another major industrial area, and my wife wanted to see what could be seen from the Capital Expressway section that runs elevated past it. Not a great deal, as it turned out, as the Jaguar was so low that the expressway walls cut off a lot of the view.

We passed through Kamakura, going down the main road that leads to its famous Hachimangu Shrine, and as we headed along the coast towards Fujisawa, I was very surprised to see Mt. Fuji clearly visible across the bay. I was surprised because it was a fairly cloudy day, and in my experience, Fuji tends to hide herself under anything but the clearest skies. But while there were clouds in the sky, there was no haze or smog, and the mountain rose up majestically across the waters of Sagami Bay.

(That car is cool. And about the polar opposite to my 5.3 litre V12 Jaguar....)

No free parking at the aquarium, but plenty of not-free parking underneath it in Fujisawa Municipal Parking. Not cheap, of course. ...Actually no, I take that back. Short-term parking for a few hours in Tokyo is almost always cheaper than a return train ticket for two people. And even long-term, for the whole day, most places have maximum charges that are often around 1,500 yen to 2,000 yen. When I visited Sydney a couple of years ago, we were paying at least 50% more than the full-day charge in Tokyo for a couple of hours in downtown Sydney. Yet another reason why driving in Tokyo isn't as mad as it might seem. (It is mad, just not quite that mad....)

The new Enoshima Aquarium was quite nicely done. A medium-sized one, with a good array of fish, and in particular, jellyfish, which my wife loves. They had a dolphin show, which we caught the end of, but luckily their gift shop didn't have anything to much interest her.

So it was on to our next destination: Zoorasia. Zoorasia is the Yokohama Municipal Zoo, and is certainly one of the best zoos in the country--at least of those I've been to. As we walked around, we were comparing it with San Diego Zoo, which we had visited a few years before. The same large spaces, naturalistic habitats, and nice theming. Even more so here, in fact. Parts reminded me a bit of Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. And by good timing, we managed to see several animals being fed or watered, and hear zookeepers talk about them.

The zoo cost 800 yen, which was cheaper than their parking, at 1000 yen. Ouch. Probably explains why there were so few cars there.... (Actually, the zoo wasn't at all busy on a late winter Monday afternoon.) I'd actually bought a combined Enoshima Aquarium/Zoorasia pass at a convenience store the night before, saving a few hundred yen each. Still, 800 yen for the zoo is very good value. It's a good zoo, well worth a visit, but a big zoo. By the time we got to the end, we were getting distinctly footsore. So much so that we flagged walking all the way back, and paid 200 yen each for a ride on the zoo's animal-themed shuttle bus. That was a lot faster than walking....

Image Limit Reached--Continued in Part Two....
Old 03-15-2019, 05:59 AM
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Part Two

The next day we loaded up the car, left Yokohama, and drove up towards central Tokyo. Our first goal was Kawasaki, to see those petrochemical refineries. Kanagawa Route 6 (Kawasaki Line) gives a great view over the industrial wastelands of Ukishima from the south side, so I just headed up the Bayshore Route and around. The walls were just low enough for my wife to see the sprawling refineries, and she was absolutely thrilled. We then headed off the expressway to a place we could park and get an even closer look. Not that my wife got out of the car, of course. But she admired them from inside, and was very happy.

We went back again that night, along the same route, to admire the petrochemical refineries at night. My wife likes both day and night views, but says day is perhaps better as you can see all the rust and other grim mechanical stuff better. Still, the night views made her very happy as well. Unfortunately, she refused to video the scenery as we were driving--and my dashcam points straight ahead--so you'll have to make do with this video to see what it looked like. After that, I took us onto the Capital Expressway system again, and we did the same loop around the palace we'd done earlier in the daytime. Only now it was night, and all the lights were visible. My wife was very happy.

Our next goal, after some shoe-shopping and a quick lunch, was Katsushika, Shibamata, famed as the home of Tora-san, the "lovable tramp" of one of the world's longest-running movie series (the longest starring the same actor, and the series only ended when he was too dead to continue). My wife had wanted to check out this area for some time, only we kept on finding other things to do whenever we were in Tokyo. So this time, I made sure we went there. I also took us there the scenic way, deliberately looping around the Imperial Palace (Route C1) and then out to the old shitamachi working-class neighbourhoods across the river. My wife loved that. Says that the Capital Expressway is more fun than Disneyland. It's certainly a lot cheaper....

Parking was 500 yen in a large open area on the bank of the Edo River, and from there we walked to Shibamata Station, where Tora-san would go off on his adventures. The old shopping street stretches out from here to the Shibamata Taishakuten temple and its impressive carvings. The street itself, however, wasn't really quite what we were expecting. A little too clean, modern, and touristy, frankly. My wife was quite disappointed. Still, at least we know now, and probably won't be back.

From there we headed via more expressways to the Hotel Emion in Urayasu. This was our third time staying there, as we consider it one of the best hotels in the country. Certainly in terms of value for money. And it has one of the best buffet breakfasts of any hotel I've ever stayed at, anywhere in the world. Not the best--that honour would probably go to the awkwardly-named The Palace The Old Town in Dubai. (I also have very fond memories of the Ritz Carlton Osaka and their large bowl of genuine whipped cream....) The rooms are also very spacious for Japan, and the bathrooms have windows offering views over the city--until the window fogs up from the steam, of course....

Oh, that French toast....

The following day, well fuelled by a breakfast which heavily featured the Emion's famous French toast, we set off for DISNEYLAND. One of the reasons staying in a Partner Hotel is better than an Official Hotel (the large chain hotels that surround the park; not the actual Disney hotels) is the free shuttle. If you stay in an Official Hotel, you have to take the Disney Port Liner train, which is not free. The best option is of course the actual Disney hotels, but my god are they not cheap. About three times what we were paying for the Emion without the free breakfasts or parking. And that is if they have any rooms left.

Tokyo Disneyland was in the final months of celebrating its 35th anniversary. Why they need to celebrate it during the financial year and not the calendar year, I have no idea. It means that even though the first time I ever went to Tokyo Disneyland was during their 5th anniversary, that was not actually 30 years ago. It was 31 years ago, during the same school trip where we went to Hakone. Ditto with my wife's first visit during their 10th anniversary--26 years ago, not 25.

Right after we got through the gates, we were stopped by some lady who asked us if we had a moment. Neither of us had any idea what was going on, but she seemed to want to know if we'd been before, and to see our tickets. As she was wearing an official Disney badge, and as I cannot imagine the Mouse's control over his kingdom would permit anything remotely unauthorised, I fished them out--they'd been bought at a convenience store in Yokohama along with our aquarium/zoo combo ticket, so I was a little worried something might have triggered something in the system.

But no. She just wanted to give us a free popcorn voucher. Scanned our tickets with a reader and gave us a voucher for a free bucket of popcorn, as well as two coloured lanyards with 35th anniversary medallions on them--which my wife promptly tucked away carefully so they wouldn't get dirty or lost. It was definitely quite legit: from Oriental Land's own website:

Happiest Surprise During the 35th anniversary event period, a combined total of 350,000 Guests out of the millions visiting Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea will receive a happy surprise from a Cast Member at the Park. This unique experience, available only at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, will take place every day during “Tokyo Disney Resort 35th ‘Happiest Celebration!’”
Only 350,000 all year? No wonder the popcorn guy congratulated us. Once my wife had finally decided what flavour popcorn to get, of course. There's quite the variety. But she played it safe, and chose caramel. One thing I like to get at Disney parks is their churros, and they had special 35th anniversary ones with a special flavour. No idea what that flavour was, as it was carefully not shown. Nor could I make out anything other than sweetness from the churro itself. On checking later, it turned out to be candyfloss--or, at the Americans put it, cotton candy. Which, being nothing but sugar, has no flavour. Bit pointless....

Old 03-15-2019, 06:01 AM
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Part Three....

Splash Mountain was shut, which may account for why the other "Mountain" rides (Space, Big Thunder) had long queues, but on the whole, despite the crowds, the waits weren't too bad. And even the longer queues weren't much more than an hour--which is quite reasonable for Tokyo Disneyland. However, we stuck to rides with minimum wait times, especially as my wife isn't a fan of the roller-coaster type rides in the first place. We did pick up a Fast Pass for the famous Pooh's Hunny Hunt, about as soon as we got to the park, and were only able to get one for that evening--a little bit later, and they'd have all gone.

We took a look at the revamped Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. Nice shortish queue, only twenty minutes. Slightly remodelled queue area, and I don't remember the original movie being 3D. This one was, and we had glasses to give it the effect. The story was perhaps a slight improvement on the original, but the movie quality really took me out of the story. Not only was the image quality no better than DVD, but the framerate was probably 24 fps, creating very visible motion blur on the many fast-moving scenes and making it obvious the whole time that we were watching a film. Something I didn't realise at the time was that the ride changes each time--the film differs randomly each time. Had I known that, I would have wanted to give it a few more goes, as the wait times were really pretty short all day. But it was fairly motion sickness-inducing, so perhaps not....

Pirates of the Caribbean was only a ten-minute wait, if that. We rode that twice: once with my 100 mm f2.8 macro L lens, once with my 35 mm f2.0 prime. Instead of taking loads of lenses and be always swapping them, I only took three to TDL--the 8-16mm ultrawide, as well as these two primes. My intent was to focus on the details which Disney does so well, and perhaps some of the spaces which it also usually does very well. Basically, I wanted to avoid snapshots. Force myself to think about what I was photographing, composition, and that sort of thing. Not sure how well it turned out. And there weren't really that many spaces I wanted to shoot. But I love the 100 mm prime--it's hard to take a bad photo with that lens. But I certainly tried....

Pirates was a good test of the lenses--shooting in darkened environments from a moving boat, you need fast glass. Shooting raw files gives you some leeway to bring up the shadows, but my ageing 60D can only go so far. Anyway, aside from the replacement of some generic characters with characters from the film (making Pirates of the Caribbean a ride inspired by the movie it inspired...), it hasn't changed much over the decades.

The Jungle Cruise, nearby, has. Most of the jokes and lame puns are gone, replaced by what is clearly designed to be a more PC, sympathetic view of nature. And the various natives living in the jungle--the pot-bellied man selling shrunken heads is now selling good luck charms--three of which in our boat are credited with saving us from the wrath of the tiger god or something. Oh, and the guide no longer shoots at the angry hippos. Too many angry hippies, I guess...

As the Western River Railroad was right next door, and had a queue time of, essentially, nothing, we took that as well. The steam train chugged sedately around the Jungle Cruise and Rivers of America section, giving us some nice views of the park along with some commentary updated for the 21st century--no longer was the settlers' cabin on fire thanks to an "Injun raid" but burning due to their own carelessness.

As I had my tablet with me, we could keep an eye on wait times through a website, and I saw that the Haunted Mansion wasn't too bad. So we headed over there, only to be trapped by the parade. Bugger. So I decided to get some shots anyway, using the longer reach of the 100 mm, which makes a great portrait lens.

The parade wasn't that long, but when it ended there was a veritable tsunami of people flooding into the Mansion--clearly we weren't the only people caught by the parade. My wife, being small even by Japanese standards (150 cm or 4'11"), is a master (a mistress?) at moving quickly through crowds, and 186 cm (6'1"+) me did my best to follow. The Haunted Mansion itself hasn't changed a bit. Still a good ride, though of course less and less worth queuing for. The first time, sure. The tenth time? Wouldn't wait more than 15-20 minutes, tops.

We had had so much to eat at breakfast that it wasn't until mid-afternoon we were even starting to feel peckish. So we went to one of my favourite restaurants in the Disney Resort, Grandma Sara's Kitchen. It's one of my favourites because of the theming, not the food. Not that the food is bad or anything. It's perfectly fine, even good, and not even too extortionate.

By this time we were also getting a little bored. Splash Mountain and Roger Rabbit were shut; the queues for Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain were longer than we wanted to wait, and my wife didn't want to go on them anyway. Nor was she interested in the Mark Twain Riverboat or Tom Sawyer's Island. She expressed an interest in the Carousel, but that was surprisingly popular. As was Peter Pan's Flight--consistently one of the longest queues of the day. Pinocchio's Daring Journey had a fairly short queue, so we went on it. What a truly dreadful ride it is. A cheap, low-tech rattle-trap that would be an embarrassment at the local carnival, let alone one of the world's premiere theme parks.

My wife was just about ready to leave, but I managed to persuade her to stick around until our Fast Pass time, so we killed time as it was getting dark in the Country Bear Theatre. That's an attraction that hasn't changed a bit in decades. By the time we got out, it was fully dark, and the park looked very different with all the lights on. Nicer, really. I'd have liked to stick around a bit more, but my wife was seriously getting sick of the place.

So we headed to Pooh's Hunny Hunt, and with our Fast Passes, it was a fairly short wait in a rather bland waiting area themed sort of like random book pages. I amused myself by trying to see if the sections of the very British Pooh stories featured as decorations had been Americanized in terms of spelling and so on. The ride itself was somewhat confusing, and rather a let-down. The technology may be impressive, but what the ride does, what you see, isn't really that amazing. I cannot imagine why it had one of the longest queues in the park.

Once we got out of that, it was basically straight back to the hotel--it wasn't even seven o'clock. Most of our time in the park seems to have been spent wandering around trying to find something interesting to do. But aside from a few rides, they were all either too popular or my wife simply wasn't interested. Or both. We both think DisneySea blows Disneyland out of the water. So to speak....

One More to Go....
Old 03-15-2019, 06:02 AM
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Final Part! Here's the Car ****!

The next day, after another very nice and filling breakfast, we headed out to Odaiba to see Tokyo MegaWeb. I managed to get on the expressway by mistake (Yahoo Navi acting silly) and when I thought I was taking an exit, I ended up on an entirely different expressway going in entirely the wrong direction. So we had quite the tour around Tokyo again, passing through industrial areas where almost the only vehicles on the roads were trucks, and my classic Jaguar was feeling very out of place. But we finally made it, after I was seriously wondering if every road I took was going to end up leading in the opposite direction.

Tokyo MegaWeb is fairly MegaFamous for people interested in cars, but I found the main part nearly as dull as my wife did. One of its features is a complete lineup of all Toyota models (not Lexus, however) which you can sit in and try out for size. I'd been to its predecessor more than twenty-five years ago, and not only did they have a Supra then, you could even sit in the Century. Not this time. The Century was behind ropes, the only car to be unavailable. Impressive-looking, and perhaps the best design of the three facelifts it's had, but not a car I'd ever really want: it's a car for the man in the back seat. None of the other cars were, of course, remotely as cool as my own....

My main goal at MegaWeb was their History Garage. Inconveniently located, as I eventually discovered, at the far end of the Venus Fort shopping mall. But even my wife was impressed by it. Not a lot of cars there, but some very iconic ones, and not a rope barrier in sight. While you couldn't actually touch them, there was nothing preventing you from getting as close as you liked. We headed back to the carpark through the very fancy main level of Venus Fort, which is clearly Tokyo's answer to the Forum Shops in Las Vegas.

Here's the car **** section....

After that, we just cruised straight down to Nagoya. It was raining hard, so I didn't feel like stopping off anywhere, and it was also later than I had expected. The New Tomei was restricted to 80 kph for much of the first half at least, due to the rain. But we eventually arrived in Nagoya after a break to stretch my legs and back, as the Jaguar XJS is not the most spacious car inside. An extra inch of headroom and a couple of inches of legroom, plus more thigh support, would be ideal. While at the Service Area, I spent the extra money to add a bit more fuel at an expressway service station--I did not want to coast in on fumes like last time.

Dinner was more of those yummy Nagoya-style chicken wings. We were staying at the Richmond Hotel Nagoya Station Shinkansen Side, the same hotel we'd stayed in around this time last year when we'd gone to pick my car up. Another place with good breakfasts--my wife actually proclaims the breakfast here to be better than the Emion, because they have a better selection of Japanese food.

I was somewhat nervous about getting Lady Mary all the way back home without any breakdowns, considering what had happened last time. But she fired up in the morning without any problems whatsoever, and it was an easy three-hour cruise up the expressway to home.

Door to door, we covered 1,603 kilometres, just under a thousand miles. She burned through 234.6 litres (62.0 US gallons) of high-octane petrol, averaging 53.3 kph (33.1 mph) for an average of 6.8 km/l (16 mpg or 14.7 litres/100 km). The initial cruise to Shizuoka averaged 18 mpg, which I thought was pretty good going, but the long slow crawl into Yokohama from Hakone sent that crashing down. And driving around suburban Greater Tokyo kept it down.

While she did make it back safely, there were of course a few issues. The cruise control grommet is shot, so I need to replace that. The part is cheap enough, and readily available. I suspect the front suspension clunk is getting worse--that might need attention soon. But aside from that, Lady Mary sailed through the entire trip just as she should: smoothly regal and quietly powerful.

Where next, I wonder...?
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Old 03-15-2019, 09:51 AM
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Fantastic! Thank You for sharing!
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