CHAMPAIGN – The Marine blue 1948 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan doesn't have air conditioning, automatic transmission or other modern conveniences found in today's automobiles.
But it has a driver with a lot of heart.
Scott Christenson, 56, of Champaign plans to drive his vintage 1948 Plymouth four-door sedan from Chicago to Los Angeles later this week to honor his niece Erin Dennington.
Ms. Dennington, 30, a copy editor from Centreville, Va., died May 11 after suffering a severe asthma attack.
Christenson, the owner of Memory Lane Photography, said the death of his niece inspired him to do something to raise money for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization for people with asthma and allergies.
Earlier this year, while Christenson was recovering from open-heart surgery and knee replacement at a rehab facility in Paxton, the Champaign man began to dream of completing historic Route 66, the "Mother Road" traveled by millions of Americans since the 1920s.
"I was inspired by seeing a TV special about two guys in a Corvette driving up and down Route 66," he said. "I thought that maybe some day I would like to drive Route 66 myself."
Christenson originally acquired the Plymouth sedan to use for photos at weddings.
"It has a large back seat with a 'suicide' door (a back door with hinges on the edge closer to the trunk) in the back that makes it easy for a bride to get in and out," he said. "It still has its original paint, except for the back fender. She's a great old car."
The vehicle has about 76,000 miles on it. It features 95 horsepower and a three-speed transmission.
"I had to install seat belts, turn signals and side-view mirrors because they were not standard equipment when this car was built," he said.
Christenson is the vehicle's third and fifth owner. He said he sold the Plymouth to movie producer Robin C. Peters for use in the Ed Asner film "So Others May Live" and bought it back after the film was completed.
Christenson said it took about nine months to restore the vehicle into running condition.
After his niece's death, Christenson decided to complete the Route 66 journey in his classic sedan as a fundraiser for the foundation in Ms. Dennington's name.
"I was motivated by the memory of my niece and how her life ended too soon," said Christenson, who also suffers from asthma. "It's time to show the world that, even if you have asthma, you can still do things."
A fundraising account has been set up at http://www.firstgiving.com/Erin2010 to collect contributions for the cause.
Christianson said his goal is to raise $100,000.
Christianson said all money collected will be used for the education about and prevention and cure of asthma and allergies.
Christianson plans to leave West Side Park in Champaign at 2 p.m. Friday and head to Chicago, where the "Mother Road" begins. He plans to begin his journey west out of Chicago at 9 a.m. Saturday.
He isn't sure how many days it will take him to complete the trip on classic Route 66.
"I want to talk to people and meet with folks all along the journey to California," he said. "The joy of Route 66 is not the destination; it's the journey."
Christianson said his trip is a way to show the world that people with asthma can go on with their lives.
"Erin made me realize that life is to be enjoyed each and every day," he said.