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Best cars for the best roads

Imagine driving a late-model sports car, an American Express Platinum card for those pesky gas bills, and a scenic and challenging highway — that's the makings for some serious fun.
2006 Chevrolet Z06 Corvette
Chevrolet's Corvette Z06 offers maximum thrills on unfettered straightaways like those found on the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon.Harvey Schwartz / Zuma Press file
/ Source: BusinessWeek Online

When you're driving a $164,500, 450 horsepower Aston Martin DB9 with a V12 engine up the Big Sur Coastal Highway, you probably aren't worrying too much about the high price of gasoline.

Like any kind of memorable experience — be it dinner at one of Paris' three-star restaurants, greens fees at Augusta National or prime tickets to a Tony Award-winning Broadway show — sometimes it is important to forget how much it's all costing you, and just sit back and enjoy yourself. And while many environmentalists may voice their outrage that precious fossil fuels may be burned on something as superficial as putting a great car through its paces on a fantastic stretch of road for the sheer fun of it, we can only say: Lighten up!

That's because great cars are to great food what transportation is to mere sustenance. We don't gorge on caviar or truffles every day, nor do we fulfill our automotive fantasies as often as we would like. But when we do, we want to make damn sure that we do it right. Sure, getting from Point A to Point B is the fundamental role of a car, but we don't have to lose sight of the fact that cars, especially beautifully engineered ones with wonderfully powerful engines, are also a hoot to drive.

Who doesn't remember the first time behind the wheel on a glorious day as the road evaporated, mile after mile? You could have gone on forever, savoring every turn, reveling in each of those horses at your command. And while the route in question may have been only a local back road and the car merely your college beater, it is a memory that shines for years after.

Now imagine the same situation, but with a late-model sports car, an American Express Platinum card for those pesky gas bills, and a scenic and challenging highway ahead of you — and you have the makings for some serious fun.

So how do you decide on which road to drive? Well, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you can thank the U.S. Transportation Dept. for creating its Scenic Byways program, which has designated the 126 most beautiful blacktops in the country. Since the program was established in 1991, nearly $300 million has been spent improving these roads, with new designations being awarded in two- and three-year cycles.

Nominations are made locally and a petition process takes requests upwards through state and federal bureaucracies. Government agencies look at the archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic value when making the designations. Although 99 roads have been deemed National Scenic Byways, only 27 have been designated All-American Roads, and vacation destinations in and of themselves.

With highways of both varieties dotting the entire country in 44 states — 18 of the roads cross state lines — choices abound for road travelers made weary by high energy costs. Notable trips include roads in both rural and urban areas, from the Las Vegas Strip and Woodward Avenue in Detroit to California's Highway 1 or the Historic National Road, which traverses the Midwest. chose 10 of these All-American roads, and based on those drives' characteristics, chose the best cars for the job. What kind of cars? Well, since we are talking about dream roads, we might as well talk about dream cars, too. Where would be the best roads to drive a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a Dodge Viper, a Chevy Corvette Z06 or a BMW M6?