You’d think a guy with almost 2.8 million miles on his car would want to stay put for a minute. But Guinness Book of World Records holder Irv Gordon, a 70-year-old retired science teacher who bought his 1966 Volvo P1800 new, is aiming to roll his speedometer over to 3 million miles in the next three years. “I got a full tank,” he says, as I climb into the passenger seat of the small red coupe outside a diner in Medford, NY, “And we can go anywhere you want.”Not Ready For A Museum
I settle into a well-worn seat groove and acclimate myself to the rolling museum surrounding me, including the dash-mounted pushbutton radio, a Smith magnetic gas gauge that waggles wildly back and forth, and an assortment of toggle switches and knobs. I reach behind my right shoulder for a seatbelt and grab a ... what is this hunk of gnarly canvas with a buckle at one end?
“That’s the seatbelt,” Irv says. “It’s not retractable. You just squeeze the buckle and clamp it.” Irv fastens the belt for me, and we’re off. The ride’s smooth, the engine sounds healthy, and it’s a beautiful day except for the extreme summer heat.
“Does this thing have air conditioning?” I ask.
“Yea, the 465,” says Irv. “Four windows at 65 miles per hour.”
Irv’s says he’s driven “just about every Interstate in the U.S. many times over,” as well as taking victory laps through Sweden, Holland, Germany and the U.K.
It hasn’t been a dent-free 44 years, either.
“I’ve had my car backed into by a tractor-trailer and the nose crushed,” Irv says. “A lady in an Oldsmobile ran into the back of the car. I’ve had people who were trying to park take out my quarter panels. I even had school buses back into it on two different occasions. Nothing is forever. But that’s why they put paint in a can.”
And why did Irv buy a Volvo, when, in the ’60s, Ford and Chevy were still the kings of the American motor market? Was it a process of careful search and selection to find a car he’d still be driving 44 years later? Was it luck? Or a bit of both?
“I’ll tell you why,” he says. “I had two Chevys and both of them gave me nothing but trouble. The first one had electrical problems, they were never able to fix them, and GM wouldn’t stand behind the guarantee. The second one had serious engine problems. It broke rocker arms and push rods every few hundred miles. I couldn’t even drive the car. I was a brand new schoolteacher in 1962, I was driving 125 miles each way into Manhattan and back and I needed a car that wouldn’t break down.
A foreign-car enthusiast friend listened to Irv’s tale of woe, and pointed him toward a local dealership.
“I went to the Volvo dealer, took one of their models for a test drive and kept it out for three hours,” says Irv. “I just loved it, but I thought I couldn’t afford it. Then I saw the little red P1800, which, at $4,150, was just about a year’s salary for me. I traded in my Chevrolet, borrowed some money from my folks, bought the P1800 and disappeared. This was Friday. I didn’t come back until Monday, and I put 1,500 miles on the car that weekend.”
Gas was 18 cents a gallon in 1966, says Irv, adding, “I remember being taken aback when it went up to a quarter.”
Irv logged 500,000 miles over the next 10 years. Then in 1998, with 1.69 million miles, he made the Guinness Book of World Records for most miles driven by a single owner in a non-commercial vehicle. At the two million mark in 2002, he drove the P1800 through Times Square. In all the years Gordon’s been driving the P1800, the engine has been rebuilt just twice. Gordon leaves the big repairs to a mechanic but does the routine maintenance himself.
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Irv’s long-haul story, though singularly impressive, is part of an increasing “keep your car” movement happening across the U.S. A recent survey conducted by Jiffy Lube reveals that more than half of U.S. drivers hope to have more than 150,000 miles on their vehicle before replacing it, and more than a quarter aspire to clock 250,000 miles or more. A Facebook page called “Keeping My Ride Alive” has racked up more than 1,200 members since its inception 2 months ago, with members sharing tips, photos, inspiration and exasperation.
Mechanical engineer Roy Lindahl has been driving his white Jeep Cherokee since the day they drove off the lot together seventeen years ago. He and his vehicle, "Jeepy," recently reached a major milestone when the odometer hit 400,000 miles. Lindahl, of Lafayette, CA, credits regular preventive maintenance for ensuring his ride stays roadworthy.
“I treat it like a family pet,” Lindahl says. “I make sure it’s clean, I wipe and wash it, open the hood and visually inspect it on a regular basis, make sure everything looks right. One thing I really believe is having clean oil and filters clean. I was an auto mechanic and I will never forget the sludge of some engines people brought in for repair. Rocker arms were squeaking because they were so dry. I saw the damage and it became my mission to keep my car properly lubricated.”
Irv Gordon concurs on the value of proper oil and lube. “Maintaining a car over decades and millions of miles doesn’t just happen accidentally,” he says. “You’ve got to follow the factory service manual, replace worn or broken parts immediately and don’t let little issues become big issues. I have been extremely good to this car. I don’t even let anyone else drive it.”Today’s road test is but 20 miles at the most, but Irv’s enthusiasm is undaunted. After he reaches his ultimate goal of three million odometer miles, he says, “Who knows? I’d like to sell the car for a dollar per mile. One can only hope. I’m waiting for offers to be tendered. I’d like to retire in the fashion to which I will become accustomed.”