If there’s anything that speaks to the longevity of a Volvo, it’s Irv Gordon and his P1800S. Since he purchased the car new in 1966, he traveled 3.2 million miles in it, earning accolades, relationships with tens of thousands of Volvo fans around the world, and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Yesterday, we learned that 77-year-old Irv Gordon passed away while traveling in China.
On the occasion of his three millionth mile in his P1800 in 2013, Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car editor Dave LaChance spoke with Gordon to learn what it’s like to put so many miles on a single automobile. “It’s just one of those things, and the miles add up after a while. You don’t think of it–100,000 go by, 200,000 go by, 300,000–but when you’re up around the 800,000 mark, it starts to get interesting,” he laughs. “You listen to the engine and think, ‘Is it going to explode today? Has it finally had it? What was that squeak I just heard? It never squeaked back there before. What’s that noise?’ It makes you nuts, you know?”
Gordon got the attention of Volvo way back in 1998, when he first entered the Guinness Book of World Records when the odometer turned 1.69 million miles, which recognized him for “the highest certified mileage driven by the original owner in non-commercial service.” When he and his car cracked the record, Volvo handed him the keys to a Bertone-designed 780 coupe on which he proceed to rack up 450,000 miles. Ever since, he’s been a rolling ambassador for Volvo, attending events all over the world.
The mileage on his P1800 began as just a fact of his daily life after purchasing the car at legendary Long Island retailer Volvoville in 1966. At the time, he was a science teacher from East Patchogue, New York, but his commute to work every day was a 125-mile round trip. He was a GM guy before ’66, but bad experiences with two successive Corvairs had him looking elsewhere. A friend showed him an ad in Car and Driver from Volvoville, featuring the one-off convertible P1800 that the dealership put together. He fell in love with the convertible, but couldn’t justify the expense and purchased the stunning Flame Red coupe instead.
It wasn’t an easy decision. At the time, a P1800 stickered at $4,150, twice his annual teacher’s salary. As a comparison, the top-of-the-line Corvair Corsa at the time was $2,519. Gordon told LaChance that he picked the car up on a Friday and by the time Monday rolled around, brought it back to the dealership for its 1,500-mile service, portending the zillion miles he’d put on the car over the next half-century.
“I never set a goal to make one million or two million, and certainly not three million. I just always seemed to have someplace interesting to go, people to meet, instead of sitting home watching TV,” he told LaChance.
Over the years, a hundred thousand miles ticked by. Then 200,000. Then 300,000. “[W]hen you’re up around the 800,000 mark, it starts to get interesting,” he told LaChance. “You listen to the engine and think, ‘Is it going to explode today? Has it finally had it? What was that squeak I just heard? It never squeaked back there before. What’s that noise?’ It makes you nuts, you know?”
All the regular maintenance items have been replaced over those 3.2 million miles, obviously. But what’s amazing is what hasn’t been replaced. The engine has been rebuilt twice, but the head is original, as is the engine block. The third-gear sychro in the transmission and the ring and pinon in the rear end were replaced before the car reached a million miles. Beyond that, it hasn’t been much more than tires and wiper blades.
Gordon had gotten a few form letters from Volvo when he cracked 250,000 and 500,000 miles, but when the million mile marker passed, it came to Volvo’s attention through Volvoville. The advertising department at Volvo was looking to feature high-mileage Volvos in a print ad, and Irv’s car was a perfect fit. In 1987, Irv and Volvo celebrated the achievement with a press conference, and the relationship remained solid from that day until yesterday.
“I bought this car, and I was so pleased that the car always took me to work every day, took me home every day, never gave me any grief, never gave me any problems, never needed any repairs,” Gordon told Ignition Live in a video. “So, I expect that I’ll still be driving the car until there’s nothing left of me — the car’ll still be around. The car’s in better shape than I am.”