By now, Irv Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 coupe has become the stuff of legend. Certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-mileage, one-owner, non-commercial vehicle in the world, Gordon has spent much of the past 47 years behind the wheel. In a few months, Gordon plans to cross three million miles in his Volvo — a distance equal to driving to the moon 12.5 times.
Many people find the story too incredible to believe; after all, to hit three million miles means Gordon has to average 63,000 miles a year for nearly half a century. But Gordon, 73, a retired schoolteacher from Long Island, has the records to back it up; shortly after buying the car, he was behind the wheel for a 125-mile daily commute, and put 500,000 miles on in 10 years. Even today, Gordon says he's prone to just hopping in the car for a road trip of several hundred miles, averaging 5,000 miles a month — although once you pass two million miles in front of a crowd in Times Square, as Gordon did in 2002, driving does become its own reward.
Other doubters express some version of the "grandpa's hammer" dilemma, questioning whether Gordon has had so many parts replaced on the P1800 that it's essentially a new car. Gordon admits to fastidious repairs, but says the Volvo's engine is all original, and has been rebuilt only twice in its run. Normal pieces that fall victim to wear have been swapped out, but the big stuff — including the transmission and rear-end — remain as it was from the dealership.
Gordon has visited almost every state and most interstates, expecting to cross the threshold in September in Alaska, one of two states he hasn't visited yet. And while the car has become a classic, and modern cars offer the promise of five decades worth of engineering improvements, Gordon can rightly claim a mantle that appears increasingly unique in a world where travel costs keep rising and congested roads have become the norm.
"I'm realizing this will be a record that no one will surpass," he said. "So, these next few thousands of miles will be special and sentimental for me."
Full disclosure: The author has one-tenth of Gordon's mileage on his Volvo wagon.
- Irv Gordon