How Irv Gordon Drove his 1966 Volvo P1800 Past 2.6 Million Miles

August 23, 2007

Editor’s note: I asked retired science teacher Irv Gordon to give a first-hand look at how he maintains his 1966 Volvo P1800 with 2.6 million miles on it. Below, Irv offers funny anecdotes, talks about how he keeps the car in great shape and philosophizes on life. Enjoy and don’t miss thephoto gallery of Irv’s car below.

John Dodge, editor-in-chief

Keeping a quality car on the road for a long time is no great secret but rather an "attitude" and a conscious effort to continue to do so once the "new car" appeal is over. The biggest hurdle which very few ever think about is buying a new car and what to expect from it. My philosophy is to buy the best quality car one can afford and one that is infinitely comfortable, as the driver can expect to spend a great deal of time in that car, especially with a million or more miles in mind. I purchased my Volvo for these reasons and Volvo’s reputation of safety, strength and durability, especially after my frustrating experience with two domestic manufactured automobiles.

I spent three hours road testing a 1966 Volvo 1800 before I decided to buy it. I bought it because I could find nothing I didn't like about it. The ride was most comfortable, all the controls were user friendly, the car handled just great and the ride was the best I had ever experienced.  Most people buy cars as an expedience, to keep up with the folks next door, to show off, or just figuring one feature ... such as fuel economy. They wind up with a car they grow to hate or disrespect and treat like a $20,000-$50,000 piece of junk. They beat on it, slam the doors, rarely if ever clean the car and eat/smoke in the car till it smells like an old movie theater and then decided not to spend any money to service it properly to the point the car begins to break down and the owner feels it is the car's fault. So much for going back into debt to purchase or lease another car and again repeat the cycle.

I try to understand the mechanisms within the car as the designers meant them to be used. I treat the car with respect not only when I am driving it but when it has taken me where I want to go. I don't eat or smoke in the car. I keep it clean under, inside and outside. I service it as the owner's manual called for ... figuring the manual was written by the engineers who built the car ... who knows better than they do?

I like mechanical things such as automobiles. In addition to the P1800, I also own the following: a 2002 C70 Volvo, a 1987 740 Turbo Volvo, a 1929 Packard 7 passenger touring car, a 1923 Model T Ford Fordor Sedan and a 1949 Crosley Hot Shot ... the first American Sports car. They are certainly enough to keep me busy when I am home and all is going well.

Unfortunately, I do not have a garage for any of the Volvos...never did. The P1800 has been outside for 41 years and continues to live in the elements ... just a block or two from the ocean and its salty winds. The car is driven daily summer and winter, through snow, ice, rain, etc. It has never failed to take me where I wanted to go and never broken down en-transit. I guess those engineers really knew what they were talking about regarding service schedules. After all, a machine is only as good as the service it gets.

The engine gets regular oil changes and a new Volvo oil filter ... every 3,000-3,500 miles. Clean oil seems to be the key to longevity and is a lot cheaper than an engine replacement. I have made it a point to be meticulous about such things since the car was new. The points get replaced every 20-25,000 miles along with the spark plugs. Fuel filters and air filters are replaced as necessary as are belts and hoses. Replacing the fuel pump (mechanical) every million miles or so is no big deal … nor is rebushing the carburetor (two SU’s) throttle bushings every 900,000 miles or so. The same goes for the oil cooler. Nothing is forever as they say … but one can try to see just how long they can make things last. Even after commuting on the Long Island Expressway (The World’s Longest Parking Lot) for 35 years, the car has continued to provide yeoman service. The engine was only apart once … for a complete rebuild at my insistence when it had 680,000 miles as I had never heard of an engine capable of such mileage while continuing to run trouble free.

I change the transmission fluid every 25,000 miles (as per the owner’s manual) and use multi-weight gear oil. So far, even after all 2.5 million miles … the transmission is trouble free. I have had the 3rd gear synchro changed as well as the front and rear oil seals on the transmission. People seem amazed at such a sterling repair record, but then again, I have had the displeasure to ride in other people’s cars who think they are off to the races every time they brake or shift while making their passengers nauseous. Between riding the clutch at every opportunity and hard shifting, which puts strain on the entire drive mechanism as well as the passengers, one can imagine why so many people dislike taking long trips in a car and the drive train is always in need of repairs. That of course is a good thing for me as it cuts the competition for long distance trips down. My dad always taught me to imagine I had a glass of water on the dash. When changing gears, I was to try to not spill a drop of water in the process. I can see he knew more than I gave him credit for at the time.

The steering box is untouched at this time and again, I use multi-weight gear oil to lubricate it. Yes, even though it is not a power steering unit it does require maintenance but no repairs have ever been done up to this time. It amazes me that it continues to provide comfortable driving at all speeds. I guess there is something to say for “Armstrong Steering” as provided in pre-power steering equipped cars. Then again, I have never had a steering repair on any of the many cars I have owned up to now.

I believe in using the best tires I can afford and have tried almost every major brand since I started driving. I have been using Bridgestone Pontenzas for the past 36 years as I have found them to be the most durable and their ability to handle any kind of weather is unsurpassed for the type of driving I do.

The body has held up remarkably well for the conditions it lives in. No garage, no car cover (as it would have worn the paint off by putting it on and off every day), and living such a short distance from salt water. The car is on the road every day and therefore takes a beating from the sun, acid rain and the birds. It has required minor surgery for cosmetic reasons such as replacement of the rocker panels and the rear wheel arches many years ago. Other than careless drivers who have decided to change the looks of my car from time to time always when the car has been parked, body work has been minimal.

It sure would be nice if Volvo Cars of North America would provide some help in keeping the car on the road … even a box of oil filters or air filters from time to time would be appreciated. After several discussions regarding such sponsorship, I found that their philosophy, and rightly so even though I hate to admit it, is that, “If we support the car, then people would think that with such resources, anyone could keep their car going for millions and millions of miles ... However, what you (me) have done and keep on doing is to show everyone that anyone can keep a Volvo going for millions and millions of miles by just following simple service schedules and purchasing replacement parts from over the counter at their local Volvo dealer.”  I still think it would be nice to get a Christmas or birthday present of some filters or an occasional case of motor oil. LOL.

Then again, I wouldn’t refuse some support from one of the major gasoline companies either. Guess I am just as shallow as most other folks I know!!

Volvo has only used my car twice in a magazine ad and it was extremely subtle, so much so that you had to look hard to see my name or my car mentioned. However, the Parts Department has used it in some professional magazines and some of their shows/conventions for professional mechanics and body shop owners. For the past 15 years or so, I have been asked to appear at the national SEMA and NACE shows where my car and I have been on display to answer questions. Lately, the shows have been in Las Vegas, which is about 2,500 miles each way from my home and of course I drive there and back as always.

After 41 years of ownership, I am pretty well aware of how to fix almost everything. However, those things that require a lift go to the same mechanic (Nino Gambino) who has kept me on the road all these years. Not only is he my favorite mechanic at the dealership where I purchased my car but a good friend as well.

When I passed the first million miles in 1987, Volvo held a party and press conference at the Tavern on the Green in New York City where they gave me the keys to a new 780 Bertone Coupe. I recently sold that car to a friend in Holland with approx. 470,000 miles on it and it still runs like new. When I passed the two million mile mark, Volvo held another party in conjunction with their 75th anniversary of being in business at the WABC Studios in Times Square, New York City where they presented me with the keys to a new C70 coupe, which now only has about 50,000 miles because I spend most of my time in my 1800. I guess what Volvo didn’t provide in terms of oil and air filters is certainly made up by giving me a whole new car, including its own filters already installed. LOL.

Since the car has passed so many milestones, the car has provided Volvo with much free advertising, as my accomplishment is really just a human interest story. I don’t have any aspirations of grandeur but just enjoy what I do and continue to meet some of the nicest people in the world as well as people in the auto business that I would never have had the opportunity to meet as a regular citizen. I have been invited places I would never have even thought to go on my own but it seems the car and I make a great couple and it has taken me to five European countries as well as all over the USA, Canada and Mexico. Because of my car, I have friends all over the world and have two friends from Australia coming to spend a few days with me next week. Yes, I even got to go to Australia because of my car.

I have had so many funny things happen to me while traveling with my car. Once while I was in the hills of Wyoming on my way to Warm Springs, OR, I stopped at a local restaurant for coffee. While I was enjoying my break from the road I suddenly noticed I was the only one in the restaurant including the staff. I looked around and everyone was outside looking at my car having never seen anything like it before. Another time I was on I-80 at a rest area in Indiana and while sitting, minding my own business having yet another cup of coffee while taking a break from the highway, I saw two burly truck drivers walk in and shout at me, “HEY YOU!!”  Thinking I must have done something wrong and I was about to get into a fight, they walked over and asked if I was the guy they had just seen on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno! WHEW!! Another time, very late at night, I was in Green River, WY and pulled into a convenience store for a package of gum. When I came out, there was a group of teenagers surrounding my car. I thought, "Uh oh, I am going to have trouble here." It turned out that they had never seen a car like mine and wanted to know if it was a prototype of new cars to come with fins! It turned out they just wanted to know all about the car and were very polite. Stories go on regarding all the interesting people the car has introduced me to and I keep in touch with many of them through the Internet when I am not traveling. When I am, I look forward to stopping by to see them again and again.

Why trade in or get rid of a car that continues to provide safe, comfortable and dependable transportation, all with timeless good looks? I cannot see any reason to sell the car or trade it in for a newer model. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new Volvos and I love AC, power everything, a wonderful stereo and lots of power, but my 1800 has become more than a part of me. I am divorced from my ex-wife, but my car seems to still love me so how could I be so cruel? Most likely I will pass on while in that car. Perhaps I can be stuffed and put behind the wheel and the two of us can be together in some museum one of these days. The car has given me a new meaning to the word “retirement.” If I were to sell the car, I would not get invited to anything fun or anyplace interesting any longer. No one would want to see me. After all, the car does all the work and I just go along for the ride.

All photos courtesy of Irv Gordon



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