"Two-Million-Mile Volvo Irv" rolls into town
By Clint Thomas, Autobeat, July, 2004
When Irv Gordon rolled his sleek, red Volvo P1800 into Smith Company Motor Cars' Volvo dealership on Corridor G at Southridge this past Wednesday, his odometer rolled over another digit to 2,245,023 miles.
Yes, that is a Guinness Book of World Records number, and it keeps on rising.
An East Patchogue, N.Y., resident, Gordon drove into Smith Company Motor Cars on July 7, having seen its listing as a Charleston Volvo dealership, on his way from Blooming Prairie, Minn., to a Volvo club meeting in Danville, Va.
In Search of a Durable Set of Wheels
A fresh-out-of-college Gordon purchased his Volvo P1800 on June 30, 1966. He bought the car from a Long Island dealership that still services it (and where Gordon worked part time for 15 years).
"I was a schoolteacher who had owned two Chevys that had given me nothing but grief and aggravation," he said. "I had a 125-mile commute each day; I needed a car that was reliable. A friend of mine showed me a P1800 in Road & Track and Car & Driver magazine, so I took one for a test drive."
He paid $4,150 for the new P1800. ("I couldn't afford the convertible," he explained, "which was a little over $5,000, about the same as a Corvette then.") He said Volvo manufactured only 55 of the cars.
Since then, he said, the P1800 has needed little more than regular maintenance and upkeep. He uses Volvo parts strictly and has had the engine rebuilt only once, in 1978, after it had logged 680,000 miles.
"This past May, I replaced the fuel pump for the first time since 1978," Gordon noted.
The car still gets 30 to 35 miles per gallon on the highway and 25 mpg or so in city driving, he added.
A Driving Advertisement for Volvo
The P1800's uncanny endurance has garnered Gordon far-reaching notoriety as an unofficial spokesman for Volvo, but he said recognition was slow in coming.
"When I had reached 250,000 miles and never had a single major repair, not counting regular maintenance, I wrote a letter to Volvo to tell them the car had been terrific," Gordon recounted.
"They wrote me back and said, 'We're glad you're happy. Don't forget to buckle up and have a nice day.'
"When I reached 500,000 miles and wrote them again, someone in their public relations department wrote back and said, 'Don't forget to buckle up and have a nice day.'
"I've saved those letters."
The P1800 attained its Guinness world-record status in September 1998 when it reached 1,696,000 miles. The odometer surpassed two million miles in March 2002.
A Hero's Welcome
Smith Company Motor Cars owner Jed Smith and his staff were caught unawares by Gordon's impromptu appearance, but the surprise was swiftly, warmly received.
"The funny thing is, a few days ago, my dad sent me an article about him from the Times-Union in Jacksonville," said Smith. "I'd known about Irv since he had hit the million-mile mark, but just to have him and the car here by happenstance is a delight and a chance for me to meet one of my heroes."
Since retiring in 1996, Gordon has driven the P1800 to as many places as he's invited and his schedule allows.
"If I have time to go, I'll go," he said. "I have a list of Volvo dealerships around the country, and sometimes I decide to stop by and just say hello."
He arrived in Charleston from the Minneapolis area, he said, where he had been invited to bring the P1800 and sample a Juicy Lucy cheeseburger. ("It's an inside-out cheeseburger; the cheese is inside the burger," he said.)
Asked the P1800's attraction level as a chick magnet, Gordon replied dryly, "Let's just say it's a nice way to meet people."
And how much would it cost to buy his record-holding vehicle from him?
"I tell people, 'It'll cost you a dollar per mile.'"
Gordon said he will return to his New York home shortly for an oil change and to take care of personal business. Later this year, he's off to automobile shows in California, Canada and plenty of points between.
After 38 years and two million-plus miles, Gordon has no intention of selling the P1800 or donating it to a museum any time soon.
"I'm going out with it," he said with questionable earnestness. "I'm getting stuffed behind the steering wheel when I go. Sort of like Roy Rogers did with Trigger."