Irv Gordon stands beside his 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon stands beside his 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams; photos by Grant Yoxon

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1966 Volvo P1800S

New York, New York – A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Swedish car company known for its reliable sedans and boxy station wagons decided to build a sports car. Its engineers huddled together over glasses of aquavit and concluded that an Italian company called Frua should design the car. Mr. Frua didn’t disappoint. His team created a swoopy GT with fins and chrome, two seats and a long hood. It was called the Volvo P1800.

A dashing adventurer, Simon Templar, drove a white one in a popular British TV series, and thousands of kilometres away in the New World, Irv Gordon of Long Island, New York, was moved to write a cheque for the full asking price of $4,150 so that he could extend his enjoyable three-hour test drive indefinitely. His was Cherry Red.

Irv Gordon's 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon’s 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

Little did Mr. Gordon know this his 1966 Volvo P1800 was going to become world famous — perhaps the most celebrated Volvo on the planet — and that he, himself, would be interviewed by award-winning journalists from in the year 2008 (along with quite a few other journalists along the way, it must be said…).

By that time Mr. Gordon would have driven his car an unbelievable (but true) 2.6 million miles (over four-million kilometres, and counting), and he would be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person who has achieved, “the highest certified mileage driven by the original owner [of a vehicle] in non-commercial service.”

It’s true that Volvo has always promoted its vehicles as long-lasting… but 2.6 million miles? And counting?

“I used to commute a lot,” explains a smiling Mr. Gordon, who drove his car about 125 miles a day to and from work (he was a science teacher, now retired). He also allows that he loves his car and would often go for long drives whenever the mood and opportunity presented itself.

Irv Gordon's 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon’s 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

“When I hit 250,000 miles I sent a note to Volvo, thinking that they might be interested,” relates Mr. Gordon, one eyebrow hovering for effect. “They sent me a note telling me that they were happy I liked the car; don’t forget to buckle up and have a nice day!”

He did the same thing when he reached 500,000 miles. “Make sure you buckle up,” said Volvo. “And have a nice day!”

Mr. Gordon decided to have the engine rebuilt in 1977 at 680,000 miles. “I figured it must need it,” he reflects. It turned out that the engine components weren’t in danger of failing, and that everything was within specifications. He hasn’t had the engine rebuilt since (although lately he’s thinking it must be due).

As for the rest of the car, the front grille and valence were replaced after a tractor-trailer backed into him, and the bumper and fenders were damaged and repaired after he was rear-ended by an Oldsmobile. The rocker panels were replaced, but the floors are good. The seats are original, but the leather covers were replaced and the rubber strapping that supports the seat foam has been renewed several times. In 1987 the car was repainted using the correct Cherry Red colour code with a modern base coat/clear coat and UV filters to reduce fading. And every 10-years or so, Mr. Gordon has the front fenders and hood painted due to the stone chips he acquires on his travels. But basically, this is the car he bought 42 years ago.

Irv Gordon's 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon’s 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

Mr. Gordon is a stickler for maintenance, though. Regular oil changes and lubrication at the dealer; brakes, three new oil coolers, hoses, a new water pump, a new starter, tune-ups every 25,000 kilometres (that would be four or five times per year for Mr. Gordon…).

As he approached one million miles, executives at Volvo finally started to pay attention. After all, here’s a company that promotes its vehicles as durable, safe, reliable and well-engineered; and here’s a million-mile Volvo that looked pretty much as-new, still going strong. It’s kind of a public relations no-brainer.

In 1987, with one-million miles on the P1800, Volvo responded by giving Mr. Gordon a new Bertone 780 sedan. A nice second car thought Mr. Gordon, which he set about driving for 15 years and 450,000 miles (720,000 km) while maintaining his seat-time behind the wheel of the P1800.

“I thought about having the highest mileage 780 on the planet at one time, while doing my best to keep the 1800 up to it’s usual pace,” recalls Mr. Gordon. “It caused more health problems for me than the cars…constantly being on the road…little sleep and poor diet…got me a ticket into a hospital for six weeks.”

Irv Gordon's 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon’s 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

Now he focuses on the P1800 and the many events and functions he attends with that car. True, he has racked up some mileage on the C70 Coupe that he selected from the Volvo line-up to commemorate driving two-million miles (3.2 million km) in 2002. But he acknowledges that the P1800 is more than enough to keep him busy.

“I’ve been to England with the 1800; to Sweden, to Canada. I’ve driven it on just about every road in the U.S., and I can’t count the number of people I’ve met and friends I’ve made because of this. It’s been great, and still is!” he says.

In case you’re wondering, Irv Gordon always buys Bridgestone tires. He doesn’t have a deal with Bridgestone, or officially endorse them. But he thinks they’re the best tire.

And he doesn’t work for Volvo, or get paid to tell people how great his car is. Volvo does invite him to events like SEMA to show off his car, and they pay for his fuel and accommodation. But they don’t send his car to Sweden where specialist technicians rebuild it every year. He wants you to be clear about that.

“I have the service done myself, at the same Volvo dealer I’ve used for the past 25 years,” says Irv (after a while, it’s easy to slip into first names with Irv Gordon). “They know my car, and so do I,” he adds.

Irv Gordon's 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800
Irv Gordon’s 2.6 million mile 1966 Volvo P1800S. Click image to enlarge

Even though he’s a busy guy, and was preparing to attend the 2008 New York Auto Show the next day when we met him near his home on Long Island (as were we), Irv found time to give Autos Senior Editor Paul Williams a quick spin in his celebrated car.

On the road, the P1800 is narrow by today’s standards, its little rear lights have their work cut out among bigger, taller vehicles in the evening traffic (even though Irv has prudently enhanced them with LED bulbs). The ride is comfortable and Irv deftly works the steering wheel, clutch and shifter as if they are extensions of his own limbs. The four-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly, with its Laycock de Normanville overdrive still working well. The heater is surprisingly effective (even without the fan turned on!) and all the controls and gauges work as designed. The 1.8-litre engine pulls willingly, but its 115 horsepower, while more than adequate in the 1960s, is modest by today’s standards. It’s a relaxed, pleasant drive, however, and you can tell how nice it would be on a long trip. It has that great vintage car smell, as well.

“It’s never let me down,” Irv says of the P1800. “It’s always started, I drive it 12-months a year through sun, rain and snow, and I don’t let anyone drive my cars…ever!! Perhaps that is why they last so long and never give me problems.”

But it’s clear that he also believes in the Volvo brand. “I’ve seen reports of other high mileage cars,” he observes, “and they’ve gone through three engines, five transmissions, and they’re rusted out.”

With the P1800 it’s about maintenance and proper care, says Irv.

“And,” he adds sincerely, “It’s got to be pretty good to begin with, don’t you think?”

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