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Home Cooling 40-Year-Old Volvo

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Starring at an auto show near you, it’s “The 40-Year-Old Volvo,” a tale of a 1966 1800 that just keeps running, and running, and running. . .

By Debbie Briggs, Contributing Writer

When Irvin Gordon bought his sporty red 1966 Volvo 1800, or P1800 as it’s known in Europe, on June 30, 1966, he had no idea that he’d still be driving it 40 years later. But 2.5 million miles later, that’s exactly what’s happened, says the retired teacher from East Patchogue, NY.

“I’ve been averaging, since I retired in 1996, a little over a 100,000 miles a year on it,” Gordon said. The car’s odometer reading as of early January was 2,499,221 miles — just shy of the 2.5 million mile mark.

“I paid $4,150,” said Gordon, a former science teacher. “In fact, that was a whole year’s salary for me at that time.”

But he is quick to add that it’s the best $4,150 he’s ever spent. Considering that he’s never had any false starts — not even on the coldest of mornings — and you can begin to see why.

“The car was originally designed as a GT car, but it’s not a sports car, even though it’s sporty looking,” Gordon explained. “It’s not super-fast off the line and doesn’t have lots of horsepower. It’s just a very comfortable car and to be driven long distances. It would go hour after hour after hour. Obviously it’s lived up to its original reputation, which is one of the reasons why I still drive it.

“I don’t have back pains yet,” he added with a laugh. “After 40 years of driving the same car, the seats are still very comfortable. It’s a good solid road car. It’s very dependable, and I take it all over the place.”

When he says “all over the place,” he means it. In addition to traveling to the neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico, Gordon and his 1800 are often asked to appear at automotive industry events, most recently the SEMA and NACE shows in Las Vegas this past November, and the Philadelphia International Auto Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early February.

“If I get an invitation, usually it’s by Volvo or one of the Volvo dealers,” he said. “They ask me to take a ride, and I always look for an excuse to take a ride someplace. I’ve gotten to see a lot more of the country and the world as a result of that. I’ve had the car in Europe a couple of times. It’s been to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland and the UK. I was there for the 75th anniversary of Volvo in Sweden and the UK, which was neat because it’s always nice to go first class, you know?

“They ship the car over [to Europe], and then I drove it all over there. I put about 5,000 or 6,000 miles on it the last time I was there. I’m just waiting for an invitation to go to Australia with it. I’ve been there a couple of times, but the car hasn’t.”

You might notice that Gordon refers to his 1800 as “the car,” While he’s “never gotten to that point” with his 1800, it doesn’t mean he’s not a car guy; vintage cars are his forte. “I have a couple of antique cars besides the Volvo,” he said. “I have a 1923 Model T four-door sedan, I have a 1929 Packard seven-passenger touring car and I have a 1949 Crosley Hotshot, the first American sports car built after World War II.

“Since I’ve gotten to be so well known with my 1800,” he added, “and I get invited so many places with that car, I really haven’t had time for the other ones. They’re all sitting in the garage these days. I’m very rarely home.”

While he may be on the road a lot, Gordon still makes time for regular maintenance on the 1800. He has been faithfully taking his 1800 in for service to the original dealer he bought the car from in 1966, Volvoville USA in Massapequa, NY.

Some of the latest repairs to the Volvo have included replacing the generator brushes, a complete tune-up prior to driving out to the SEMA and NACE shows in Las Vegas and replacing the lower front A-frame bushings.

More recently, Gordon had snow tires mounted and balanced after encountering some of the white stuff in Virginia on the way back from the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Inclement weather, though, wasn’t the most difficult of driving conditions that Gordon has encountered in his travels; it was flying auto parts while on his way to Irvine, CA.

“I was on my way to Volvo headquarters in California,” he said. “There was one of those car carriers in front of me, and the chain broke with the cars on the top. The guy was carrying classic cars. This was at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I was on Interstate 40 someplace in Oklahoma at the time. Here I am driving along, and suddenly here are all these cars coming at me at 60 miles an hour, all going in different directions, and pieces and parts flying all over the place because they all crashed. Bumpers and grilles were flying. Fortunately I just missed each one of them. That was quite an experience.”

Aside from that mishap, Gordon said most of his travels are enjoyable. He especially likes driving along historic Route 66, which originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. “I always enjoy traveling across the country, and I like traveling out on Route 66,” he said. “I go out that way usually three or four trips a year. And of course going to Europe with the car that was a real treat because that was something I don’t get to do all the time.”

Having such a famous 1800 does have its perks. It was in 1978 when Gordon’s 1800 was first sought out for its high-mileage status.

“It all started when I got a call from my local Volvo dealer who said Volvo’s advertising company was searching all over the U.S. for high-mileage Volvos for an ad,” Gordon said. “They asked if I would be interested, and that was when I had 575,000 miles [on it] “After that, Volvo Cars of North America was keeping tabs on my car through my dealership to see if the car was still on the road and in what kind of shape the car was in. I was never contacted directly until I had almost 900,000 miles on my car. Since then, there has been tons of documentation on my car’s mileage as it has been driven to all of its appearances all over the U.S. as well as five countries in Europe, Canada and Mexico.”

It was in the mid-’90s when the Guinness Book of World Records certified the Volvo 1800 owned by Gordon as the Non-Commercial Vehicle Driven Most Miles by a Single Owner.

“Volvo Cars of North America contacted the Guinness Book of World Record folks and supplied them with certified documents, copies of service records from my Volvo dealer, newspaper, TV and radio interviews over the years and logs of my travels,” Gordon said. “The documentation consisted of several cartons of documents, including New York State inspection records that had my mileage on them.”

When he hit the 2 million mile mark, Volvo expressed their gratitude by giving Gordon a new 2002 Volvo. And while he’s appreciative of the gesture, the 1800 is still his car of choice. “I recently dropped the 2002 Volvo at a local body shop,” he says. “A taxi ran into the back of it while I was waiting at a traffic light in town. I’m glad it was that one and not the old one.”

That may sound strange in this age of “newer is better” — considering that for most people, even a five-year-old car is “old.” But in the end, although Gordon’s 1800 isn’t babied with a spot in the garage, it does have a special place in his heart. “I don’t allow the car to go anyplace without me,” he said. “I also will not allow anyone but myself to drive the car.”

Irv’s Volvo By the Numbers
  • 710 oil changes. Irv recommends changing motor oil every 3,500 miles.

  • 100,000-plus miles per year since retiring in 1996.

  • 0 false starts. Zero. Zip. Not even on the coldest of mornings.

  • 0 replaced engines. The Volvo P1800 still has its original engine, though it was rebuilt at around 675,000 miles.

  • 1 new starter.

  • $4,150. The cost of Irv’s Volvo P1800 back in 1966. “The best $4,150 I’ve ever spent.”

  • 99 tune-ups (every 25,000 miles).

  • 285 tanks of gas (the Volvo gets 25 miles per gallon).

Courtesy of Volvo Cars of North America

Repair Rundown

Every car needs repairs eventually, but the originality of Irv Gordon’s Volvo 1800 is impressive, as evidenced by his repair history.

“My most recent repairs were replacing my generator brushes, a complete tune-up before driving out to the SEMA and NACE shows in Las Vegas and replacing the lower front A-frame bushings,” Gordon said. “I also had to replace the oil cooler for the second time.”

  • The car still has its original transmission (but has had new front and rear seals).

  • The rear differential has been re-bushed with new axle seals once.

  • Universal joints are replaced approximately every 400,000 miles.

  • Main carrier bearing for the driveshaft has been replaced twice.

  • Brake pads are replaced approximately every 100,000 miles along with the tires.

  • Brake rotors have been replaced once. Rear brake drums are original.

  • Generator has its brushes replaced every 100,000 miles and rebuilt every 200,000 miles.

  • Engine was rebuilt at 675,000 miles. Head was converted to hardened valve seats and hardened valves to run on unleaded fuel

  • Water pump was replaced twice.

  • Distributor has been rebuilt once.

  • Carburetors are original but have the throttle shafts re-bushed every 900,000 miles.

  • Carburetors have been rebuilt once.

  • Windshield washer and pump are original.

  • Wiper motor and linkage are original.

  • Heater core has been rebuilt once.

  • Heater blower motor is original.

  • All switches and controls are original, including the steering wheel.

  • Radio (AM-FM) is original.

  • All upholstery is original except for front seat covers. Front seats have been recovered in leather twice.

  • Clutch is replaced approximately every 450,000 miles.

  • Clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder have been replaced/rebuilt five times.

  • Car has a stainless-steel exhaust system that has been in place since the early 1980s.

  • Radiator has been replaced/rebuilt twice. Once due to front-end damage in an accident and the second time due to old age leaks.

  • Oil cooler replaced twice (seems to last only 1,200,000 miles each).

Technical Specs

Model: P1800 / 1800
Variants: P 1800 S, 1800 S, 1800 E
Produced: 1961-1972
Volume: 39414
Body: Coupe 2+2 seater
Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line, overhead valves, 1,778 cc, 84.14 x 80 mm, 100 bhp at 5,500 rpm, increased in 1968 to 108 bhp at 5,800 rpm. A 2.0L, 1,986 cc (88.9 x 80 mm), carburetor version appeared in 1968, followed by a fuel-injection version in 1969, 120 bhp.
Transmission: 4-speed manual or 4-speed manual with overdrive or a 3-speed automatic, all with a floor-mounted gear lever.
Brakes: Hydraulic, discs at front and drums at rear, later models had discs for all wheels.
Dimensions: Overall length 440 cm,wheelbase 245 cm.
Courtesy of Volvo Cars of North America

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