By Skip Knowles, founder of the Old Car Festival in Vicksburg
We were saddened to get the news of the death of a longtime friend of the Old Car Festival. Irv Gordon passed away on November 16, 2018 while traveling in China on a promotional trip with Volvo Motors. He was 78 years old.
Irv became a friend, family member and frequent visitor to the Vicksburg Old Car Festival. He first drove into our lives when he responded to a request for a celebrity auction item in 1988, a year after he had turned 1,000,000 miles on his 1966 Volvo P1800S and became known as the “Million Mile Man”. He promptly returned to us a signed Volvo poster featuring him in a tux with his car and promoting the achievement for Volvo. Also with the poster came a letter telling us he was honored to be considered a celebrity. I made a phone call to him asking him if he would consider attending the Car Festival in 1989 as our special guest.
To my delight he responded that he would love to. Irv was a middle school science teacher and, to my amazement, he jumped into his car as soon as school was out on Friday and drove all night from New York to be at the Car Festival bright and early on Saturday to display his car and meet our town. He was very popular, telling people about maintaining his car and how he came to put that many miles on it. He spent the day with us and Sunday morning jumped back in his car and drove back to Long Island to be in the classroom Monday morning.
This was just the first of many visits to our Festival and the beginning of a long family friendship with him. Anytime that he was in the area he would stop and spend a few days with us or just simply stop to have a cup of coffee on his way through to yet another destination.
Irv used to tell us that he never intended to set any mileage record, let alone be the Guinness record holder. He had purchased a brand new Corvair saying that “he liked the way the car looked and rode” but the shine quickly wore off as the car broke down four blocks from the dealer the night he bought it. A few months later and looking for a “reliable ride,” he walked into Volvoville in Huntington, New York and test drove a P1800S. It was love at first sight even with its $4,150 sticker price, which was close to a full year’s salary for the science teacher. He traded in the Corvair and that Friday night picked up the car and drove it through the weekend, returning to the dealer on Monday for the 1,000 mile checkup.
Irv explained that he simply loved to drive the car, he loved a road trip, and loved his daily commute to work, which was 125 miles. When his car hit 250,000 miles, he decided he would see how many miles it would go. He said, “I wrote to Volvo to tell them I had never had a single repair on the car, simply the required maintenance. They wrote me back with a very short letter that said, ‘We are happy you’re happy with the product, don’t forget to buckle up’”.
Irv wrote again at 500,000 miles and they began to track the car and when he turned 1,000,000 miles, Volvo gave Irv a new Volvo 780 coupe. When he and the P1800S reached 1,690,000 miles in 1998, he set the Guinness World Record for the “highest certified mileage driven by the original owner in non-commercial service.”
Continuing his quest, he turned 2,000,000 miles in 1987 live, in Times Square on Good Morning America and then in 2013 he turned 3,000,000 miles in Alaska and was featured in several Volvo TV Commercials.
Irv loved his car and loved driving it whether it was to the Old Car Festival, the Spam Festival, celebrity fundraisers, appearing on both Jay Leno and David Letterman or driving to special appearances for Volvo and Castrol to promote their products. He left a mark on everyone he met. His travels earned him his own name tag at Waffle House and took him to 49 States, Europe several times, Australia, Dubai and China. Not bad for a guy who one evening took delivery on a 1966 Volvo P1800S and fell in love with driving it. Rest in peace our friend. You will be missed by all of us!
Footnote: The car is in the hands of his daughter and at the time of his death registered 3,260,257 miles. There has been no decision at this time as to what the future for the car is.
Volvo Car USA Statement: It is with great sadness that Volvo Car USA learned of Irv Gordon’s passing yesterday.
We’ve been lucky to be along for Irv’s countless adventures, perhaps none more monumental than when he passed three million miles in his red 1966 P1800S in 2013 in Alaska, a record that no other individual has accomplished in more than 100 years of automobile manufacturing.
Irv never set out to break world records. To him, he was simply living his life in his Volvo. And today, we celebrate his legendary life.