Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Go, Granny, Go.
The last time Rachel Veitch bought a car, gas cost 39 cents per gallon, Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House and "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" was a hit song on the radio.
Nearly 600,000 miles later, the 90-year-old Florida woman still drives her 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente every day.
Veitch, of Orlando, credits her meticulous care and near-obsessive dedication to her car -- she calls it "Chariot" -- as the reason it's still turning over every morning, year after year after year. The retired nurse maintains an exhaustive collection of maintenance records and changes the oil every 3,000 miles.
"When I buy gas, I write down the mileage, the date and how many miles per gallon I got." "I've never been a destructive person and I've just taken care of everything, except my husbands."
Veitch, a mother of four, bought "Chariot" in February 1964 from a dealer in Sanford, Fla., for $3,289. The car has outlasted her three marriages and has gone through eight mufflers, at least 17 batteries and three sets of shocks. Its odometer recently clicked 559,000 miles.
"My Chariot has never lied to me or cheated on me and I can always depend on her," Veitch said. "My last husband and I divorced in 1975 and he took the 1972 Pontiac we had and I kept Chariot. I'll bet he's traded cars half a dozen times by now and I still have my Chariot, my faithful pal."
Veitch said the classic car — which boasts automatic transmission, frosty air conditioning and a "lousy" 15 miles per gallon — has been featured in several car shows across the country and took her all the way to Pennsylvania in 2007 for her 70th high school reunion. Classmates and neighbors alike are sick of the same old story, she said.
"People don't want to talk to me anymore," Veitch said. "They're tired of hearing about my Chariot."
Veitch's dream car saw its lone renovation about 12 years ago, after she got a speeding ticket for going 92 mph in a 55 mph zone.
"After that, I put in cruise control," she said. "You can't hold her down, she's a feisty old girl."
The car also survived a rear-end collision while Veitch drove along I-95 in Georgia in 1980. She was not injured.
Classic car experts say the 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente would likely sell for about $3,000 in mint condition, or up to $12,000 if it was restored to new. But Veitch says she'll never sell.
With any luck, Veitch said, "Chariot" will end up in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., a testament to a woman who cared for a single car for 45 years.