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swamprat
06-29-2009, 08:31 AM
Nearly 600,000 miles later, her '64 Mercury is still a sweet ride

Steven Cole Smith |Sentinel Staff Writer June 29, 2009 http://www.orlandosentinel.com/media/photo/2009-06/47765312.jpg
'Chariot' has outlasted 6 mufflers and 16 batteries while shuttling Rachel Veitch, 90, around Orlando since 1964. (RED HUBER, ORLANDO SENTINEL / June 25, 2009)


Rachel Veitch, who's 90 years old, bought her last car in 1964. Forty-five years and 558,000 miles later, the Mercury Comet Caliente she calls "Chariot" is still on the road. So what's the secret for keeping a car running for more than a half-million miles? Just taking care of it.

"I was never a destructive child," said Veitch, a retired nurse from east Orlando who works as an office volunteer for the Orlando Police Department several days a week. "I still have the first doll I was ever given. I've taken care of most everything I've ever had, except for husbands."

How many husbands? She holds up three fingers. "I'll tell you something: This little Chariot has never lied to me, never cheated on me, and I can always depend on it."

These days, she and Chariot are working toward 600,000 miles, "and I'll make that," she says, "if I live long enough. I tell people, 'Except for the congestive heart failure, a stroke and a double mastectomy, I'm in great shape!'"






Veitch, who has a complete set of the car's maintenance records, has the oil changed every 3,000 miles. She buys her own oil and filters because she doesn't trust the products sold by the oil-change places.

Her longtime mechanic retired, and now her son takes care of Chariot. And when something comes up he can't handle, they find a professional.


Lifetime warranties

Veitch is big on buying replacement parts that have lifetime guarantees.

"It's had seven mufflers, and it's about time for a new one," she says. "I've had 17 lifetime J.C. Penney (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/topic/economy-business-finance/jc-penney-company-inc.-ORCRP008424.topic) batteries [and] three lifetime sets of shock absorbers from Sears."

She and Chariot have become an Internet sensation, thanks to several videos of her and her car posted on GrowingBolder.com, an Orlando-based site targeted at people older than 50. The original video of Veitch and Chariot on GrowingBolder.com has been viewed more than 1.7million times.

Veitch bought Chariot new from a dealer in Sanford for $3,289, which wasn't cheap in 1964.

"It's a deluxe model," she says, "with an automatic transmission, power steering, the premium interior, wheel covers," and air conditioning that still blows cold air.

Well, cool air.

Veitch drives carefully, confidently.

"It still drives the way it did when it was new," she says. One feature she added to Chariot was cruise control after the police caught her going 92 mph.

"The speed just creeps up," she says, "and you don't even notice it."

Chariot has been through a lot, including a collision on a highway where it was rear-ended by another car. Her insurance company told her it was totaled.

"No, it isn't," she told them, and proceeded to find parts to fix it.

Chariot's latest woes

More recently, Chariot's engine began sputtering and backfiring, and no one could find the problem. Veitch was a wreck: It was possible, she thought, that Chariot's days were over.

Enter a repair facility in DeLand called Dyno-Tune, and George Lyons, one of the owners. It has an in-house dynamometer a device that let Lyons strap down the car, put the rear wheels on huge rollers and "drive" it in the shop.

"I was able to get the car up to 60 mph," Lyons said, and he diagnosed an unusual ignition problem. He fixed it, and Chariot again purrs.

Lyons said a car with mileage as high as Chariot is rare, but "if you take care of your vehicle, get it serviced, don't abuse it, it can last a very long time."

Veitch, who has taken Chariot to car shows for decades, has a dozen trophies and plaques from car clubs.

She has had multiple offers for her car but has no interest in selling it.

"One man got quite ugly about it he said, 'Everything has a price!' So I told him, '$43,000! That's my price!' He went away.

"My little car is so faithful," she adds. "And I enjoy it so much. And, my gosh, look at the cars on the road now I don't think any of them are as pretty as my little Chariot."

Steven Cole Smith can be reached at 407-420-5699, scsmith@orlandosentinel.com or through his blog at Enginehead.com (http://enginehead.com/).

Eric
06-29-2009, 08:57 AM
I'm especially amazed that the body has lasted that long! Cars of that era had strong/sometimes over-built engines that would last an amazingly long time if treated gently. But rust protection was almost nonexistent and the car bodies of that time have countless water trap areas (moldings, for example) and were very vulnerable to the elements. I wonder whether this car has been in the body shop for rust repair over the years... ?

swamprat
06-29-2009, 09:50 AM
True, Eric, but this is a Florida car. Florida cars and many in the South didn't rust like the vehicles up north. Now, if it was a coastal car, say that was at Miami, Naples, or the Cape, that's a different story. Since she probably kept it in a garage in Orlando, there's a good chance it has minimal rust.

I liked those Comets. I took a few pics of one at a car show a while back in Feb.

ChevyMan
06-30-2009, 07:13 PM
I don't know when it happened but I was surprised when I noticed the glass in the passenger side door mirror had fallen off-christ, I don't know where--so I had to go online to try and locate a new assembly for my '76 Impala from a used auto parts dealer, and what do ya know, a place informed me that they can have one shipped to me in Wahiawa for 6.99 (most likely that do not include shipping), but I dunno. It looks like only that much since I already gave them my approval for payment on my Discover card. Hope things will work A-okay!
I can go with a broken heater or air conditioner or what else, but I certainly will need an outside rear view mirror, don't you think? Comes in handy when you have to reverse the car in a tight spot!