The Isetta Saga, Chapter 32: 2010’s Retirement Affords Lots More Time for Shows

December 23, 2009 was my final day of work at Volvo Cars of North America, where I had been employed for over 23 years. For the first time since college graduation, I was free of daily obligations. I had every intention of resuming my career, but with my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take some time off.

As 2010 dawned, I looked at the collector car calendar and could foresee upping my participation above what had already been a busy schedule. While the garage held both the ’68 Mustang and the Isetta, I decided to look for opportunities to get the Isetta out more. The additional time needed to load and unload the car would be less of an issue now.

In addition to attendance at the 2010 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, I had the time to also take part in these activities:

APRIL: RAMAPO HIGH SCHOOL CAR SHOW

My friend Larry, who lives in the vicinity of this school, made me aware of this show, which sounded like fun. It was also a chance to lend support to a bunch of teenagers who wanted to experience the makings of a car show in their own back yard.

The kids of course, enjoyed my car, and I in turn enjoyed the variety of vehicles in attendance. Two young men floored me, as they showed me around their VW bus while wearing tie-dye shirts. Flashing the peace sign was their idea, not mine!

MAY: AACA NJ REGION ANNUAL CAR SHOW

I had only recently become a member of the NJ Chapter, so none of my mates in the club had seen the Isetta yet. Entering the microcar in the same class as the American iron of the ‘50s meant that it was up against some very stiff competition (it also looked like a toy next to these ‘50s gargantuans). 

My friend Ron, whom I knew from the multiple New England 1000 rallies we’ve run together, showed up in his ’55 T-Bird and parked next to me. Lo and behold, when it was time to depart, his Bird wouldn’t start! Ron knew the car became fuel-starved because of a hot soak issue, and he said that all he needed to get going was a bit of fuel to pour into the carb. But where to get that fuel? From the Isetta’s fuel tap!

MAY: NESHANIC STATION MEMORIAL DAY PARADE

We were getting good at parade participation, and this one was close enough to my house that I could actually drive the 3 miles back and forth, and I did! My stalwart friend Richard Sweeney did not miss the chance to ride in the car, and waved to the crowd as if he were the mayor.

JULY: BREAKFAST AND ISETTA RIDES AT THE REINAS

As a changeup from the typical Sunday morning breakfast drive, I emptied my garage of cars, set up a table and chairs, brought out the electric griddle and coffee pot from the kitchen, and invited a bunch of the regulars down to breakfast. (My wife said it looked like I could move in there; perhaps that was a hint….) Even Irv Gordon made it (after receiving the invite, he called me up and asked “Rich, do you think the guys would mind if I drove the C70 instead of the 1800? I want to ride in air conditioning”.)

We had something of a mini car show on the lawn and in the driveway, and for anyone brave enough, rides up and down the road in the rolling egg were freely offered.

AUGUST: DAS AWKSCHT FESCHT, MAGUNGIE PA

This show, held in the charming town of Macungie PA since the 1960s, wins the award for “car show name with greatest ratio of consonants to vowels”. I’ve attended “Macungie” as we call it (easier to say) since the early ‘80s, as it was a known gathering spot for microcar owners.

There was no contingent of micro units this year, but I did manage to secure a shady spot on what was a typical hot and humid summer day. This show has always prided itself on an eclectic variety of display vehicles, typically arranged by year, make, and model. One particular memory is of a young woman who described herself to me as an artist. Having gone through my restoration photos, she seemed to take great delight in informing me that I too, was “an artist”. I accepted the compliment!

By the autumn of 2010, I was back to work, albeit only on a part-time basis. With the show calendar quickly coming to a close, I was already anticipating more of the same in 2011.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Remembering Irv Gordon

Irv Gordon passed away last week. It is almost impossible to be in the old-car hobby and not know about Irv and his claim to fame. In 1966, he purchased a brand new ’66 Volvo 1800S coupe, and proceeded to spend the next 50 years driving it everywhere. He eventually surpassed three million miles in the car, and although he spoke of retiring it (Volvo corporate had already gifted him 3 new Volvos), I read that at the time of his death the 1800 had 3.2 million miles on it.

As an employee of Volvo Cars North America, I had more than a passing relationship with the man. While I likely had met him at one corporate event or the other in the 1990’s, it was during my time as a field service representative on Long Island that he and I became friendly.

As I strolled into the service department of Volvoville one morning, there was Irv, sitting in the service area, shuffling some paperwork. At that time, in the late 1990’s, he had a part-time gig at the dealer, performing test drives and attending to some administrative chores. Parked on the street around the corner from the store was the red 1800, of course, as he used it to commute to work. He used it to fetch a cup of coffee in Boston, and he used it to join dealer events in Oregon. How do you think he got to 3,000,000 miles?

Early in our friendship, I asked him, “Irv, what’s the secret your success?” With a pause and a twinkle in his eye, he replied “a strong bladder”. Watching him in action, he had a ready smile, a quick wit, and the patience to answer whatever questions were put to him. Frequently, he would be standing near the car while being questioned, and not one to waste a moment, he’d check various fluids as he spoke. I learned about Irv’s fastidiousness when I watched him pull the dipstick to check the oil level, but then use the few droplets on the end of the stick to lube his hood hinges!

Later, in the early 2000s, I traveled to SEMA with a group of fellow VCNA employees, and Irv was on that trip too. Watching him at SEMA was like watching a rock star, but one who had some degree of modesty attached. Generosity was another trait that perhaps few saw, but I clearly recall one holiday season at Volvo HQ when Irv showed up with several cases to wine to give out to employees.

Irv’s C70 coupe at my house; it may have had “only” 100k on it

In the summer of 2010, my wife and I hosted a breakfast at our home for a few of our hobbyist friends. Irv was on the invite list, and I was thrilled that he accepted. The day before breakfast, Irv called me. “Hey Rich, do you think the guys will mind if I drive the C70 coupe instead of the 1800? To tell you the truth, it’s hot, and I wouldn’t mind riding in A/C.” (Do I need to point out that the ’66 did NOT have air?) I said “Irv, I don’t think this crowd gives a hoot what you show up in. We’re just glad to have you join us.”

Irv and Nick debate who will finish the pancakes

As Larry and I took over the reins for our Sunday morning breakfast runs, Irv was on our distribution list, but rarely joined. He always had some lame excuse, like, “I’m driving to San Antonio that weekend”. However, in October 2010, he did come out for one of our drives, and even brought the 1800. This was probably the last time I saw Irv.

 

Irv, in the seat he knew so well

 

Oct. 2010, breakfast, when we were lucky to get 12 people to join us

 

Always smiling Irv

I’m glad to have known you, Irv. It was an honor to call you a friend.

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.