When 93-year-old Rachel Veitch picked up the newspaper on March 10 and realized that the macular degeneration in her eyes had developed to the point where she couldn't read the print, she knew it was time to stop driving.
But there's much more to the Orlando, Fla., woman's story.
The decision meant she would no longer be getting behind the wheel of her beloved 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente, a car she calls "The Chariot." Veitch has pampered her ride for nearly five decades and 567,000 miles.
You read that right: 567,000 miles. (Not, by the way, 576,000 as some other news outlets have reported — a bit of transposing that Veitch is quick to correct.)
This afternoon she told All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel that "there's no car on this earth I would trade for my Comet." It's been, she said, the "pumpkin that turned into the golden chariot and I'm Cinderella."
The "misty yellow" Chariot, which cost just under $3,300, still has her original engine. The air conditioner's also original. She's had her oil changed every 3,000 miles — Veitch buys it by the case and purchases filters too, then stands right there to make sure the mechanic does things right every time. (We're referring to Chariot as "she" or "her," by the way, because Veitch told Robert that's the way to do it.)
Chariot has outlasted the "lifetime guarantees" on three sets of shocks, eight mufflers and 18 batteries. "I'm the lifetime guarantee people's nightmare," Veitch said.
The car also has been with Veitch through three husbands.
Veitch says she's never considered trading Chariot in. The reason is simple: "I love my car."
Now, Chariot will only make rare trips away from home. A grandson (he's 50) will be taking her to a car show in Cocoa Beach this weekend. In July, Chariot will be shipped by friends to a show in Milwaukee. Veitch will fly there.
As for what happens when she's no longer around, Veitch knows one thing — she doesn't want anyone in her family to get Chariot. "No way would they take care of it like I do," she told Robert.
What she would really like is for Jay Leno, who's well known for his love of cars, to add it to his collection. She was on The Tonight Show in 2010, and Leno gave her a private tour of his garages.
And as for Chariot, Veitch is convinced that the car could have gone for many more miles if someone took good care of her.
Veitch puts a sign in one of Chariot's windows every time she passes another milestone. "It will soon be 570,000 and I've already got the signs made for 580 and 590," she said.
Much more from her conversation with Robert will be on All Things Considered later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. We'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post this evening.
As you can tell from her experience with Leno, Veitch is no newbie when it comes to the news media. GrowingBolder.com did a video report about her and Chariot back in 2007, when the car only had 540,000 miles on the odometer.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now, a car from the past. It is a 1964 Mercury Comet with 567,000 miles on it. It's owned by a Florida woman named Rachel Veitch. She's 93 years old. And as much as she loves her car, she has decided that it's time to quit driving. And Ms. Veitch joins us now from her home in Orlando. Welcome to the program.
RACHEL VEITCH: Thank you. I love my car. And the reason I stopped driving is I have macular degeneration. Now, that's one little spot that would keep me from driving and also from reading, but I have wonderful peripheral vision. So, I'm not totally blind.
SIEGEL: I see. But you decided...
VEITCH: By any means.
SIEGEL: But you've decided that your vision just isn't - it isn't good enough for you to keep on driving?
VEITCH: I definitely decided on the 10th of March when I picked up the paper and could not read it.
SIEGEL: Aha. Now, I want you to take me back to 1964...
VEITCH: All right.
SIEGEL: ...when you bought this particular Mercury Comet.
VEITCH: I'll correct that. I did not buy it. My husband picked it out, picked out all the accessories, power steering, automatic transmission, air conditioning, which still works, and I never saw it until he brought it home and it's a beautiful misty yellow.
SIEGEL: In all these years and all those hundreds of thousands of miles, you didn't even replace the air conditioning or the motor, for that matter?
VEITCH: It's still the same engine and the same air conditioner.
SIEGEL: This is a car that you started using back in the days before unleaded gasoline.
VEITCH: Oh, yes. And that's when I got 19 and 21 miles to the gallon. Now, I get 10.
SIEGEL: You mean for the transition to unleaded gasoline?
SIEGEL: How often did you change the oil on this car over all these years?
VEITCH: I try to every 3,000. And I buy my oil by the case. That's why she's survived, because I have guarded her very carefully.
SIEGEL: Yeah. You don't just love this car. You actually know this car, as well, obviously.
SIEGEL: And, you know, if everyone who bought a car in 1964 was still driving it, all the car companies would be out of business today.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
VEITCH: I know. And not only that, I've had lifetime guarantee shocks from Sears and I've had three sets, and lifetime guaranteed Midas mufflers. I've had eight. And lifetime guaranteed J.C. Penney batteries and I've had 18.
SIEGEL: But, Ms. Veitch, just one question about this. For all of these years you've owned the same car, the 1964 car, and put all these miles on it, weren't you ever tempted, during the 1970s, '80s or '90s to, you know, just trade it in for some newer car?
VEITCH: Never, never. There's no car on this earth I would trade for my Comet. I love my car.
SIEGEL: Well, if somebody cared for it, they could get another 100,000 miles and...
SIEGEL: Really? Really?
VEITCH: Sure. If I hadn't lost my vision, I might have worked on it, because it'll soon be 570,000. And I've already got the signs made for 580,000 and 590,000 and 1,000 miles.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks a lot for talking with us about another very important milestone, which is your giving up driving. We've enjoyed talking with you.
VEITCH: Well, I enjoy talking about my chariot.
SIEGEL: That's Rachel Veitch, who is giving up driving at the age of 93 and that means that she is also giving up joyrides in her beloved 1964 Mercury Comet, caliente, she would add, which has more than 567,000 miles on it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.