Mom is just back from another drive. This was a 3,500-mile round-trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She celebrated her 83rd birthday along the way, and she did the drive all by herself. That’s right, old Peggy Hurst drove her car the entire distance without a passenger, airbag, or audiobook — as usual — that is, since her husband passed away a few years back at the age of 94. The car she drove is the same and only automobile she has owned since 1972. The car is a VW camper she bought almost 41 years ago.
This amazing vehicle has taken Mom and her family to England, France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, and 45 U.S. states; she has all the documents and license plates to prove it. My mother, who now resides in Carpinteria, has kept immaculate records of all the car’s mechanical repairs and a log of every mile driven — from Las Vegas to Land’s End, from Maine to Mundaka — over the last four decades.
As her son, I can recall the day our family purchased the car when I was 8 years old. I remember that car dropped me off at elementary school when Nixon was president. We took it to England aboard the famous liner Queen Elizabeth II. When we visited Europe, we ferried it across the English Channel on a hovercraft and to southern France, traversing the Pyrenees mountains into Basque country, and then on to a visit of the Alps.
Recently, we met some Spanish tourists visiting here from Bilbao and pointed out that the car before them had driven the streets of their hometown back in ‘74 or so. In ‘82, my folks moved to Victoria, British Columbia, to retire. But in the cold winters they would burn rubber out of Canada and head down along the Pacific Coast through Santa Barbara and then south of the border to San Miguel de Allende in the mountains north of Mexico City. Six months there and then load up the car and back to Canada. This went on for a dozen or so seasons, climbing back through California to visit the kids — then eventually the grandkids — and returning to Vancouver Island for a short rest.
The homes in Mexico and Canada, England, New Jersey, and California were all abandoned sooner or later but never the car. We slept in it and lived in it and filled it up with everything we owned and just kept going. And it’s not over yet. I asked Mom some questions about her remarkable vehicle and the history of her travels and adventures.
How much did you pay for the car new? What features did it come with? We purchased the car in Baltimore in 1972 for about $3,600. We had it converted to what they call a Sportsmobile, which included the pop-up roof and a sofa-bed seat. Shelves were added for storage, a sink, fridge, potty, and a hammock that braced across the front seats. We got the spare tire mounted on front, the luggage rack, some ceiling lights, carpet, curtains, and eventually a stand-up tent that attached to the opening of the sliding door. With all the accessories, it housed a family of five quite comfortably.
Did you live in it? Well, we would spend summers and vacations traveling across the country and camping for several weeks. We’d go down to Key West, Florida, at Christmas and to central Mexico when the kids got out from school, and to as many states as we could — seeing every place from Las Vegas to Yellowstone to Disney World. When we decided to move to England, we were relatively homeless for two months looking for a new place to settle down. We camped in the south of England for a summer and near London before finding a house.
How many miles on the car? Has the engine been replaced? A little more than 400,000, and it’s been driven every single day for 40 years. The engine has been rebuilt three times, and the car has had several paint jobs. First it was blue, then red, then a cream color, and now it is a cappuccino tan — my favorite so far.
It must have broken down a few times during such a long life? Are you kidding? A hundred times! Usually, though, it’s a small part and nothing major, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere … you’re often at the mercy of kind strangers. We’ve been very lucky, and there are a lot of good Samaritans out there who have fixed it at midnight and not charged a cent. God bless them! Cory Motors in Santa Barbara takes care of the maintenance now. They think it’s a fantastic car.
Why do you think you have kept it for so long? My favorite thing about the camper is that it’s so comfortable and enjoyable to drive. I also love the distinctive purr of my VW’s motor. It’s a friendly and recognizable sound.
Would you ever sell it? Never. More than transportation, it’s a conversation piece these days. People are always asking me about it. I love the attention and to share the old stories.
Any plans to retire soon? As long as we stay in good shape, I want to drive the car until it’s 50 years old. I’ll be 92 then. My husband did so until nearly that age, so until they can pull me away, I’ll be keeping my feet on the pedals and my hands on the wheel. See you on the road. Beep-beep!