Volume 145, Number 4, July/August 2011, Page 6
By Lena Anthony
Photo courtesy of Scott Cook
You wouldn’t be able to guess it today, but Rachel Veitch didn’t care for the beautiful new sports car her then-husband brought home more than 46 years ago. Though it was a top-of-the-line, soft yellow, 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente, she “wasn’t too happy about it,” she recalls. “But after I had driven it a few years and realized how easy she was to handle, I warmed up to her.” Since then, it’s been nothing but love for the car she dubbed “Chariot.” In 47 years, Ms. Veitch has logged 564,000 miles on the car—and has no intention of trading her in.
“People ask me all the time why I never bought a new car,” says the retired cardiac nurse, DAR member for 68 years and present member of the Orlando Chapter, Orlando, Fla. “And I tell them, ‘I didn’t need one.’ I had a perfectly fine car, and I still do.”
Ms. Veitch says the past year has been a whirlwind. She and Chariot attended various car shows across the country, from Milwaukee, Wis., and Charlotte, N.C., to the nation’s largest antique car show in Carlisle, Pa. She also appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in August 2010. “While I was waiting in the green room, Jay came and presented me with a box of the most beautiful long-stemmed roses I have ever seen,” she says. “The next day I was also taken to see Jay’s private collection of automobiles, which is not open to the public. It was all so exciting. I tell people that my cup runneth over with blessings, because I cannot believe I’ve had such an exciting year.”
While Ms. Veitch drives Chariot for day-to-day trips, the rising price of gas and Chariot’s poor gas mileage have kept them off the open road for a while. One of Ms. Veitch’s most memorable journeys was to Erie, Pa., for her 70th high-school reunion in 2007. She made the 2,200-mile round trip by herself. She also has made several trips with Chariot to car shows in Michigan. More recently, Chariot has been loaded onto a truck and shipped to the shows, while Ms. Veitch has traveled by plane.
So how does one keep a car running for more than 500,000 miles? Regular service, according to Ms. Veitch, who wisely chose car parts with lifetime guarantees when things started to break. Chariot is on its 18th replacement battery, eighth muffler and third set of shocks. Ms. Veitch also has kept meticulous records on Chariot, even logging every time she fills up at the gas station. Chariot just got a tune-up from a new mechanic, and Ms. Veitch is happy to report that “she’s spunkier and spicier than she’s been in a long time.”
Ms. Veitch still takes care of her car as if it were brand-new. “I keep her safe,” she says. “I don’t ever park in a parking lot between two cars. I’ll park way out at the grocery store. It’s good for her, and good exercise for me.”
Not only does Ms. Veitch, a great-grandmother and Orlando Police Department volunteer, hold great affection for her car, she also demonstrates her pride in being an American. Unless there’s a hurricane warning, Ms. Veitch’s home is draped with a 5-foot-wide American flag. A spotlight shines on the flag “so that it’s always in the light,” she says. “This is my flag and my country. I love it and I want everyone to know it.” Chariot also has a streak of patriotism, participating with her owner in various parades across the state. Next up, the duo will travel to Geneva, Fla., to participate in the city’s Fourth of July parade.