On a hot summer morning, 24 years and four months after German-born Californian Albert Klein bought a brand new white Beetle from a Pasadena Volkswagen dealership for precisely $1,897.71, Mr. Klein is bringing the car back. Escorted by a motorcycle policeman and welcomed by a five-piece brass band playing Gonna Fly Now from Rocky, Klein eases his beloved Bug slowly down Sierra Madre Boulevard and into the camera-crammed lot.
In the process, the self-made celebrity motorist rolls his priceless wheels’ overworked odometer past the miraculous one-million-mile mark.
Together, the tireless (actually, the ’63 Beetle has gone through 150 tires) twosome has done some serious road-work in the past two dozen years. They have driven to the top of Pikes Peak, across most of the 50 United States and down through 50,000 miles of Mexico and Central America, including car-killing roads in Costa Rica, Guatemala, San Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Brags Klein with a slap on its hood: “It’s okay with this car. I never get stuck.”
With mind-muddling meticulousness, Klein has kept a running record of the venerable VW from the day he bought it, documenting all maintenance and repairs(work that Klein did himself, including seven rebuilt engines). “In my diaries, there is nothing but the truth,” he swears. “I don’t make up anything. Whatever I bought, whatever it cost, it’s in there.”
The complete 16-volume set offers up such million-mile gems as these: The oil was changed an average of 24 times a year; only three sets of windshield-wiper blades were replaced; the car was washed four times a year; it averages 28.007 miles per gallon, and in total, including gasoline, the car has cost Klein $39,886 to keep on the road—or a little less than 4 cents per mile.
At the official awards ceremony, the grandstanding mayor of Pasadena proclaimed Klein the city’s “Million-Mile Man” and the day to be “Albert Klein-Volkswagen Day.” A congratulatory letter from the chairman of the board of Volkswagen was read aloud, and Klein was presented with the keys to a brand new baby blue Volkswagen Fox. But when the man of the moment finally got to the microphone, it was clear that for Klein and his car this commercial hype session and praise fest was merely a momentary pit stop on a highway of ever more glorious milestones.
The 65-year-old architect thanked the dealership for the new car but admitted, “I cannot drive it for the next couple of years or so, because I have set my goals much farther ahead. Now I’ve heard the Guinness World Record [set by an Olympia, Wash., man and his Mercedes in 1978] is 1,184,880 miles. And I say, ‘180,000 miles—small potatoes!’ ” With those strong words, the little Bug driver from Pasadena hopped inside his faithful auto and roared off.
Well, not exactly roared. In 24 years of driving, Klein and his Buggernaut have never gotten a speeding ticket. “They never catch me,” he says with a laugh. Longtime companion Inge Kuhl hasn’t caught Klein either, though she has lived with him patiently for 33 years. “Probably if I were married and had kids, the mileage would be down,” he says soberly. “I would have to stay at home.” Perhaps a man can have only one true love.