Heidi Hetzer, the 78-year-old German woman who has been driving her 1930 Hudson around the world for the last 13 months, will make a pit stop at the AACA Eastern Division National Fall Meet in Hershey, Pa., from Oct. 7-10. During the AACA meet, Hetzer will call the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club’s booth her home and speak on two occasions.
Even with a recently broken hand — sustained while repairing her chariot — Hetzer is still raring to go, making the stop at Fall Hershey a rare moment when she lets her Hudson’s engine cool.
“So far, I love driving,” said Hetzer, who has 11 months to go until she returns to Berlin. “I cannot wait until the next day to drive. I am unhappy if I have a break down, and I really love every day driving. It’s kind of a drug — I need it! I need to drive!”
From behind the three-spoked steering wheel of her 1930 Hudson Great Eight two-door sedan, Hetzer has already seen some amazing places. She drove east from Berlin, hitting Vienna, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and points between before hitting North America by way of Los Angeles. Since coming to the United States, she’s been to the Grand Canyon then bounced between Canada and the United States, along the way stopping in Detroit where Hudson was based.
“I didn’t really know what a good car I bought,” Hetzer said. “I am just learning now what a great car [it is], and what great jobs the designers did and how intelligent they were. If you don’t drive too fast, this car will last forever.”
Hetzer admits that her Hudson is on its second engine, the first one conking out shortly after she left. She said that the original engine had been rebuilt 30 years and hadn't been specifically prepared for her journey. In fact, the Hudson wasn't bought until she began planning to drive around the globe.
The Hudson was found by Hetzer online, where it had been listed for sale over six years. She said in Germany, people want cabriolets (convertibles), “but I didn’t want one. People in Germany don’t know how good of a car it is. They want it open, to be seen. They want it to be a cabriolet. I have cabriolets, but I didn’t want one [for this trip].”
The trip itself was inspired by Hetzer’s hero, Clärenore Stinnes, an accomplished race car driver like Hetzer herself and who drove around the world from 1927 to 1929 at the age of 24. Although both women took to circumnavigating the globe, Hetzer is careful to draw comparisons between them.
“I am not going exactly the same route, I am 78 and she was 24, so that is why I don’t drive longer, but I drive double the kilometers that she did. The routes are so much different. You cannot compare me with her because it was much, much more difficult [for her].”
Stinnes also completed her journey with the aid of a sponsor, two mechanics and a freight vehicle that followed with spare parts and equipment. Meanwhile, Hetzer has only a riding companion, and now that her Hudson is an antique itself, she’s encountering a whole new set of problems, and she doesn’t seem to mind.
“People ask, ‘Why are you going with an old car?’ Because everybody goes with a new car, it is nothing special. I want to feel how the engine is ticking and how difficult it is to repair the car. It is very difficult. You find people that are good to know and people that have never seen an old car so they cannot help you much, but I learned to be a mechanic.”
Oil and fuel have run through Hetzer’s veins long before she took to driving around the world, and even racing cars. Her father owned an Opel dealership in Berlin, which she took over in 1970. Her own children weren’t interested in taking over the business, so when Hetzer retired, she looked for an outlet. So far, driving around the world suits her perfectly.
“I sold my business and was out of job, so what could I do? My children said, ‘What will you do? You will die.’ So I went around the world.”
After Hetzer’s stop in Hershey, she will proceed to Florida and then on to South America, skipping Cuba because of the long delays in getting her car to the island nation and also Mexico and Central America, due to the turmoil in those nations. From Patagonia, her Hudson will be shipped to South Africa from where she’ll drive home to Berlin.
"I am slowing down because I am already getting close and getting sad,” she said. “What am I going to do when I get home?"
When she gets home, she plans to take her grandchildren for rides in the old Hudson. She’s also not ruling out another round-the-world trip.
Follow along on the Heidi Hetzer blog.