BY: JACK M.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” Hunter S. Thompson.
Her name is Heidi Hetzer. She is 78 years old, and she is no ordinary senior citizen. Born and raised in Germany, Heidi has been around cars all her life. Her father founded a car dealership in Berlin in 1919, and at the age of 16, she herself started training as a mechanic in what by then had become a small but successful family business. Cars and oil were in her blood; she not only became a master mechanic, she also became a collector of antique cars and an avid competitor on the racing scene. By the time of her father’s death, Heidi had risen through the ranks, and at the age of 31 she took over the family business and would eventually build it into one of Germany’s largest car dealerships. She retired in 2012, but unlike most who might be content to spend their days in quiet solitude playing bridge, feeding the pigeons and having afternoon naps, Heidi was having none of it. She was still full of piss and vinegar, and hanging up her socket wrench was just not in the cards.
Heidi’s childhood hero was a car enthusiast by the name of Clärenore Stinnes, an early 20th century race car driver who by her mid-20s had won more than a dozen events in what was then, as it still is today, a male-dominated sport. In 1927 Stinnes became the first woman to circumnavigate the world by car, a journey that took two years and one month to complete. And Heidi Hetzer has set out to ride in the tracks of her hero. She began about a year ago in a car that’s older than she is – a restored eight-cylinder 1930 Hudson that she calls “Hudo,” and is still capable of speeds of up to 60 mph. She is now about halfway through what is expected to be a two-year, five-continent, 60,000 mile trek which so far has taken her from her native Germany down to Turkey, across the Middle East, Western Asia, China, Southeast Asia and down to Australia and New Zealand. From there, in mid-July of this year, she had her sturdy steed shipped to Los Angeles, where the feisty frau and her Detroit-built ride began their North American leg of the whirlwind tour.
Heidi Hetzer starting her trip outside Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.
Heidi and Hudo posing next to New Zealand’s Mt. Cook.
From Los Angeles, Heidi drove north through California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, up to Vancouver, Canada. A few days R and R in Vancouver, and Heidi and Hudo ventured eastward across the plains and wheat fields of western Canada. But like Heidi herself, the Hudson is getting on in years, and the creaky sedan just stopped rolling in the small Manitoba town of Emerson, just north of the Minnesota-Canada border. It wasn’t the first time Heidi had car trouble, but she always managed to get the help she needed from strangers who quickly stepped up to the plate, like the owners of the service centre in Emerson who looked after her while she was waiting for the new parts to be delivered. And onward she went, undaunted. But in London, Ontario, there was a more serious mishap. While the Hudson was up on a hoist getting some maintenance, the ever-inquisitive Heidi caught her hand in the running engine. She’s had some emergency surgery, but she lost the little finger of her right hand. And that’s where she stayed for a while, recovering before motoring on down the U.S. eastern seaboard. The last we heard, Heidi arrived in Hershey, Pennsylvania, just in time for the Antique Automobile Club of America’s autumn meet. She’ll be heading off down to Florida, across to Cuba, down through South America and then she’ll take a ship over to Africa, where she hopes to arrive by April, 2016. Up through Africa and back to Europe and home to Germany, where nobody really expects Heidi Hetzer to settle down any time soon.
On August 27th of this year, Heidi had an interview with Canada’s CBC Radio, but if you want to stay up-to-date on her venture, you can read a lot more about Heidi on her own website, where, with the help of her daughter back in Germany, her current status and Instagram photographs are posted.