When Heidi Hetzer hit her 70s, she decided she would do something different. She was going to drive around the world in her 1930 Hudson—and she was going to do it all by herself if she had to. Five years later, Hetzer has died at home in Berlin.
Hetzer was born in 1939 to a family deeply embedded in a motorcycle dealership—mainly Opels and Victorias, Hemmings reports. She was working for the family business by age sixteen as a mechanic. By thirty, she was running the whole thing herself.
She kept up the business, too, until her retirement in 2012. She also had a penchant for rallying, which she started competing in in 1953, and her name has graced the entry lists of the Mille Miglia, the Monte Carlo Rally, the Carrera Panamericana, and even the Dakar rally (although the year she signed up, the race was canceled). Likely the trip that most got her ready for her circumnavigation was a road trip from Germany to China in 2007.
Hetzer set off around the world in 2014 with a male co-pilot—who abandoned the mission once they hit Eastern Europe. Rather than concede defeat, she continued on the rest of her journey alone, documenting her trip on Instagram and her website along the way.
For her, it wasn’t a race. It was a chance to see the world behind the wheel of her beloved Hudson. While traveling, she lost two fingers in a roadside repair gone wrong (which saw her son join her for part of her North American journey), lost a molar, and had two surgeries to remove cancerous cells in her lymph nodes. Neither issue set her back for very long. As soon as she could get back behind the wheel, she was there.
All in all, it took Hetzer 31 months to circumnavigate the globe—and that’s counting all her setbacks, side-trips, and excursions. Not too bad for a woman in her late 70s.
Hetzer’s family confirmed that she died over the weekend. They didn’t specify a cause.
Heidi Hetzer’s life was certainly a unique—and inspiring—one. Our society has quite the fear of old age, but Hetzer is proof that you don’t have to stop your forward momentum as the years click by. In fact, that might even be the perfect opportunity to slow down and enjoy what the world has to offer.