How far is 3 million miles?


September 25, 2013

Imagine driving to the moon and back again six times (Photo: Balazs Kovacs /Shutterstock)

Imagine driving to the moon and back again six times (Photo: Balazs Kovacs /Shutterstock)

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It's a long way, 3 million miles. In the UK, where I'm writing this, Land's End to John o' Groats, the length of the island of Great Britain, is the proverbial long way, but at 874 miles it is less than 1/3,000th of the way. Route 20 in the United States is much farther, stretching 3,365 miles from Boston, Massachusetts on the east coast to Newport, Oregon in the west. But you'd have to drive the route back and forth 445 times to chalk up the miles. The Trans-Canada Highway? Three hundred trips end to end and back again.

There is some debate as to the longest meaningful road trip that can be made on Earth, but Cape Town in South Africa to Vladivostok in Russia, near the North Korean border is certainly a very long way: 14,037 miles bypassing north of Mongolia. Google Maps estimates it would take 284 hours to drive, and the directions contain 389 steps. You'd have to complete that journey more than 200 times before you approached 3 million miles, by which time your passport would have swollen to epic proportions with all the extra pages of cross-border stamp marks.

Viwa, one of Fiji's Yasawa Islands, is a haven for aquatic leisure pursuits. It also has the distinction for being about as far away from Timbuktu in Mali as it is possible to get. Though the phrase is falling out of favor (perhaps due to the demystifying powers of the internet), "from here to Timbuktu" is still shorthand for "a long way," Timbuktu itself having been the archetypal land of mystery in the minds of lesser-traveled Westerners (which until fairly recently was almost all of them). If you live on Viwa, "from here to Timbuktu" is about 12,300 miles: less than half a percent of 3 million miles.

To get anywhere close you have to talk in planetary terms. The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 24,901 miles (roughly twice the distance between the afore-mentioned near-antipodes, obviously). So one way to think of 3 million miles is 120 and a half circumnavigations of the Earth as the crow flies. At an average of 238,857 miles away, you'd have to travel to the moon and back more than six times to cover the distance. The circumference of Jupiter, at 279,120 miles is 9.3 percent of the distance.

Irv Gordon has traveled 3 million miles in his 1966 Volvo 1800S

What's the relevance of 3 million miles? It's the record-breaking distance Irv Gordon has driven in his 1966 Volvo 1800S, though not all at once, obviously. Gordon reached the incredible milestone after years of touring the United States, ever since he bought the car on a Friday in 1966. He made a flying start that holiday weekend, returning to the dealership on the Monday for the car's 1,500-mile service. He crossed both the 1 and 2 million mile marks in New York, but to crack 3 million, his Volvo was transported to Alaska, one of the final two states where Gordon was yet to drive it.

A testament to incrementalism and well-made machines, he reached the milestone on September 18 at the Kenai peninsula. "It's more about the trips that got me to the three million miles and what I have experienced getting there," Gordon says. I think we can all agree, he's come an awfully long way.

Press release: Volvo

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

What about the car! All those miles under the wheels of an 1800cc four!

T N Args

i believe 3 million milles is about the distance travelled by the moon around the earth in 2 months. , a little over 3% the distance from the earth to the sun.


at 30mpg that's 100,000 gallons of gas !


Say 400000 litres of gas at a generous 12km/L. 14400000MJ Enough energy to get 437 Tonnes into space. Or are my calculations off? Good chance ;)

Craig Jennings

What were the major mechanical repairs to the car. And as the others have said I wonder what the running costs have been. Nice going and a cool car to do it in.


How do they verify this?


Did he spend all those miles wearing a hat and doing 20 under the speed limit with a line of cars behind him lol???

Ha ha no if he did 1500 miles over the first weekend in 1966, I reckon he might be driving a little more assertively than some Volvo drivers :-)

I've done about 1.3 million km in 20 years, mainly in Queensland Australia. Most of that was around town, a lot doing paid work. That's nothing compared to seasoned cabbies but it's a lot more than average and it gives me extra appreciation of Irv's efforts.

John Hogan

He had the right car for it. I don't drive Volvo any longer but must says that it is the very best car for long distances.

Nolley Martis

How many times was the motor rebuilt? One has to assume that all the running gear was replaced many times over, even if Irv took good care of his wheels. And if he recorded every last mile, then he must have kept records of all the maintenance bills.

Which begs the question: Did Volvo recognize the significant image boost that Mr. Gordon provided for the company, and did they subsidize his costs? I would think/hope so.


They need to spend more time on fixing there poor taillight design. or am I the only one to notice that for years, Volvo has big issues with non working brake lights or running lights. there cars needed to be the safest on the road, because there was a good chance you were going to get rear-ended in one do to faulty lights, and after the accident there was no proof do to the evidence was destroyed in the crash.

Jay Finke

We have come a long way. Back in the "50's, you were lucky to have a car last 100k miles, have an engine that got any where near 1 hp per cu inch, and get over 12 mpg.

Today, most any vehicle will last 250k-300K miles, get 2 hp+ per cu inch, and get 25-35 miles per gallon.

I recently had a cabbie in DC with a Lincoln Towncar with 1.7 million miles.

hummer boy

If my sums are right this would be about 178 miles every day since 1966. Not sure I really believe this to be true.

Simon Bebbington

I concur with skeptical Simon. Replacing the running gear (bearings, axles, brake drums, etc) would get difficult as the car got >20 years old, much less 47 years. I have visions of the Ferris Bueller movie, where they put the car upon jacks to run the odometer backwards, but in this case, he ran it forward. Can he produce receipts for gas, tires, repairs etc?

Norm Frey
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