Cabby drives 1956 Caddy million miles, seeks world record


MADISON, Wis. -- Like nearly everyone else these days, Bob Bender is avoiding new car showrooms, hoping his car will last a few more miles.

Bender is bound to succeed. His car already had gone more than 1 million -- 1,000,000 -- miles.


'I think that car might outlast me, I really do,' he said. 'I think it will outlast me. I'm no spring chicken any more.'

Bender is 81 and he drives a 1956 Cadillac Fleetwood. Together, they have logged mile after mile, mostly in stop-and-go city traffic that's hard on cars.

He operates an airport limousine and taxi service, and his car is the flagship -- the 'R.L. Bender Deluxe Cab' -- in a fleet of Cadillacs and Checkers. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy have ridden in his limo.

The car has about 1,003,000 miles on it. Bender is aiming for the world record. He says a man in Atlanta, Ga., drove a 1956 Ford 1,037,000 miles.


'I'm going to drive as long as I got good eyesight, arms and legs,' said Bender, sporting a chauffeur's cap and sitting on a park bench, a few steps from the shiny, black limousine, parked in a cabstand on busy Capitol Square.

'I'm going to work, because, boy,I tell you, when you sit down at home and do nothing, you don't last long,' he said. 'I've seen many of 'em go that way. Nope, I'm going to stay right with her.'

The car was used when he bought it in 1957. A friend called one night about a car a couple in New York wanted to sell. It had 40,000 miles on it. He called and waited while the woman asked her husband what he wanted for it.

'He said, 'Well, I think it's worth $1,500,'' Bender recalled. He said he hesitated a bit and replied, ''Well, I'll come down tomorrow and pick it up.' I got it, and I been driving it ever since.'

The couple's chauffeur told Bender he was getting a good car, but Bender never dreamed it would run a million miles.

'I got a million, three thousand, eighty-four miles on it right now,' he said. 'The care I give it and stuff, I think that's what done it.'


The engine was overhauled and the car repainted nine years ago. He replaced a front hub and carpeting. Otherwise, the car has all the original equipment. He washes it and checks the oil, transmission fluid and tires daily.

'I get 95,000 miles on a set of tires,' he said. He buys regular tires and adds four pounds to the recommended air pressure. 'I don't like those radials. They look like they're half flat all the time.'

He changes the oil every week, the filter every two weeks and the transmission fluid every three months. He tunes the engine every six months. The engine doesn't burn a drop of oil. The car gets 19 miles per gallon of premium gasoline. Parts are no problem. He has two 1956 Cadillacs in a junkyard.

'If some little thing goes wrong, I fix it right away. If a screw's loose, I tighten it up,' he said. He said other cars might last longer if people do the same.

'The trouble with the people today, they just don't take care of 'em right,' he said. 'They may think they do, but they don't. You got to watch that car like a hawk.'

He doubts few people ever check the transmission, let alone the oil or tires.


'If the transmission is working good, they forget all about it,' he said. 'Yup, check 'em every day, or every other day -- every week, at least.'

Are today's cars capable of going a million miles if properly maintained?

'This far? Never! Never. They're not built that way,' Bender said. 'They're built too tiny. This rattles, that rattles, and everything else on these new ones.

'I'm sure these cars built today would never go that much, not half that much even.'

Bender has another thing in his favor.

'Nobody ever touches that car but me. I may not be a good driver, but I wouldn't want anybody to touch that car. I'm afraid if they did, it probably wouldn't last over two weeks or a month the way some of these guys drive. Nobody drives alike.'

Bender has chauffeured people about Madison since 1916. He had a horse-drawn coach then. His first car was a 1925 Dodge.

'Eighty-one, and still at the same job,' he said. 'I meet a lot of people every day. I got a lot of friends around town -- everywhere, I guess. I might have a few enemies. I don't think I've got many.'

A Cadillac dealer in Detroit once offered Bender a new limousine for his Caddy. Bender, naturally, refused and explained his goal then was a million miles. The dealer told him his model was one of only 200 built in 1956.


What's the car worth?

'No idea,' Bender said. 'I haven't asked anybody, and I don't know if I ever will. In fact, I don't know what I'm going to do with it. It might wear me out. ... All I want to do now is get the record.'

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