|Heidi Hetzer, a veteran rally driver, is on |
a globetrotting mission
|I met Heidi at One-Stop Classic &|
Sports Garage in Johor Baru
When I met them at One-Stop Classic & Sports Garage, Hetzer had her face inside the open car bonnet deep in discussion about the engine with mechanic, Pirakash S. Maniam, and she seems relieved that her car is ready for the road again.
MSVCR Central Region members, Surjit Singh and Danny Liew, who escorted Hetzer from Kuala Lumpur to JB, encouraged Luke to take Hetzer away from the garage for a break because she was understandably, rather stressed about her car, she affectionately calls Hudo.
This female rally driver is after all, a trained mechanic who is no
stranger to cars and motorbikes because she has scored more than 150 victories
in her illustrious career. As Luke and I
took Hetzer out, she told me in heavily German-accented English, “It takes half
an hour to convince a man mechanic,” with a shrug and
added, “A woman always have to prove that she’s a mechanic.”
|Heidi Hetzer standing on her beloved Hudo at the|
flag-off from Berlin in July 2014
“My father brought me up to be modern,” said Hetzer and explained how her father, entrepreneur Siegfried Hetzer, gave her pocket money to pay her own way and not let boyfriends pay for her. She learnt early in life, to be independent and adopted the philosophy that “women don’t owe men anything.”
Hetzer recalls looking at her father’s photos
and journals when she was about age 5 and how excited and inspired she was by
the tales he told about his adventures in Egypt and Majorca. The sight of her father riding a motorcycle,
with his wife seated in the sidecar in their 1929 photos, left a lasting
impression on her.
|Hetzer aims to replicate the journey by Clarenore Stinnes,|
the first woman to circumnavigate the world, 1927 - 1929
Hetzer learned to ride the motorcycle when she was 14 and competed in her first race at the tender age of 16 on a NSU Lambretta motor scooter. She was shy but undeterred even though she was the only girl in the class for mechanics. In the early 60s she worked at a Chevrolet dealership in the US before returning to work at her father’s Opel dealership in Berlin. She eventually took over the family business on his demise in 1969.
|Hetzer and Hudo with friends from MSVCR and Pirakash,|
the mechanic, at One-Stop Classic & Sports Garage, JB
Hetzer greatly admired Clarenore Stinnes, the first woman to circumnavigate the world driving an Adler Standard 6 from 1927 to 1929 and she aims to replicate her journey around the world. In July 2014 she was flagged off from Berlin and plans to complete her 2-year adventure in June 2016.
After leaving JB, Hudo will be packed in a
container and shipped from Singapore to Perth where Hetzer will continue her
adventure across Australia before leaving to drive through New Zealand. The car will then be shipped to California
where she will traverse the US and head to South America before going to Africa
and finally to Spain, France and back home to Berlin.
|Hetzer with more friends from MSVCR at Straits|
View Hotel JB, before she left for Singapore
After six months on the road, Hetzer, a mother to two adult children and four grandchildren (with one on the way), often missed home. But when she experienced help from others and offered help to others during her travels, she didn’t feel so sad. She stays in touch with her daughter, Marla, with regular updates and told me she couldn’t help getting emotional when her grandchild said, “Oma Heidi, I’d like to hug you! Why are you so far away?”
|Hetzer atop Hudo on a flatbed truck, being towed to|
Jesada Technik Museum, Bangkok, Thailand
But four days into the trip, they parted ways. Rally drivers know that it’s not easy to find a suitable companion so Hetzer had two other companions before she continued alone from Bukhara in Uzbekistan and in Laos, she was joined by a son of a Berlin friend who lives in Vientiane, for 32 days.
Some countries like Iran, Azerbaijan and China require drivers to obtain a permit and guide so she was not always alone. Hetzer and Hudo suffered freezing -21 deg C cold of the Krygyz Mountains at 3750m above sea level in an attempt to enter China by the Tourugart Pass but were forced to wait in Almaty, Kazakhstan, for a special permit required for Hudo to be issued from Berlin! This obstacle was compounded by the age 69 limit for her to apply for a Chinese driver’s license because Htzer was 77. Thankfully she had a resourceful Chinese guide who helped her to enter China by an alternative crossing but it was 500km further and much, much colder!
|Hudo is a 1930 8-cylinder Hudson Great Eight Classic|
Hetzer was delighted with the way friendly motorists honked and waved when they saw Hudo on the North-South Highway. In JB, MSVCR Southern Region members were waiting to welcome her but at 10.30pm Luke received a call to inform that Hudo had broken down near Macap, about 67km from JB. Rather than calling for a tow service, Surjit and Liew rigged Hudo to Liew’s VW Safari and towed it to Straits View Hotel, Johor Baru and to the garage the next morning.
Living Her Dream
Clarenore Stinnes was only 26 when she drove around the world in 1927 but Hetzer is 77 and yet they are equally hard-headed and determined to achieve their goals. Hetzer is glad that roads are comparatively better now and modern technology, supported by good internet connections enables her to stay in touch with others. Hetzer hopes that she will be a good example to motivate women and children to set goals and aim to achieve them. In Kosovo, Vietnam and Laos, Hetzer was invited to speak to schoolgirls and her message to them is: “If I can do it, you can do it!”
|The writer with Hetzer and Hudo before the|
left JB for Singapore
In spite of the ups and downs, Hetzer is buoyed up by the friendship and goodwill she experienced with people, particularly vintage car owners, in her journey so far. “We have a common love for old cars – this is our bond and money does not play a role,” she said. From Kazakhstan to Johor Baru, mechanics who have put Hudo back on the road told her, “It was an honour to have worked on your car.”
Likewise, it was an honour for me to meet this special lady and I join my friends in MSVCR to wish her well as she leaves Singapore and South East Asia for the next leg of her world tour with faithful Hudo.
Follow Heidi Hetzer around the world on (English translation) website: http://heidi-um-die-welt.com/
A version of this article was published in The New Sunday Times, Life & Times on 8 February 2015