Frank Shaffer

To be Frank, 95-year-old navigator an inspiration

WHO is the world’s oldest rally (co)driver?

Pete Vack, of Veloce Today, thinks it’s 95-year-old Frank Shaffer, who recently placed third in the Fools Rush in Rally in Central Virginia, navigating in the same 1958 Mercedes Benz 190 sedan that he bought in Germany when new — now owned by Mercedes enthusiast and driver Chip Hughes.

It might not be a record, but if it’s not, it does at least make for a good story – or maybe inspiration for the rest of us. 

Here’s how it happened.

Hughes knew the annual Fool Rush In Rally rally was coming up.

He was a long time supporter of the Central Virginia Section of the Mercedes Benz Club of America which sponsors the event. 

Hughes thought it might be nice to get one of his cars ready and take part in the rally.

There was only one really good choice, a 1958 classic ponton-bodied, four-door Mercedes. Not fast, but comfortable and weatherproof.

He gave it a thorough inspection.

The car had won a first prize after Chip had it painted and freshened up: it still had its factory clutch after 193,000km!

Although it paled in comparison to the 230SL and 1938 170 Roadster in his shop, it was still a classic Mercedes.

Chip thought for a moment. He needed a navigator, or co-driver in modern parlance. 

What about Frank? 

Frank Shaffer
95-year-old Frank Shaffer


He had been a member of the Mercedes club for as long as he could remember and had owned one great Mercedes after another since he gave up driving sports cars. 

Of course, Frank and cars went back further than that, as did his family. 

In fact, his great uncle Dr Carlos Booth had a car built to his design at the dawn of the car industry in the late 19th century. 

Frank’s motorised adventures began after WWII on a BSA motorcycle, using it for trips to the Watkins Glen Grands Prix during the street years. 

Then on to MGs and Volkswagens and by 1958, now working overseas for Sears, Frank was ready to take a step up and bought a beautiful 190 Mercedes Benz four-door sedan in Germany. 

The car he ordered, a diesel, was not at the dealership when he arrived in Frankfurt.

He thought about an Alfa or Lancia instead, but the dealer said he could have a petrol model and $2500 would cover it. 

He bought it and headed south to Italy.

Frank eventually sold his 190 and a few years later it ended up with Chip Hughes. 

A two-owner Mercedes was always a rare catch. 

Chip met Frank at a local car show, where he was able to identify the 190 as his old car and noted that it didn’t have the original headlights.

He still had the originals and gave them to Chip. They’ve been friends ever since. 

The ex-Shaffer 190 was ready for the rally and Frank would be the perfect co-driver. 

As Frank settled into the 190’s passenger’s seat, he dropped his pen, and as he reached down to get it he noticed the carpet. 

The original mat was still in place and it brought back memories of that trip to Italy in the then-new car. 

There was a hole in the mat, made by his wife’s high heels as she instinctively ‘hit the brakes’ when Frank was driving. 

“We’d go through these small towns and the locals would see us and yell, Bella Macchina!” 

Cars in Sicily were were still a novelty back then . . . the local doctor may have had one but no one else.

And of course since there was very little traffic, one might drive a bit faster then. Hence the heel marks in the floormat.

There was no problem following the rally directions, but distances were marked in miles and Frank’s old Merc’s instruments were in kilometres.

Chip said he used an app on his smartphone to convert kilometres to miles for the TDS section. 

“It was accurate to about a tenth, so it was not too bad,” Frank said. 

“The rally was not timed with checkpoints, but everything went perfectly – and we came in third.”

How does Frank do it? 

Not sure, but when we tried to call him to nail down a few details, there was a long message on his recorder:

“I can’t come to the phone right now, as I’m on the road, headed for Ohio for a few weeks.

“I’ll probably take the train back and do a walk on the Mall. Will return your call later.”


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