Remembering Heidi Hetzer 1937-2019

What were the odds? Back over the Labor Day weekend of 2015 my wife Karen and I were vacationing in northern Michigan and found our way to the Upper Peninsula. Wanting to get a few shots of the Mackinac Bridge, we made our way down a narrow dirt road along the water, taking in a view of the 26,372-foot-long span across the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

Heidi Hetzer in Sept. 2015 with her 1930 Hudson that she made famous.  Photo © D. Randy Riggs

That’s when I heard unfamiliar engine sounds and around a nearby bend came a very old sedan, one that I did not recognize, and it pulled to a stop in a cloud of dust. A tiny blonde lady climbed out from behind the driver’s seat and a man from the passenger side. The car was adorned with stickers and a world map on each door which showed the route she was on. As it turned out this was the “Heidi Around the World” tour.

The 78-year-old Metzer had left Berlin on August 1, 2014 in this ancient Hudson and here in St. Ignace over Labor Day weekend, she had already been through Europe, the Middle East, China, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore, Perth in Australia, and recently leaving Canada. She was on her way to the East Coast when our chance meeting happened.

Hetzer explained to me with her German accent, “You can only do this when you are very young or very old. When I was a rally driver I always wanted to be first but ‘Hedo’ (what she named her Hudson) is much slower than modern traffic so I have to be patient.” She was retracing and extending the late 1920s journey of Clärenore Stinnes, a groundbreaking woman from the early days of auto racing. Her Hudson was powered by a 3.2-liter 60hp straight-8, and it topped out at 60mph, although she told me it was far more comfortable at 45-50mph.

She handed me her camera because she was pleased to learn that I was a photographer and also was the editor of Vintage Motorsport. She wanted photos of her and “Hedo” with the bridge in the background so I shot several. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with the energy and excitement of her adventure and I could tell she enjoyed telling me all about it. “I’m just an old woman in an old car. Most people dream about it, talk about it, but don’t do it. I’m living my dream!”

We bid our goodbyes and I wished her luck, because she still had many miles ahead. Heidi completed her incredible adventure in March of 2017, arriving in Berlin to a huge welcome and celebration. She was one hell of a lady, imbued with unbridled optimism and I was honored to have met her in such an unplanned way. So I was deeply saddened to learn of her passing this past week in her hometown of Berlin on April 21. So happy she got to live out her dream of traveling around the world, doing it in her own inimitable way. RIP Heidi. —D. Randy Riggs