Fifty years old, the ink on my new driving licence still drying, the quest to source a compact and economical city car as my first motor has ended – with a 2.4L Volvo estate. Drive on…
Back in the late 1970s, there was a Saab dealership near to my childhood home. The stylish Swedish motors looked amazing. The salesman let me take a few of the fancy, colourful brochures to pour over at home. Well, I still couldn’t reach the top shelf at the newsagent. Harmless fun, something to aspire to, and better than sniffing glue or vandalising gnomes!
That brief spell of car lust ended soon after. Driving, buying a vehicle or even passing my test aged 17 didn’t bother me. Most of my mates were itching to get behind the wheel. Not me, and joining the Royal Navy soon after ensured that any desire to become a motorist would have to wait.
Okay, so holding back over 32 years suggests that I was never particularly bothered. I wasn’t. My reasons fall somewhere between keeping fit (cycling, walking), preserving the planet (I’ve always tried to be green) and a general lack of interest in cars/mechanics. I was always a burden when the need for a lift arose, often relying upon mates or the ex-wife when awkward journeys ruled out other modes of transport.
Then I had mid-life crisis number three. Several major changes to my personal circumstances convinced me that I needed to be more mobile, and not rely upon buses, trains and Shanks’ Pony. That meant taking some driving lessons, passing a theory test, and then buying some wheels. That presented a problem. Did I buy new(ish) and enjoy some form of warranty but at a premium price, or take my chances on something older that might need work?
I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, the girlfriend’s Fiesta wasn’t too pricy on the insurance front, and that was available at some point most weeks. But all good things come to an end. A switch to a new policy saved her a few quid but the premium was too steep to entertain adding a novice driver. I was back to square one and needed to decide how to get on the road.
Visits to a few local garages left me bemused. I’d convinced myself to buy small, something low on insurance, little or no road tax, and cheap to run. But nothing grabbed my attention, certainly not at a price I was prepared to pay or able to afford.
Then my mate Jason threw me a curved ball. “Remember that Volvo I had a couple of years ago?” he asked. I did. It was huge. A gas guzzler. A beast. A van disguised as a large car. “I sold it to a fella who loves Volvos.”
The alarms belled rang in my head. A Volvo enthusiast! Visions of a man in corduroys, home-knitted sweaters, clutching a flask and with a penchant for Sunday morning car waxing get-togethers flashed before me. “He takes them apart, rebuilds them, makes them run like new,” Jason added. “Besides, he’s probably ready to sell it now. He’s nearly finished overhauling it.”
We popped over and checked it out the following day. Parked alongside a 2002 Volvo saloon, an impressive estate version from the same era cut a fine figure. It was as though a spell had been cast. I was drawn in. I wanted to stroke it. Then the front door opened and the “enthusiast” stepped out. Any fears of an anorak-clad trainspotting type were soon dashed. Simon smiled, offered his hand and immediately chatted about the car. He didn’t really want to sell, and certainly didn’t need to. So, it had to go to someone who wanted it, someone who would look after it.
Amazingly, he seemed impressed by my desire to get something I could trust, something that would last and wouldn’t fall apart two hundred yards down the road. “This is good for another ten years, maybe fifteen,” he told me. I asked him what he fancied buying next himself. “What do you mean, next?” he queried. He looked at the saloon, his car, and smiled. “That’s my last car.”
To say I felt assured by his confidence is an understatement. I suspect he could resolve most mechanical issues, he was passionate about the brand, and he’d done a cracking job of the estate that now had my name all over it. I was smitten, and a test drive was soon arranged. That sealed the deal, and from that moment on I had eyes for no other motor.
The beast, a 2.4L Volvo V70 estate, is not something I ever thought I’d drive. An old man’s car, I always thought, but these days I resemble that remark. The lush leather seats have been problematic, mainly because I’m a veggie. “You can’t drive a car with leather seats,” numerous acquaintances have suggested. I have countered it with the fact that the car was built in 2002 and my vegetarianism began in 2009. “Hmmm,” they responded, not convinced. I certainly wouldn’t order a new car with leather, but they are gorgeous, as is the quirky wood-trimmed steering wheel, heated seats, various electronic gadgets and acres of space. Nipping over to B&Q and managing to slide a full sheet of MDF into the back was a coming of [old] age moment!
I am in love with every one of the stylish (albeit aged) Swedish curves. She purrs, and the throaty roar as I put my foot down on the motorway en route to Rockerdale to see the beloved is a sensation I never thought I’d celebrate. An old car, yes, but the fabulous piece of Scandinavian engineering that has taken my, ahem, love of cars full circle.
This is my first, but, like a favourite old pet, I’m not sure it can ever be replaced. Hopefully, I won’t need to, and over subsequent years I will wear my “sad old man in a Volvo” badge with pride…