She had a wonderful life.
I was reading this Road and Track article about how the author was interested in these humble, modest cars because the cars probably had a cool backstory to them. I feel the same way about every used car I’ve owned. All the used cars I’ve owned probably had the typical story of being owned by someone elderly and driven pretty softly (until I got my hands on them).
The two Fords I’ve owned started dying on my watch, and after they were traded in they ended up in the junkyard within six months. I was pretty distraught the first time since it was my first car, but the second time I didn’t care too much since I had already dealt with the emotion of losing the first car. The first car brought me through my formative years of high school and into college and introduced me to working on cars as a hobby. The second car took me through college with wild road trips to Vegas and starting the next chapter of my life in Austin, which has a bigger impact on my life, but I wasn’t as emotionally attached to it probably because it wasn’t as modifiable (less easily repairable) as the first car thus pushing it into the “appliance” realm. I guess the saying “You never forget your first” is true.
Now the Volvo probably has a more interesting story. It has complete records from the first ten years of ownership. The first owners who were a couple from Houston. Then the next ten years had no records until the the last two years from the second to last previous owner (which I have the history from the last owner). I can only imagine that during that ten year blank spot the Volvo was probably used for some Hollywood-style espionage story due to its unassuming appearance or it was used by some stoic blue-collar worker who used to get to a job he tolerates everyday or maybe it was some kid’s first car that was a hand-me-down and had some good times with buds. No one knows except the car and the car can’t talk. It’s unfortunate.
If you’re a gearhead, you’ll get the feels when you watch Susie the Little Blue Coupe which chronicles the life of a car. I’ll just leave this here just to remind you every car has a story to tell.
Volvo’s new ad campaign for the S60 features a comparison with the classic 240 as shown in the clips below.
I like the ad, but the S60 just doesn’t compare to the 240. The 240 is a classic because it’s a simple, stoic sedan. The S60 is a sexy-looking computer on wheels. The two cars are on opposite sides of the spectrum which appeals to two different types of people. The ones that are attracted to the 240 aren’t going to be cross shopping with the S60 and vice versa because there are different ideals with the two demographics. The 240 has an audience that values modestly-priced solid transportation while the S60 has an audience that values safety at any cost. The S60 isn’t a terrible car, but I find that Volvo has priced themselves out of the market they should be aiming for. The 240 must be the best car Volvo ever built if they’re using it as the benchmark to compare their latest offerings. Volvo needs to bring to market a car that has the same philosophy the 240 had: modestly priced, solidly built, and angular aesthetics. They don’t need to bring back the 240 as it has never left in the first place.
Not a scary human-killing robot.
A few weeks ago after I changed out the front struts and strut mounts on the Volvo, I had to go take the car in for a wheel alignment. I could have tried to do my own wheel alignment, but I was too tired and sore from the strut job to do anything with the car so I took it to a brand-name tire shop (the one that made tires that went on Ford Exploders in the late ’90s) to have them align it. Every time I’ve gotten an alignment on any of my cars in the past, the steering wheel was never set straight. You would think with their computerized alignment machine it would be done right the first time. Nope! The steering wheel was a few degrees off to the left. I figure it is probably so far out of alignment before that the tires wore in a specific way so it would take some time to sort itself out. Nope.
I went back a few days later to get the alignment fixed. I probably shouldn’t have gone an hour before closing, but it’s hard to get stuff done during the work week. An hour later, I left with the steering wheel moved further over to the left! Driving straight, the wheel was at the 11 o’clock position! This was totally unacceptable! I was definitely pissed that I had to go back a third time to get this sorted out, but luckily the alignment had a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty. I went back the next morning with a level and watched the tech perform the alignment. When he was about to do the alignment, he let me set the steering wheel straight with the level and then set the alignment. Now the car pulls slightly to the right but the steering wheel is straighter than before (at least now I have it cranked to the left proportionally to the pull to the right). It’s not right, but I wasn’t wasting my time going back a fourth time.
So what did I learn from watching the alignment being done? It pretty much depends on how the car is driven onto the alignment rack and it’s best to have the owner set the steering wheel because the tech doesn’t know how bad the steering is. The alignment machine uses cameras and flags to measure the alignment, but it’s up to the tech to adjust the toe/camber/caster into the correct range and if he doesn’t care it will be off or pull even if the alignment is in specifications. So yeah, if the alignment isn’t correct, go back and get it fixed under warranty and observe the alignment job. And if it’s still not right, look up a video on YouTube to do your own alignment at home using string and a tape measure. I’m going to have to do my own alignment because the pull is annoying me.
Slippery when wet
It rained the other night as I left work. I wasn’t expecting it to rain, but I figured it would be fun to play with the Volvo. I didn’t think the tires were that bad, but it seemed like it would break loose every time I got on the gas. It’s amazing how that little 4-cylinder can overpower the traction so easily. I did a few benign fishtailing around some corners as I went home, but nothing too crazy until I got onto the MoPac frontage road.
It’s very oddly designed intersection as it’s a T-intersection that goes under MoPac, but as it approaches the southbound frontage road, it curves slightly to the right so making that left turn is roughly a 100 degree change in direction. I usually just cut the corner to keep the racing line so I don’t lose too much speed. Yeah, too much Forza Motorsports or Gran Turismo does that to the brain. Unfortunately, unlike a video game, driving your car recklessly has much higher consequences.
As I approach the turn like I’ve done a hundred times before, I start drifting as I hit the apex of the turn. I think I might have lifted my foot off the throttle and it induced lift-off oversteer causing the rear end to come loose. In a video game, I’d let go of the gas and drift around. This is no video game. Having only owned front-wheel-drive cars since I got my license I’ve learned that punching the gas usually straightens out the car if the rear end comes loose. Bad mistake!
I instinctively punch the gas pedal and boy did that make things worse! As soon as I touched the pedal, the whole car just spun like a top! I only remember a blur of the car spinning 360 degrees around like it was on a turntable and coming to a stop facing the wrong way of the one-way frontage road. I was now staring at the grille of the Escalade that was previously behind me. Suffice to say I think everyone in this situation felt a bit awkward.
It took me a couple seconds (which felt more like minutes) to realize WTF just happened because it happened so damn fast and unexpectedly. I was also partially in awe that the little Volvo managed to do a stunt like that. I’m surprised that traffic in the other left-turn lane just kept going after seeing a car spin 540 degrees in two lanes of traffic! I’m probably sure that the person driving the Escalade was glad they didn’t get wiped out by a beater Volvo that looks like the many uninsured beaters roaming the city (don’t worry, I’m insured). I definitely drove a little more carefully the rest of the way home!
It’s amazing the technological advances in safety that have made cars safer because my other car has traction control and electronic stability control which prevents the car from spinning (it’s also front-wheel-drive so it’s less likely to spin out like this in a turn). On the other hand, because the newer technology shields the driver from danger, he won’t know what the true dangers are out there. I immediately knew the roads were slick when driving the Volvo because it spun the tires fairly easily so I knew I could get into trouble. With my other car I would drive the wet roads as aggressively as I normally do on dry roads because of the safety features. It’s funny how technology makes us safer, but act more foolish because of the hidden dangers.
Window is in a bad state.
A couple weeks ago I put down my driver’s side window and it never went back up. I was told it would get stuck down occasionally when I bought the car and given its age I should have suspected it was time for the windows to stop working anyways. Doing some research on the internet yielded me some answers. Apparently, the power window switch goes bad in Volvos of this vintage so that’s the first place to look instead of taking the door apart to look at the motor and regulator. Lucky for me, it was just the switch. The switch can be disassembled and cleaned to make it work again! I made a video documenting the task below.
The Swedish Crown!
A couple weeks ago I bought a 1992 Volvo 940 from a friend. After I finally got the car registered last week, I promptly lost the one and only key for the car. It would have been a bigger deal if this was my one and only mode of transportation, but since it was a beater project car I had time to think. After doing some research, I learned that the Volvo dealership can look up the code to make a key if proper documentation was provided. I would have to bring in the title or registration to prove that I owned the vehicle, and they would look up the key code by the VIN.
Well, I was told they didn’t have a key blank for a car that old, but they did give me a sheet with the key code, radio code, and other bits of information for free. Now to find a place to cut the key. The first locksmith I called said that she didn’t make car keys, but provided numbers for a couple other locksmiths that could. The second locksmith told me it would be $65 just to meet me since he’s mobile and it would be considered a service call. I didn’t bother with the other recommendations since they are too far from me.
So I ended up randomly called a key shop I found on Yelp. The woman on the phone said sure they could cut a pair of keys for me from the key code. Bingo! I’m on my way there! I’m sure it’s a rarity for them to cut a key from a code since they had to dig up the proper template and figure out how to set the machine to do it, but I got a couple keys mode for a modest price. I guess I lucked out since that experience wasn’t as frustrating as I thought. I’m also thankful it didn’t cost me beaucoup bucks for a set of keys! The internet is great when you have a goal in mind.
Yellow Volvo at the 24 Hours of LeMons
It seems like slow moving Volvos are commonplace on the highways of America. I know those old cars are slow, but I figured they should have enough power to keep moving at 65 MPH. They’re always puttering around much slower than they should be. Well, I think I learned the reason why after riding in my buddy’s Volvo. In most 240, 740, and 940 models the speedometer and automatic overdrive relay usually fails. Getting around without a working speedometer isn’t too hard. You just go as fast as traffic around you or use a GPS with a speed readout. Now when the automatic overdrive relay fails, the automatic transmission won’t shift into 4th gear (overdrive) so the engine will be screaming at highway speeds as well as burn up all the gas very quickly. Both issues are common and usually have a quick fix, but it seems most people don’t care.
Just recently read an article about Buc-ee’s in May/June 2013’s Texas Journey and just had a laugh about the image they used to headline the article. What was humorous about it is that unless they were depicting a scene from the early ’90s, the family in the photo clearly look like they’re from Austin. It’s not just the way they’re dressed and presented, but it’s the old Volvo that pinpoints it. The photographer could have used a family dressed in western clothes with a huge pick-up truck (to satisfy the Texas stereotype) or a family dressed in nice casual clothes and a newer car (which would satisfy the magazine stereotype), but they picked plaid/striped shirts and jeans (with folded-up cuffs) and an old Volvo (which satisfies the Austin stereotype). I thought the photo was more entertaining than the article!
I came across an interesting Volvo while I was in California this weekend. I was driving in the left lane of I80 outside of Sacramento keeping up with traffic. I note in my rear-view mirror a faded blue Volvo 240 station wagon. It must have been a late ’70s model from the round four-eyes and yellowed highbeams and original blue California plates. It was very unassuming, but I thought it seemed odd that it was not only keeping up with traffic, but also closing the gap between us. He stays behind me for a little while until I pulled over to the middle lane. The Volvo blew past me like nothing! I caught a glimpse of it and saw the Corvette brake calipers sitting behind some thin-spoked, black aftermarket wheels. As son as he got past I could see the new shiny exhaust peeking out under the rear bumper. Thats when I realized this Volvo had to have had a V8 swapped into it. Very nice Mr. Volvo driver.