All Aboard the Wagon Train
When Ford sold Volvo in 2010, it gave the North American apparatus of the Swedish carmaker with the new Chinese owners the chance it had been looking for, the chance to survive and the chance to quit the diabolically sunny Irvine, California, headquarters of Ford’s defunct Premier Automotive Group, and return to its longtime U.S. home in leafy, Rockleigh, NJ, which had been downgraded by Ford to serve as a Volvo parts and service depot.
Aside from moving its top U.S. executives closer to the brand’s roots and its historic affinity groups of East Coast liberals, commies, lesbians and Jews, a renewed residence in the Eastern Time Zone was closer to Gothenburg. This once again made it possible for Volvo Cars of North America personnel to find people in the home office who were still sober enough during our normal business hours to have a sensible conversation. Not that you would have necessarily known this when Volvo announced that it would, against the advice of its American staff, no longer be selling wagons in this country. As far as jettisoning your core, telling Volvo wagon folk this was, in my estimation, an announcement akin to Procter & Gamble telling the American people they worried too much about things like bad breath, dandruff and clean clothes and really ought to lighten up.
So it was with a great sigh of relief we found out that Volvo had taken some of our advice, changing course earlier this year and announcing it would be bringing the new and reportedly excellent V60 wagon to our shores. It’s not as great as if Volvo decided to sell it here in its ultra-winning 60mpg hybrid-diesel format (for which it could charge anything while becoming a new suburban/urban “It” car). And they’re not importing the eminently practical V40 hatchback, either. Along with the diesel hybrid V60 it could, with highly economical diesel engines in place, reclaim Volvo’s longtime albeit no longer justifiable reputation for environmental excellence, a key brand value they’ve been galloping away from for years at great penalty to itself. At least, the V60 marks a start. In fact, with a model line like Volvo’s, one that has been shrinking of late, any new products are a plus.
As luck would have it, I know from Rockleigh, NJ, living in more or less walking distance, just over the state line in New York, across the Hudson River and about a dozen miles north of New York City. So when I heard the other week that Volvo was putting on an Open House, supported by the always enthusiastic Volvo Club of America, where it would be giving test drives in the V60, it was no trouble to show up in the 1967 Volvo 122S wagon I bought in 2006 with 80 original miles on it. With many of my old cars, the fact that my destination was in walking distance of home would have been a real selling point. But the Volvo is a most reliable driver and I’m not afraid to take it anywhere. Once it had been brought back to life, it seemed foolish not to drive it. So now its odometer reads 4,680 miles. Which ain’t 80, but still isn’t many.
The people liked the 122. A camera crew from Volvo’s ad agency, Arnold, down from Boston, interviewed me on the subject of my car. Then, asking me in my capacity as a private citizen to free associate about Volvo wagons, I found myself going on the tirade I touched on earlier about how I love Volvo and believe in the brand but also believe it is shooting itself in the foot in too may ways for it to be good for the brand's long-term health. I doubt my remarks will make it into the cut-down version they show on the web. (You had to sign a hundred releases to get in.) Or maybe it’s just for internal use of Volvo executives, in which case I’m glad they asked.
Preoccupied by a five-year-old wiffle ball player and a parade of well-wishers, I never got to drive the V60. But my 17-year-old daughter, Ellie--who drives a Volvo C30 on occasion--did, and proceeded to loudly adjudge it before me and my five-year-old and a group of unrelated bystanders as “f#@%ing fast.,” her unexpectedly poor use of language the measure of her unexpected enthusiasm for the car which she explained knowledgeably had been “Polestar equipped,” meaning it had its engine management system “chipped” to produce even more power.
Before leaving, I spoke with Irv Gordon, the fellow from Long Island who holds the Guinness Book world record for most miles on a car – a 1966 Volvo 1800 sports car with three million miles and counting. Irv’s still trucking, but he's getting on – three million miles is a lot of miles – and didn’t remember me right away, but about a dozen years ago we’d gone for a ride in his car for England’s CAR magazine. As I said at the time, it doesn’t feel like it’s gone a mile over 650,000. Which is also a lot more than 4,680. If he's going for the high hand, I'm after the low.