Crazy Volvo Capers: Part One

Facebook can be a right pain in the arse. If it’s not people sharing stuff that reveals a worrying insight into who they really are, it’s politics, photos of bloody food and rather too much excitement about annual events of a Christ-related theme. Once upon a time.

Also, you can score a free Volvo if you’re in the right groups. I happen to be in one such group and when someone offered up a free, MOTd Volvo 740 estate, there was a clamour to own such a straight-lined beauty. Things went worryingly quiet for a while, but as I headed to the NEC Classic Motor Show, the owner asked me if I wanted it. YES! Though I couldn’t really collect it that weekend. Arrangements were made to collect it at the end of the month, and I then spent three days at the NEC. Was it pure coincidence that the 2CVGB stand, where I inevitably end up gravitating towards at shows was surrounded by both the Volvo Owners Club and the Volvo Enthuiasts Club or was this fate having a laugh?

The Volvo was located in St Albans. This coincided with my wife needing to be in Leicestershire for the weekend. Not entirely convenient, but a combined trip might just work. Then another friend scored another Volvo on Facebook, though he had to pay an entire £160 for his. Location? Pembrokeshire, on the very west coast of Wales. His location? Essex. Right on the east coast. I stupidly put two and two together and offered to bring his Volvo a little closer to him. This was at some considerable expense on my part, in dignity and comfort if not financially (I ended up £1 up on his £50 offer to cover expenses once you factor in fuel and bus fare).

You see, I first climbed aboard a friend’s Skoda Octavia, a now-rare early turbo diesel on a T-plate, and was merrily transported to town. Then began a three-hour bus journey to Haverfordwest. If you want a good example of why cars are so popular, a three-hour bus journey is a pretty good explanation. Sure, it was pretty good value at £6, but it was ridiculously slow and once the bus steamed up like buses always do, it wasn’t as if I could even enjoy the views.

A three-hour bus journey. Not pleasant.

A three-hour bus journey. Not pleasant.

Eventually, my spluttering, exhaust-manifold-blowing Wright-bodied VDL limped into Haverfordwest (late) and I could meet Volvo Number One. This was the £160 960 Turbo that my friend had purchased. He’d sent me electronic money which I had craftily turned into real paper stuff that morning. I think he did pretty well. It seemed nice!

Volvo Number One. Delivery service available.

Volvo Number One. Delivery service available.

The 960 is an evolution of the 740, with revised rear styling and the smoother nose of the 760 which, contrary to previous Volvo logic, didn’t necessarily mean it had six cylinders. (think about the 245 – 200 series, four cylinders and five doors so an estate. A 264 was a 200 series, V6 saloon). I liked that despite it dating from 1992, it had a four-speed manual overdrive transmission! Quite remarkable when mainstream manufacturers were removing overdrive from cars as early as the late 1960s. If you don’t know, an overdrive is like a second, electronically controlled gearbox that comes after the main gearbox – which restricts it to longitudinally mounted, rear-wheel drive cars for packaging reasons. On this Volvo, it only operates on fourth gear, but on some previous cars, you could actuate it on up to three gears to create seven ratios! Most manufactures just fitted five-speed gearboxes instead.

Anyway, paperwork was sorted out, money handed over and I then made my way to a petrol station. Here, I was both lucky and unlucky. I was lucky because I checked (as I always, always do) that my wallet was in my back pocket before putting fuel in the car. I was unlucky because it wasn’t there…

Forgive the language, but the word SHIT really is most appropriate in such circumstances, and it’s short, aggressive sound may have been uttered more than once at this juncture. I checked the car. I checked my bag. I checked my coat. It was in my back pocket when I got cash out that morning. It definitely wasn’t there now. I called the seller just in case it had gone missing there. Nothing. There may have been further utterings. I had spotted a Halifax branch in town so I made my way there hastily, cancelled my card (the good thing about having only one!) and was able to withdraw £50 after answering quite a few security questions. Of course, I had no ID on me as it was in my wallet…

I had serious concerns about whether £50 would be enough to get me and the Volvo to Hertfordshire, but opted to put £25 worth in for now. I decided to try and ignore turbo temptation in an attempt to get reasonable fuel economy on the 210-mile journey.

Once under way, I began to really like the car itself – apart from the clearly ancient wiper blades which juddered horribly. How do people live with such things? In Wales?! This wasn’t a BANG, POWER sort of a turbo. It just felt like a very torquey 2-litre. Very relaxing.

Cruising is very much what these Volvos are built for so I just settled back to enjoy the ride. By the time I reached Membury Services in Berkshire, the fuel I had put in had gone. Trying to guess how much more to put in was tricky – I had £25 left. I was well over halfway though and after checking my sat nav, I reckoned I needed just over two gallons – £18’s worth at motorway prices. Eek.

I took the A404M as instructed, but then my sat nav wanted to take the M40. I could see the M40. It wasn’t moving. As it happens, I got the horrendous roundabout wrong and ended up heading for High Wycombe anyway. But, I’d seen a red flicker from the dashboard as I’d pulled away on the roundabout. Worrying. As we crawled through High Wycombe, that light began to flicker more regularly. It was the oil pressure light. Not good at all. I quickly realised that sharp acceleration made it come on – that suggested a low oil level. We’d checked it before I set off, but clearly all was now not well. Oil is not cheap, especially from convenient places like petrol stations. I didn’t really have enough to afford even a small bottle. I had to push on, accelerating as gently as I could.

Two Volvos meet in the dark...

Two Volvos meet in the dark…

I got close to where Volvo Number Two was located and parked up. I’ve never been so pleased to turn an engine off! We would discover the next morning that indeed, the level was very low. It took a fair top up just to get a reading on the dipstick! That had been a close thing indeed.

The adventures were only just beginning though. For one night, I was effectively the owner of two Volvos. It was time to collect the one (in the dark) that would have my name on the V5, which is a tale for another time!

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