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Monday, September 30, 2013

Volvo Bashing

A story told by Rod Whitacker

Years ago, the man sought a vehicle that would suit the purposes of a country gentleman. Upon the enthusiastic advice of a long-time friend, he ultimately decided on a Volvo. His decision was predicated on the assumption that any automobile that cost so much, lacked beauty, comfort, speed, and fuel economy must at least be dependable and last many years.

Soon after he purchased the vehicle, our gentleman located places of rust, noted misaligned tires, experienced grabbing brakes, and observed that his windshield wipers only flirted with the glass, and never once consummated their relationship. Worse, the car had a trunk that required the two good arms of a weight lifter to close it. He promptly returned the vehicle to the dealer, who punctually suggested that these were issues for the manufacturer.

Over many months, potential litigants exchanged letters, no one apparently willing to accept responsibility for the poor quality of workmanship at Volvo, until finally the company offered their condolences to squire’s bad luck in automotive selection. Occasionally, we must all suffer a lemon.

The sullen landowner finally accepted his fate. He set about transforming the Volvo into a vehicle capable of transporting sheep and bulky equipment into the high mountain regions, which were part of his vast estate. He secretly hoped that the worthless vehicle would fall apart, forcing him to decide on a vastly improved replacement, but sadly, while he found no truth in the proposition that the Volvo was a quality manufacture, the vehicle’s claim to durability seemed entirely valid. While it always ran poorly —it nevertheless always ran.

The country gentleman had some years earlier hired the village drunk to become his gardener. In this, Pierre was utterly steadfast in two areas: watering the plants, and consuming no more than eight or ten glasses of Irouléguy each day. It was to this man that the country squire assigned the additional duties as a chauffeur with the expectation that he would soon replace the Volvo.

Pierre had little trust in mechanical things. In the first instance, he believed automobiles were far more complicated than necessary. Pierre thus limited his interaction with the Volvo’s transmission to only two gears: reverse and low. More than this was a waste of energy, he felt, for the result was the same had he managed to pass the vehicle in its fourth gear. The clutch was good for starting off, but had no value afterwards. It was just as easy to re-start the automobile at intersections where stopping was necessary and several times while negotiating tight turns to the left or right.

Normally, Pierre regarded stop signs as signals to proceed at flank speed. It was also true that Pierre had little use for the foot brake, particularly when the hand brake was more convenient.

The local villagers were fortunate because it was possible to hear the Volvo’s screaming engine from a long way off. It gave them time to park their scooters, leap over stone walls, or take shelter within the nearest tavern before the Volvo actually descended upon them, its engine racing, body rattling, and the exhaust polluting the air.

Pierre was a proud man. He was also proud of his driving record; not once had he ever been involved in a traffic incident of any sort —which was more than he could say about others who used the narrow mountain roadways. These other drivers would frequently run their scooters off the roadway, or drive their lorries into the business establishments along the mountain road. It was not necessarily their lack of driving skill that bothered Pierre —it was their rudeness in offering him obscene gestures. This was too much to bear.

In time, our gentleman came to accept that this monstrosity of a vehicle might even outlast him, who had just recently entered his 50th year. In anger and disgust, he began kicking the vehicle before entering it, and upon exiting. Initially, the local people found this quite amusing. Then the friends of the squire began bashing the Volvo whenever they came across it parked in the village square, and soon it became a village tradition involving everyone —even the village priest, although without the profanity.

Thus began the custom of Volvo bashing in this small mountain village, and not just the Volvo owned by the country gentleman. Tourists who rented Volvos had their cars bashed, too … and, in time, they too participated in this quaint behavior. Then the jet setters that came to ski began bashing Volvos, and the backpackers who came to spend their parent’s money. Within a year, Volvo bashing spread throughout Europe and there was soon a persistent if not mythical flavor to the rumor that the mountain people bashed their Volvo for good luck and it seemed to work for nowhere on the planet were there any Volvos older and more utilitarian than in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Rumors soon spread throughout Europe that in an effort to attract the smart set to an automobile that had sacrificed everything to passenger safety (despite their use of Firestone tires), Volvo would soon introduce a pre-bashed model. This is how the Volvo Company ultimately appealed to the European affluent class, who remain convinced that their lives must surely benefit all of mankind.


  1. In the mid-1970s I borrowed a friends Volvo for a few days. It was a dark brown color, boxy looking car with absolutely no power. It was a four cylender engine. I remember the rattling sounds. But it did get me to where I needed to go until my own car was repaired. I was grateful for the loan, but have never purchased one, or borrowed one again.

  2. Very amusing, if more than somewhat nonsensical.

    My late, great Mama bought a second-hand Volvo with over 100K miles on it for $300.00 -- back in 1958, I think it was. She needed a "runabout" to take her to the office and back and to accompany her while grocery shopping and in the performance of other routine household errands. She found it eminently satisfactory for the purposes described, and was still driving it ten years later.

    Not a thing of beauty to be sure, nor built to win speed competitions, but it functioned perfectly as a "runabout." A touring car it was not, but we never considered taking it out west to see the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. We had the Packard for that, thank God.

  3. I've never driven one, always heard how dependable they are. They were never anything to brag about as far as body style.

    I would rather have "boxy" than some of the 2013 and 2014 styles. Some of them are so ugly, look like someone kicked them in the rear and squished the back end.

    I have a 1998 Dodge Durango which still runs good, has never had anything major wrong with it, routine maintenance over the years. At some point I will probably need to trade it in, but on what? There is nothing out there that appeals to me as far as body style.

    Right Truth

  4. The Volvo 1800 that Roger Moore drove in The Saint looked pretty slick.

    1. Ugh-reed!!!

      That may have been because Moore was driving it too. Like Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Claude Rains, Edmund Gwenn, Richard Todd, Sean Connery, and a few other English gents of that rare caliber, Roger Moore could transform his surroundings into something posh, elegant and reassuring by virtue of his presence on the scene.

  5. Comment emailed from JonBerg:

    "I remember when no yuppie woman would be caught dead in anything but a Volvo or a Saab. I see very few of these brands on the road today."

  6. I’m sure there is a museum somewhere with a bashed Volvo sitting in it. I would like to hang out with Pierre.

  7. Don't have any history with Volvos at all. Can't help you here/.

  8. Well, I would fore go beauty and style to have a dependable car. It is practical. Unfortunately I cannot even afford car! So I would say ENJOY!

  9. A car --- to me --- is a necessary evil -- nothing more than a box on four wheels that gets me from here to there and back. As long as it moves, I have no complaints.

    I know many others, especially Mr. and Mrs. AOW, have entirely different thoughts on the significance of automobiles, and I wouldn't do anything to spoil their fun, even if i could. HOWEVER, having been statistically poor most of my adult life, I have always sought the CHEAPEST possible with greatest MPG. I've used Consumer Reports for this purpose and found them very reliable.

    If I had unlimited wealth, and could own any car in the world, I probably WOULD choose a reconditioned vintage Rolls Royce or a Bentley from the distant past, but only because those cars were beautiful works of Art not mere conveyances.

    Not even a Pipe Dream at this stage of the game, I fear.

    Even being rich is nowhere near as much fun as it used to be before Marxian concepts of egalitarianism took hold.

    The idea of making a Holy Show of oneself by choosing to drive a Volvo just to prove how "socially conscious" you are is beyond disgusting. My mother drove her second-hand Volvo because she could afford it, and she LIKED it. She was not trying to PROVE anything, bless her heart.

  10. Replies
    1. I've said for a long time that:

      1) the ads painted an unrealistic picture -- a scooter does little to promote continence

      2) various insurance plans were shelling out big bucks to the scooter retailers when scooter users really didn't need or couldn't use a scooter

  11. I have a neighbor who swears by the Volvo. I know others, however, who swear at the Volvos they have.

    Now, I admit that I like having a "nice car." For many years, I drove hoopdies and don't want to go back to doing so now. Too many glitches!

    1. What in Tarnation is a "hoopdie?"

      I ain't never heared o' one o' them things afore.

    2. An old car which is no longer attractive. It runs, but needs constant tinkering. Mechanics often own a hoopdie.

  12. Someone has just finished reading "Shibumi", by Trevanian (the pen name for Rodney Whitaker) and simply changed some of the words/names in the "story". However, the premise, as mentioned in the book, is probably not all that far-fetched.

  13. sorry - I posted as 'anonymous', and realise that I probably should have used some sort of moniker!
    "Rod Whitacker", or Whitaker, to be correct, is the real name of a brilliant writer known as Trevanian. This piece is a take-off on a section of his book "Shibumi", in which the main character owns a Volvo which he kicks, or punches (or occasionally pelts with a rock). Pierre-the-gardener was never fully drunk; nor was he ever fully sober. He'd have his glass of red after each little chore during the day, and was useful, occasionally, as a chauffeur, regardless of the fact that he never used the clutch, figuring it was easier to re-start the Volvo than try to learn! I love this book, and re-read it every so often just because of the amazing writing (and the fact that the author is never wrong in grammar or proper word-usage!) Lovely in this age of "tweets" and so forth.


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