Why Enthusiasts Love Boxy and Beautiful Volvos That Are Coming Back
What exactly makes an enthusiast dive into the cultus of a particular manufacturer? On my part, every time I have tried to formulate a theory as to why a gearhead finds himself randomly googling images of '80s Mitsubishi pickups or Taurus SHOs while on the porcelain throne during a 30-minute bathroom break, I’m stymied by the pathological weirdness of these impulses. It’s not performance, sleekness, or perfect engineering; it’s not handling, practicality, or the ease with which a car can be modified.
The oddness and obscurity of a car play a role, but have not been sufficient to redeem cars like the Plymouth Prowler or the loathsome Pontiac Aztek. The closest I can come to a reasonable theory to include all of these outliers is that these affections come from an incredibly imprecise combination of all of these factors.
I confess that I am not short on personal experience with this bizarre, opaque impulse. Once, while on a road trip with 5 other people who are in no danger of being gripped with a desire to buy anything from the pre-airbag era, I had a hell of a time explaining to them why I found the deteriorating and grime-streaked Cadillac DeVille Limo so appealing, whose cocaine-white paint and ruler-straight bodylines had aged little better than the frenzied, sniffling carousers of its heyday. When we passed it on a not-particularly steep hill in Kentucky, it was huffing and puffing as best it could, straining against all the weight which Reagan-era Detroit had thrown at it.
On the way back down, it came past us with some considerable speed, with the driver’s tan Kentuckian elbow hanging out on the door panel. Perhaps, like the thirsty V-8, the brakes were making a struggle against the considerable gravity of the car. It was superb. Why? I couldn’t--and still can’t--figure it out.
The Volvo 745
Perhaps this is too extreme an example. Even among enthusiasts, my reaction to this car, a car which is perhaps best described in nautical terms, might seem a bit too far left-field. The Volvo phenomenon is a more universally recognizable equivalent. Let’s take the Volvo 745 as an example. Its boxy, awkwardly geometrical shape and modest plastic-covered steel wheels don’t make much of a bedroom-wall poster. Its engine performance--even in factory-turbo form--is not particularly noteworthy, and as for handling.
Well, in the words of a particular owner on a message board, think ‘schoolbus.’ If you were comparing stats with other cars in the same used car price segment, the enthusiast would be able to find plenty of clean, nimble, and perhaps even quick alternatives with better performance and certainly more sexiness. And yet, at a recent Cars and Coffee event which I attended, I noticed that the most astute and pious enthusiasts, the kind whose t-shirts are more usually car-related than not, who always has a tab with Craigslist open, who has at least six 10mm sockets, this kind of enthusiast gravitated not toward the straight-piped Aventador or the handful of other supercars in attendance, but toward the Swedish tank which is the ‘92 Volvo 745. People pointed at it, commented on how “generally awesome” it was, and there was always at least one devotee attempting (usually in vain) to explain its appeal to a less discerning friend. “The redblock can take a good amount of boost ‘cause its cast iron.” Cast iron engines are 1970’s technology. “There is easily enough room to sleep in the back.” Right, because nothing says ‘cool car’ like rear space. “It’s Swedish!” Sweden is not exactly world-renowned for sports car production…
Maybe we’ve come closer to understanding why a car which, on paper, is inferior to any number of others in every metric which may be presumed to be important to the enthusiast, can still be the car which he puts his money into. These kinds of cars don’t offer the focused engineering which provides the performance which all car-lovers crave on some level, but they give the owner opportunities for a massive variety of experiences, especially if this car-lover is willing and able to get his or her hands dirty. Want a quarter-mile drag monster? The redblock can do it with some work. Want to make it take corners?
Fiddle with some sway bars and bushings and you can do that too. The cars have even recently grown in popularity in the stance world. And, of course, you can sleep in the back.