Auto-Biography: The ’74 Audi Fox Becomes a Commuter Car

When we last left this saga, I was deep into my year at Syracuse University and had exposed my ’74 Audi Fox to the worst of a typical Central New York winter, complete with significant amounts of snow, road salt, and the further indignity of repeated short-trip commutes from my hilltop student housing to the Design Department digs on the main campus. Needless to say, the Fox never saw the inside of a garage, living outside and being constantly subjected to the elements –not a great way to treat my nearly-new car, I admit!

From the ’74 brochure, including an airbrush retouch to reflect the model’s new and more substantial bumpers. It appears to be the same Alpine White as my car.


During my year at SU, I accumulated less than 10,000 miles on the Fox, averaging about 33-MPG, surely helped by occasional Interstate trips home to NJ and back (with a best-ever mark of 41-MPG, as related here in a recent COAL). In addition to regular oil/filter changes, the costliest services that year were a pair of snow tires ($61.11, including mounting and balancing) and the Fox’s 20,000-mile service ($80.92, which also included aiming the driving lights I had installed earlier that year).

Through all this, the Fox was quite reliable, its carbureted four-cylinder always starting on the first crank and never leaving me immobile. I had learned early on to avoid using the parking brake in wet weather after the rear drum brakes had become stuck once or twice (ironically during a humid New Jersey summer, and not, as one might expect, as a result of Syracuse’s snow and ice).

Sidebar: The Fox’s longest road trip was from Syracuse to Washington D.C. and back, a round trip of about 750 miles. Syracuse Design Department Chairman Professor Arthur J. Pulos was then in the process of writing a history of the industrial design profession in the U.S., and had requested my unpaid (except for travel expenses) services as a research assistant. This entailed a trip to the Library of Congress, where over a long weekend I busied myself copying and annotating various historical pieces profiling early industrial design practitioners and several of their noteworthy projects. The research was painstaking and at times frustrating, but I’m proud of my small (uncredited) contribution to American Design Ethic, published in 1983 by the MIT Press. 

At least I received a free copy, without the good Professor’s autograph, though.


Readers may recall that I had been keeping in touch with Volvo’s Chesapeake, Virginia operations. Those communications had evidently been passed on to the Swedish automaker’s marketing headquarters, and shortly after returning home at the close of my academic career, I received a phone call from a Volvo HR representative, inquiring as to my academic status and asking about my availability for a first employment interview.

Immediately assuming that such an appointment would require another 375-mile drive, I was surprised to learn that my interview would be conducted at Volvo’s U.S. marketing headquarters in Rockleigh, New Jersey, only about fifty miles from home. The prospect of landing an auto-industry position within easy commuting distance from home was almost too much to hope for. I dared not dream that it might also be somehow design-related.

Morristown to Rockleigh, after the northern-NJ portion of I-287 was finished, a more pleasant commute, compared to following I-80 east and then heading north. (source: Google Maps)


My first on-site interview at Volvo of America Corporation, as it was known in those days, included an HR rep as well as two of my potential colleagues in what was then the Product Engineering and Development (PED) department. I presented an edited version of my design portfolio, including a couple of concept sketches for a potential next-generation Volvo 1800ES, as well as package-drawing overlays for the “Buick Reatta precursor” I had worked on while at Art Center. I don’t remember most of the details of that day, but I do recall being quite nervous as I tried to explain the thought processes leading to my finished work.

A multi-layer package drawing of the “Reatta”, done back in the pre-CAD days at Art Center.


A couple of days later, I was invited back to Rockleigh, this time for an audience with the then-head of PED, a tall, blond-haired fellow who could have been pictured under “Swede” in Webster’s Dictionary. In spite of his imposing (to me) presence, he turned out to be quite gregarious. After a conversation of thirty minutes or so during which I again trotted out my 1800ES, he then stood, gave me a hearty handshake, thanked me for my time, and told me that someone would be in touch.

The phone call came soon after, with a job offer as a “permanent temporary” employee of Volvo of America’s Product Engineering & Development Department, which I quickly accepted. On June 14, 1976, the Fox became a commuter car in earnest, as I drove to Rockleigh for my first workday at Volvo.

It didn’t take long for the folks in Rockleigh to spot this “enemy” badge of honor. Apologies for the blurry enlargement.


The Audi’s “Royal Norwegian Automobile Club” badge was the cause of quite some merriment among my new colleagues.