Summer Vacation Classic: An Icelandic Grab Bag


Last summer, as we spent a few days in Iceland on the way back from France, I shot a few cars but never seemed to be in the right place at the right timeand  in the right frame of mind to actually shoot anything coherent that could be turned into a story.  After mulling it over for literally a year, I hereby present a bit of a grab bag from those few days…


Looking out of the window from our VRBO on the day of our arrival, I spotted this fine late-model Volvo 240 and ran down to take a couple of shots.  These are more or less a standard bearer CC-mobile at home but are getting a bit thinner on the ground.  I thought I would see dozens in Iceland but in the end I believe this is the only one I saw (or at least noticed).

It’s quite fetching in red, the color being probably the most sporting thing about it but I’ve always like the positively huge headlights that we got on the last few years of the U.S. version and the European versions seem to be, if anything, even larger.


On our second day we went on a driving trip on a route known as the Golden Circle.  Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park at a large site that has hundreds of little rocks piled up – my picture doesn’t really do it justice, it goes on and on in every direction.  At first I stopped the kids from messing with the rocks but then I noticed others making piles so I let them do it as well.

Hopefully that was not a serious faux pas.  As I understood it, Thingvellir is the place of the first Icelandic Parliament and has great cultural significance.  I might have missed a few things in translation but certainly not the hundreds of pesky little flies, we soon got back into the car and continued.


A short while later we ended up at a different part of the park that has fissures running throughout as it is a place where several tectonic plates meet and the earth is in a constant state of upheavel (in the geological sense).  It is a very striking landscape with rifts in the landscape clearly noticeable, on one point during our short hike we entered a part where it was clearly obvious that the rocks had sheared and moved many feet up and down relative to each other while opening a space for a trail to run through between.

There are also a lot of streams, rivers and waterfalls in the area with ample opportunities for little ones to be swept away if not careful.  It was a little nerve wracking as a parent with three kids used to the bubble-wrapped safety of all things America.


During our lunch stop, I noticed this SsangYong Musso.  While some of our international readers are familiar with this vehicle, I had not seen one before.  That’s a pretty serious looking trailer it’s towing, no doubt it has a decent diesel engine under the hood.


Built in Korea, the Musso was first available in 1993, the Turbo Intercooled version (as this one) started being produced in 1997.  I’m going to call this a 1997, since they were facelifted in 1998 and this looks like the older style to me.  Musso’s are known to be quite rugged offroad.  Musso actually means Rhinoceros in Korean, whch is a pretty apt name for a stout off-roader.

It certainly sounds tougher than Highlander for example, but I wonder how something called Rhino would sell over here.  It’s not bad looking once you get a bit used to it, it looks fairly similar to the Isuzu Rodeo actually.  I didn’t take any interior pictures as this was outside of a cafe with large windows and I didn’t want to have test my non-existent Icelandic language skills.


In the same lot I spotted this Mitsubishi Lancer wagon.  Like the Volvo, it is also red and I thought of our own Perry Shoar, who is a big fan of these and did a fantastic series here on CC chronicling the entire Colt series by which name the Lancer is also known.   This one has a nice little hitch as well as a very well integrated rear fog light in the lower bumper area.

I believe this is a mid-90’s model but I know some of you more familiar with these can pinpoint the year and probably even the engine, we never got this version in the U.S.  I have NO idea what the van next to it was, it looks interesting but I only had eyes for the red wagon at the time.


Our next stop was at Geysir, where last year I reported on the pretty little Deutz tractor in front of the gift shop / restaurant complex.  This is yet another area where one is best advised to keep a tight leash on the little ones with plenty of opportunities to be parboiled and ruin the vacation.


All geysers are named after “Geysir”, which is located here and is considered the granddaddy of them all.  Geysir doesn’t blow very often any more since too many people threw rocks and other stuff into the water, but closely nearby is Strokkur which goes off in spectacular fashion pretty much like clockwork.  There are numerous other hot pools in the immediate area as well.



As we were walking back to the car in the parking lot, I noticed this British-registered VW bus and I thought it was a fairly rare sight so I stopped to take a picture.  Iceland is filled with tourists that bring their campers with them from all over Europe, we saw tons of Germans and some Dutch, but this was the first British one.


I was quite surprised to see that it is apparently a later watercooled version.  I believe it is officially a T2c which was built in Mexico for the South and Central American markets but some were also exported to Great Britain in the early 1990’s.  They have a slightly raised roof and an inline 1.8liter four-cylinder engine.  From what I can tell this one also has a camper-style liftable roof on it.


It was in exceptional condition making me wonder if maybe it isn’t newer, these were also built in Brazil until 2013, so maybe that is more accurate.  The lifespan of these was so long I really can’t be sure.


Our next stop was at Gullfoss.  I have been to Niagara Falls and all I can say is that Niagara seems like a child’s sandbox creation compared to Gullfoss.  It is simply staggering to see how much water goes over the falls and how much noise and spray is generated.


Like the rest of Iceland, you’re pretty much on your own here with slick and jagged rocks and unsecure footing, all the while dodging other tourists trying to get as close as possible to the edge for their own camera shots.  Pictures can’t really convey the scale of the thing.  There is also no way to avoid getting soaked walking down to this viewing “platform”, and I use the word “platform” loosely.


In the Gullfoss parking lot was another example of how some people tour Iceland, I noticed that the water bottle still had refreshment left in it, but the bottle of “liquid courage” was in need of a refill.


This was back in Reykjavik at the harbor.  Simply put, Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, it’s pretty much a tie for me between this and New Zealand which is also stunning.  There is so much to see and so many places to go, most of them utterly devoid of crowds, allowing one to just be immersed with nature.  But even the man-made or man-modified areas such as The Blue Lagoon spa area are simply amazing.

If any of you do the U.S. – Europe trip in either direction I would suggest you look into Icelandair flights that for us wound up being less expensive than any other option last year and included a no-charge stopover in Iceland on either leg.  With one terminal and a one-hour transfer time, switching places was zero hassle and being able to visit here for several days was well worth it.  And the service, in-flight entertainment, and food were far beyond the standards of any of the American carriers.


Iceland has a vibrant car culture, most of you have heard of the monster glacier trucks that drive around (true), but there is also a definite American car scene here, we saw numerous vintage rides mostly in excellent condition.  Of course, when actually looking with my camera they all disappeared with the exception of this Ford Bronco parked in the downtown area.


Well taken care of but hardly coddled, this seems like an excellent way to enjoy driving on and off road here.  With generally low speed limits, but very expensive fuel, people seem to keep car travel to a minimum.


What did we drive?  Well, since Iceland’s summer season is very short, rental rates during the season are unbelievably high.  The best strategy seems to be to reserve the absolute cheapest and smallest car that will fit your needs and then hope for a free upgrade.

We had reserved a Chevy Cruze Diesel Wagon at the bargain rate (for here) of around $90 for each of our three days.  When we arrived we were met by our rental representative and presented with this Chevrolet Captiva 4WD 7-seat TurboDiesel (extended wheelbase compared to the U.S. market 5-seat version).


At first I was dead set against it and tried everything I could to convince him to let us have the Skoda Superb parked next to it, having been predisposed to disliking it by negative reviews of the U.S. market Chevrolet Captiva (rental fleet only, rebadged Saturn Vue which was itself a rebadged Opel Antara).  However once I noticed the third row things started looking up.  My wife telling me to stop behaving like an idiot and just to enjoy the larger car helped as well.


Once driving, it was actually quite good and I ended up very pleased that the five of us (three of them pictured above) were not cramped into a Chevy Cruze.  The Captiva was quite spacious, very comfortable, plenty powerful, and had a full set of features (power everything, trip computer, good radio).  The engine was a turbodiesel, of which I am ashamed to admit that I did not take a picture or even open the hood to see if it was a 4cylinder or a 6cylinder at the time.

As I said earlier, my pictures on this trip were a bit haphazard which is why there are no interior shots either.  I assume after some research it was the 2.2liter which produces 180hp and 300lb-ft of torque in the Opel Antara with the automatic.  Plenty of power and if the US version had been equipped likewise would probably have caused some reviews to be different.


These pictures were shot at the last minute when we were back at the airport (one terminal, seen in the background of the second to last picture). The rental return instructions were to “Fill with fuel, park in lot A, leave the parking pass and the keys under the floormat, leave car unlocked, don’t worry about it and enjoy your flight.”  What a fantastic country and people that more of the world could use as an example.