COAL: 1971 Volvo 164 • Dreams Deferred Indefinitely

Bosch ø 8″ European headlamps (Cibié also made them—nicer but scarcer)

So at last, I had a 164! A beautiful early-model low-miles loaded one. Hoorah! I eventually flew out to Seattle to get it. Packed a set of the Volvo-specific 8-inch European headlamps in my luggage; I was not interested in a road trip feebly lit by 7-inch sealed beams. Swapped ’em in grandpa’s driveway, spent some time with my grandparents, then drove down to Eugene to look in on some friends and some not-very-old haunts. The car’s radiator was looking and acting too old, so I had it re-cored in Eugene, and some other work done, as well. I think we put in a fuel pump and a water pump to tidy up some leaks, changed all the fluids, and otherwise like that. Went to Discount Tire and got a set of Michelin X-Ones for it. Stopped in at Car Toys and got a stereo of some kind; I forget the particulars.

Generally the car ran well, except for a high and sputtery idle as though there were a vacuum leak. Which there probably was—at least one. This car had a pair of Zenith 175-CD2SE carburettors. Similar to SUs, but less well regarded and with some quirks of their own. They were mounted on a log-style intake manifold, not nearly so elegant or dynamically correct as the buncha-bananas Slant-6 item I was used to. This Volvo intake had high-volume exhaust flow routed through it to better vapourise the incoming fuel mixture to lower HC and CO emissions. It also served to efficiently heat up the carburetors. Aw well, I had long-term plans for fuel injection anyway.

I drove the car around Eugene awhile, stretching its legs and visiting with friends. Then came word dad’s lymphatic cancer had worsened, and I needed to head back to Denver. So I pointed my old Volvo eastward and hit the highway. Along about the middle of the state, it occurred to me that if I used the right route, I could stop in at Oñati!

No time to pull over; I dialled information (I now have a no-exceptions policy against phoning while driving), got the area code for Boise, dialled Boise information, got the number for Oñati, dialled Oñati, and spoke with a very helpful employee named Jamie, who told me the restaurant’s opening hours. I glanced at my watch and was unsure I could make it at all, and I hadn’t even crossed into the Mountain time zone; that’d cost me another hour.

I made very rapid, somewhat illegal progress, with absolutely no unnecessary stops. But as the afternoon wore on, I could see I would not make the dining room hours. I called Jamie back, asked him if the restaurant could package up a meal for me to take away. He said that they could. Terrific, I was happy. I ordered the daily special—meat with a bunch of irresistible side dishes—and hung up the phone. About 75 miles later, I reached into the cooler I had on the passenger seat for a can of pop…and the idea light went on above my head (“Ding!”). I called Jamie back and told him to triple everything and add a bottle of the red wine. (What was it called? King Philip? King Edward VI? I can’t remember, and I never found it anywhere other than the restaurant).

Jamie and I had some tense conversations as the hour grew late and the Volvo and I chewed up miles, but 10 minutes before everyone was to lock up and leave for the night, I pulled into the parking lot at the bottom of Orchard off Chinden. Jamie was waiting for me, and all the food was packaged up in takeaway boxes. I tossed all my pre-packed provisions out the cooler and carefully packed two of the dinners into it, taking care to make sure nothing would spill. I was exhausted from my flat-out drive, found a local motel with refrigerators in the rooms, and headed for bed…but not before devouring one of the dinners. The other two went into the room fridge; they’d be untouched until Denver.

The next day’s drive started not long after sunrise, and ended at another motel with room fridges. And the day after that, I arrived back in Denver in the middle of the afternoon. I headed directly to the hospital and hoisted that big cooler up to dad’s room. He had no idea what was inside. I warmed everything in the microwave, put it on a wheeled cart and brought it round to his bed. You should have seen his face light up. He recognized it immediately and it just put the brakes on a day that had been going from bad to worse for him. I hadn’t seen him smile that widely since he first got ill. We happily ate one more Oñati dinner and drank that bottle of wine.

It was a bright spot in a dark time. Dad came home from hospital, but by and by began to have trouble breathing and needed to go back. In accord with prearranged protocol, I was the designated driver. Sister—26 years old—wouldn’t have any of it, though; she grabbed the keys (to my car) out my hand and played keep-away, of all things. I was asking her for the keys back as calmly as possible, but insistently and repeatedly, and she was refusing to give them over. Dad, whose breathing wasn’t critically difficult but who did need to get to the hospital, told her a couple of times to give over the keys, then had to focus on breathing. Mother was useless (I’m being diplomatic).

Sister finally threw the keys on the front lawn, held forth with a shrieky, dramatic monologue about how I was tearing apart the family, and stormed off down the street on foot. No time to give chase, we had to get to the hospital. We piled into the 164, and I started driving. East to the end of our street, North on Happy Canyon Road, West on Hampden Avenue, North on Colorado Boulevard. I concentrated on driving swiftly but safely. Dad was in the passenger seat up front next to me, and mother was in back. She should’ve been keeping full attention on dad, but instead she was putting out a constant stream of DanielDanielLookOutThere’sACarOnThatSideStreet! and LookOutThisGuyIsGoingToChangeLanes!.

About halfway up Colorado Boulevard, dad snapped. With obvious pain and difficulty took as deep a breath as he could, struggled around under the seatbelt until he was facing rearward, and exasperatedly tried his best to raise his voice, which he very seldom did in his entire life: RULE NUMBER ONE! LET DANIEL DRIVE! RULE NUMBER TWO! LET DANIEL DRIVE! and then flopped back into his seat, even more exhausted and out-of-breath than he had been before.

Once dad was being attended to, it came time to see what had become of sister. Telephone calls to the house yielded no answer. We called the relevant Police; I don’t remember whether they were able to help or not (might’ve been a “can’t look for them until they’ve been gone longer than such-and-such a time” deal). Eventually she returned to the house.

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