COAL: 1985 Volvo 245 Turbo the First • Rustic Charm and Squash Soup

The car leaked so much oil from the oil pan, cam cover, turbo drain, and surely others at freeway speeds that the tailgate glass grew impossible to see through with 10 miles’ highway driving. I pulled the crankcase vent hose off its fitting on the airbox and saw some blowby coming out, but not too much. Put my thumb over the end of the hose with engine idling, and felt pressure building up, and building up, and building up, then lots of smoke as oil was forced out through many leaks onto the hot exhaust pipe.

Wait a sec…highway? What happened to putt-putting around town, a mile here and a mile there? Exactly two weeks after I bought the car was Saturday 9 September 2000, the weekend before classes were to start up on the Monday. That morning I was mousing around on the website of the Motor City Bears, which was a little weird, as I’d found them something of a disagreeable group a couple of years before, and chatting over AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, which was a thing at the time) with a friend in California. I had a vague recollection he’d lived in Toronto some years back, so I mentioned to him “Oh, hey, lookit there: the Motor City Bears are having a bar night in Toronto tonight”.

He said “Cool, you should go!”

I said “Toronto’s 300 miles away!”

He said “You just told me you got a car.”

Leaving aside the difference between putting 600 miles on a car like this one at a time versus 300 at a time, I changed protest tactics: “I don’t know anyone there!”

He said “My ex still lives there; you should call him” and gave me a phone number.

Well…sure, why on earth not! I rang the number and a friendly-sounding voice answered. “Hi there”, I said. “I’m Daniel. You don’t know me, ah, yet, but Stephen said to call and tell you I’m coming to visit.”

“Oh, when?” said the friendly voice.

“About…six hours “, I said.

Shortly later, I tossed an overnight bag in the back seat and headed up I-94 toward Canada, where I’d last been eight years before in pursuit of D’Valiant. I don’t recall whether I used the tunnel or the bridge, but I pulled up to the Canadian border in a mangy car with wrong-colour headlamps and a paper temporary licence plate, for my cheap-in-Michigan vanity plate (UH BEAR) hadn’t yet arrove. At that time a passport wasn’t needed to cross the border, and I didn’t have mine with me. The standards of acceptability for what-is-the-purpose-of-your-trip were loose enough back then that I was allowed in, despite my long list of sketchy factors.

I had some difficulty navigating; this was well before smartphones and live nav, so all I had to go on was my directions written out in longhand, which I couldn’t see because it was dark. I got lost a few times in and around Toronto and wound up going way out of my way trying to find Bloor Street. It was close to 10:00 and I was tired, cross, and starving by the time I found the address the friendly voice had given me. He took me in and fed me homemade squash soup the same orange colour as his kitchen walls. As I write this, we’re a couple of months away from our 21st anniversary.

Just under two months after I bought the car, I took it to Swedish Engineering, a highly-regarded independent Volvo shop in Ann Arbor, for a complete checkover. I’d been making all these 620-mile round trips to Tronno, and while the car never left me stranded, and got remarkably good mileage, I had nagging doubts about the wisdom of it all.

The checkup was to cost $70, for one hour’s shop time. They sent me out in one of their loaner cars—a much nicer 245—and eventually called me back in. When I got there, the car was still on the hoist. “I’m going to charge you half an hour, $35”, said the head tech, “but you have to promise to drive straight home and park it for good. You have to stop driving this car; it’s not safe.”

Only the remains of the carpet were preventing the driver’s seat falling through the remains of the floorpan. The front brakes were worn out, with both front rotors well under minimum thickness. The rear brakes were worn out, too, with several seized pistons and very rusty rotors. Both lower ball joints had about ¼” (6.4 mm) play. The front and rear bushings were dead, and the engine mounts. There were numerous major oil leaks. The tires were well past due; hell, the whole car was well past due! Even my free ’63 Valiant wagon hadn’t been this decrepit.

I sold the car for $900, somewhat less than what I had in it, to someone who may very well comment on this post. I’d got about 3,200 miles out of it, so I wasn’t too awfully sad, but finding a suitable replacement was going to be a hassle of one kind or another, there in rusty Southern Michigan. That’s not where I wound up buying the next car, so…stay tuned!

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