COAL: 1985 Volvo 245 Turbo the Second • Oops, I Did It Again

On 6 October 2002, I impulsively decided that, having done my time in a K (ish)-car, I was rehabilitated and ready to return to productive society. The ’92 LeBaron I’d bought off my mother for $1,200 had given me utterly reliable, dependable, inexpensive service and really owed me nothing, but the driver side of its split bench seat had deteriorated from passable to distinctly uncomfortable for the hours-long drives Bill and I were in the habit of. In retrospect, I’d’ve done better to refurbish or replace the seat and carry on driving, but I decided it was time for a replacement car.

This decision was nudged along by my having spotted that day a really nice ’85 Volvo 245 Turbo…on EBay (minor chord here). Intercooled, 4-speed plus overdrive, limited-slip differential, air conditioning, power everything, leather, a buncha gauges, and 120 kilomiles. It was just outside Wilmington, North Carolina. On 7 October, the seller told me Shocks have been replaced. Bushings not sure, will check on that. There isn’t any popping or creaking or other unusual noise. Michelins like new, stock size. Car starts instantly and runs perfectly. A/C is blowing 40 degrees at the vents. There is no rust on this car anywhere. It is as “turn key” as you’ll find. Owners were one doctor, his good friend, then me. I have sevice records that are recent and they give one the understanding of the excellent care this car has had. Thanks for the interest and I will try to veiw all the bushings to tomorrow as I’m going to take undercarraige pics for someone else.

On 8 October: Bushings all in great shape, no cracks, no sag, no missing chunks.

The Ebay auction ended without meeting reserve at $5,250, and I emailed the seller—back then Ebay just handed out email addresses. We agreed on $5,500, and he’d be perfectly happy to store the car for awhile while I made arrangements. Money sent, bling; title received, blong. So I’d bought another 1985 Volvo 245 Turbo on Ebay! Bodily it was the diametric opposite of Den Rostiga Björnvagn: not a speck of rust anywhere, and structurally A-1. But a car, particularly such as a turbocharged and intercooled Volvo with a bunch of options, has a great many working parts assembled to that structure. Many of them on this car were rather closer to Z-26 than to A-1, and the car wound up causing me great aggravation and expense in the five months I owned it.

I was living in Toronto on the most grudging, yankprone kind of visa—permanent residence was still years ahead, let alone citizenship—and registering the car in Ontario would have made problems if the Canadian Government had decided to kick me out, so my car was registered in Michigan. I made arrangements with the service writer at an independent garage in Traverse City; he’d sell the LeBaron for me.

On 8 November I got a call from one of the service writer’s customers. This guy had a fireproof credit card on file at the garage; when his ’80 Rolls Royce (V8, multiple SU carburettors) needed service, he dropped it off, whatever parts and service were charged on the card, and he picked it up when it was done. The money behind that credit card came from this guy’s expertise in big, fancy chassis dynamometers, which he sold to automakers. He told me Chrysler do a lousy job of building a great design, Ford do a great job of building a lousy design, and GM do a mediocre job of building a mediocre design, and with exceptions here and there, I think that’s apt. His newphew was driving a ’91 LeSabre that was clapped out plus a year, and badly in need of replacement. We exchanged e-mails, and he asked when he could see the LeBaron.

On Monday 11 November I swapped the nice CD player out the LeBaron into my truck, and the truck’s generic FM/AM into the LeBaron. I reinstalled the mile-primary speedometer after advancing the odometer to match the KM total, and cleaned out all my junk.

On Tuesday 12 November I drove the LeBaron from Toronto to Traverse City—about 750 km / 470 miles, gave the friendly service writer the title and a matched set of “sign here” bills of sale, told him I was asking $2,000 for the car and would probably accept $1,700.

On Wednesday 13 November I flew back to Toronto. There was unpleasantness with Customs and Immigration; that went with the territory of that grudging visa I was on.

On Friday 15 November I flew to North Carolina. While waiting at the baggage reclaim in Wilmington, I checked my voicemail. Rolls Royce guy had left a message: Nephew and I test drove your LeBaron…it’s perfect, just what we want! Will you take $2100 for it?

Hrr? I’d never had a counteroffer higher than what I was asking. I called Service Writer, who said Yeah, I told him you wanted $2k for it, and he said ‘Naw, this car’s too nice for $2K, I’ll give him $2,100.

Sold, then! It seemed to me I was developing something of a track record of selling cars in nicer shape than I bought them. The guy who bought the LeBaron said exactly the same thing as the guy who bought my Spirit R/T : I can’t believe this car is 10 years old!

I picked up the Volvo, and learned (and, from the experience with the 1990 Jetta, wished I hadn’t) that the seller was a salesman at a VW dealer by profession. He’d had his detail guys go over the car, which I guess was a nice gesture unless it wasn’t, and they’d used some kind of godawful-smelling dye or other chemical on some interior part. The car reeked of volatile solvents.

North Carolina was great. Awesome seafood, nice people—Y’all come back now, y’heeyah?—and I was able to pick up a bag of grits per Bill’s request, only I don’t think he had the 5-pounder in mind. I spent the night in a rental cottage on the beach. The next morning I affixed my Michigan plate, installed the Marchal quartz headlamps I’d brought along with me (because of course I had) and guessed at their aim, and set out for Toronto through rain, fog and snow. The car did fine, pretty much. I was irked to discover the rear frog lamps didn’t work—there I was, in weather conditions warranting their use, in a car equipped with them, and I couldn’t! That wouldn’t do; it didn’t take much poking and prodding to figure out the fuse had gone missing. I installed one and the rear frog lamps went blazing at the touch of the switch.

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