CC Rental Travelogue: 1996 Volvo 850GLT – Travels with Riley

Volvo 850

No, this isn’t a rerun article from way back, I actually rented a Curbside Classic last week.  First though, some background…Our family has developed somewhat of a tradition wherein, while some years we do vacation together, my wife likes to plan and take budget semi-backpacker trips to exotic locales such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru, Australia etc. for two to three weeks every summer and has taken our oldest with her since she was a fairly mature 7-year-old.

While at first it made no sense for all of us to go every year (as the other kids were still very young and thus really just a bother since they couldn’t appreciate it as well incurring a significantly greater expense), the reality is that from a business standpoint it’s tough for all of us to be gone at the same time and I really don’t like high levels of humidity (as in much of Asia) or long airplane rides.

Hence I tend to volunteer to stay home with the boys and often take them on a roadtrip somewhere instead or do other things, usually after the ladies return.  This has become a sort of running joke amongst our friends wherein it is said that the “Top Producer” in our family/business gets an all-expense paid trip to an exotic far-away land and second place (me) gets to drive through Nebraska to the Mid-West (as I’ve ventured to Chicago amongst other places with the boys).

As our middle child has gotten older he has now been deemed worthy of traveling to the interesting places, which last year resulted in only my youngest and me taking a road trip to Canada’s middle Provinces (Canada’s Mid-West?) and this year deciding to visit the Seattle area as he has gotten hugely into airplanes.

His idea of entertainment seems to be watching anything airplane related including crew training videos on YouTube and staying up very late building elaborate Lego airports with for example actual motorized jetways and horror scenarios such as airplanes with standing room only (which really isn’t that far off from the sadly more and more popular 28-inch pitch).  So, off to the land of Boeing it was.  (As I write this, he just came out of his room and wanted my opinion on the retractable landing gear he just added to his large Lego plane.  I looked at it and it actually works, uncovers and unfolds.)

Since this was a bit of an impromptu last-minute trip with less than a couple of weeks to plan, we first booked the airline and while we all know I don’t love flying (to clarify, I like the idea of flying, I like airplanes, I love the technology, I merely hate what commercial flight in this country has become from the frugal passenger’s point of view), I nevertheless sucked it up and booked a couple of seats on Frontier (there was a very good sale going on) and then booked our tour at Boeing’s Everett factory (747, 777, 787).

It turned out that the best hotel option both from a location and price perspective on Tour Day was actually a Hilton Garden Inn literally on the grounds of Paine Field overlooking the runways and delivery/production areas of the factory.  For the other few days we found what turned out to be a great AirBnb in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.

Then came the rental car, usually my favorite part of the planning.  This time, there was literally NOTHING available at a reasonable price.  The smallest subcompacts (as there were only two of us and I would have loved to sample a Spark or Sonic etc.) were at the $400 level for four days.  I thought this must be an anomaly, thought $200 would be more realistic and waited a few days, which didn’t change a thing.

I then remembered my old favorite SilverCar – I quickly realized that apparently after they got bought out by Audi last year their rates have now gone through the roof, so they were off my list.  I then thought of Brendan and William and tried Turo.  Well, when I saw that people on Turo can ask (and apparently get!) $70/day for their beat-looking 2002 Mk IV Jetta for those particular days in Seattle, I knew I might be in trouble.

Volvo 850

However, I then thought a bit more out of the box.  After searching for “Cheap Rental Car” a small company named Mashariki-Rent-A-Car popped up.  It turned out they rent older cars at relatively low prices.  I called and spoke with a pleasant fellow named Lui, who turned out to be the owner.  He explained that summers have gotten very busy in Seattle (thus pricy) and he had a few cars left but no Corolla such as I was asking about.

He offered a 2002 Taurus (no thanks, not a fan), a 2006 Dodge Caravan (overkill for two), and then let drop that he had a Volvo available.  Ooh, this could work.  Yes, a Volvo 850 sedan for $35/day plus tax, no other charges (much more than the Corolla but still cheap compared to everything else I was seeing elsewhere).  Since his location is off-airport, I asked about that and was told that he would pick us up and drop us off when we were done.  Alright, sold, how often can one rent a real Curbside Classic…

Volvo 850

True to his word, when we landed and I texted Lui, he replied that he was already on his way after tracking our flight and soon pulled up outside baggage claim in a white 1996 Volvo 850 sedan.  We put our stuff in the trunk, got Riley settled in his booster seat, and drove the car back to the office to do the paperwork and drop Lui off (after he stopped and refilled the tank to replace the gas we used getting us).  They don’t do that at Enterprise…

Lui, it turns out, immigrated from Kenya about seventeen years ago and after finding a normal job, somehow starting renting a couple of cars on the side.  As he saw it taking off quickly, he gave up his job and starting running this new venture full time.  Now he is up to about forty-five cars, the newest being about a decade old and the oldest actually being “our” Volvo 850.  He has several Volvos, various Toyota Corollas, and then an assortment of other cars in all shapes and sizes.  He tends to buy them at auction and picks up what others don’t seem to want.

Volvo 850

This Volvo, for example, he purchased about a decade ago at an auction for very little money, at the time it had about 100,000 miles on it.  Since then it has traveled another 144,000 miles and according to Lui has never needed any major engine work, all the electrics have worked well and the transmission is either original (or was replaced before he got it, either way it’s never had an issue).

Lui speaks our CC language, he certainly lives/loves old cars and actually is an amateur rally driver, using a Subaru WRX that he bought used and has converted into a race car.  His office is filled with pictures, his race suit, some car parts, and a few trophies.

Volvo 850

After the paperwork which included a sheet of pictures detailing existing damage to the car (minor, likely less than anything most of us would own with almost a quarter of a million miles on it), he handed over the keys and we were off!  But first I must make a point of mentioning that I’ve driven my fair share of rental cars over the years.  This one was obviously the highest mileage one and while worn in places, was immaculately clean inside.

Many rental cars I seem to get from major carriers are quite filthy with dirty windows and seem to suffer very lackluster care.   I’m hardly a germaphobe by any means and I admittedly don’t wash my own cars overly often but when I’m paying money for something I expect it to be clean.  Maybe it’s Karma for something I did but Lui and his Volvo delivered way beyond expectations in that regard.  This car was clean beyond all expectation.

Volvo 850

As I settled into the nicely broken in but still perfectly functional Volvo seat, I reflected on how since this car was already over two decades old, it could very possibly be the one and only time that my son (now eight years old) would ever ride in a Volvo 850.  Sure, you never know, but they aren’t getting more common and while still around, seem to already be outnumbered by the even older 240’s.

Volvo 850

This 850 was of 1996 vintage and seemed loaded for the day – power everything including memory seats, sunroof, leather, basically all the fixin’s.  Noteworthy by their absence was anything touchscreen, or any kind of screen besides a small radio display and the trip computer operated by an actual dial, how quaint.  In its stead was a sense of space.  Large windows, a cabin that didn’t encroach on you, with plenty of space to sprawl out and just enjoy the ride.

Volvo 850

That ride, by the way, was great.  Powered by the standard 850’s 5-cylinder engine (2.4 liter) producing 168hp when new, although surely some of the horses have left the barn by now, this engine drives the front wheels though a 4-speed automatic with a toggle switch for Sport or Economy modes.  Perry Shoar wrote up the Volvo 850 a few years ago if you’re interested in the entire history of the model.

Volvo 850

Somehow, lounging in that seat just made me go with the flow, I don’t think I ever even fully floored the throttle.  I just glided up the onramps onto the freeway and floated down the offramps.  There was no urge to go faster than the flow of traffic, no need to cut and thrust.  However, the Volvo kept up with everything, stopped when needed, and rounded corners with aplomb.

Bumps were dispatched in a firm manner (maybe a bit too firm, I doubt the suspension is anywhere like it once was) but rattles were remarkably few and Riley and I were able to keep up conversation the whole time, remarking on topics as diverse as swimming pools and ice cream along with airplanes and cars of course.

The 5-cylinder just rumbled along quietly in the background.  There is something about the sound of an inline-5 that I really like, having been a big Audi fan that’s part of it, but it’s a very different sort of sound as compared to a 4 or a 6.  To me, it’s soothing, so I was in my element.

Boeing 747

Our first stop was at Boeing Field (very close to Sea-Tac) which houses a great museum dedicated to the history of flight.  Having visited some years ago I was surprised to see how much larger it has become.  I knew the first 747 ever built, the “City Of Everett”, was there but now you are allowed to actually board it.

Also available for boarding were the first 787 (Dreamliner), a Concorde (the museum isn’t strictly Boeing), the first 737, the Air Force One (707) from the Nixon era as well as various other passenger and military airplanes as well as some helicopters.

Nixon's Air Force One Boeing 707

Also represented is an excellent Apollo space exhibit and a full-size Space Shuttle mockup that astronauts used to train on made of plywood, cloth, and seemingly various other things available in most suburban garages…Fascinating stuff for an 8-year old and this 47-year old.

DB Cooper

This trip is where I got to see the world through the eyes of an 8-year old again and remembered what it was like when I was that age.  The amazement (“Really?  I get to actually GO ON THE FIRST 747?), the boredom (“Do we really have to walk around Seattle?  It’s just buildings and people and stuff.  I could be productive and watching a video.”) and the reluctant acceptance of fate (“Are we there yet?”).

It’s also the first time I really realized or thought about that there now seem to be more people out there that are younger than me than there are people that are older than me. (I’m 47 currently). I have no idea if it’s true but even if one discounts kids that often aren’t seen during the weekdays such as when we travelled, at 47 I’m halfway between a 17-year old and a 77-year old so it is quite likely.  Many of the items that represented “history” on this trip were built during my lifetime and I remember when they were “new”.  Sobering thoughts.

Boeing Everett Factory

The next day we visited the Boeing factory in Everett.  They enforce a VERY strict no camera, no phones, no electronics policy on the tour so sadly I have no pictures of my own.  However, it was quite impressive, the Everett factory is the largest building in the world (by volume, natch), and really, it is absolutely enormous. Take a look at the picture above and figure out which of the tiny specks are parked cars and then look at the building…

Once inside, when you realize you are looking at four Boeing 787’s nose to tail along the narrow dimension of the building in its assembly area with room for two rows of them and more equipment and airplane parts and THEN realize this is just one of the six main bays you realize that you have lost all sense of scale.

Boeing Everett Factory

Leaving the building didn’t help either as I saw a nice little 737 without engines with British Airways tail colors just outside and then was told that’s actually a 777, not a 737.  Oy.  It was certainly very interesting and kind of made the Ford F-150 assembly line we toured at the Detroit meet-up seem like a child’s Erector set.


We also saw two Boeing “Dreamlifters” which my son explained to me were 747’s converted (they look like a very pregnant 747) to carry all the components for the 787 from around the world including fuselage sections and whole wings.  When we woke up the next morning they were both gone, likely on the other side of the world to ferry more parts back to Everett.

MV Tacoma

The rest of the time that we had we spent in Seattle proper along with a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island for lunch on our last day.  Washington State’s ferry systems is inexpensive, frequent, punctual, and very clean; if anyone is visiting the area I highly encourage a ride.

We rode on the MV Tacoma, which is one of their newer “Jumbo”-class ferries, built in 1996 just like our Volvo.  With 16,000hp from 4 x EMD 16-710G Diesel-Electric engines, it takes about half an hour for the Seattle-Bainbridge crossing at a top speed of 18 knots (about 21mph), although I don’t think it cruises at its top speed.  Just like us in our Volvo.  With space for 2500 passengers and about 200 vehicles, it’s a big boat!  But at just over $12 roundtrip for both of us (sans car), it was a fun and inexpensive side trip.


35 years ago I travelled with my parents on the Kaleetan, which is one of their smaller (relatively speaking) ferries, on a longer voyage to the San Juan Islands if I am remembering that correctly; that same boat happened to pull in right beside us at the Seattle pier when we returned from Bainbridge.  My mother still has the hand-made and painted wooden Christmas tree ornament one can purchase seasonally with the name painted on it from that trip.  Since then I’ve been to Seattle numerous times, but I think my last trip was around a decade ago.

Volvo 850

All the while, the Volvo was our faithful servant.  From Sea-Tac airport to Everett and back to Seattle with some city driving and eventually the return trip to the airport, the car returned approximately 23mpg over the 150 or so miles that we used it for.  Lui recommended mid-grade which we filled it up with before returning it in order for him to drive us back to the airport.

Volvo 850

Overall, a wonderful end of summer trip.  School starts today for Riley, which means I need to get busy with work again.  Maybe this year I can be the “Top Producer”.  Ah, who am I kidding…  Seattle was as great a place as always (if not even better) and for once (and only once?) there was absolutely zero precipitation while we were there, just days of endless sunshine and mid-70’s temperatures.  Plane models I’ve been flying on for years that I remember being new are now older, Washington’s ferries are still plying their trade, and Volvos “modern” front-wheel-drive car is now a genuine Curbside Classic but in at least Seattle it is available for rent to anyone who desires a ride in one.