Some people collect stamps, some people collect cookbooks. I collect old Volvos. (I collect cookbooks as well but they fit on a few shelves. Volvos clog up the driveway.)
I looked at a 164 a couple of weeks ago, a model by noted designer Jan Wilsgaard. A 164 is kind of like a scrap metal art installation that you can drive to the supermarket if you get sick of just looking at it, which is unlikely. 164s handle like the Queen Mary. It’s still coming around the corner five minutes after you see the headlights. I made an offer on the car and I knew the owner would hold out. She thought the car was beautiful and when they say that, they always ask too much money.
Then I happened to see an ad for an old 244, an early '76 car. There's usually nothing special about these - most are being scrapped now because the cost of fixing them is more than what they’re worth.
Something made me check it out. The car was in Eaglemont. I went to Eaglemont early on a Thursday afternoon, drove up to where it is quiet and leafy and the streets are steep and the mansions look way down at the Yarra River valley. The house was a vast 1950s waterfall brick affair hanging off a hill and it was overgrown with the kinds of shrubs that everyone had in the 1950s; weigela, hibiscus, plumbago. I climbed about a hundred steps to the front door and an old dear came and opened it and told me to go around the side and up to the garage.
I went around the side and fought my way through a jungle of shrubs and found the garage sitting way up the back, past a dried up sunken lawn with a clothes line in the middle and one lonely teatowel drying on it. The old dear took the short route and was there before me. She got the garage door open and a big round headlight peeked out at us. We went in and she told me he hadn’t used it much earlier, and not at all later. And then there had been no choice.
It didn’t look like it had been much used. The duco was a riot of 1970s tangerine. The car looked like a giant crate of oranges. I wiped my finger along it and the paintwork gleamed underneath a thin layer of garage dust. I opened the driver’s door. The car had a matching tan-orange interior, a white roof lining and unmarked rubber floormats. Then I looked at the odometer and tried to suppress a gasp. 40,065 kilometres.
The old dear showed me the service records. They showed 9,000 kilometres by the end of 1977 and almost 30,000 kilometres by the end of 1982. That left 25 years for someone to drive the other 10,000 kilometres. That’s 400 clicks a year. I bought the car on the spot.
I returned on Saturday afternoon to drive it home. I backed out of the garage into the laneway behind and the old dear patted the front of the Volvo and had a kind of confused look on her face: happy because it wasn’t going to scrap, but a little sad because the last time someone drove the car, it was her late husband.