Several weeks ago, during a conversation, a friend asked me what I thought about the old Volvo 240 wagons. I told her they were fantastic cars, but I didn’t have much experience with them. She then told me she was looking for one to drive around Nashville for a fun weekend cruiser or camping vehicle. Of course, I asked why she settled on that particular car. As it turns out, the Volvo 240 was what her parents had when she was a kid and what she learned to drive. In high school, the car was totaled but it saved her life. Now, it was time for her to have another one. The only problem, however, was that she didn’t know how to go about finding one.
I agreed to help, so she hired me to find one, go get it, and take care of all the repairs for her. In a short time, I was able to locate a few examples that met her restrictions: a manual transmission, 240 wagon, in the best condition possible, with low mileage. Two I found were great choices, but one was incredibly far away, the other needed a large amount of work. The third I found was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and needed some basic maintenance, but overall, the pictures looked like it was in decent shape. The price was right, the specs were right, and it was within driving distance to retrieve. She gave the green light to call the owner, so I got in touch with him.
I quickly spoke to the seller and found out the car was purchased new by his father in South Carolina, where it lived its whole life, and was in even better shape than the pictures he posted showed. He sent more information and detailed shots of the car. I showed everything to my friend and she agreed that was the perfect one. We knew it would need suspension, some bushings, and a tune-up, but a one-owner, 140k mile, mechanically pristine example was going to be hard to find anywhere around the asking price. It was only a few text messages later that cemented my weekend plans: I would be on a flight Saturday morning and driving home in a Volvo that afternoon.
The next thing I knew, I was booked for a flight from Akron to Milwaukee, I had the money in my account, and was scheduled to see the car Saturday morning. After an early flight, I arrived at a Psychic and Palm Reading building in Milwaukee, where I was greeted by the owner, Richard, and a very clean 240 wagon. Everything he told me was wrong with the car was accurate, all the positives were true as well, but there were, of course, a few more negatives he had failed to mention despite me asking specifically about them.
When you buy an old car from a private seller, there are always a few things the seller will leave out. Whether they are lying or just didn’t know, it makes no difference in how you should approach the deal. I informed the buyer that there were a few more things the car would need, but nothing I couldn’t tackle except for some undisclosed minor body damage. With her approval, I went forward with the deal. Naturally, with those additional flaws, I was able to knock more than a grand off of the asking price and scored a sweet deal on this gorgeous Volvo 240 DL 5spd wagon. With the keys, title, and car in my hands, I set out for the long drive back home.
It was a little sketchy driving a thirty-year-old car for nearly ten hours, but for the most part, it was uneventful. I honestly expected to have something fail, but with the condition of the car being close to excellent, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an easy drive back home. Of course, it needed shocks, struts, ball joints, shifter bushings, and a good brake bleed to be mechanically perfect, but the engine, clutch, transmission, rear end, and virtually everything else was flawless. That gave me the chance to stop worrying about what might break and get to know the car as the miles ticked by.
As I drove, I began to see the appeal to these cars. They’re slow, sure, but they are sort of like a best friend. Maybe you don’t quite have the same interests, maybe they can be a bit inconvenient at times, but they’re reliable, comforting, and easy to be around. Every time I parked the car for snacks, dinner, gas, bathroom breaks, whatever, I found myself looking back at it. The chrome roof rack, the boxy lines, the maroon paint, everything seemed to be nostalgic and appealing to me. It isn’t a sports car, it isn’t some off-road rig, it isn’t something that should be interesting to me for any reason, but somehow, it is. It just has that personality you don’t find in modern cars. It looks like something I would take to follow Phish on tour. I could imagine it covered in Grateful Dead and Phish stickers, packed to the gills with all my worldly possessions, and taking me all over the country. I could see it being a vessel for experiences.
It was then I realized why this car was so important to my friend. That it is a vessel for those memories, that it represents a sort of freedom, is exactly why she wanted another one. You could pick a modern SUV to do the same thing, but it wouldn’t have the personality, the desire for a real relationship, that this 240 has. The car feels like a friend, not an appliance. It immediately imprinted on me as something I could enjoy as more than a car. It was alive, it begged for attention, and it felt so incredibly happy to just drive across America on the open road.
After a long drive, lengthened by absurd traffic through Chicago, I finally made it back to my house around midnight. From my 7 AM flight to returning with the car, I had been awake for nineteen hours, either flying or driving. I was exhausted, but satisfied. Nothing going into this trip had made me feel that I would develop a connection with this car. I didn’t find the Volvo 240 interesting except that it was a product of the same time many cars I do enjoy came from. A ten-hour drive later, though, and I felt like I had a new best friend. It completely changed my mind about these cars and showed me why I was going to all the trouble to find one and fix it up for my friend. Which led to another interesting discovery. Somehow, through someone with almost no car knowledge, I had learned to appreciate yet another aspect of car enthusiasm. I appreciated this car for what it is rather than what it could have been.
With newfound interest, I now have just a few short weeks to wrap up this car and deliver it to my friend. As I sit here writing, I am also compiling the parts list to get the refresh underway. While I was looking forward to having something to fix up and some extra cash in my pocket for the holiday season, I wasn’t necessarily invested in this specific project. Now, though, after driving it for a day and forming a bond with the car I have now named ‘Punky,’ I find myself excited at the idea that I will get to see this car transform into something that will be a friend to someone I care about. I am eager to get to work on it, not because it is a project, but because it is this project. This specific Volvo 240 wagon, as mundane and boring as it is on paper, has become something special to me. It has carved out a brick-shaped hole in my heart with its quirky personality and established a real emotional connection with me. I can’t wait to get started, but I also don’t look forward to handing over the keys to the new owner. This means I’ll just have to find one for myself and see if I can develop a similar relationship with another one as this little wagon has formed with me.