Farewell, My Lovely—Volvo

“I have a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.”

I learned that old New York State folk song in elementary school. Ever since then, I’ve wanted a mule. Maybe because my name is Sal.

I’ll probably never have a mule, but I did have a Volvo.

In January 1991, my then-husband and I paid $19,256 cash (don’t ask me why cash–it’s a long, stupid story) for a new, 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission 1990 Volvo 2.4 L 240DL, a silver station wagon. We lived in Northern Maryland at the time. I didn’t like the white one the dealer had available, so he found me this one in Pennsylvania.

The Volvo was the only constant in my crazy life for the last 21 years. That’s a whole generation.

I packed her with my own and my kids’ belongings when I left my first marriage. She was filled to the roof when I moved from Baltimore to San Jose. That trip cracked the front brake rotor, probably while going over the Rockies. My new husband and I filled her to the brim again when we peeled out of San Jose on the way to our new home in Texas.

In Northern California, we used the Volvo to transport our seakayaks to the water, from Monterey Bay in the south to Bodega Bay in the north. Here she is with four kayaks on top and one inside. She was 15 years old then, but still handled like new.

My Volvo 240DL

We drove that car all the way up to Vancouver, Canada, and down to La Bufadora on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California, southwest of Ensenada.

Lately, my daughter had deja vu each time she sat inside. This is the car that took her back and forth to fifth grade. Now she’s 31.

After twenty years without a scratch, my Volvo was attacked by a buck at 11:30 one night as my husband drove home from a meeting. The buck bounced off the top of her left front fender, leaving a neat antler-shaped depression. He ricocheted off the left rear door and cracked a hubcap. The buck was totaled. Since my insurance company estimated that repairing the bodywork would cost more than the car’s book value, my Volvo was also considered totaled.

Ha! Little did they know….

Last fall the odometer stopped working, as though she decided she wasn’t going to get any older. A mechanic told me she needed transmission work, maybe, maybe not. This wasn’t surprising since the transmission had never been touched in 22 years. But he held her for a month before telling me. I needed transportation.

So—betrayal! I bought another car!

My Volvo sulked in the driveway for a week, nose pointed downhill, ignoring my new Subaru. I didn’t like the sulking, so I turned her around with her nose pointed uphill. That gave her a whole different outlook. I could see she wanted to go adventuring again.

After 21 years, my Volvo sold less than 48 hours after I put the ad on Craigslist.

I had a moment of panic when the new owner drove her away. My keyring still feels too light without her key on it. She took good care of me for a long time.

I thought that when her engine finally failed, I’d park her behind the garage and use her as an extra office, since I’d written so much over the years while sitting in the front seat. Instead, my silver station wagon is going to have a whole new life with a new owner. I could tell he’s going to love her just as well as I did.

When I first planned this post, I thought it would be an obituary. But that old Volvo has another ten years of life in her. She may last another twenty. She may still be touring around when I’m gone.

I wouldn’t be surprised.

By S.J. Driscoll

40 thoughts on “Farewell, My Lovely—Volvo

  1. I am glad your girl got you as far as she did and that she still lives to tell the tale. I hae never had the chance to sell a car. I have spent my life driving vehicles that are over twenty years old when I get them and have spent that twenty years being driven hard and put away wet. I send time and money babying, tinkering, repairing and even rebuilding (that was a long winter) these vehicles only to have them give up the ghost somewhere on the road. After a certain amount of abuse, no amount of TLC can revive them. The one time I thought I could break out, my 3 year old car went away as the recession and an on the job injury hit at the same time. Santa was good to me this year, though. After watching me struggle with my long drive for far too long, he made down payment on a 1998 Ford Explorer with just over 100k miles on it. For this area that is a low miles/year ratio. This one has been well cared for and some TLC will keep her going for a good long time.

    • Good luck with your Explorer. My dad, who was once a poor city kid, would never buy a new car. He’d take his “new” old cars apart and put them back together like they were Legos. It’s a skill I never learned. If I had, I’d probably still be driving my Volvo. Hope you’ve recovered from the injury!

      • My ability to “lego” my vehicles is the only reason they lasted as long as they did!!! It’s been four years since the injury, and since doctors insist there is nothing wrong and I am a poor country kid, I imagine it’s as good as it’s gonna get. Such a fact of my life now, I hardly notice it unless I accidently overdo it.

  2. Hey Sally, I know how that feels. I have an eight year old Corolla and it will probably last me forever. It feels more like an old friend than an object. Yes, I too have written a fair bit in that car. Many a blog post has come from the front seat. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    Oh yes, and thanks so much for the beautiful 5 star review of A Simple Twist of Fate. I really appreciate it.

  3. Oh Sally, parting is such sweet sorrow. You and your volvo spent decades together. Who wouldn’t miss something like that? It must be so strange. LIke a big chunk of your life went missing. A part of your familly gone. But at least she’s not dead. She’s just gone on to live with another family. Now you can make more memories with you new Subaru! Enjoy her! 🙂

    • Hi, Karen! When you say “decades” like that, I get this creepy feeling… like, is it normal to want to keep a car for a generation? Does that make me an automophile?

  4. I totally get you, Sally. This post is so beautiful. The ending reminds me of Toy Story 3 🙂 I’m sure your Volvo is out there creating more memories and making other families happy.

  5. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for inviting me to come sit by your fire and read your story. That was/is a great old Volvo in which I was once privileged to ride. Great story about a wonderful old friend who brought you here to become my friend. I’ll look forward to a ride someday in your new white Forester. I think it is amusing how white was not your color of choice for the Volvo but suits you for your Subaru. Does she have a name yet?

    • Hi, Sherry! Back those twenty-odd years ago, the car salesman tried to sell me a white Volvo. Looked awful. Then the Subaru salesman tried to sell me a silver Subaru. Yuck! As far as a name goes–the Subaru’s too young to be named. It’s barely an embryo. An egg. Maybe Egg will be its name. Hmm.

  6. I love change! So much, that I can’t believe I have the same mini-van that I’ve been driving for 6 years. It’s now paid off and I’m so torn….part of me can’t wait to get a new car (we want this one to stay with us for another year). Then, it’s obviously SO nice to not have that car payment. Mine was pretty hefty so, I’m sort of gaga over the extra cash to put into savings **or what have you** 😉 Right now, I’m still swooning over the extra financial flexibility but, that change idea of a new car with new bells and whistles still calls to me. I’d like to hang on to a car and have a partner like you did for so long….but……is it really in me??? Congrats on your longevity with your car and your new beginning with your new friend!!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Molly! There’s been so much change in my life that I hang on to everything I can as long as I can. That’s probably just as extreme as grabbing for “ooh, shiny” and letting perfectly good things drop. Congrats on paying off your minivan and enjoy that extra cash while you can!

  7. I remember this old girl! What a fantastic car. (P.S., I’m loving this blog. Miss you, Sally!)

  8. This story reaches right to my heart. My first car was a 1989 silver wagon but it was a 740 instead of a 240. I had so many trips in that Volvo and I loved him. I moved into my first apartment in him, drove to the Adirondacks and not once did I have a problem with him. Eventually after three years the transmission went and I couldn’t afford to fix it. It went on the exact day that the odometer turned to 250,000. Thanks for the post. And I am planning on buying another Volvo. They are tanks.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story and your love for your Volvo. When I wrote this post, I thought I was the only one with such strong feelings about that make of car, but I was wrong. Good luck with your new one–have many happy years driving it.

  9. Hello! I came across this story about your life with your Volvo from twitter. I myself own a ’91 Volvo station wagon, her name is Inga. We happen to be the same age and I can’t imagine a day without her. It makes me happy to see that there is someone else out there that loved their Volvo as much as I do. She has grown on not only my family but all my friends as well. haha My uncle gave her to me as a gift and what a lovely gift she was. He owns a ’93 Volvo station wagon and is very passionate about these cars. He has opened my eyes to how wonderful they are and is constantly teaching me ways to fix her up. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. It makes me hopefully that Inga and I will have a long relationship. Although it is sad to hear your journey has ended with yours car, mine is just beginning. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Hi, Brittney, thanks for reading! That was a lovely gift. I think my mistake was that I never learned to fix my Volvo on my own. If I had, I’d have been able to tell by myself about the state of her transmission… after the mechanic told me no parts were available, I got on line and found a new transmission in twenty minutes. Probably I should’ve researched before going to a mechanic, but, but, but…. I hope Inga stays with you a long, long time and you have many wonderful experiences with her!

  10. I have so many fond memories of my cars – I even met my husband through my first, an ’88 Pontiac Sunbird GT with a bad oil leak! (He was Mr. Goodwrench.) When I got my new Camaro, I was glad for once that my daughter was 14, as it game me an excuse to keep my old Firebird. It seems weird – the car she remembers going with me to buy when she was three, she’s now learning to drive. It sounds like your Volvo went to a good home – hopefully it will enrich someone else’s life as much as it has yours. 🙂

    • Hi, Jennette! I tried to teach my son to drive my Volvo when he was 16. Didn’t work–seems like I’m the world’s worst driving teacher (and one of the world’s worst front-seat passengers). Good luck teaching your daughter–I’m sure she’ll have a better experience than my son had.

  11. Oh, sad day! I’m sure your new Subaru could use a little lovin’ though. Sounds like you got a gem in that Volvo. I’m glad you have fond memories of your years together.

    I’ve had my Subaru for over nine years now and it’s got over 200,000 miles on it and still ticking. I hope that baby gets another 200,000 too.

    Good luck with the new car!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Thanks, Patricia! That’s great about your Subaru. I hope my new one lasts like that. After I bought it, I read the Forester’s considered the modern version of my Volvo 240 station wagon, which was pretty funny.

  12. I loved this post. I’m planning on giving up my 2001 Pontiac Sunfire GT for something roomier in the fall. While I made the decision months ago and am currently saving for the new car, I want to hold on to my Sunfire until she explodes like a car in a cartoon. My heart aches. I hope that when the time comes, I will be as hopeful about her future as you are of your Volvo.

    • Patricia, I just checked out the 2001 Pontiac Sunfire GT on line. Very cute, and 30 mpg? Great car! I hope you’re able to keep her after you transition to something bigger.

  13. Awww! Funny how we get attached to our cars, isn’t it? I sold my car last year on Craig’s List and was shocked how fast it sold too. I think it took less than 4 hours. I thought it would be harder, somehow. I had a pang of nostalgia as the man drove it away too. Never fear, your car will live on! And you have pictures to remind you :-).

    • Melinda, it does seem funny to get so attached to a chunk of metal and oil, as if it were really a living thing–wait! That Volvo is a living thing! No one will ever convince me otherwise. 🙂

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