With the my Miata now gone (sold to a friend who has given me the right of first refusal when it comes time for him to sell it), I needed a new car with a bit more practicality, and a low price tag. A quick call to my friend Vasco, who functions as Toronto’s version of our own Steve Lang, led me to the car you see above. Did I mention it’s a manual?
Originally, my plan was to sell the Miata and pick up a friend’s high mileage but well cared-for E36 BMW 328i. I’d already sold the Miata (for a sum that was impossible to refuse) and was looking forward to getting behind the wheel. The car drove well and was in great shape overall, save for one minor detail – during the government safety inspection, a portion of the frame near the jacking point was discovered to have rotted out. It was a double blow for me, since it wouldn’t be worth fixing, and I suddenly felt a wave of regret over selling my beloved first car, despite my now healthy bank balance.
A quick message to Vasco asking for “anything decent and cheap”, came up with the Volvo. It was his brother’s car, and Vasco had bought it at auction, using it briefly as his own car before handing it off to his older brother. For the last year, it had carried his brother, sister-in-law, their three kids and a large Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was a1998 non-turbo 2.4L with 162,800 miles on the clock, but it had a 5-speed manual and Vasco only wanted $1500 for it.
I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes (and looked at a couple S70 T5s – V70 turbos were all automatic, save for one V70 AWD that was questionable enough to make me walk away) but ultimately decided to take a chance with it. The Carfax came back clean, and although there were a number of scratches and stone chips, there was no rust on the rockers, quarter panels or frame rails. To pass inspection, it would need a further $325 for new rear brakes, parking brake shoes and a tie rod, plus $75 for the inspection and $30 for an emissions test. Another $200 or so for taxes, fees and licensing and it now sits in my driveway.
For now, the V70 will be a great shuttle to take me to Mosport for my bi-monthly karting series, as well as a bit of a beater to leave in parking lots while I have press cars. With the Miata, I always worried about leaving it sitting in outdoor lots for weeks at a time – it was in beautiful shape, but a few steps away from looking like crap. The Volvo is liberating in the sense that it’s totally anonymous, and any cosmetic damage is frankly inconsequential.
Although it’s not the most thrilling to drive, the V70 is enjoyable in its own right. As a manual wagon, it has its own novelty, and even with all those miles on the odometer, the engine is strong, the clutch feels like there’s lots of life left, and the interior is far better than the one in my Miata. The Volvo is also much better equipped (heated seats are going to make the frigid winters infinitely better), will fare far better in a crash and has some decent highway manners. With that said, I will likely have another Miata sooner than later (or something faster. who knows). The Volvo will go to my brother as a reward for his eventual graduation from a very demanding business school (and entry into law school, if he so chooses) – and also because his roommate has the exact same car, down to the wheels and missing roof rack.
Over at Edmunds, the team has started “Project Debt Free”, to prove that one can buy a decent car for a relatively modest sum of cash. They managed to come away with a $3800 1996 Lexus ES300 with fewer miles. Personally, I think our car is more interesting, but it may not have the clockwork reliability of the Lexus. In the spirit of that project, I’ll also keep everyone updated on any maintenance, issues and positive experiences. So far, the car will need some body work (14 years of stone chips has necessitated a re-spray of the front end), not to mention a good wash and a tune-up. But the V70, as boring as it may be, it’s not something I’d be embarrassed to drive, and is just interesting enough to make me look forward to driving it.
By the way, Project G-Body and Project Rallycross are still on. The Grand National is still in the shop awaiting some new old stock interior bits. Once that’s on the road, the hunt for a suitable Rallycross Project will begin.