The moment is indelibly ingrained in my memory bank.
I was on a 140-mile tour around Mt. St. Helens in Washington state. There were 34 of us on the tour, ranging from the SCM 1965 Volvo 122S to a slew of modern big-butt Porsches.
We were participating in a Drive Toward a Cure event to raise money for research to cure Parkinson’s disease. (The umbrella organization is Rally Across America 2020.) The tour was a success. We raised $5,000, twice our goal.
I haven’t had the Volvo out since July, when it was going through a phase of teen-aged rebellion and refusing to go on any trip that didn’t include a ride on a rollback. By the third time I was losing my patience with the car.
Luckily, Ed Grayson at Consolidated Autoworks dug into the wiring harness and found a splice that had been improperly performed when the Pertronix ignition was installed. He hoped that was what was causing the Amazon to exhibit “fainting car syndrome” on our trips – it would simply, without warning, stop running.
The car seemed to perform well. The idle was set a little low, so the oil pressure light would come on at idle when the oil was hot. I thought about having an oil pressure gauge installed to keep an eye on things, then thought better of it. What if the gauge gave me information I was better off not knowing?
Bradley solved the idle problem by adjusting each of the idle screws on the S.U. carburetors one half-turn in. The idle speed went up, the oil light went out and all is well with the world.
The weather on Saturday alternated between pouring rain and sunshine. As I have spent the past couple of months driving the Mercedes SL 55 AMG, it was a shock to my senses to be in the Volvo, at 60 mph, in the pouring rain.
I had forgotten just how treacherous old cars can be in less-than-perfect conditions.
The Volvo is properly kitted-out with a full IPD suspension and new Bilsteins. It is lowered and has sway bars front and rear. So it handles better than it did when new, and about as good as it can without going for track-only modifications.
The three-speed Borg Warner automatic tranny won’t win any quick-shift competitions. But it gets the job done.
The 1,800cc pushrod engine has a tractor-like 86 horsepower and plenty of torque. You just push the gas pedal and wait.
Momentum is your only friend in the Amazon. Your job is to get the car going as fast as you safely can and use the brakes as little as possible. Using this technique, we were able to keep up with all the more modern cars on the tour.
After enjoying a tasty box lunch (everyone wearing masks when outside of their cars) at McClellan Overlook, we piled back into our cars for the 40-mile drive to Skamania Lodge.
It was there, in the sun, on a long clear straight that it happened. There was a non-descript family sedan ahead of us on the road. I floored the accelerator pedal, the Volvo huffed and puffed, and we pulled around and passed the car! I think the ribbon speedometer touched 80 mph. If I had been carrying champagne, I would have popped the cork.
The rest of the day was uneventful and ended with the Volvo tucked away on a battery tender, next to the SL and the 1971 Jaguar E-type S3 V12.
We seem to be besieged by proclamations about hundreds or thousands of horsepower, 0-60 times of negative seconds and top speeds of nearly 1,000-miles-an-hour.
The goofy little Volvo brought home that you don’t need a zillion horsepower to get the job done on a tour. If your suspension and brakes are up to snuff, however much power you have will be plenty.
I was reminded of a maxim I’ve heard both Martin Swig and Bob Lutz profess: The most fun you can have on the road is “driving a slow car fast.”