I broke “The Draneas Rules.” Again. Our “Legal Files” columnist, John Draneas, constantly says that you should never buy a car without an inspection — and you should never send money to someone you don’t know (for a refresher, see this month’s column on p. 48). After willfully and intentionally disregarding both these maxims, I added a new car to the SCM fleet. From finding to owning took less than four hours. While my clutch leg is coming along nicely, there’s always the chance it might not be at 100% by this summer’s SCM 1000. I’m determined to drive the entire route this year. I needed a backup plan. I recalled that Volvo offered an automatic for the 122 sedan. I popped a quick post onto the Portland-based Round Fender Volvo forum asking if anyone knew of one for sale. Of course they did. In less than a minute, Ryan Burmaster of the SloRolling Central Coast Volvo Club responded: “There’s a great car in Southern California. All of us in the club know it. The owner drove it from Anaheim to Kansas City for the Volvo National Convention in 2005. Here’s his number.” I made the call. The car was two-owner and still in its original paint. It had never been hit or rusted. The current owner purchased it from the original owner in 2002. Over the next few years, the new owner restored the interior, improved the suspension with sway bars from IPD, added an alternator, electronic ignition, a sport exhaust, and put in steel timing gears. The letters on the vintage blue California plate spelled “ELF.” His final flourish was cruise control. He wanted this for ELF’s maiden voyage, the trip from his Southern California home to Kansas City. This was accomplished without breakdowns. He sent a few pictures of the exterior, interior and the engine compartment.

Rolling the dice — again

Why would I waste time having a professional inspection, pictures of the underside with the car on a lift, or a video of it starting and running? The delay might have caused me to miss the deal. The line of buyers for a 1965 Volvo 122S with a BorgWarner 3-speed column-mounted automatic transmission is not long. Perhaps the fact that the car had been for sale for some time should have caused me to stop and think. But experience has taught me that once I decide I really want a car, that’s exactly the time some other buyer pops up out of the bushes and steals it out from under my nose. His asking price was $10,000. While this was on the high side for a 122 auto, it was fair enough for this particular car. After a little good-natured haggling, ELF was mine. A cashier’s check, made out to someone I had never met and knew nothing about, went out that afternoon. I know what you are thinking. No professional third-party opinion. Just the reputation of the owner and the fact that so many people in his local club knew the car. My apologies to Mr. Draneas. Two weeks later, the car arrived at our local round-fender guru’s shop, Swedish Relics. Cameron Lovre, the owner, has made his shop the go-to place for vintage Volvos that need attention. ELF was as described, with dull-but-original paint, razor-sharp shut lines and a tasty interior. I took it for a 50-mile drive up State Highway 14 to the town of Stevenson, WA, on two-lane roads. It was delightful. It had enough power to keep up with traffic on modern freeways, and could go fast enough to challenge the half-century-old suspension and skinny tires on the twisties. In an old car, that’s all you need. I did manage to strand myself the first time out. The bushings in the linkage for the gear selector were worn, and I hadn’t learned to do the proper, “stand on one-leg, touch your nose and sneeze” lever manipulation. Resorting to brute force, I managed to jam the lever in Park. Luckily, this happened while I was showing the car to Portland restorer Tom Black. He opened the hood, went back into his garage and emerged with a couple of big screwdrivers and a pry bar. He called it his “vintage-car toolkit.” Soon enough, Black untangled the linkage and sent me on my way. Swedish Relics is installing shorter springs and Bilsteins, along with performing a front-suspension rebuild. That, along with the sway bars, will allow the car to handle about as well as it can — and still be comfortable to drive on the street. After a year away from driving old cars, I am back behind the wheel of my own classic. Old cars make their own adventures. My next ones are just a twist of the key away.

The Land of Big Tents

Another Arizona Car Week has come and gone. I missed Auction Week last year, and I enjoyed being back in the land of gargantuan tents full of colorful cars. As you will read in this issue, this was a “steady as she goes” year for classic-car sales. The mere 1% year-over-year growth (from $247.5m in 2019 to $249.7m this year) didn’t elicit near the same frenzied, “the end of the world is nigh” responses that the 32% decline in Monterey did last August. Every auction company stressed to me how hard they worked to get consignors to have realistic reserves that represented today’s price — not that of two years ago. Great cars continue to bring great money — although not as great as a few years ago. Less-than-great cars struggle to find buyers of any kind. By now everyone knows that it’s a six-figure number to make a good car into a great one — along with months, if not years, of time. ♦

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