How Uncle Killed Volvo

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Volvo – the famously Swedish car company now owned by the Chinese – was famous once upon a time for the crashworthiness of its vehicles. You may recall. They were built heavy and boxy, specifically designed to withstand rollovers (the roof would support the weight of the car) and to be survivable in wrecks that would probably not be in lighter, less sturdy cars.

They were also stodgy and (generally) not speedy – things esteemed by parents of first-time teenaged drivers.

Volvo sold safety – and it sold very well. It built the company.

But now all cars are Volvos.

“Safety” is everywhere – because the government requires it. All cars must have roofs capable of supporting the weight of the car if it rolls over. They must have a half dozen airbags, back-up cameras and tire pressure monitors; they are subjected to frontal, side and offset barrier crash testing which they have to pass. It is why all new cars have bulbous, up high butts and (generally) less glass and more metal surrounding the interior “bathtub” of the passenger compartment.

And it’s the major reason why most new cars look mostly the same – from the side in particular.

This of course is a problem for Volvo – which must now try to sell something other than “safety.”

So Volvo is trying to build cars more like those sold by BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and other high-tier brands, which Volvo aspires to. They sell style and sex appeal, tech features and performance.

“Safety,” too – but it’s way down the list of major touts. Because it’s become a given.

Volvo is also returning to wagons – which the company used to sell a lot of when other brands weren’t selling any (or very few). Now they are selling them, too.

It’s a much tougher room.

Maybe they’ll make it – maybe not. But it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t necessary for the government to force car companies to sell “safe” – that is, crashworthy – cars. This is a common misconception, not unlike the superstitious belief of a rainforest savage that if he fails to kowtow before the totem pole, the sky god will be angered and the rains will not come.

Volvo made hay selling particularly crashworthy cars.

No one made any hay selling “unsafe” cars.

But there was a buyer demographic that particularly esteemed crashworthiness more than other criteria and Volvo catered to that demographic while other brands focused on things like sexy looks or high performance or low price or high mileage.

Today, everyone knows that every new car is “safe” – which kind of blurs Volvo out.

But “safety” is a a relative thing – even today. A ’70s-era S-Class Mercedes is still a safer car to be in than a brand-new Smart car. And a brand-new full-size (and heavier) car is still generally more able to  protect the people riding inside than a smaller (and lighter car) even though both meet government “safety” requirements.

And notwithstanding that both may carry a “Five Star” crash rating.

These ratings are enormously misleading because they do not apply generally but rather within a class of vehicle, relative to other vehicles of similar type. In other words, a compact sedan with a Five Star crash rating is not the same thing as a full-sized SUV with a Five Star crash rating.

The compact sedan is objectively less “safe” (crashworthy) than the full-sized SUV, especially if it is crashed into by the full-sized SUV.

But the “if” is italicized for a reason.

A crash may never happen – in which case the car’s crashworthiness is irrelevant. And what factors play into that? Things like visibility and maneuverability – things that may be and often are compromised by the “safety” mandates spewed by the government!

For example, the mandate requiring that a car’s roof be capable of supporting the car’s weight without collapsing if the car rolls over. This has resulted in roof pillars that are much thicker than was common before the mandate. These often markedly decrease visibility – to the side especially – making it more likely that the driver will inadvertently pull out in front of a car he did not see coming.

Now you get to test out the car’s side-impact crashworthiness.

Similarly, all new cars have very tall seatbacks and headrests – to comply with anti-whiplash requirements. But they obstruct the view rearward – making it more likely you will back up into something.

Which is “safer”? The car you can see out of? Or the car that protects you better in a crash you’re now more likely to have?

The government is obsessed with crashing. Every new “safety” mandate is reactive; how will the car deal with the forces imparted when it hits something. The assumption being that it will.

Maybe it would be better to obsess about avoiding crashes?   

And – even better – how about letting the market (and car buyers) decide for themselves whether it’s better to have a more crashworthy car…  or a car that’s less likely to crash in the first place?

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  1. Surprisingly good article. I don’t care who killed Volvo – if all cars do better in crashes we’re all better off. But you’re right that the obsession about preventing rollover death has led to thick pillars that obstruct rear view. You could hide the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Prius’s blind spot.

  2. The Volvo 140 series, introduced in 1966, was arguably the template for what a modern car should be: space efficient, reliable and compact, with a stout powerplant and comfortable interior.

    When you consider the gas-guzzling barges then plying American roads, the Volvo was a breath of fresh air. Volvo took advantage of this, and pointed out their cars’ practicality and safety in an engaging and entertaining way.

    The ad with the famous stacked Volvos, was an accident. The cars in question were water damaged and unable to be sold. Someone had the idea that they could stack them on top of each other to show off Volvo’s superior construction and vaunted ‘safety cage’ built into the passenger compartment. The rest was history.

    Volvo Advertising of the 1970s

  3. In all that ‘diarehha’ of the keyboard (sorry), I forgot to mention how in 1990’s “Crazy People”, the late Dudley Moore’s character, an ad executive who has a nervous breakdown, has some ‘truthful’ ad slogans accidentally produced, which produce hilarious public market reactions. One of them has the tagline..”Volvo! Sure, they’re boxy, but they’re SAFE…”. The next day, hordes of people (presumable “Clovers”) are lined up at the dealers door at sunrise. At least in THAT scenario, the Clover desires would be the result of the free market! Too bad it’s fiction and parody!

  4. That pic of the 7 stacked Volvos is bothering me! If it were real, the bottom one’s rockers would be hitting the ground, and only half the wheels would be visible in the wheel arches.

  5. The way things start to go on Volvos once they hit about 650,000 mi., I don’t know why anyone would have anything to do with one.
    And while they have that guy from Yonkers pushing his P1800 towards 3 million, it’s not like you see cars with over even one million every day. Or week, or month.

  6. First of all, great write up Eric.

    “This has resulted in roof pillars that are much thicker than was common before the mandate. These often markedly decrease visibility – to the side especially – making it more likely that the driver will inadvertently pull out in front of a car he did not see coming.”

    Two things:

    #1 I owned an HHR, a real shitbox of a car which still to this day has one of the worst A-pillar designs I’ve ever seen in a vehicle- it would literally blot out the sun at times under the right conditions. On three separate occasions over owning the car 9 years I almost pulled out in front of a car coming from my right in cross traffic that was completely obstructive by the A-pillar and mirror. (the mirror was huge too)

    It actually changed the way I drive.

    #2 I’m now back to a Volvo 850 GLT(low pressure turbo), which is 10 years older but a better car in almost every way than the HHR. It’s faster, squeaks less, & makes better use of it’s space.

    Now all that being said, I would like everyone to notice the size of the A-Pillar’s in that Volvo advertisement above and ponder why it is other manufacturers can’t maintain visibility with structural rigidity as Volvo managed to do 40 years ago…

  7. I don’t know if Uncle Sam deserves as much blame as uncle Ford.
    Volvo is no stranger to performance beginning with the 123GT and ending with my V70R which leaves Muscle Car driving teens eating dust.
    Bean counters at GM killed Saab by telling them to stop building hatchbacks and use GM sourced V6s that produced less hp and torque than their own fours because there were American consumers that kept saying “I ain’t gonna buy no Four-cylinder “. Well, those folks didn’t buy Saabs anyway.
    Safety doesn’t always sell. I didn’t start wearing my seat belt until it became the law s0 my perceptions about safety were as flawed as someone who looks at crumple zones and laments “they don’t make cars like they used to…”

    • Thomas, as the GM/Ford debacle played out I wondered when they’d finally ruin both companies. This, in my opinion, is more a case of corporate raiding than anything else. Lots of good companies and products have become history via the need to pick up a few hundred million dollars or what might appear to be that much. Often both companies suffer but the raiders make out like…..thieves.

  8. One thing that tends to happen when safety is a selling point is that people become more complacent. Football players used to use leg sweeping to tackle because the helmets were terrible. Now that they are “safer” the brain injury rate is almost 100% for linemen and pretty bad for the rest. Mostly because they can just ram the guy.

    Kids riding BMX bikes are always jumping higher, doing more tricks and taking far more risk then we did because they have an exoskeleton protecting them (of course their brain still sloshes around and bangs into their skull, but hey, it looks safe, right? Sure they might not get as many minor injuries but when they do get hurt it’s going to be much worse. But because they fell before and didn’t get hurt they can do the same move over and over until they get it right.

    Same thing happens when driving. The ABS did its job and stopped the vehicle on the icy road. Drivers know they’re in a cocoon of metal and airbags, so if something bad happens they’ll still likely walk away. And besides, they haven’t crashed in years (or maybe never), so that automatically makes them safe drivers, right?

    • This post is spot-on. Too much safety incentivizes recklessness. Watch the last 20 laps of any NASCAR race. It’s a wreckfest, because drivers take chances nobody would dream of 20 years ago since they all know they will likely walk away from it. (That’s the real reason racing viewership is down: there’s no longer a sense of danger out on the race track. Danger = excitement = ticket sales. Plus it kept away people with $$ but no balls. I’m looking at you, Paul Menard.) Several football coaches have recommended removing facemasks, or going back to leather helmets, because players are using their helmets as weapons to try to force turnovers. Competition committees know they’re right, but the pearl-clutching mothers will never let that fly. We’ve thrown common sense out the window to try to reach a sense of safety and comfort which can never really be achieved in the real world. Humans will never eliminate risk. Never.

  9. Even as recently as the Mid 2000s, cars had a lot better visibility than the 4 wheeled dungeons of today. Beginning in 2009, automakers had 3 or 4 years to comply with the new mandates on rollover and side impact “protection” As a result the cars of today have gunslit windows and telephone pole sized window pillars to obstruct the view around. No amount of backup camera integrated sound systems, radar sensors and blind spot “detection” will help the average person. The national fatality rate is on the rise following the 2008-2014 national recession I believe in part to the obstructions and distractions caused by these new vehicles. The money spent on these so called safety improvements could have been better spent on enhancing car performance and handling as well as powertrain improvments.

    It also seems as if powertrains are growing ever more restrictive as well. I recently drove a Ford Focus, a Chevy Equinox, a Chevy Cruze and a Subaru Forrester rental car. They all suffered from lousy throttle response and delay in transmission shifting. Their steering systems feel disconnected from the road. These are all terrible car, road tests notwithstanding. They all suffer from cramped cabins, complicated climate controls and instrumentation and extremely poor visibility.

    I like most of the modern cars made before 2007 or so. I drive a 2003 Lexus ES300 that I picked up for a small song. I can actually see around the thing. It doesn’t corner like a Ford Fiesta ST, but it is generally competent. When I jam on the gas, there is no delay and no gear hunting or CVT whine common in today’s cars. It has a 5 speed automatic transmission, not some 10 speed mechanical monstrosity. Maintenance on it isn’t easy, but it isn’t a rolling internet platform either. It is a lot easier to drive than my 2010 Subaru Legacy was and a lot better than anything made after 2009 or so.

    I will continue to purchase older cars with low mileage until I take my dirt nap.

  10. I never did get Volvos (or Saabs). Sure they might look good on paper to an engineer, but I think there’s a good reason they didn’t sell well. A long time ago I had a boss that drove a Volvo 240, but it was in the shop more often than my crappy Renault (which typically got over 45 MPG). And I had a neighbor who had a Saab 900 that never seemed to start when it was really cold.

    • Hi Geo,

      Volvos (older ones) were very sturdy, physically – but could cost a lot to maintain and repair. I don’t see the company making a go of it now that it has lost the two main things that used to make Volvos different: More “safety” than typical and durability.

      Everyone sells both now.

      So why buy a Volvo?

    • The good old Volvos had proprietary fuel injection systems (back when every other car still had a carb) which basically, only Volvo experts could work on- it was a very finicky mechanical injection system. And parts for Volvos? A fuel filter for ’em back in the 70’s-90’s would cost $40 (At a regular auto parts store…I can’t even imagine what they’d cost at the stealership…) at a time when you could buy a filter for any other car for $5. The freaking things were more expensive than Mercedes to maintain. Then starting in the 90’s, they couldn’t make an automatic transmission that would last more than a few thousand miles…… I think Swedish socialism killed Volvo even before our American Onkle did.

      • Having owned a 91′ 740 wagon & now a 97′ 850, I have to say I haven’t had the same experience as you with them.

        The fuel injection on both have never given me a problem. Steering racks seem to go depending on the driving around 200k, and struts too- both of which are not cheap to fix. BUT, the 740 in particular has a stout engine(red block) that saw marine use as well. The drivetrain was pretty solid from my experience. Volvo has a “unique” form of pollution control that uses a pump and oil trap that can be a pain, but again- it’s around a 200k+ service by my experience.(thanks Uncle!)

        Never any problems with tranny’s and we gave away the Volvo 740 to a poor family with around 330,000 miles on it. My wife even ran it out of oil AND radiator fluid once I thought “Oh, that’s it, the engine is toast”- For shits and giggle I put oil in it and filled up the radiator- it it fired up and ran another 20,000 miles we gave it away. lol (I was really busy at work and failed to check in on her car for a few months too long)

        My 850 low pressure turbo has been rock solid so far too with an auto tranny at 105,000. (knock on wood)

        Interiors are plasticky crap, but that’s not important to me.

        I agree that trips to a dealership are just asking to be reamed, but there are many times you don’t need to do it- you can visit a local mechanic and bring him parts you buy which helps a lot if you can’t or don’t want to do the work. OBD didn’t get proprietary until after 97′ if I recall right. For those with the proprietary OBD, your choices are limited if it’s engine or tranny related and you’re gonna get hosed.

        I think Eric is spot-on with Volvo having to change their business model due to the government removing choices from everyone in terms of “safety”.

        • I was talking about the fuel-injection they used in the 70’s and 80’s (“When every car still had a carb”)….I think by the late 80’s, they went to more conventional electronic fuel injection, like everyone else. Seriously, if you’ve never seen their Rube Goldberg-esque old mechanical injection system, you should look it up just for grits and shin…probably could find a rainy day’s worth of funny stories about it.

          Hope that tranny keeps on ticking for ya. 105K is getting up their for a 90’s Volvo tranny…’specially with your wife around it 😀

          • Ha!

            I’ve got her in a Buick Roadmaster wagon with a LT1. She drives it like a granny because it scares her when she pushes down on the throttle more than 1/2 way. (and she’s not a great driver)

            The 850 is my daily- I’m not kind to it, but if the tranny starts giving me problems I’ll come back here and report.

            • Dammit, if I could find a good Roadmaster wagon, esp. the last one, the 50th anniversary model, we’d both be driving it.

              As far as mechanical FI goes, most things are a forget it for life type of thing with a very long life. But I know nothing about Volvo injection.

              My old 6.5 Turbo diesel GM engine was mechanical and was supposed to be adjusted at 100,000 miles. I didn’t have a ball allen wrench set so I never adjusted it. I need to set up a sling system for me to work on pickups these days. I’m hard pressed to check and put in oil. Good thing most maintenance involves a creeper. I swear, I’m going to rig a harness for an overhead electric hoist FOR ME. I can work on a Peterbilt just fine. If I can’t reach it, I can climb up into it, on top of it, whatever, and be where I need to be. I can shimmy in there between the engine and frame and body to get to the top of the transmission and roll under it for everything else. I don’t know how to really described the difficulty of working on big pickups. I made a rope and board sort of thing to put on the top of the tire so I could get up there. I have used a small step-ladder but it always seems to put you away unless you can work off the top step right against the truck. Seems like mechanics these days are either great big ol boys or small guys who can work into the guts from the top with no need to touch the floor.

              I have companies offer me a lease/purchase on a new tractor but they’re always one of those aerodyne body things with the engine stuck way back in there and a dog house that leaves some things not accessible from over or under. They look at me like i’m crazy when I say just give me an old classic Pete with the long hood. They always say they use too much fuel. I guess that would be out of my pocket eh? and they don’t think I could make the payments in that case. For sure you’re cutting it too close when tractor design is the difference between making a payment or not. The entire world is deluded about fuel. There ain’t no free rides just like free lunches.

              Volvo makes the slickest road tractor going according to pure statistics but I’ve never heard a mechanic work on one that bad words didn’t steadily come from their mouths. You need to be a slinky. Really tall, really thin, very thin arms(I can’t get my old meaty arms and hands into most places)and the ability to wind around like a snake.

              Of course everybody could do like Ford and require the removal of everything but the bed to do such as change head gaskets or turbo work or most anything except radiator hose work.

  11. Agreed, that being said I do have two newish (2014) Volvos, one I bought new and the other certified used. I love the safety but the T6 is deceptively fast as well.

  12. So you say no one made money by selling pro-crash then proceed to say how safety-proofing cars made them worse? What of seat belts? If Volvo hadn’t given the idea for seat belts away freely then they would be a rarity? Hate Volvo more?Clover

    • Can you read, Clover? I did not “say no one made money by selling pro-crash…” (sic)

      I wrote that Volvo made money selling “safety.” Kee-rist!

      And they ask me why I drink…

    • Hi Todd,

      I disagree; they continue to focus on idiot-proofing cars, and on ratcheting up the test they have to pass to be deemed “safe
      “safe” to drive.

      I thought the ’73 Beetle I drove back in the early ’90s was very safe as I never once got hurt while driving it… 🙂

      • Their solution for not crashing is automated cars.

        In other words tasking a small percentage of the population to find some way of looking after everyone else. So everyone else can live the care-free lives of children. I suppose I am one of these morlocks stuck with doing so.

      • No one seems to value avoiding crashes. Insurance companies will give you a discount for a course that teaches you to parallel park but not for a professional one that will show you what a car can & CAN’T do. You won’t tailgate after you’ve been shown how long it takes to stop.

    • Todd, I assume that you are talking about all the technological BS, like back-up cameras and lane-keeping systems and automatic braking, et al?

      If so, I think all of that is actually making the situation worse. It is causing more distraction and making drivers more reliant upon gadgets….and perish the thought they’re relying on these gadgets when the gadget fails. It is also reducing the skill of drivers.

      Only a tiny percentahe of cars with auto-pilot (like Teslas) and “self-driving” cars on the roads, and already they’re wracking up quite a rap sheet of accients- and from what I’ve seen, those accidents were always in situations where no accident would have occurred or could have been easily avoided by a human driver who was paying attention.

      • Not that I agree with mandatory anything on a vehicle but back-up cams are probably one of the best things for most people. I rarely “nearly” get hit in crowded parking lots now as opposed to having Mexican stand-offs with people who stop just before they hit you while you’re trying to move away in a parking lot. Now they sit there and you can watch them watching the back-up cam screen and wave your hand and move on past so they don’t have to sit there and do the “is he gonna walk on or wait?” thing. They help, esp. in long pickups in not backing into someone else backing out at the same time. Of course my main way of avoiding this is to park out beyond where anyone else is so I can pull on through and not back up. I did that the other day at Wally, came out and a big Dodge is parked right against my side with the third door so I have to back up anyway. Not sure what draws people to a vehicle with no other vehicles around. Once, after a new paint job on my Elco SS I parked in the corner of a big parking lot, a good 100′ beyond anything else. I come out of the store and the first thing I see is an old beat to shit LTD parked right beside it….close. I woulda kicked in a door but it would only have shined the paint and made it look better. I would have had to kick in the door on the opposite side anyway since it was so close.

        My dad could have avoided running over a few cars with his ext. cab pickup. In his defense though one vehicle simply came from his blind spot at a 45 across behind him when he was already backing up. Parking lot damage is often a two way street so to speak.

        • Hi Eight,

          I don’t get it, myself… hell, I just turn around and look (or use my mirrors) and I find either gives me a more realistic view than the fish-eye camera does!

        • The rule (drilled into us at safety meetings) when parking the work truck is:

          1) pull in, pull out. Find a spot where you can pull through to the spot where you can pull out instead of backing out. The current way they paint spaces isn’t really all that great for this because you’ll be pulling out against the traffic flow.
          2) Back in, pull out. Better, but usually causes mayhem when parking because people don’t expect you to back into a spot and usually pull up too far because they’re worried about Walmart running out of stuff or something.
          3) Pull in, back out. Worst option according to the safety manual, but do what you got to do. The “circle of safety” walk around/cone placement will usually take care of any potential hazards behind the vehicle (except for cones that get forgotten).

          We also NEVER pull into a customer’s driveway unless there’s no way to park on the street. And then we back in and pull out and park at the street end of the driveway.

          It’s all pretty good advice and I tend to follow it in my personal vehicle. Backup cameras are a crutch because people don’t think.

          As for people parking next to you no matter where you park, I’m pretty sure that’s classic herding behavior. Hate to use the old “sheeple” term for it, but if the shoe fits…

          • I pulled in so I could pull out but the big truck split the difference. I almost pulled out and turned around back into a spot where I could load all the stuff but I backed far enough to get the doors open, loaded and left.

            I was driving the wife’s car and backing out of a spot when a woman came screaming off the street in her “truck”, just enough of a pickup to say she drove a “truck”, 1/2 Ford light duty short bed. She clipped my rear and never knew it. When I confronted her she obviously didn’t give a shit. It only ruined the tail light housing so i just took the lumps and went on.

            The last few years I’ve noticed almost every accident I see on the open road is a single vehicle, frequently roll-overs. For the most part it seems to be head inserted in ass. I often drive by a marker on I-20 where a woman in a Focus with her unbelted child just seemed to lose it in the passing lane. You could see the marks of the tires that eventually turned into just the drivers side tires and finally marks of wheels hitting, jumping up, hitting again till they disappeared in the barditch. 10 miles further early one morning I saw a pickup turned over in the exit I was needing to use, child lying on her back in the barditch, emergency people everywhere. I later found out mother and child were both unhurt and both unbelted. If you can’t pay attention, using a seat belt is a good idea. I use one anyway and have way before they were mandated. This doesn’t mean I want to use one all the time. A few years ago Tx. mandated everyone use a seatbelt. That means you can’t nap in the back legally, another way to rob people. I commonly see guardrails hit hard simply because the driver didn’t turn with the road. 75mph makes a guard rail come up fast if you aren’t looking where you’re going. I see this type of accident frequently.

            Recently a guy I knew didn’t take the curve of the road and hit the guard rail head on that kept you from hitting the overpass supports. Nobody knows for sure what happened but he probably went to sleep or simply over-drove the new Camaro he was driving. The impact was hard enough to fling the battery from the car that was left sideways across the lanes on I-20 with no lights on. The next two vehicles, a truck passing a Tahoe came over the hill and around the curve and saw the vehicle too late to stop for the truck and the Tahoe did a ditch stop. Needless to say he was dead since he wasn’t in the vehicle but on the blind side of it. Still, he was the victim of his own inability to drive. Mini-vans and pickups are fairly common in having run off the roadway along with economy cars. Can’t tell you why economy cars too, just reporting what I see. I have noticed a trend of economy car drivers being economical with paying attention since it’s not unusual to have to take evasive action with the drivers. They speed up and slow down a lot, guess they don’t have cruise control. That’s expected since neither are great handlers. You gotta pay attention. Sometimes I see wrecks that remind me of the scene in Anchorman 2 where Will Ferrel sets the cruise and walks to the back of the RV they’re riding in, takes a seat and bs’s with his co-workers. Somebody points out cruise control doesn’t actually steer the vehicle right before it runs off the road and flips. That was a funny scene but most don’t end up with anybody laughing.

            • I used to be a one man band with my own fabricating company. I often couldn’t find anyone capable enough to hire so I did it all myself. Getting the topmost piece of structure up was the trickiest part using a ladder on one end, walking a beam up it and setting it on one support and then doing same with the other end. West Tx. wind didn’t help. Then I could hang each lower piece with ropes and clamp and tack one end, clamp and weld the other and go back and weld the first end. It was slow but got done.

              BTW, S wind is howling here today, cows up against the S fence lying down. Supposed to be 90 manana then 46 Sunday. If you don’t like the weather in west Tx. just wait a little while and it’ll change. Some point in there it was be really nice….for 1/2 an hour, probably in the middle of the night. Ah, a chance of snow Tues. night. Climate change aha.

              When I did this it was often I had to haul a tractor and post hole digger to the site. Then I hooked up to the 30′ pipe trailer, a trailer with remix on it hooked to that, a welding trailer on that and a cement mixer on that. I pulled it all with a 3/4 T 4X4 454 Chevy pickup that often had 30′ steel on the headache rack and the rear support over the endgate. You had to be careful everywhere you went or get in a bind that required breaking all these trailers loose. Mostly I left the front end locked in so I could do as I had before the autolockers gave up and just jam it back into 4 High and give it hell. Boy, those were the days, such fun.

              • Sounds like when I put up the trusses singlehandedly when I built my garage/shop/whatever-you=want-to-call-it. I’m good at finding ways to do things alone that are supposed to take 4 or 5 guys….

                Took 3 movers to get my mother’s armoire down the stairs from her apartment, that I put up there alone…. (And I’m just a little wimpy guy)

                It beats having friends!

  13. Volvo could easily regain market share by once again focusing on wagons. There are a few other companies selling wagons. But nobody does wagons better than Volvos.

    Second, Do Not blame the feds for Volvo’s decision to obsess on luxury. Nobody told Volvo they had to be as plush as an S Class Mercedes. In fact nobody told them they had to handle as well as a 3 Series BMW used to. Not that there’s anything wrong with these attributes. But they were NOT part of Volvo’s core identity.

    Those older Volvos in your top pic were not particularly plush, or sporty. Instead they offered not only safety, but unbeatable utility…and durability. Plus, they were able to compete at a lower price point than where they are today.

    • Doesn’t seem to be much of a market for premium or luxury wagons. My brother would probably like a wagon for his family, but he sure doesn’t want to spend 40k+ on one (his kids will just ruin the interior of it anyway). Nobody sells a high teens or low twenty something wagon anymore. So he has a Honda Odyssey and a Mazda 5 small minivan. They like the Odyssey, but they probably won’t buy another, as they have gone more upscale (and more expensive). They have found the Mazda 5 isn’t any better with gas then the Honda, and dislike how it handles on snow.

      • Rich,

        I do enjoy readying your post. However, your use of then to mean than is a bit distracting. Then is time related. While than is is other related. It is an easy thing to correct. Let me clean up your post:

        They have found the Mazda 5 isn’t any better with gas than the Honda, and dislike how it handles on snow.

        Please note the difference.

        All the time the enemies of darkness subvert the use of words. For instance, the use of the word GAY to mean homosexual, when in fact the word GAY means light of heart and has nothing to do with homosexual. To convince people you must mean what you say and say what you mean you MUST use English properly. Anyone reading your post will immediately relegate your musing to the mass of unwashed illiterates.

        While it is the true illiterates, that people who post here, are trying to reach and convince.

        • Ya oughta SALE the guy a dictionary! That would OF prevented the problem! 😉 (Darn, those two drive me nuts. ‘Specially the latter!)

    • They kept their prices down by changing styles less frequently.

      They need to regain their identity. Since the real Rs are gone, there’s no reason left to buy a Volvo over a nice Japanese car.

      Turbo Bricks. Performance Wagons. Do what others won’t.

  14. “And – even better – how about letting the market (and car buyers) decide for themselves whether it’s better to have a more crashworthy car… or a car that’s less likely to crash in the first place?”

    Or, more importantly, if they are too poor right now to buy a car, but could if the price was, say, under $5K for a new car and even less for a used car?

    My first car was a Pinto, which was a scary gotdamn car to drive, not particularly safe — but it was CHEAP, well under a thousand dollars used. Which meant I had the mobility to apply for a job that paid enough to eventually upgrade to a Thunderbird, which had a whole host of problems, but looked nice enough to solve the most pressing concern of mine at the time, namely the extreme difficulty of finding suitable dates that didn’t find the Pinto to be a dealkiller.

    Shorter – people know better than bureaucrats what they need the most at any given point in their lives.

    • The Pinto, in spite of its reputation, actually had no worse an overall accident rate and number of serious injuries and/or fatalities than other vehicles in its size class. The Mother Jones article was little more than a ‘hit piece’ by a ‘journalist’ that had a relationship with an attorney in a law firm that was representing a client who’d suffered burns in a Pinto car fire and was suing Ford. However, I recall when they first came out, and even as an ELEVEN-y.o., I could see that exposed gas tank from the rear and my obviously limited ‘engineering’ knowledge was more than enough to know that the vehicle was a death trap. The same defect existed for two other popular American subcompacts, the Chevy Vega (an engineering and quality control disaster in its own right) and the AMC Gremlin (you have to admit, George Romney’s ‘stolid’ little car company wasn’t afraid to ‘think outside the box’, even though the car WAS a ‘box’). A popular Japanese car of the same period, the Datsun B210, or “Honey Bee”, had its fill on the side, near the top of the rear wheel well, presumably much less susceptible to spilling gasoline if the car was rear ended. If a smart-assed kid that can’t even drive yet (well, not LEGALLY, at least…) can see that, the typical American motorist is smart enough to recognize those design issues and make his/her buying decision accordingly.

      And I COMPLETELY agree with Jim Henshaw…the decision as to crash-worthiness should be a mutual decision, of the desire of the buyer to procure such a vehicle, and the willingness of the manufacturer to design, tool up, produce, market, distribute, and sell said vehicles. In the same time frame as the Pinto, if you went to a Ford dealer, you could choose from (within whatever your could afford, of course!) such vehicles as a Ford Galaxie or LTD, which also came in the Country Squire version as a “Station Wagon”. Remember when whole divisions of these ‘battleships’ roamed the highways? Plenty of steel to go around, and the sheet metal was more than soda-pop can thick. It doesn’t take a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, such as I have, to figure out that in a collision between an LTD station wagon and a Pinto which vehicle was going to come out the better for it. But (imitating the late John Belushi as “Bluto” Blutarsky…) NOOOOO…the ‘all-knowing’ Federal “Gubmint”, especially those over-degreed nitwits at the so-called Environmental “Protection” Agency, started decreed “Fatwas”, as Eric terms them, that American passenger vehicles had to pass THEIR ‘standards’ for ‘fuel efficiency’…again, an attribute that is PURELY the choice of the consumer, given the ability and willingness of the car maker to supply what the customer WANTS, and NOT what the ‘bureau-rats” at the EPA decide that’s ‘good’ for him/her. It’s no mystery that as these “Fatwas” made the 119 inch wheel-based, six adult(erers),and that’s six, rather robust, REAL ‘Muricans’, not six waif-models or six midgets , ‘family’ car a relic of a bygone era, with a 400 cubic inch or more V8, fed by a four-barrel carb, with power everything and rides like you’re driving a Lazy-Boy sofa around town…the ONLY big drawback being that you can’t venture far before it’s time to give “Big Betsy” another drink! Of course, most ‘family’ sedans had another feature which ALSO has disappeared…the front BENCH seat, or the “SOB” (Slide Over, Baby!) seat! But I suppose that if today’s cramped, ‘politically correct’ smaller cars (except on price!) did have the, the Feminazis would get their panties in a wad that some young fellow could ‘get lucky at the drive-in! There was a time when many a ‘family’ got STARTED in the back seat of a big old American-built sedan either at the “Stardust Six” or while parked at “The Point”. At least, ca. 2006, when I handed down my old 1991 Chrysler Fifth Avenue (appropriately termed the “EEK” platform, which was also the name of a hapless cartoon cat), his friends nicknamed that vehicle, which had a very plush and CHERRY interior with the rear seat especially having a LOT of legroom, the “Shaggin’ Wagon”. Somehow, the notion of some youngsters getting it on in a Toyota Prius (or “Pious”, but that’s for another thread…) just doesn’t seem credible…

      • Fuel tanks behind the rear axle under or as the trunk floor were common for decades and decades. The last such cars were those that were hold overs of late 1970s designed platforms. My SN95 Mustang has the tank behind the rear axle as does my Maverick. I do not concern myself with it. The difference in safety is not that big compared to putting it under the rear seat. Crown vics rear ended by drunks driving 70mph had some issues but its at those extremes where the differences show up. Is it safer under the rear seat? Sure. Is it more serviceable under the trunk floor? Yes with an exception. The exception is when the Mazda design is used providing access to the tank through a panel under the rear seat.

        The size of the pinto was probably the larger problem but its performance wasn’t bad compared to other cars of the class and era.

        Perhaps of interest: Myth of the Ford Pinto Case:
        (scroll to bottom for link to the pdf)

        • You have a RUNNING Ford Maverick? Amazing…I haven’t seen one on the road in AGES. Even with the bone-stock 200 CID Six, had adequate pickup. Put a 302, even with the choking Motorcraft 2bbl, and you’ve got a fairly fast car for not too many bucks.

          And thanks for THIS link. I’ve seen other analyses of the flaws of the MoJo article and how Ford’s management was wrongly accused of criminal negligence and indifference to a potentially deadly product flaw (which, in fact, was statistically no different than other cars in its class, which I already pointed out). In particular, much brouhaha was made of Ford engineers and economists making a product modification decision (e.g. not to proceed with fuel tank design changes prior to the NHTSA issuing its positions on the subect, which would become effective for the 1977 models, as the projected liability projections were exceeded by the estimated costs of the mod by a factor of about 2.5). The trouble is that the consumer, likely being as aware of the potential crash integrity issues of smaller cars, especially when they share the highways with the proverbial ‘battleships’ that I waxed nostalgically about above, as I was even before I could LEGALLY drive (wink), ALREADY renders his/her own cost-versus-benefit analysis when making a vehicle purchase!

          Besides, the ‘safe’ car, like the ‘unsinkable ocean liner’ (like the Titanic), is a MYTH. Yes, experience and technical improvements can make cars more reliable and predictable in their handling characteristics, but all the ‘safety’ features don’t help with an inexperienced, unfit, or just plain reckless driver at the wheel. I don’t have access to detailed stats that will bear this out, but it’s likely that far more people were killed as a result of defective driving, likely at least 100x, than were killed in the 1970s by Pintos that were like a Ronson cigarette lighter (‘lights first time, EVERY time). But give a bunch of journalists an opportunity to get a scoop, authors to get published (like Nader), and, most important, lawyers to shake down those with ‘big pockets’, it becomes a matter of swaying opinion and not necessarily an objective analysis or other finding of fact.

          • It runs and drives. 250cid inline 6. I still need to redo the front suspension to make it so I am willing to drive it more than around the neighborhood. I stopped driving it regular when the suspension was clearly having problems. I’ve gotten the rear done. All new leafs, bolts, bushings, shackles. etc. Have all the parts for the front plus disc conversion. Just haven’t done it.

            • I’m jealous, Brent…

              The divorce and general lack of funds have put projects (car, home and otherwise) on hold for the past two years. I’ve had to content myself with maintenance… and that’s not nearly as fun!

                • I have both problems… I am working like a sweat shop Chinaman lately… here, outside writing; PR side work… plus keeping up with the house/animals (all on me now).

                  I sometimes think an Airstream and 5 acres would be the ticket…

            • Going through a nasty divorce myself…better to throw out the “Galimony” than have that….”Female” (I’m being generous with the term) underfoot. 35% of my take-home pay going out the gate is still worth my piece of mind.


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