Jan 12, 2014

Week 2: 1988 Volvo 240 GLT Estate

 "Mansell will never win a Grand Prix so long as I have a hole in my arse." -Peter Warr

  You'd think that after being gone for so long, there would be some concern amongst my family. Granted, I wasn't captured by some terrorist nation or held as a political hostage, but you'd think there would at least be some celebration that I was still alive and back home.   The television shows tearful reunions when others are released from captivity, with wives weeping and children refusing to let go for fear that whomever may never return again.  For a brief few seconds before landing at the airport, I fantasized about what my return home would be like, back to the loving arms of an adoring family.

   Instead, what I return to is a list of broken appliances, a lawn that resembles the Amazon rain forest, a stack of bills that would take a team of accountants a decade to sort through, and a note asking me to stop off and pick up groceries on my way back.  Since I'll be out running errands anyway, apparently.  Rather than a tearful wife sobbing that her hero has finally returned home, my wife acts as though the entire ordeal has been a constant nuisance.  What the neighbors will say, or worse, the press?  Instead of tears I'm badgered about how, once again, I've managed to ruin everyone's lives.  Instead of clutching cheerful children, I find an indifferent daughter more interested in the gibberish spewing from her iThingy.

   It's as if I never left.


  Amongst the lengthy list of chores includes finding a car for my daughter, and she's quick to point out that I've already wasted over a year, and that whatever I get her had better be good.  Originally I had considered getting her an Audi S3 that we had tested at the time, but seeing that car made me question the sort of gentlemen that might attempt to gain her favor.  Remember "The Todd"?  I may have been away from home for over a year, but the fact that cocks drive Audis still hasn't changed, and do I really want my beloved daughter married to a tax attorney?  Or a dentist?  Or a car salesman?

   Flipping through the classifieds, it became abundantly clear that what I really needed was something smart, economical, safe, and able to carry other iThingy-obsessed teens without stuffing them into a telephone booth and without attracting the Alpha-self-obsessed twits that she normally brings home.   I checked with my daughter, and again she pleaded and begged for a new Scion FR-S, which I promptly reminded her that I would be happy to purchase for her should she stumble across $30k in the near future.   Or she could simply wait the 8-10 years that it'd take me to scrape up the money.  If she didn't mind walking to and from college and after, I had no problem waiting with her.  This then lead to several hours of screaming, the replacement of a few doors, cleaning up a few broken bits of whatever was handy to throw at me, and finally the acceptance that life was indeed unfair.  If I wasn't going to get her the FR-S, she finally didn't care what she got so long as it allowed her to leave here.

   So far, everything was going exactly to plan.
  A few days later, while discussing it over with The Super Best Friends and our producer, we had an epiphany.  Rather than focusing on the short-term practicalities of convincing my offspring to get the hell out as quickly as possible by means of psychological torture, we also needed a fallback plan.  Something we could use when she eventually tires of it and buys her own car, as I'll invariably be stuck with whatever I purchase until the return of Jesus.  She might be satisfied in merely getting from point A to point B because she's never previously had a taste of the unencumbered freedom that comes with owning an automobile, but since I'm going to be stuck with it, it had to be something I could get use out of well after its shelf life had run out.

   Again we raided the local classifieds, and each member of the team selected a car based upon the aforementioned criteria and then plead their case.  Amongst the entries were Beetles, Golfs, Corollas, Malibus, Escorts, Town Cars, Civics and equally as many variants of SUVs and crossovers.  One by one, like a World War II fighter ace, I shot them down nearly as quickly as they were presented.  One poor chap was even fired by Super Aguri for having the gall to suggest a Chrysler product, apparently a Best Friend no more.   Beetles required too much seasonal maintenance... The Golf was ruined by the ending of License to Drive... Finding a proper Corolla is nearly impossible... The Malibu is made by General Motors... I'll be damned if I let my daughter drive anything called a Escort!... If I buy a Civic, I'll just have to buy another one next week...  And the problem with SUVs and crossovers is that you're never getting what you actually purchased.  It's either a van built on a truck's frame, or a truck built on a car's frame, and giving one to a teenager would be akin to giving them the launch codes to America's nuclear arsenal.   Someone's going to die!

   The situation seemed hopeless... until lunch arrived.
According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san):
 "Volvo made its mark in the U.S. as a producer of stylish and sturdy station wagons.  And the 240 Wagon, introduced in 1974, was no exception.  Created in response to the American station wagon boom of the 1950s, Volvo station wagons, with their ongoing policy of simple and sturdy construction, were among the highest-quality models on the market.   They were never head-turning high-performance cars, but their practicality and interiors, brimming with that unique Northern European ambiance, helped establish Volvo's safety-first brand image." 
   "At the time, Volvo used a three-digit format for its car names.  The rule was that the first digit represented the series name, the second signified the number of cylinders in the engine and the third indicated the number of doors, thus the 245 was a 200 series with an inline-4 that had 5 doors.  ...and before you ask I have no idea why this is called the 240 on paper and not the 245, that's just what it says in the script so shut up!" 
  I didn't say a word. 
  "The drive system was a conventional FR (Front engine, Rear drive).  The engine was a liquid-cooled pushrod inline-4 that came in two displacements, 1,985 cc and 2,127 cc, the latter available in both carbureted and fuel-injection versions.  The smaller engine produced 81 HP while the carbureted version of the 2.1-liter pumped out 96 HP. The fuel-injected variant produced 121 HP." 
  "Volvo's high standard for safety was already on of the company's trademarks, and the 240 Wagon was a shining example of this.  Although airbags were not yet available, safety features like crushable body construction, 5-mph bumpers and 3-point seatbelts were standard equipment." 
  Sitting in our car park was a 1988 Volvo 240 GLT, slightly modified to accept a small-block V8 engine although you couldn't tell that just by looking at it.  While stuffing our faces, the delivery driver lectured to us about the transformation from grocery-getter to pizza delivery rocket ship, and then told us about the local track racing that he uses his tips to fund.  In just a few short months he was able to acquire nearly everything he needed to pass scrutineering at the track minus the roll cage, fire extinguisher and a few other minor bits of safety kit which took a little bit longer.  Surprisingly most of the stock components were more than capable of coping with the increase in power, the necessary parts for the swap were salvaged so the cost was ridiculously inexpensive, and the wealth of knowledge on the internet quelled any remaining doubts.  Toss in a set of lightweight composite wheels, stickier rubber and a spoiler, and it was job done.
  But that's not the best part.   When asked how many dates he's been on in the Volvo, our delivery driver, Phillip, responded with the car's number one feature: "girls won't go near it."  Instead, he'd had to rely upon another car for everyday use other than delivering pizzas, which of course includes attracting the opposite sex.  "I have to park it behind the house so that girls won't immediately run in horror when they come over.  My neighborhood thinks it's an eyesore and I've been ticketed 13 times for illegal dumping, even after I explain that it's car and not a lump of scrap metal trash."  Before he left we were treated to the sound of a howling V8, the exhaust note replicating the sound Satan makes when he's constipated.   It was heavenly!
(Pictured left to right: William Perry, Phillip, and our turd.)
Performance (as purchased): January 5, 2014, Beige Metallic (Brown)
Displacement: 2,300 cc
Max. Power: 127 HP @ 6,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 140.2 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm 
Drivetrain: FR 
Length: 188.6 in., Height: 57.5 in., Width: 67.3 in., Weight: 1890 kg
Tires: Comfort (Medium)
Performance Points: 314
Mileage: 0.0

   With the help of Phillip we were able to locally source our own 240 GLT for more testing.  As a comparison, Phillip's agreed to tag along and allow us the use of his modified GLT for a few track events as well in exchange for some tuning from our Super Best Friends.  Even with the modifications that Phillip has added, there's very little distinction that anything has been altered other than the lowered suspension, a common upgrade popular with today's youths yet sensible considering the car's actual track use.  For our car, we'll be keeping it completely stock, only with fresh fluids and proper tyre inflation.  We were warned, however, not to have high expectations for what we were getting ourselves into.   Despite the changes that Phillip has made, no amount of tips was going to magically transform the handling into that of a Porsche, and no amount of talented labor could mold it into looking like a Ferrari.

   But instead of having superb handling or drop-dead aesthetics, what we have in spades is safety and ugly.  I can rest very comfortably knowing that my daughter has a far greater chance of wrapping a telephone pole around the car instead of the other way around, and without massive power, the only way she'll get a speeding ticket is with tailwinds equivalent to Category 4 hurricane speeds... down a very, very steep hill.   I like that, but the enormous amount of space in the boot reminds me of when I was a teenager, and that's definitely something I'll need to address before she takes delivery of the car.  While I can't guarantee her virginity until my death, the very least I can do is not contribute to it's loss, and that massive amount of space in the back is currently only occupied by air and opportunity. 
*For those keeping score at home: Cargo space- 41 cu. ft.
    Before handing the car over to the Spawn av Helvetets, we first needed to establish a baseline of performance.  After all, she's expected to beat this already-mostly-dead horse around for a few more years, so we needed to know what it could do before she had the chance to inflict further damage.   While the Superest Aguri began examinations of our patient, I booked travel and freight to the only sensible place to test a European econo-barge... the Nurburgring Nordschleife.  Although it's known as "The Green Hell" and kills many drivers each year, I'm assured that no harm will come to me simply because I'll be going as fast as allowable, or as the Swedish speedometer indicates, Lagom.  With the innovative crumple structures, I'll be protected by the same safety technologies employed on today's cars rather than wrapped in a lead coffin.

   When we eventually get there, I'm sent off without any fuss.  None of the usual coaxing that you have to give supermodel hypercars before they'll come out of their dressing room, and no last-minute oil leak that you'd typically find on most other American-sold used cars either.  As with the styling, the preparations after the initial inspection back home yielded a no-drama start to our track rental, and finally I was free to roam the German countryside in the safest Estate in Europe.  While the AMG and BMW boys make a fine estate, finding a driver that can pilot one around here without crashing is roughly the same winning the lottery while being struck by lightening while watching a shooting star on a new moon on a Monday.  The only person I know capable of such a thing is Sabine Schmitz, and her contract with rival BMW specifically requires that she be alive the following day and uninjured.  While I don't doubt Volvo's safety rating, I do understand Sabine's speed... and although I don't fully comprehend physics, I don't have to be Steven Hawking to realize that having someone crash here at those speeds will turn this tank to tinsel.   It isn't that I don't think she'll survive, it's that we simply cannot afford to battle BMWs lawyers should she happen to break a nail.  Although I'm no Sabine, I pushed the car enough, and my white knuckles acknowledged that the time we set would have to do. 
*For those keeping score at home: Best Lap (no modifications)- 10.32.941
 ​   When we returned home a few days later, I found the adoring daughter I originally expected upon my release from incarceration, albeit with an ulterior motive.  It seems my wife had inadvertently let the cat mostly out of the proverbial bag by endlessly complaining about my wasteful travel expenses while I was away, and one of those expenses included the car.   Luckily and frighteningly, none of the receipts she was able to track down told her exactly what I bought, so as far as she was concerned it was yet another expensive and pointless toy that I'd use to assert my masculinity and superiority to anyone that would pretend to give a damn.  Because the whinging had been so constant and loud and unending, my daughter assumed that I had screwed up pretty big, then became a mathematician and deduced that I bought her a car instead of one for me.  Only instead of the $900 I had originally spent, she was under the impression that Daddy had gotten "his perfect little angel" that FR-S she wanted and that it was outside with a lovely pretty pink bow on top just for her.  

  The initial minute home was enjoyable enough, with squeals of "DADDYDADDYDADDY!" the moment I opened the door.  As soon as I entered, she leapt into my arms in the same manner that she did when she was 6 years old on Christmas Day. Being the father of Verruca Salt, I instantly caught the look in her eyes the moment they made contact and began assembling a battle plan for when the bombs began raining from the heavens.  The disappointment of a six year old I can handle, it's the hormone-filled berserker rages of teenagers that earns fathers the Victorian Cross, and the moment she left to check the driveway I dove into the trenches.   Sirens began their wail... priests began their prayers... even the neighbors hid behind fortifications worthy of George C. Scott, board included.  Providing explanations to the blitzkrieg of questions and accusations was as pointless as lighting a match while drowning, but at least she hadn't found out about the car because it was still back at the office, and that meant we still had more time to play test.
    Two weeks later I was in sunny and beautiful Monterey, California, a stark and drastic contrast to the frozen and bitterly cold environment I'd left at home.  Along with Turd Ferguson, Phillip had brought along William Perry, so named due to it's uncanny resemblance to the appliance that the American football player is nicknamed after.   While we chatted and waited in line for our respective technical inspections, we were greeted by another old friend that I hadn't seen in quite some time, and had changed so much that I nearly didn't recognize him, Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton (+LewisHamiltonMSPR ).  The puzzlement on Phillip's face came as no shock since Formula One hasn't yet developed the same following in the States that it has in the rest of the civilized world, but then again America is last at practically everything anyway.  Why should motorsport be any different?

  Being World Champion provides plenty of incentives, but what it doesn't provide is year-round excitement.  Although Lewis has been known to ski and rock climb during the off season, he keeps mentally fit by participating in small amateur events, and since Formula One doesn't have the same audience in America as NASCAR, Lewis has the anonymity that he wouldn't get over in Europe.  Having a home in Colorado keeps these events close by so that none of his regular fitness training is interrupted.  While I recounted our previous test with Lewis in the Mercedes to Phillipe, he introduced us to his entry for the event, the Vodafone McLaren Volvo deliciously nicknamed "The McGLT".
  In the race, our stock tune ensured that I launched off the line with the energy of a tortoise anchored by an anvil, comforted only by the gleaming little yellow Diahatsu Copen directly behind, and that's only because the sanctioning body limited it's allowable modifications since it isn't legal for street use here.  Had this been Japan, I'd be in serious trouble, and although it has considerably less weight, my little pony doubles his.  When I enter the first corner, the racer within takes over, and the comfort I took a few seconds ago becomes as significant as being a celebrity's caddy, which is to say none.  I muscle the girth of the Volvo out of the third corner and into the twisted carnage ahead, cars bashing about in a gladitory battle for automotive real estate.   Think 300 meets Oklahoma.

  Despite a poor ending to the first lap, I was able to make up a few positions and settle into the track's rhythm.  The squishy tyres announced their protest to my shenanigans at every turn, but my course knowledge and swift reflexes kept the car in a positive, forward attitude, and by the third lap I'd managed to pass a Canadian who'd loaded his Volvo with a full-sized spare wheel in the boot for traction and balance.  At least I think he said it was in the boot. At the end of the third lap a bit of bafoonery just ahead granted me another position, followed quickly by another thanks to the same sort of decision making that turns high school hopefuls into college dropouts.  Senna I'm not, so it should be no surprise that I was stalked and eventually challenged a short time later, fending off the advances of a white Estate and eventually losing that position just before the infamous corkscrew drop.   Going through the corkscrew felt like a piloting a submersible, handling just as nimbly upon the exit and spewing smoke out the back while the protestors (read: the tyres) lit themselves on fire.  In doing so, the bastards failed to keep up the pace, and I watched as that final position disappeared like the Lone Ranger upon his horse.  No one driving this should expect a win, and I was prepared for that, but the oddity of it somehow made it fun.

    The following week the three of us competed at Grand Valley, only this time Lewis had managed to wrangle some equipment to record various bits of data throughout the race.  Despite lots of contact and many individuals of questionable morality, we now had scientific proof that the car could take a hit without passing it onto the driver.   The extra hours Volvo had put in meant that although I'd be roughed up and bruised, the other guy would look much worse, and isn't that how you determine a fight without a knockout?  After that we battled torrential conditions in Belgium, then the desert conditions on the streets of Willow Springs on our way to the final race at Fuji, Japan.  While Phillip, myself and the rest of our crew looked like extras from The Walking Dead, Lewis maintained the usual bounce in his step, going from place to place, country to country just as easily as if he were an international spy on holiday.   It all seemed very par for the course for him, which I supposed comes from being acclimated to F1.

  Meanwhile we'd spent the entire week patching, fixing, mending, and banging on our Estate to cover up all the damage we'd inflicted, and me with the understanding that I could very well be back to pounding a week later when I hand over the car to a teenager.  My daughter's well aware of the delicate inputs needed, as well as the attentiveness required to drive, but I'm still not convinced that she actually cares to do so.  Given the evil genius at work, she could intentionally set to write this poor little Volvo off in a misguided attempt to obtain something better, but my evil genius has already prepared the list of my remaining chores that she could just as easily accomplish as a form of retribution.

  ...and then it hit me...
   What on Earth happened to the station wagon?  While I have been gone a year, it's been far too long since I've seen a station wagon on public roads.  Sure, there are the occasional gems like the one we've purchased, but aside from a few tarted up luxury cars, it's become an endangered species.  Along with the proper manual transmission, the modern station wagon is being phased out in favor of something that completely lacks Sport and/or Utility.  Much like DVD to VHS, the minivan is also dwindling in numbers thanks to a rise in crossover sales, which to any non-enthusiast sounds like a clinic for sex changes.  After driving them, the description isn't that far off, either.

  Honestly, most crossovers are nothing more than extra fat with lipstick, yet you put those same ingredients on an actual woman and she's unattractive?  Well I suppose that if you like watching men in high heels walk across a room, that would make sense because it's the same way that crossovers handle the slalom!  And while SUVs aren't exactly cross-dressers, they aren't honest about what exactly they are.  They're more like closeted pickup trucks, trying to convince the world that they're a soccer mom's minivan while trying desperately not to drive like they've had all that extra weight added upon their shoulders.  Just say you're a truck with a roof over the bed and we'll still hate you just like we do now, but at lease we're honest about it!   Then there are mini-SUVs, the niche within a niche that apparently couldn't be filled by the Legacy or any other station wagon.  I know the oil crisis and Chrysler's introduction of the mobile lunchbox didn't help, but who decided that wagons weren't good enough anymore and why aren't they dead yet?!
   At the final race in Japan, we posed that same question to Lewis (Editor's note: To clarify, we asked Lewis "Where did station wagons go?", and not "who was the guy and why isn't he dead?") and he put things into perspective with four simple words: "Wagons had no swag, man."  He's right.  Despite a few funky incarnations in the 1970s, wagons had lost a lot of they're appeal from a combination of poor designers, overbearing accountants, and perceived negative social status.   Having a wagon meant that you had a family, which meant that any fun you might be interested with anyone else was well beyond your capability now because of your responsibilities.  Wagon owners don't bring home questionable members of the opposite sex from the pub!  They don't gamble their savings on a wheel with some numbers and ball!  No, wagon owners are at home by six o'clock and in bed by nine.  Letterman or Leno? Forget it, those days are over!   That's not how wagon owners "roll".

  Which is perfect.  The last thing my daughter needs now that she's reached byxmyndig is to be out every night partying with strange men, playing cards with the college tuition that I'm paying and gallivanting about till morning.  She should be studying, preparing herself for the rest of her life, not having a one night stand with a complete stranger.  Of course, since I'm her father, she'll never listen to me.  So that's precisely why I'm currently busy spreading dead animal intestines and feces all over the rear boot.  Sure, the smell will eventually come out, but not until after she gets the car.  Once she gets that first whiff, any notions of impurity will be exercised as quickly as they begin.  This car is practically the best form of birth control a father could hope for, and that makes everything absolutely worth it.    Evil genius? Who do you think taught her everything she knows?

*The views and opinions expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect those of the manufacturer, the publisher, GTPlanet.net or it's members, nor anyone with an IQ above 3. If you have a history of epilepsy or seizures, consult a doctor before use. Certain patterns may trigger seizures with no prior history. Before using see the instruction manual included with your system for more details. For previous reviews, please visit: McClarenDesign's Very Serious SLS AMG Reviews of the Car of the Week N Stuff. All videos were filmed before a live studio audience. Car setup monitored by Dark Lion Racing's GT6 Tunes and Tricks app on Android, as administered by Super Best Friends Super Aguri. No goats were harmed in the making of this review that we are aware of.  Best wishes to Michael Schumacher!
-Previous Week's Reviews-
Introduction- Insightful... but bollocks: Introduction To Failure (or How I went from a Very Serious SLS AMG to Super Best Friends Super Aguri)
Week 1: '10 Peugeot RCZ