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The Volvo Moved!

But not under its own power, unfortunately. Here’s a short summary.

Anyone who has read my profile text (and I often wonder if anyone bothers?) might have noticed that it states that I own a Volvo. And I do, in fact. Actually, the majority of what I write on ViaRETRO is usually largely true, and this part certainly is. But then you might question: Why have we never read anything about said Volvo? The answer is: Only our most loyal and long standing readers – and a good memory would serve them well here – are likely to remember anything of it.

This is it: My Volvo 445 – and yours truly as well. Photo from the archives, of course – and I had to dig deep into them as well!

The thing is, I shoved it into a corner (quite literally) sometime around 2013 – truth be told, I can barely remember when.

What I do remember is the many good adventures we’ve had together: I found the car around 2010 in Holland (or was it 2011 in Belgium? Jeeez, time flies!) after a prolonged search for such a model in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. What I wanted was a classic van which was usable, charming, reliable and affordable, and I quickly homed in on the Volvo Duett. It of course helped that my grandfather owned several of them in his business back in the Sixties and Seventies as well.

The Volvo Duett was a true workhorse for many a small company (or large, in fact) during the fifties, sixties and seventies.

You might think it would be a relatively easy search as the Volvo Duett are fairly numerous? But wait – mine is actually not a Volvo Duett, but rather the model which preceded it: It’s called a 445. This does make it somewhat rarer and the fun doesn’t stop there either. As I wanted a car that could carry the name of my business proudly on its flanks it had to be a panel van variant of the 445, and that is indeed quite a rare thing. As are the panel van variants of the later Duett too, by the way.

The glassy version was more of a family estate. Although the name “Duett” is indeed a hint towards its ability to be a workhorse during the week and a family car over the weekend. And just look how happy they all are!

The reason is simple, and I’ve had it confirmed from several people approaching me while driving the 445: Back in their time, they were nothing but workhorses, and more than once I’ve heard stories of a (then) young apprentice trying his best to wring the life out of the poor company van. As well as stories of loading up the Volvo to double or even triple its approved payload – and plenty of other horror stories. Add to that, that they were not immune to rust either (even though the massive structure was better than most back then) and it’s suddenly very obvious why so few are left: Most were driven into the ground already back in the seventies.

Mine probably was too, but then a Dutch (or Belgian – I still genuinely don’t recall…) restored it to use as a promotion vehicle for his restaurant: In its rather nice matte blue it certainly looked striking and it had led an easy life in his hands. Once a week it carried empty bottles away from his restaurant. So it was in good shape when I tested it on the local roads down there, narrowly missing a ditch, somewhat surprised by its leisurely driving dynamics and feeble drum brakes.

During our trip to Goodwood. Well, we were overtaken – and so what?

The old Volvo was certainly in for a bit of a wake up call in my hands: I did mostly enjoy its versatile charm on shorter local trips just as the former owner had (I lived in Aarhus at the time, the second largest city in Denmark), though occasionally the Volvo transported me to Copenhagen or the west coast and actually never missed a beat. Fast it was not, but twice we were taken by surprise by rather serious snow storms, and even though the wipers could barely cope, the Volvo simply marched on.

I did not actually deliberately drive out into a snow storm: It was more like the storm found us, tried to stop us – but failed!

Then in 2012 I decided to drive it from Denmark to the Goodwood Revival. Brilliant idea, as the spacious storage space easily allowed for a sleeping quarter. So upon arrival, I parked the Volvo up front in the pre-66 parking area and there it stayed during all of that year’s Revival. This was easily the best of my Revival visits ever, as I caught all of the action from 7 in the morning until 23 in the evening: Simply brilliant! On the way home, I drove up to London to view a TVR for a friend (he bought it later) and then headed south for Dover: The weekend after, Spa Francorchamps hosted the annual Six Hours race weekend, and after the tuna sandwiches of Goodwood I was longing for Belgian Fries. The idea seemed perfect at the time.

Post-Goodwood we explored some pubs. Note how well the Volvo blends into the setting.

So from Dover I took the ferry to Calais and from there, my Volvo and I headed up through France to Belgium. A fine roadtrip as well, but the real coup was that I arrived on the Thursday before the race meeting opened. In the Volvo I of course looked like someone who belonged there and was allowed in – only to park the Volvo under the Formula One pits before the strict parking restrictions were enforced. So I left it there, my Hotel Volvo, and enjoyed the same luxurious accommodation as I had during Goodwood – just a notch better placed.

Besides using it as intended – as a promotional vehicle for my business – I even took the Volvo back to its birthplace in Sweden with my daughter in the passenger seat, enjoying yet another terrific roadtrip. Later I repeated that exercise with my wife to be. Always and everywhere, the Volvo was a popular sight raising the spirits of bystanders, and I rather enjoyed its leisurely driving experience as well.

Then one day after picking up my daughter from school, the otherwise trusty old Volvo had trouble starting and developed a terrible chatter from the engine. Followed by a not insignificant amount of smoke. She was not really amused at the time. Nevertheless, my Volvo still got us the 45 kilometers back home, but was then nearly impossible to start.

So spacious you could sleep in there. And I did.

A friend promised to help, but he turned out to have the attitude of “let’s take this apart too, as it will probably make it easier later on”; which didn’t really make it easier at all, as “later on” never really happened. It turned out that the engine had only suffered a blown head gasket. Had I only known, I could have fixed it myself with the engine still resting where it should be – in the engine bay. Instead the engine was fully rebuilt with no time rush at all. Let’s just say it took a couple of years before I saw it again. The friend who took the Volvo apart, I didn’t really see again.

During an overnight stay in some Danish wood. Just for the fun of it.

You’d be right to state, that I could have just put the Volvo together myself – or at least have tried. Or failing that, called for help. But I didn’t. And I know why too: I acquired other cars and drove them instead. They weren’t always as practical or charming as the Volvo (rarely, in fact), but with the arrival of the Scimitar GTE it came pretty close. So there seemed to be no rush to finish the Volvo, which in fact looked perfectly good just parked up there in the corner of the garage.

But then – very recently – I sold the house. Including the garages, regrettably. So now something had to be done.


Well, actually it didn’t HAVE to be done, as I could of course just trailer the Volvo to our new home – but somehow, that just seems plain wrong. It feels much more fitting if the Volvo were to be resurrected where it was laid dormant five (or six?) years earlier. I moved the Volvo out of its corner where it has been resting for so long. However, I still don’t feel quite up to the task. Luckily, a friend (not the one who helped take it apart…) has offered a hand with the project several times over the years and I finally elected to hold him to his word: Together we’ll have a go in August. Surely the Volvo deserves it.

Would be nice to take it back to the Goodwood Revival too, wouldn’t it?

This is an illustration from the owner’s manual. Again, witness how happy he is. I want to be that happy too – again.


5 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    So much character and charm tied up in one little van…
    Claus, please get that lovely Volvo 445 of yours back onto the road asap! It deserves it, you deserve it, we deserve it… ;-)

  2. Dave Leadbetter

    Actual LOL at the smiling driver in the owner’s manual.

    Knowing you’ve had this parked up so long makes me feel better about my guilty secrets. It’s lovely and I hope you get it going again. Erm… just in time for autumn…

  3. Peter

    The Volvo deserves to be back on the road again! Getting the engine back in place will be a simple job


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