My beloved 1986 Volvo 360 GL. La vieille dame. Today it died. Not literally: it started fine and could be driven no problem. But I had it towed to the casse (auto graveyard). There was no choice. Tomorrow was the deadline for the contrôle technique (inspection), the missing of which means cancellation of the carte grise (vehicle registration card), fines and fees into the hundreds of €, and all sorts of hassles and problems one does not need. My mechanic told me after the last inspection (two years ago) that the inspector decided to be nice and let it pass but that the next time major repairs would be demanded. And then last year I was informed that the joint de culasse (head gasket) had blown, meaning that I could drive locally but not outside the Île-de-France (no wonder the engine had been leaking coolant for the previous year…). Replacing the head gasket would have been more expensive than the market value of the car, not to mention all the other repairs to be mandated by the inspector. And don’t even mention body work (or all the other stuff that can suddenly go wrong in an old car). So I had set March 2013 as the deadline to replace the Volvo. As it had negative market value at this point, I couldn’t even give it away. So the casse was the only solution.
This is a sad day for me, as this was my car for the past 19 years. That’s a hefty chunk of my life (precisely one-third). And before it was mine, it was my father’s, who bought it new in November 1985. When he passed it on to me in 1994 it had 95,000 km on the odometer. Today it had just under 165,000 (that’s kilometers, not miles). Not much for a 27-year old car. As we live in an inner banlieue of Paris—and before that, in Paris itself—, use public transportation to go to work, and have food and most essential shopping within walking distance, the car was not taken out much. In recent years, once or twice a week on average (also, my wife doesn’t drive). And a significant portion of the 70K km I put on the odometer over the past 19 years was trips and vacations around France and neighboring countries (of which we took many when my daughter was younger). But one still needs a car and I had started thinking eight or nine years ago about getting a new one (or, rather, a more recent used model). But a reportage on France 2’s Envoyé Spécial (French ’60 Minutes’) several years ago made me decide to hold on to the Volvo for as long as possible. The reportage was on the repair costs of recent model cars with everything electronic and loaded with computer chips. One of the stories had a woman with her Renault or something and where the speedometer and odometer ceased to function. As her independent mechanic couldn’t deal with the new electronic stuff she had to go to the concessionaire (dealer)—already more expensive—to get it fixed. She was told the entire dashboard would have to be replaced. Cost: €800 (plus labor). I took note of this, as the very same thing had happened to my car a short time earlier. I took it to my mechanic (no dealer). The repair involved finding the wire from the dashboard and reattaching it in the right place. Cost: €57. That was it. I was keeping the Volvo until something major broke. And besides, Volvos are good cars! Properly maintained, they can go on for years.
But it was a gas guzzler, was rusting, the fenders starting to come loose, the rear right door not opening properly, et j’en passe. My daughter had also been increasingly embarrassed by it in recent years—her friends’ parents all have nice new model cars—and, I have to admit, I was slightly gêné myself parking in the lot at the last couple of weddings we attended (looking like the poor cousin from the sticks). So voilà, la vieille dame n’est plus. As soon as my leg is back to normal I’ll start looking for a new-used one (as given the frequency with which I drive, I cannot justify buying a new car). Donc si quelqu’un dans la région parisienne à une voiture d’occasion à vendre—fabrication allemande ou japonaise de préférence (mais pas française)—et pour à peu près €5000, faites-moi signe.