Road impressions

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The Volvo 244GL

The Swedes are cautious people. I have never forgotten the genuine alarm some of them expressed, as our hosts in Gothenburg, when we drank an exceedingly moderate quantity of wine at dinner and then prepared to drive a few miles back to another hotel. This innate sense of caution is personified by the present range of Volvo cars, with their enormous ugly bumpers front and back, their careful anti-crush construction, and their many safety features.

At the time of that visit to Sweden, all of 15 years ago, I had been over the Saab and Volvo factories and had been so impressed by the care with which Volvo cars were put together that I had recommended them to take advertising space in the leading British daily newspapers, to tell the story—a sort of saga of Crewe-care in cold places. I enjoyed the best possible relationship with Volvo, even to having been met at the airport by their much-praised vintage PV4 saloon. In recent times, however, applications for road-test Volvos fell on deaf ears and the last one I had was in the 144S days, back in 1962. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I accepted Kevin Gover’s offer of a week in a current 244GL.

It is a large, comfortable, very fully-equipped, if not very handsome, car. One of those you can study with enthusiasm in the garage, as well as in motion. It is conveniently arranged for: maximum comfort and convenience, a driving seat adjustable for lumbar support and height as well as in the usual directions, press-buttons for recirculatory air-flow, floor or screen heat-or-cool-air feed, rear-window demisting, hazard-warning and rear fog-lamps, a sun-roof, much appreciated black leather upholstery, stalk controls, the r.h. one of which flicks on the wipers (whose blades might have been more effective), drives them at two different speeds or washes the laminated glass electrically, and so on. There are enormous external mirrors but, surprisingly in view of the traditional beauty of Swedish women, no vanity mirror.

You sit high in your Volvo, commanding a fine view over lesser mortals. The steering is moderately light except for parking but somewhat sticky; it has good castor return except close to full-lock—and it is a very generous lock. The ride is very smooth but apt to be lurchy. The square-faced 130 m.p.h. speedometer is matched by a combined heat/fuel meter, with a tiny tachometer between, its maximum speed warning starting at 6,000 r.p.m., the “red” coming in at 6,500. There are very clearly labelled turn-switches for hot or cold air and the three settings of the heater-fan, there are many and elaborate settings available from the four facia fresh-air vents, there are head-restraints on the front seat squabs that are hard but of openwork form, to give the rear-seat passengers less of a shut-in feeling and, personification of the safety aspect, there is a horrid warning light that flashes until the front-seat safety harnesses are worn—but I got round that one! The turn-control for the Bosch lamps is placed nicely close to the driver’s right hand and couldn’t be more clearly lettered; there is rheostat control over instrument lighting.

The 244GL has the fuel-injection four-cylinder 2.1-litre o.h.c. 123 b.h.p. engine that runs quietly but idles roughly, and gives excellent performance-0-60 m.p.h. in 11.4 sec., and a top speed well in excess of 100 m.p.h. The gearbox is controlled by a somewhat heavy but well-placed and smoothly-operating lever rising from a square gaiter—Volvo are rather square—with a slide for selecting o/d on the top of its knob. A facia light indicates this, too brightly at night. By using overdrive it is possible to Motorway cruise at 70 m.p.h. at a modest 3,000 r.p.m. and making every possible use of it I got such an economical consumption of 93-octane fuel that I rechecked my figures-30.5 m.p.g. This must make the Volvo, driven with restraint, about the most fuel-thrifty car of its spacious size you can find. The fuel tank holds over 13 gallons. Behind the engine there is one of those dipsticks you could fight a duel with. It extracts easily from its curved tube to indicate, in my case, no lubricant used in 800 miles. The bonnet release, resembling a speaking-tube, is on the driver’s right and the bonnet is self-propping. The boot has the old-fashioned disadvantage of having a high sill over which luggage must be lifted and a lid that has to be manually encouraged to rise, but this boot swallows a great deal. Two keys look after quite good locks and the test car had a Volvo stereo and its radio a roof aerial. The car looks heavy and ponderous but it cornered well on Pirelli Cinturato tyres, with no excessive roll. The servo disc brakes felt spongy but functioned satisfactorily. A small but deep illuminated and lockable cubby-hole and door pockets are provided. This is obviously a well-made car. It has nicely contrived window winders, door handles, arm-rests, etc., mud-flaps behind each wheel, and the centre of the spare wheel contained a spare tin of fuel, as I used to have on the 1955 VW Beetle.

My first impression was that here at last was something of a match for the BMW and, I thought, no doubt this big Volvo is less expensive. As speed was piled on I realised that the German car is more responsive to the controls and corners that much more accurately; the Volvo 244GL costs £4,076, which is £153 less than the price of a BMW 520i. But I am glad to have made re-acquaintance with the respected Swedish make.—W,B.