A Polemic on Swedish Automobiles

The psychology of the Volvo driver


Imagine a land where for 200 days of the year it’s dark, or snowing, or both. The citizens of this land regularly vote for government regulation of everything up to and including bedtime. A beer costs more than the fridge to put it in. The national sport is suicide.

An old volvoThis last activity is equally popular with the elk which inhabit the interminable pine forests that cover most of the country. The creatures have just enough intelligence to chew cud without falling over, which may explain their habit of running into the road when they hear something alarming – like a car engine. 

These cultural, meteorological and zoological factors leave their mark on the motor vehicles produced in this icy gehenna. Solid metal boxes: heavy on the headlights and the crumple zones. Life preservation is top of the agenda. Life affirmation isn’t even on it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is all you need to know about the Swedes and their automobiles.

Another Ford tractorA tractor is compromised as a road vehicle because it must be designed to pull a plough across a field (and to spread cack evenly across the road when the yokel at the wheel returns homeward from said field.) I contend that a Volvo is likewise compromised because it must be designed to broadside unforeseen large ruminants without inconveniencing the occupants. If this contingency arises frequently while motoring in the UK, your driving style may need revision.

My quarrel, therefore, is with those who persist in dragging these highly specialised vehicles out of their natural habitat and into what was formerly the fast lane. But before I brand all UK based Volvo drivers as myopic self righteous freedom hating bedwetting upper middle class thugs, it is only fair to define the exceptions.

Very Old Volvos: Volvos are terrible to drive, but so is any other £500 motor and Volvos are at least solid. If you’ve bought an ancient Swedish tank for beer money so you can rag the crap out of the thing without it breaking, then you’re OK by me.

Antiques Dealers: You need to move furniture and your customers are snobs, so you can’t roll up in a Transit. I don’t like you, but I can see why you need a Volvo. The fine balance between crispness of turn-in and efficiency of high frequency damping, which a discerning driver might appreciate in a well tuned chassis is unlikely to be of importance when you’ve got two hundredweight of Thos. Chippendale’s finest sliding across the boot halfway round a tight bend.

So why do I hate the things? Consider the styling: If your 5 year old’s drawing of a car looked anything like a Volvo 760, you’d have the kid checked for brain damage. 

Volvo 960 Consider the engineering: After the styling, it’s actually manages to be a letdown. The heroically misnamed Volvo 960 “Classic” was offered for sale, with a straight face, as late as 1998. The back wheels of a 960 are what might charitably be described as connected to the rest of the vehicle via industrial revolution era cart springs. There are ice-cream van owners who would find this technology embarrassing.

So why do I hate Volvo owners? Because they know damn well that if they if they ram you in your proper car, they’ll live and you’ll die. How would you act at work if you nicked a carload of office supplies, seduced the boss’s teenaged daughter and committed nine counts of aggravated fiduciary misconduct and someone else got fired for it? Now imagine how Volvo owners drive.

Forget their behaviour. These people are loathsome in their very attitudes. Safety is a moral imperative, not an objective to be balanced against others, such as getting somewhere to do something or, God forbid, actual pleasure. “I am providing a public service by occupying the outside lane at exactly 69 mph because it stops other people being unsafe. I’m going to Heaven, the people chewing their arms off in frustration or carving past me on the hard shoulder are going to Hell.”

Their justification for this behaviour? The mewling brats on the back seat. “I’m not worried about my personal safety, I just want to protect my FAMILY.” How?! By letting them grow up without ever knowing what hydrocarbons were put on this earth for? (Hint: Not for powering busses.) By indoctrinating them with the belief that it is a moral imperative to suck happiness from the lives of everyone who thinks or acts differently? If something isn’t done, these kids are going to grow up taking speed limits seriously.

Volvo And where do you get off with this “proud to be a family man” thing? Has it occurred to you that you’ve done NOTHING that isn’t second nature to any pair of breeding animals with a few working body parts and brains the size of broad beans? Do you know how RUDE it is to pollute an overpopulated island with multiple copies of your own defective genes? While we’re having this little chat, you might also like to know that I do not envy you your IKEA furniture, and that cardigan should be demoted to a dishrag – it’s the main reason your wife’s screwing the milkman.

So we know the enemy: What to do? The worst excesses of the Volvo styling department can be mitigated by careful positioning. A good position for a Volvo is the far side of the horizon behind you. To facilitate this end I recommend the purchase of an environmentally disastrous mode of personal transport – the kind that makes the sea level rise a foot every time you change down for a bend. We’re talking the kind of car where you fill it up and every sheik in Saudi rushes out to buy a new palace. Try a TVR – they make cars for people who like to gnaw their streak straight off the cow. 

Never forget that Volvos are bought for protection from the outside world. Volvo drivers live their lives beset by the constant terror that somewhere, somebody might be doing something they disapprove of. These people need crumple zones because they are terrified of what other people might do if not adequately controlled. Show them real power. Show them the accumulated technological genius of our race harnessed toward the gratification of one man. Show them a blur of Pininfarina styling that destroys copious quantities of irreplaceable fossil fuels and sucks them a lane and a half sideways as it goes past. Show them, in short, what our time on this planet is for and their horror will be so extreme that I guarantee they won’t get their buttocks unclenched for a fortnight.

See the Volvo photo gallery.
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