General Powell is a vintage Volvo man (and other Volvo stories)

1. Old but neat Times article we recently came across; maybe it’s old-hat to vintage Volvo heads.

We’ve always admired the General personally (despite some of his regrettable political missteps), but this makes him that much more alright in our book.

The former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was often found behind the chairman’s quarters at Fort Myer in Virginia tinkering with his cars.

“At one time I had six, stashed at various places around the post so the M.P.’s wouldn’t find them all,” he said in a recent interview. “My usual pattern was to fix them mechanically and then do enough body work to get them through a quick Earl Scheib paint job.

“My cars wouldn’t pass anyone’s magnet test,” he said, referring to how cars are checked for body filler that disguises rust damage, and added, “It’s been great fun and I’ve met a lot of interesting people.”

Mr. Powell’s current pride and joy is a 1966 122S wagon, a car similar to the barely ambulatory wreck that Bill Clinton and Al Gore presented to him at a reception when he retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993. “I tried to express my profound gratitude,” Mr. Powell said.

Finding parts is not a big problem. Genuine Classic Parts, a Swedish company, sells them through Volvo dealers. Another Swedish company, VP Auto Parts, also has a large selection. And, of course, there are still many parts cars available.

That’s how Mr. Powell got many of his parts. “I would strip them and stack the parts,” he said. “A lot of people heard I was doing that. Word got around among Volvo aficionados: ‘If you want a starter, see General Powell.’”


2. Sure, the P1800 is relatively commonplace (as far as our collective consciousness goes), but how often do you hear about the P1900?

Compared with the impregnable rolling fortresses on which Volvo built its modern reputation, the Volvo Sport, or P1900, a sleek two-seat convertible with a fiberglass body, seems heretical. But it was actually a timely, if somewhat hastily executed, marketing move. In the early 1950s, on the verge of exporting cars to the United States, Volvo was looking for a way to build interest.

On a visit to America in 1953, Volvo’s co-founder and managing director, Assar Gabrielsson, was smitten by the recently unveiled Chevrolet Corvette and became intrigued by its fiberglass body. He consulted Bill Tritt, a design engineer whose company, Glasspar, produced fiberglass motorboats and several hundred sports car bodies. At Gabrielsson’s request, Tritt made some sketches, and soon Volvo delivered a newly designed chassis to Glasspar in Costa Mesa, Calif., with instructions to “build a fiberglass body around it.”

Glasspar created a handful of prototypes, and in 1956 the Volvo Sport went into production, with a planned run of 300 vehicles. Glasspar built the first 18 production bodies, which were shipped to Sweden for final assembly. Thereafter, Volvo took over the entire production process. Most of the 1956 models were sold in Sweden — one, No. 18, was shipped to the United States and driven across the country on a promotional tour — and all of the 1957 cars except No. 49 were shipped to Los Angeles.

Rare or not, we think the near-iconic 1800 is actually the better looker. The 1900 might have gotten the ball rolling, but the 1800 was the one that got it right.


~ by velofinds on February 28, 2010.

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