The car: 1973 Volvo 1800ES
The owner: John Barber, Toronto
The story: So you’re planning a midlife crisis. Don’t be ashamed: It’s perfectly natural. Marriage, kids, job is a tough row to hoe. You can’t help but see how the row narrows ominously into a rut, and how the rut arcs straight down into the final subterranean stopping place.
There may be no escape, but there’s no shame in trying. Take my advice: It’s essential!
The only problem is how you do it. A midlife crisis should be enacted with style. It should also be carefully planned to minimize the inevitable damage it will cause to one’s finances and personal relationships. For that reason alone, sexual escapades are not recommended.
But sexy cars are a time-proven substitute. And no classic car still rolling is better able to conjure up that wonderful illusion of recovered youth and freedom — in a thoroughly responsible and affordable manner — than the Volvo P1800.
Friends and colleagues were sceptical when they first saw me swanning around town with this Sea Green popsie — a ’73 1800ES — as my marriage and career crumbled in concert, as if on cue, at the apex of my mid life.
“What’s up with that, anyway?” one asked, genuinely puzzled and a little concerned.
“I don’t know,” I replied, taken aback, because I hadn’t exactly “thought” much when I emptied the account to buy a 40-year-old car I didn’t need. “All I know is that whenever I shimmy in behind the wheel and turn the key, I feel a wave of pure pleasure.”
Another scoffed. “Money pit,” he said. But he was wrong.
Despite appearances, this car is no mere sexpot. It’s a Volvo – originally built to lure the North American masses into showrooms full of sensible sedans, but still a Volvo. The legendary Irv Gordon of no fixed address has driven his ’66 P1800 more than three million miles, earning it a spot in Guinness as the world’s most durable car.
Derided in its day as a “souped-down Ferrari,” the P1800 has outlived all the brittle glitter girls with whom it once tried to compete. It’s hot, loud and cranky in urban stop-and-go – just like any respectable classic with power nothing, a heavy clutch and an engine in your lap — but it sings and swoops addictively on the open road. I wouldn’t hesitate to drive mine across the country tomorrow.
The greatest drama of my ownership occurred when Phil Bishop of Pickering Euro Service told me I needed a new windshield. The money pit yawned: Where on earth would I find a funky little windshield for a European sports car that’s been out of production for more than 40 years?
“Let’s try Volvo,” Phil suggested. Ten days later, a sparkling new windshield arrived in Pickering. Cost to me (installed): $400.
That, too, was pure pleasure.
So take my advice: If what you really need is a substitute mistress, nothing beats the P1800 — a spirited but undemanding workhorse with the body of Brigitte Bardot. It’s the ultimate sexist fantasy. Slightly shameful, perhaps, but no one gets hurt.
And when things change, when the crisis passes, and you have no further need of the illusions that sustained you so well in your time of need? Time to sell!
So welcome to Kijiji, darling. It was a great ride. There are younger men who need you more now.
John Barber is a Toronto writer. Follow him on Twitter @annegonian
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