A story told by Rod Whitaker
Years ago, the man sought a vehicle that would suit the purposes of a country gentleman. Upon the enthusiastic advice of a long-time friend, he ultimately decided on a Volvo. His decision was predicated on the assumption that any automobile that cost so much, lacked beauty, comfort, speed, and fuel economy must at least be dependable and last many years.
Soon after he purchased the vehicle, our gentleman located places of rust, noted misaligned wheels, experienced grabbing brakes, and observed that his windshield wipers only flirted with the glass, and never once consummated their relationship. Worse, the car had a trunk that required the two good arms of a weight lifter to close it. He promptly returned the vehicle to the dealer, who punctually suggested that these were issues for the manufacturer.
Over many months, potential litigants exchanged letters, no one apparently willing to accept responsibility for the poor quality of workmanship at Volvo, until finally the company offered their condolences to squire’s bad luck in automotive selection. Occasionally, we must all suffer a lemon.
The sullen landowner finally accepted his fate. He set about transforming the Volvo into a vehicle capable of transporting sheep and bulky equipment into the high mountain regions, which were part of his vast estate. He secretly hoped that the worthless vehicle would fall apart, forcing him to decide on a vastly improved replacement, but sadly, while he found no truth in the proposition that the Volvo was a quality manufacture, the vehicle’s claim to durability seemed entirely valid. While it always ran poorly —it nevertheless always ran.
The country gentleman had some years earlier hired the village drunk to become his gardener. In this, Pierre was utterly steadfast in two areas: watering the plants, and consuming no more than eight or ten glasses of Irouléguy each day. It was to this man that the country squire assigned the additional duties as a chauffeur with the expectation that he would soon replace the Volvo.
Pierre had little trust in mechanical things. In the first instance, he believed automobiles were far more complicated than necessary. Pierre thus limited his interaction with the Volvo’s transmission to only two gears: reverse and low. More than this was a waste of energy, he felt, for the result was the same had he managed to pass the vehicle in its fourth gear. The clutch was good for starting off, but had no value afterwards. It was just as easy to re-start the automobile at intersections where stopping was necessary and several times while negotiating tight turns to the left or right.
Normally, Pierre regarded stop signs as signals to proceed at flank speed. It was also true that Pierre had little use for the foot brake, particularly when the hand brake was more convenient.
The local villagers were fortunate because it was possible to hear the Volvo’s screaming engine from a long way off. It gave them time to park their scooters, leap over stone walls, or take shelter within the nearest tavern before the Volvo actually descended upon them, its engine racing, body rattling, and the exhaust polluting the air.
Pierre was a proud man. He was also proud of his driving record; not once had he ever been involved in a traffic incident of any sort —which was more than he could say about others who used the narrow mountain roadways. These other drivers would frequently run their scooters off the roadway, or drive their lorries into the business establishments along the mountain road. It was not necessarily their lack of driving skill that bothered Pierre —it was their rudeness in offering him obscene gestures. This was too much to bear.
In time, our gentleman came to accept that this monstrosity of a vehicle might even outlast him, who had just recently entered his 50th year. In anger and disgust, he began kicking the vehicle before entering it, and upon exiting. Initially, the local people found this quite amusing. Then the friends of the squire began bashing the Volvo whenever they came across it parked in the village square, and soon it became a village tradition involving everyone —even the village priest, although without the profanity.
Thus began the custom of Volvo bashing in this small mountain village, and not just the Volvo owned by the country gentleman. Tourists who rented Volvos had their cars bashed, too … and, in time, they too participated in this quaint behavior. Then the jet setters that came to ski began bashing Volvos, and the backpackers who came to spend their parent’s money. Within a year, Volvo bashing spread throughout Europe and there was soon a persistent if not mythical flavor to the rumor that the mountain people bashed their Volvo for good luck and it seemed to work for nowhere on the planet were there any Volvos older and more utilitarian than in the Pyrenees Mountains.
Rumors soon spread throughout Europe that in an effort to attract the smart set to an automobile that had sacrificed everything to passenger safety (despite their use of Firestone tires), Volvo would soon introduce a pre-bashed model. This is how the Volvo Company ultimately appealed to the European affluent class, who remain convinced that their lives must surely benefit all of mankind.