Training Day

To Daventry, Nimrod, and don’t spare the DERV.

Volvo’s Daventry Training Centre. All images: The Author

My Volvo S90 would be the perfect town and commuter car if not for the fact he runs on diesel. Both derrière and back are supported supremely but the engine and that particulate filter prefer the motorway dash to the monotonous urban grind. Having had little opportunity to head out anywhere other than the supermarket and workplace for seemingly an age, the opportunity to stretch the car’s legs a little was duly taken – to Northamptonshire and to blazes with the cost!

The reason for the 200-mile round trip? The open day of Volvo UK’s training centre in Daventry. Settings maxed-out to comfortable, the M1 was taken in cruise control mode allowing for almost perfect music listening conditions. Almost, as some sections of tarmac reverberate as a fast-spinning washing machine, which even in such a quiet cabin, intrude on the aural delights. No matter, a volume tweak here and there and within no time, destination reached without fuss.

Organised in conjunction with Volvo UK and the Volvo Owners Club, the chance to view the inner sanctum of a major manufacturer was too good to miss. On arrival it appeared your author was not alone; some 200 Swedish chariots had beaten me to the prime parking spaces. The mood was friendly and convivial, the weather for late September, perfect. Amazons to XCs were lined up. Some scruffy, many pristine with a handful tuned or painted quite unlike anything Gothenburg ever anticipated. 

On arrival I was handed a voting form for Most Admired Volvo[1] then directed to the cafeteria where free cake and drinks aplenty were provided for our consumption. The building’s facilities were, as one might expect, first rate. Large pictures of Swedish forests covered windows. Photos of handsome people depicted looking wistfully at some far-off horizon sat happily with waterfall shots. Light and airy spaces, tan sofas, Orla Kiely coasters and scale models. Very Swedish and most relaxed in nature.

Designed to resemble the dealership with workshop, Monday through Friday sees the unit as a busy training and development centre for budding technicians and salespeople alike. Whilst test drives were unavailable, current models were lined up in the workshop area for the many interested parties to sit in, prod and poke. One had to sample an XC90 for purely selfish reasons; can a dodgy kneed duffer easily get in and out? Of course, child’s play for a semicentallian. Go on then, I’ll take the commanding driving position as well. Did I say that out loud?

Another corner revealed the Heritage Collection: a yellow 1800 ES[2] alongside the saintly P1800 but these eyes lusted over the 262C. Cosseted in living room luxury upfront, the rear seats really were for those more supple; ungainly, perhaps disastrous dismounts would occur. The heady aroma of Italian leather lightened the austere interior. This car has 60,000 miles covered and even stationary feels like it could handle ten times more. Where’s the keys, any chance of a spin? 

Heading outside, the car park has become an extended story of marque’s outpourings. Bonnets up draw enthusiasts ever closer. Overheard talk is of finding ever more elusive parts or of what horsepower this particular tune is in. Volvo has its own bad boy or rude dude following; one S40 example’s exhaust scraped the ground, so low the thing sat. Next door, a 740 whose engine bay was a cornucopia of coloured items which one can only assume enhanced results. Hardly the middle-class conservative estate this badge is oft painted with.

Returning inside, the gathered throng were then subjected to a demonstration regarding the current trend of electrified vehicles, both hybrid and battery by a northern sounding but eminently astute chap. Dealing with the former firstly, the thick orange cables and various connected metal boxes. Alternating currents along with acronyms power this SPA Chassis which the technician can repair should the worst happen. Inside Vader’s Helmet lay sixteen modular batteries which in direct current mode provide the turning effort. The engine can be run should the battery die but certainly not indefinitely. Prepare for an expensive replacement.

Moving over to the entirely battery powered CMA Chassis, the stakes raise higher. The floorpan is the battery, all 500Kgs of liquid cooled lithium iron, most sought after by many an industry other than motoring. Tested to destruction (this is Volvo) these vehicles come with a seven year, hundred-thousand-mile warranty. We’re told that as would a mobile device, over time the cells degrade. After seven years the car won’t cease to function, just take more time to top up.

Contrary to popular belief, the batteries sweet spot lies between twenty and eighty percent with charging levels controlled via the car or associated apps. Those fast timed charges the press love to bandy about appear to do more harm to those important cells than good; too fast a charge too often generates heat which can cause problems. Keeping things simple would appear quite difficult. 

The atmosphere within the workshop area then changed for the worse. Should those all-important cells require replacement, be that accidental damage or the passing of time, currently the cost could be anywhere from sixteen to thirty-six thousand pounds. Gasps spent, under breath comments circling, along the lines of, ‘why bother when dinosaur fuel works just fine?’ Alongside, those ever-present concerns regarding range and will the solitary off-route charging point be available?

When asked, few present had even sampled an electric car; old Volvo’s rarely die… but this and related charges would affect any battery car manufacturer. Volvo the manufacturer is firmly attached to electrical car propulsion, but the service fellow couldn’t rule out hydrogen, LPG or solid-state batteries as technological advances continue unabated.

Not wishing to end on a sour note, the tour and day was exemplary. A glimpse into the world of servicing and sales along with seeing a host of Gothenburg (Ghent or China’s) cherished steeds for the price of a few litres of diesel was well worth it. The journey home, a preciously relaxed affair. While I’m tempted by the cleanliness of electricity, I’ll remain with internal combustion for the foreseeable. And breathe…

[1] My own, surely? Including Nimrod, just one R-Design line S90 with a couple of estates of for good measure.

[2] If the rear of the 262C was difficult to manage, the ES was a nightmare. Your correspondent may be carrying a little more timber than necessary, but the huge steering wheel and extra low seating had me flailing like a beached whale. Others were witnessed in the same throes.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

25 thoughts on “Training Day”

  1. Good morning Andrew. What a jolly day out. Isn’t that yellow P1800 ES very pretty from the rear? I love the montage of tail lights and that red 240 still looks very smart.

    I must say that it’s great to see that Geely has realised how important Volvo’s ‘Swedishness’ is to its appeal and is happy for such enthusiasts’ events to continue. 👍

    1. A relative saw a white 1800ES at the Earls Court Motor Show and did the deal on the spot. She ran it for many many years, until it was no longer viable as a daily-driver in Kerry, and it was sold-on to a Volvo enthusiast in Carrigtwohill in Cork, where I hope it still resides. Sadly I never had the opportunity to sample it.

  2. Incidentally, I think that the Volvo S90 is by far the best looking car in its class at present (not that the competition is at all strong, of course). It is so pleasingly understated and not at all aggressive, but still purposeful looking:

    I believe there’s a replacement planned for 2023/24. I really hope they don’t mess it up.

  3. Morning Andrew – good to hear that Nimrod had some proper exercise at last. My respect for the 140 series notwithstanding, my all-time favourite Volvo would have to be the B10M…. Totally impractical for personal use, of course, but a great drive on long journeys. And I’ve just remembered that there was a 140 series van – imagine a 2-door 145 with a raised roofline aft of the B-post – which would suit Daniel’s forthcoming needs perfectly. I doubt he’d find one though….

    1. Ah yes, that would be the 145 Express:

      The 1969 replacement for the long-running Duett, examples of which are probably far easier to find:

    2. Reminds me of someone I know who was offered a company car by his boss.
      “I could make it a Passat” ” Not large enough” “OK, a 5er” Not large enough” “a 5er touring, then” “Not large enough””What would be large enough for you?” “I currently own an MAN 630″”…”
      He had bought an old railway station and used the truck to transport material for the renovation.

    3. That was even funnier once I looked up what an MAN 630 was! Um… I presume the railway station was available because the line had closed?

    4. A more modern substitute for the MAN 630 would be a Saurer – vastly superior as well. I don’t know about the trucks, but MAN buses & coaches’ reliability record in the UK was patchy, just as Mercedes quality control was, at least in my experience, sadly lacking, whereas Volvo set a standard to which others struggled to aspire. They even managed to make the Leyland Olympian work properly

  4. That sounds like my life d if day out. Thanks for sharing Andrew. I’ve a soft spot for Volvos having owned 7 over the years. My fantasy garage will include a 780.

  5. What is amazing on this 145 express’s page is the overall cleanliness of it and the most favourable ratio between the scarce means used (pics, words) and amount of information they provide.

    Even better, it is information, not imagination

    1. I salute Volvo’s clear statement of power outputs and the standards used when testing them. Manufacturers’ information from the ’60s and ’70s is a nightmare when I’m looking for ‘clean’ and comparable information. Jaguar and Standard-Triumph used “gross” figures, BMC always stated ‘net’ outputs, and Rootes/Chrysler, Ford, Vauxhall mainly used ‘gross’ but moved to ‘net’ or DIN around the turn of the decade, but not always consistently. In most cases the information did not indicate which standard was used.

    2. It is instructive to remember that fully half a century has passed since the American SAE organization (Society of Automotive Engineers) changed from Gross to Net brake horsepower ratings in late 1972. The new Net bhp standard was J1349, and ratings plummeted from the previous Gross values, unsurprisingly.

      Together with the addition of pollution equipment, the Cologne Ford 2.8l V6 was rated at a mere 105 bhp by 1976 in the Mustang II. The bog standard Chevrolet 5 litre V8 (called a 305 here) had sunk to 145 bhp, while its progenitor from 1955 and of 4.3 litres had 180 Gross. Typically, 30% got chopped off previous power ratings.

      So, since late 1972, I trust advertised American power ratings over everyone else’s, funnily enough. Explained here:

      After 50 years, surely it’s about time to acknowledge that the outright fudging of advertised gross horsepower so formerly beloved in the USA and certain companies in the UK had come to an abrupt end?

  6. That looks like it was an interesting day out, Andrew. It must have been good to see the older Volvos, including members’ cars – the red 240 pictured caught my eye.

    You mentioned future drivetrain technologies – few days ago, one of the YouTube EV channels (The Electric Viking, appropriately enough) had a piece about solid state batteries developed by NASA, I think; I must watch it.

    Lastly, I can’t believe that the S90 is due for an update – I thought they’d only just launched it. I checked and it went in to production in 2016. How time flies.

  7. Robertas, are you referring to SAE x DIN standards?
    Or are you encompassing as well other standards (japan’s JIS and italy’s CUNA, if I’m not grossly wrong)?

    1. Gustavo, perhaps I’m taking an over-simplistic approach, but for purposes of approximate comparison, Net is roughly cognate with DIN, and Gross with SAE. It’s no surprise that the more general use of Net figures in the UK coincided with the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act – before this the hapless consumer was often presented with figures based on the most flattering measurement standard, with no mention of which method was being applied.

      Dig deeper into the measurement standards, and there’s a minefield of complexity, as Setright explained succinctly in CAR May 1971:

  8. 262C. Lovely pristine example pictured. Thank you.

    I had the opportunity to procure a 262C back in 1983 at a hugely underappreciated price from a Czechoslovakian migrant but other pressing matter distracted me from closing the deal. Only to observe how much the price appreciates over the ensuing months and ballooned since ….

    The 262C remains in my fantasy garage.

  9. Good afternoon Andrew. Pleased to hear that you were able to enjoy some Manufacture’s hospitality which must be rare in these financially restricted times I imagine. The nearest Mercedes Main Dealer to me has removed the cakes and biscuits from the Customers lounge and replaced the crockery with paper cups and a vending machine! Dire times indeed.
    I admit to never considering buying a Volvo but your S90 looks very nice indeed.

  10. Thank you Robertas, even more for posting an article from LJKS.

    Jesus, how I miss him.

    Sometimes I feel that, in a way, civilization desapeared with him, only being on life support trough dtw

    1. “Jesus” how you miss him might not have been quite appreciated by LJKS, an Orthodox Jew – but I completely share the sentiment! His erudition (and occasional Jewish reference) are sorely missed. One of my favourite articles of his was about road works – and how rather than reduce speed on approach speed limits should e raised to allow for a smooth flow – Bernoulli’s law was referenced…

    2. I recall an occasion when LJKS was taken to task by a CAR reader for taking Jesus’ name in vain, actually in quotation of a fellow writer who had rashly accompanied him on a test drive at a new car launch.

      The aggrieved reader had also sent Setright a copy of the New Testament in a modern translation, which the great man stated in his AOB response to be even worse than the Neo-Melanesian Pidgin version in his large collection of Holy Bibles.

      He also chose to refer to Jesus of Nazareth as ‘Joshua ben Miriam’, which some would consider to be controversial.

  11. Sir!

    I must explain: I use ‘Jesus’ as an interjection (does the word exist?) and I apologise to all believers if I caused offence.
    But in my world it is a coloquialism (does the word exist?) everybody uses.
    If god exists, I hope he forgives me

    1. No worries; “Jesus”, “God”, etc. are convenient because they’re short (single-word). It’d have been a bit strange if you said “Invisible Pink Unicorn” or “Flying Spaghetti Monster” or “Souvlaki Magnus” (the latter two are from Pastafarianism and Souvlakism).

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