volvo 142

The 1974 Volvo 142 in it's glory.

The price of gas has gone up. I know this well, as I fill up my car each week. I’ve seen on social media that the new administration is to blame, but presidents rarely have an effect on the price of gas. The recent gas price jump is likely more to do with the declining number of positive Covid cases. Restrictions are easing, and people are traveling more. I know this because I spend 90 minutes a day on the highway.

In the early days of the pandemic, I could have driven to work in reverse and not encountered too many obstacles. This is no longer the case as traffic has thickened and delays have grown. Supply has been reintroduced to demand.

One of the ways I pass time on my commute to and from Hillsborough is to take note of the many objects that have, one way or another, wound up on the side of the interstate. Most recently, a bright, red plastic gas can caught my eye. It was resting on its side, its spout pointed skyward.

It could have fallen from the back of a work truck or trailer. Landscape companies are repeat offenders for not properly strapping down less-expensive equipment, like coolers and fuel containers. 

The gas can might have been left by someone who emptied it of its contents after running out of gas. Although why a person would then leave this life saver by the side of the road is beyond me. Surly it deserved better than to be abandoned.

Almost 20 years ago, my wife and I got the idea it would be cool to own an old car. We looked at Mustangs, Camaros, Jeeps. Cars that would project a certain type of casual, understated cool. We’d put on our sunglasses, load up the kids and dog, and go for a spin.

We settled on a 1974 Volvo 142. It was an understated understatement on wheels. It was creamy yellow, earning it the nickname “Butta (as in butter).” I never missed an opportunity to say I could “parallel Parkay the car.” It would go 0-60 in a holiday-extended weekend.

We bought the car from an elderly doctor who purchased it brand new in 1974. He had it religiously maintained by a mechanic who mostly worked on Saabs. That mechanic, after suffering a massive heart attack, had his life saved by that doctor. He vowed to baby the Volvo as long as the good doctor owned it.

We paid $2,000 for the car. It was in very good shape. However, despite the “baby the Volvo” claim, the fuel gauge didn’t work. I discovered this while I was picking up one of my kids from school. The car sputtered to a halt in the school parking lot.

I got one estimate to repair the gauge from a Volvo mechanic, who seemed not at all impressed with our vintage vehicle. The cost seemed high, as we were a family of little means, and not very smart with our money (case in point, the 25-year-old car we bought).

So, I doled out $20 on a gas can, filled it up, and secured it in the trunk as a just-in-case-I-run-out-of-gas safety feature. Over the four years we owned Butta, I ran out of gas a half-dozen times. Each time saved by the trusty gas can. There were a few times I ran out of gas and had to have my wife rescue me because I forgot to refill the gas can from the previous time I ran out, but I don’t want to focus on that.

As my kids got older and more active in extracurricular activities, the need for a more reliable car outweighed the need to appear cool without meaning to. The car was starting to need other repairs, so we decided to sell it. I wound up putting a “For Sale” sign in the window and sold it within a week for $500.

But before that, I took it to a certain car dealership that was known for offering to buy your car no matter the age or condition. My wife and I sat in the waiting room while someone with the dealership inspected Butta and drove it around. We were there more than an hour. The salesperson returned with a packet of papers explaining the process blah, blah, blah. I jumped to the last page where the offer was printed. They offered us $5. 

Five dollars for a yellow 1974 Volvo 142 with a broken gas gauge. I feel pretty certain there was more than $5 worth of gas in that tank.