- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Eric Dobson doesn't recollect much about the day his parents bought a new 1970 Volvo 164-S. He was busy finger painting in his kindergarten class at the time.
It was Oct. 14, 1970, when his parents went to Fowler Motors Ltd. on North Fort Myer Drive in Arlington and told the salesman they wanted a burgundy four-door sedan. He figured the all-inclusive price would be $4,195. They couple returned on Oct. 23, 1970, to take delivery of their new Volvo.
An inline 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine develops 145 horsepower to propel the 2,920-pound, 15-foot, 5-inch-long sedan. Power is transferred to the rear wheels through a four-speed manual synchromesh transmission.
The solid Volvo did yeoman duty as the family hauler throughout the 1970s including several cross-country camping vacations. Mr. Dobson recalls camping in the Badlands of the Dakotas, in Salt Lake City and in Yellowstone Park. It was in Yellowstone that he awoke one morning to find evidence outside his tent of a nocturnal visit by a bear. Thereafter, while his parents elected to sleep in their tent each night, he opted to sleep inside the secure Volvo.
During the 1980s Mr. Dobson learned to drive seated behind the vehicle's two-spoke steering wheel. Of course, the Volvo was present at all the typical high school events: homecoming, prom, graduation. "The gas gauge hasn't worked since 1978," he comments.
Upon graduation in 1983, Mr. Dobson moved to Providence, R.I., to matriculate at Brown University, but he went without his favorite car.
Each summer he returned home and resumed command of the Volvo.
When Mr. Dobson graduated from the university in the summer of 1987, he rode home with his parents in their modern car.
As they turned into their street, he saw, parked in front of the house, the 17-year-old Volvo decorated with a ribbon tied in a big bow.
At that point, with the odometer having recorded 130,000 miles, the Volvo, which his friends and high school classmates had already identified with him, legally became his.
"For the next three years," Mr. Dobson said, "it was my only car." During those years the old Volvo was put to the test.
It received something less than kid-glove treatment but survived nonetheless.
After Mr. Dobson got on his financial feet, he acquired a new car but didn't have the heart to discard his trusty old friend. At that time, he said, "the Volvo became my second car."
Mr. Dobson can't remember when the Volvo wasn't a part of his family. As with any family, it has had both good and not so good times.
Mr. Dobson was at the helm when, despite a turning radius of 9.6 meters, he encountered a jersey barrier head-on. "There's an imprint of the fan on the radiator to this day," he said. Because of that incident, the engine hood has been replaced.
As deputy director of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Mr. Dobson on fair-weather days will drive his vintage Volvo to work, just to keep the juices flowing.
"It has a manual cruise control," he said with a laugh. The instrument he refers to is a pointer on a slide below the speedometer that warns the driver when the car's speed exceeds the indicator.
Mr. Dobson laments the encroaching maladies of his Volvo's old age. "It has the typical Volvo rust problems," he said. That condition shouldn't be unexpected after 33 years and 176,000 miles.
The Volvo was delivered with 6.85x15-inch Goodyear Power Cushion tires supporting the car on a 106-inch wheelbase. Ground clearance in those days was a hair over 7 inches.
"This car is like an old family dog," Mr. Dobson said. "It's part of the reason I love the car so much." A pair of Zenith-Stromberg carburetors draw fuel from the 15.5-gallon tank and feed it to the engine at the rate of 17.5 miles per gallon. "I once got 20 miles per gallon on the highway," Mr. Dobson said.
The 20th reunion of the Washington and Lee High School class of 1983 is coming up this summer and Mr. Dobson has every intention of attending the festivities in his Volvo. Undoubtedly, many of his former classmates will recognize the car.
After the durable Volvo racks up a few more miles as well as years, Mr. Dobson said, "I'd like to someday get her fixed up."

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