Friday, April 24, 2009

Volvo Duett

I own a 1967 Volvo 210 Duett. I’ve had it for thirty-eight years. Maybe it now owns me.

If you don’t know what a Volvo Duett looks like, picture a small 1940s panel truck with windows. The name Duett came from Volvo’s intent that it was a dual-purpose car. It could be used for daily transportation and for weekend excursions.

I don’t have a recent photo of my car, because it’s stored in a friend’s barn; but I did find one like it in the Volvo museum.

My love affair with these cars began in 1959 when I was fifteen. My mother bought a shiny new red-and-gray 445 Duett. It was the car I drove when I first got my driver’s license -- a funny-looking little Swedish car with a twin-carbureted sports-car engine and a blatting exhaust.

The car combined funky good looks, practical utility and excellent performance. It had better acceleration and fuel economy than many contemporary American models. It was also the car I was driving when some guy from the next town ran a stop sign and hit me nearly head on.

There were seven of us in the car. Thanks to its rugged construction, none of us were killed; but the car was destroyed. My mother wanted to buy another, but she couldn’t find one. Volvo only produced a few thousand a year, and they were never regularly imported to the U.S.

I found a Duett when I graduated from college -- a rusted, worn-out 1958 model that got me back and forth to my first post-college job. It consumed a quart of motor oil for each tank full of gas and had almost no brakes, a serious deficiency for commuting in and out of Boston every day—particularly when Route 2 west of Boston was under reconstruction. Slow moving construction vehicles often brought rush hour traffic to a sudden halt. On several occasions, I had to execute some heart-stopping evasive maneuvers.

While driving in the car with my wife one weekend, I spotted another one in good condition and flagged down the owner. We swapped stories; and I asked him to let me know if he was ever interested in selling. I got a call a few weeks later and bought the car for $600.

I parked the old one in the woods behind my mother’s house to save for parts. It eventually went to the junkyard.

I now had a reliable, shiny dark blue and gray 1958 445 Duett. It looked great and attracted a lot of interest. Everywhere I went in the car, people commented on it. And the very few times I met another one was an occasion to stop and talk.

I drove the car for three years. I loaned it to my boss one day, and he smashed it into a phone pole. I was devastated. It was repairable but would never be the same again. I sold it to a friend who patched it together and drove it several more years before parking it in a field behind his Vermont farmhouse. It was still there last I knew.

On my way home from work three years later, I passed a shiny dark blue 210 Duett. I turned around, followed the driver home and pulled into his driveway behind him. When I asked if he was interested in selling the car, he admitted that his wife was after him to get a more conventional car. A few days and $1100 later, it was mine.

The car was in good physical condition, but had already traveled more than 150,000 stop-and-go miles as a newspaper delivery vehicle. I installed a highly modified engine, beefed-up suspension, oversized tires on wide orange wheels, Italian driving lamps, garishly flowered window curtains and an eight-track stereo system (Remember, this was 1971).

It was great sport to out-accelerate the hot imports of the day at stoplight encounters. My hopped-up Duett left many a surprised BMW 2002 and Datsun 240 in the dust.

The car was my pride and joy. It was fun, fast and attracted lots of attention. I never let anyone else drive it for fear of having this one wrecked too.

I drove that car for six years, logging more than 150,000 additional miles. With our three young children, my wife and I traveled, camped and enjoyed many memorable family adventures in that car. It was part of the family. When it finally began to show its age at more than 300,000 miles, I bought another car and stored the Duett in my garage to be restored.

Years later, I was visiting with my good friends, Malcolm and Kathy Lee, when the subject of my 210 Duett came up. I described the car to Kathy, since I didn’t know her when I was driving the car.

Her face lit up. “I know that car. My sister and I drove it for several days.”

“You must be thinking of a different car," I told her. "I never let anyone drive that car.”

“I did. It had bright orange wheels, wild flowered curtains in the back windows and a little plastic Cookie Monster glued to the dash. A body shop in Acton loaned it to me while they painted my car.”

The Cookie Monster clinched it. I had my car repainted at the same body shop. They loaned it out without ever telling me.

Thirty years later, it still isn’t complete. But I haven’t given up.

The Duett has gained a cult following for its individuality, utility and rarity. And it was one of the Volvos that helped the company earn its reputation for durability.

Every so often, I do a Google images search for Volvo Duett and save photos I find. Here are a few of my favorites:

If Volvo were ever to produce a retro Duett, I have some ideas about what it might look like.

A disclaimer: I lost most of the photos that I took of my Volvos over the years. With the exception of the 445 in the Vermont field and the two black and white photos, I used photos of similar cars that I found online to illustrate this entry. I hope the owners of these photos don’t object to my including them here.


  1. Excellent read. I like your style...have a good one!/Nice blog! Keep it up! Volvo Exhausts

  2. Lots of great memories go with that Red and Gray "59" 445. I'll never forget your Dad's love of these old Volvos, and how he drove them over 100,000 miles with never an oil change. Great cars and great memories.............

  3. Great story. I've had mine since 1978 when my step-father gave it to me after being restored. Never give a 16 year old a restored car. I'm finally getting ready to rebuild it and am looking for ideas and direction. I may use your drawings as inspiration. Thx... Craig

  4. Nice to see a picture on my old Duett VUX-22 in this blog! The picture was taken in Leppävaara in Finland about fifteen years ago. Last I saw it in Savonlinna city a couple of years ago: it was painted white/brown instead of white/light blue...... I bought an Amazon after selling my Duett, only two seats was not enough for family :)