Tuesday June 5, 2018
Graeme Aiken is not only the proud owner of one of Britain’s rarest cars, he also delights in the confusion it often causes. ‘My best overheard conversation was in Sainsbury's car park: Wife: What's that little yellow car dear? Husband: It's a DAF love, rubber band gearbox. Wife: But is says Volvo on the back... Husband sighs No Dear, it's a DAF...’
The bewilderment of that couple was understandable as this ultra-yellow vehicle certainly looks like a DAF 66 and when Graeme turns the key, the transmission makes the same distinctive whirring noise as a DAF. But in 1972 Volvo acquired a 33% stake in the Netherlands concern and three years later this was increased to a majority share, which meant for greater manufacturing capacity. It would also result in the DAF 900 project becoming the 343 in 1976 and meanwhile the existing 66 was given a new identity. As befitting a Volvo, it also gained "safety bumpers", a vacuum rather than a centrifugal clutch, a neutral position for the gearbox and improved front seats with those distinctive 240-style head restraints.
In the UK, the 66 was only available in GL form with power from the 1.3 litre Renault sourced engine and it was marketed by Volvo GB as ‘The Start of Something Small’. At £1,945 for the saloon or £2,095 for the estate it was not especially cheap, but the motorist gained a highly individual machine that was nicely kitted out with front and rear inertia belts, two-speed wipers, a cigar lighter, electric washers, and twin Halogen spot lamps. The brochure displayed a refreshing lack of hyperbole – ‘each car uses the basic Volvo philosophy; a spacious, reliable, comfortable quality car with ample space for passengers and luggage’. Naturally the dashboard was finished in the finest of wood-look plastic to add to that essential touch of class for in the late 1970s the compact Volvo did appeal to the sort of driver who regretted the demise of the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf.
On the road, Graeme finds that the noise is comparable to a ‘whiney little hairdryer!’ and that ‘they are really great fun little cars. Both the Volvo and the DAF models are like little rubber band powered go-carts. People are often surprised how quickly they get off the line and with almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution the handle really surprisingly well’. As for the famous Variomatic continuously variable transmission that can allow your small Volvo to go as fast in reverse as forwards (!) he remarks that it is ‘fantastic! I love auto's and haven't had a manual for years, so no problem for me. It is a bit odd with not even a "step" between gears at first - especially with no appreciable engine braking when slowing down’. It must also be said that the idea of travelling backwards at 80 mph does sound like the storyline of a Public Information Film voiced by Edward Judd – ‘Reversing at Speed is Jolly Dangerous – Don’t Do It!’.
The Volvo 66 was made until as recently as 1980 but today their survival rate in the UK can be measured in single figures. Graeme came by his example after he ‘drove a friend’s DAF and thought, well this is a hoot of a thing - might get myself one of these....... Then I remembered that there was a Volvo "version" so set about finding one - to go with my 265’. His final advice is any would-be owner is ‘Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance! And get out and use them - they don't like neglect or not being given a good run’. Just don’t call it a DAF…