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Discussion Starter · #1 ·


Comparing my first car and my current car -- strangely similar:
(I wrote this a few years ago; I'm now driving a V70 and the Focus is for sale!)

My first car was an 1966 Volvo Amazon wagon, which I drove off to college and then across country -- it overheated while crossing the desert, and lost the bakelite timing gear crossing the Rockies.

Many cars later I find myself driving a 2007 Ford Focus ZXW SE, five-speed, pzev with abs, moonroof and side airbags. I had been looking for a domestic wagon that got good mileage, offered chair height seating and a manual transmission -- oh yea, and a moonroof. All preferably without bakelite timing gear. The car has been a surprising joy.

I ran across the stats on the Amazon recently and was stunned to see how similar the cars are in overall dimension -- I'd thought of the Volvo as a much larger car. In fact, despite all the drama at the Focus' introduction about its height, the Volvo was both taller and narrower, riding on the same wheelbase. According to manufacturer stats, the Ford has much greater interior cargo space, though that may be a difference of calculation more than reality.

What the ZXW trades to the Amazon in robust durabilty and all the loveliness that came with the Amazon's Ponton genre styling -- the Focus gains in New Edge, Control-Blade rear suspension, made-in-Wayne-Michigan goodness: quite excellent handling, much better performance and mileage... and almost all the safety features of today's cars, albeit with an interior rendered in plastic rather than steel and with interior fittings more K-mart than Target.

I love the Amazon Estate so much I later drove a 65 sedan -- despite the fact that both cars were near constant headaches -- leaky fuel smells, master cylinders, and when the temperature guage bit the dust, the repair operation required removing the guage, sending unit and connecting three foot long copper tube, all as a single piece. Good Times, those seventies.

It was fun to study the differences and similarities. I guess I like a certain prosaic wagonliness.

PS: The Volvo retailed for about $2700 bucks, which in 2007 was worth about $17,000. The SE wagon without options (in my case moon, abs and side airbags) retailed for $ 17,420 with freight.

For the $420 higher cost of the Focus... you get a fairly radical improvement in fuel mileage, far less emissions (pzev!), air conditioning, fuel injection, a third more hp, five speed vs. four speed transmission, fully independent rear suspension, front disk brakes (power), platinum spark plugs, radial tires, energy absorbing bumpers, 15 inch wheels vs. 14, face level fresh air ventilation, front airbags, inertia reel three point seats belts at all five positions with pretensioners, cruise control, four-speaker stereo with CD and MP3 capability and with antenna (!), tilt telescope steering wheel, intermittant windshield wipers, center console with armrest, glovebox (!), power windows, power door locks, remote entry, solar tinted glass, an interior release for the tailgate, power steering, power mirrors (the Volvo came with only an exterior drivers side mirror), halogen headlights, roof rack, rear windshield wiper, hazard lamps, interior map lights, theater style interior lighting, interior day night mirror, split rear seating, LATCH system for child seats, ... CUPHOLDERS (five!).

The Stats:

 

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I like these comparisons. Are these two pictures in the same scale?

Here some comments.

The first "short term" weakness of the Ford compared to the Volvo is that the Ford is FWD. That makes it almost irrelevant from the perspective of fun driving. The second is structure. Despite all the advertised safety features, the Volvo is a much more robust steel structure.

Note that the Volvo has much higher ground clearance, which is made to deal with rough roads. If you don't drive in rough roads and that benefit does not add any value to you, you can reduce the road clearance (many options on how to do that), which will bring the overall handling at least comparable (if not better, given the RWD characteristic of your Volvo).

If the lower 0-60 of the volvo bothers you (it should be better than 15 seconds with the 4.56 and B18D, and about 11-12 seconds with the B18B), you can easily upgrade the engine, and you can easily match the acceleration of the Ford. Also, you can install an optional OD, and bring the gas mileage to about the same.

Now, of course, the obvious "long term" weakness of the Ford is that it lacks the durability of the Volvo. After 10 years or 100K miles, it will be junk (assuming you are not involved in any accidents, which can wipe out a modern car much easier than the Volvo).

Of course we have the subjective issue of styling. Both inside and out, the Volvo has character, whereas the Ford looks exactly like any other car of its size.

So, where is the improvement in the auto industry, if the Ford is mostly inferior to the Volvo? There are of course improvements. Nobody could produce a car like the Volvo nowadays, while equipped with the expensive electronics necessary to meet emissions, and still make a profit. So, the cheaply built Ford is what allows modern cars to be built in such huge quantities for the much larger modern market. Also, the Ford, while new, requires no maintenance, and its owner could be totally clueless about cars. The Volvo requires the owner to know a thing or two about cars. Also, the benefits of RWD and fun to drive of the Volvo only apply to car nuts, like us. For the average motorist that could care less about driving fun, and does not mind spending a bunch of $ every 5 years for a new car, the the Ford is clearly superior.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I can't say the two photo's are exactly to scale -- un-dimensioned bitmap images can be tough to scale.

For me, it's not possible to make hard and fast conclusions about the two cars. But it does make an interesting excercise. I might be less biased toward the Amazon in these regards:

-- The Amazon was RWD but the Focus was extremely fun to drive -- and routinely praised in the press for its handling.

-- The Amazon was filled with robust safety features and no doubt is made of more brute steel, but it would be naive to think a car designed in the 1950's could out-perform a car designed in the late 1990's in crash testing -- numerous Volvo-specific youtube videos will attest to this.

-- The Amazon is a lovely car from a styling perspective. At the same time, the Focus wagon is a tidy design without some of the more creative aspects of the hatchbacks (the high triangular tail lights!). The Focus does not look like every other car of it's size. It is an extremely tall small car, something car makers are now shrinking away from. A big part of the New Edge styling was with its outsized wheel arches was to mitigate the vertical height of the car. In my experience, it's very difficult to find a small car with an upright, off the floor seating posture. Both the Amazon and Focus share that.

-- The Amazon was by all means considered a durable car. That said, I had two Amazon's in succession in the mid-seventies when the cars were less than ten years old. They were constant headaches. I'll never forget replacing the coil with it's hardened cabling or the temperature sending unit with it's four foot long circuitous piping. I became an expert at changing clutch master cylinders for me and my friends with Volvo's. And despite their reputations, both Amazons suffered a fairly shocking amount of rust. True enough, though, the Amazon was built in an era where the cars tend to survive more easily -- if for no reason than their technology is as you point out so much more accessible.
 

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I can't say the two photo's are exactly to scale -- un-dimensioned bitmap images can be tough to scale.


-- The Amazon was RWD but the Focus was extremely fun to drive -- and routinely praised in the press for its handling.

Yes, but its all relative. By the standards of a FWD car the Focus may be fun. But there is an all new dimension in fun when you deal with RWD, especially one that is very well developed and design, such as the Volvo (even in the Wagon form). If you master RWD, there will be no FWD car that would even be relevant

-- The Amazon was filled with robust safety features and no doubt is made of more brute steel, but it would be naive to think a car designed in the 1950's could out-perform a car designed in the late 1990's in crash testing -- numerous Volvo-specific youtube videos will attest to this.

If you know a thing or two about how the modern auto industry operates, it would not be that naive. The name of the game nowadays is cost cutting. NOTHING else matters more. They could definitely make more robust cars that perform better not only on the controlled crash test environment but in real life collisions, but they would be too expensive to build. Their compensation with airbags etc is good, but only partially fill the gap (unless you are not wearing seatbelts). A friend recently sent me some real crashes pictures on the internet showing cars snapped in half in city traffic speed impacts. The youtube videos are all biased towards the agenda they are trying to promote. I have seen the one for example between the 90's FWD volvo and a Renault, but the engine and other components were removed from the Volvo. A similar one with a modern GM car was extensively discussed here, and it was equally biased. BTW, the ultimate safety feature would be a roll cage in the passenger compartment, similar to race cars, but this would be too expensive for production cars, both then and now. So, it would be naive to believe that the auto manufacturers do not compromise safety for production cost. Back then, the circumstances were a bit different, and Volvo found a way to move the compromise more towards safety (and quality in other forms), while still being able to make a profit (partly by raising the price). But the nature of the industry slowly changed, and you could see that in the Volvo products themselves, which also slowly started drifting towards the ordinary Volvo cars of today, which are no different than any other make.

-- The Amazon is a lovely car from a styling perspective. At the same time, the Focus wagon is a tidy design without some of the more creative aspects of the hatchbacks (the high triangular tail lights!). The Focus does not look like every other car of it's size. It is an extremely tall small car, something car makers are now shrinking away from. A big part of the New Edge styling was with its outsized wheel arches was to mitigate the vertical height of the car. In my experience, it's very difficult to find a small car with an upright, off the floor seating posture. Both the Amazon and Focus share that.

Styling is subjective. And I agree, by modern standards, the Focus is doing well.

-- The Amazon was by all means considered a durable car. That said, I had two Amazon's in succession in the mid-s... They were constant headaches. I'll never forget replacing the coil with it's hardened cabling or the temperature sending unit with it's four foot long circuitous piping. I became an expert at changing clutch master cylinders for me and my ... -- if for no reason than their technology is as you point out so much more accessible.
I guess we can say that many of these issues are statistical in nature. But I have never had to replace the MC on the clutch in about 5 years of volvo. I once replaced the slave cylinder, and that was fairly easy. Try doing that on your Focus. The coil can be replaced by a conventional coil, unless you are so scared of somebody stealing your car. But yes, rust protection improved the past few years, but since I live in the south it makes no difference to me
 
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