• Leigh Gerstenberger

1960 Volvo Sport

Updated: Apr 5



My first car was a 1960 Volvo Sport that I purchased for $100 from my next door neighbor Mark (whose mother Miss Virginia introduced me to Carrot Cake https://www.strategic-connecting.com/post/carrot-cake) when he went off to college in 1970. The car looked like an overgrown VW bug. With seating for five I was the envy of all my friends.


It was on this car that I became adept at driving a stick shift and mastering the techniques of “down-shift double clutching” which uses the transmission to brake the car when going through sharp turns; and “catching the clutch”, a particularly helpful skill that prevents the car from drifting backwards when facing up hill and starting out from a dead stop. An essential technique for navigating western Pennsylvania’s hilly terrain.


The Volvo contributed to many memories my senior year in high school – road trips to Deep Creek, MD, tailgating at football games and one very memorable experience when the car back-fired and caught on fire on Cedar Blvd., just down the street from my home. As I raised the hood to see what the source of the smoke was (my initial thought was that the radiator had over heated) I found flames feeding off ten years of grease deposits consuming the engine compartment. Fortunately for me, a Sears appliance repairman with a fire extinguisher in his van was passing by and within moments prevented a considerable catastrophe by successfully dousing the growing inferno.


While the speedometer had stopped working at 140,000 miles, long before I purchased the car, the death knell occurred one afternoon when a terrible grinding noise emanated from the transmission and the car was stuck in second gear. I’ll never know if the adept manner by which I had used the transmission, (double-clutching and down shifting) might have contributed to its ultimate demise.


About to graduate from high school and with plans to be gone for the summer, I sold the car to my friend Paul (I think for $50). Paul and his dad where very handy and were always fixing things so when I returned from my summer travels, I wasn’t surprised to learn that they had replaced the transmission and restored the finish to its original candy apple red luster before selling it.


I didn’t think much of the car for years until 1976 when I met and began dating my wife who I married in 1977. As we got to know one another I learned that prior to our meeting, a red Volvo Sport had been her life for a few years. While we always wondered, we’ll never know if it might have been the same vehicle.


Fast forward 45 years further. The other evening while watching Julia the eight part series on HBO Max Originals on the life of Julia Child the American cooking teacher, author and television personality who is credited with bringing French cuisine to the American public, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised to see a 1960 red Volvo Sport prominently featured as the vehicle in which Child and her husband ferried around in as they prepared for her cooking show on Boston’s WGBH-TV. Once again bringing back a flood of pleasant memories.



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