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2008 Volvo C70 Review and Road Trip

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By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

I hooked up last week for just one day of a five-day cruise called the Old U.S. 27 Auto Tour. Only the second year for this tour it stops along a nearly 300-mile route at a variety of Michigan venues including the State capitol and includes more than 300 cruisers.

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With the popularity of Route 66 cruises and similar events promoter Craig Parrish decided to put this one together to celebrate old highway U.S. 27, one of the first north/south Midwest routes of the national highway system finished in the 1920s. If you wanted to take the time you could travel U.S. 27 (or its modern day equivalent) from northern Michigan to southern Florida. Parrish wants to eventually get Old U.S. 27 designated as a “Heritage Route” throughout its entire length so that it becomes part of the National Scenic Highways list, like the better-known Route 66.

My friend photographer Margaret Hehr and I decided we’d catch up with them for a day in the middle of the cruise, shoot some photos and hang out a bit. We left early and met up with the group at the famous old Doherty Hotel in Clair, a small town billing itself as the gateway to northern Michigan. Clair is situated at the northern edge of the flat southern Michigan farmland, once the bottom of a huge lake just after the glaciers receded, and the beginning of the glacial moraines that define the sandy, gravelly hills of the northern half of the Lower Peninsula.

Our ride for the trip is a pretty, bright-red Volvo C70 convertible/hardtop – the perfect ride for such a jaunt on a hot summer day. I’ve gone all summer without doing a review of a convertible, so it’s about time for some open-air touring. The morning was rather cool but that did not deter us from putting the top down as we left Margaret’s place at O-dark-30 headed north.

This Volvo is powered by a turbocharged, in-line 5-cylinder making about 227 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque – not overpowered, to be sure but plenty competent. Our tester is a six-speed stick making for more fun driving than would be the case with the automatic, I contend. Acceleration is good and we feel no appreciable turbo lag.

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We followed the new road now called U.S. 127 as it passes Dewitt, St. Johns, Ithaca and Mt. Pleasant, home of Central Michigan University and the Chippewa Native American reservation. The whole road was redesignated as U.S. 127 in 2002. We know not why. Margaret is impressed with the smoothness of the Volvo and how we’re able to maintain a conversation at 70-mph with the top down. We arrive in the parking lot behind the Doherty as the cruisers are just milling around getting ready for the driver’s meeting and the day’s activities.

Deciding to close up the Volvo while we spend some time shooting the 80 or so cars in the parking area, I push the ‘up’ button on the console between the seats. Nothing happens. An indicator on the dash says the trunk is not closed tightly. It is a tad temperamental. The whirr of motors and the gentle jerk of top sections starting and stopping let us know it’s working. The trunk opens up backward and out comes the top in sections. Smoothly but slowly it comes forward with sections seating against themselves and finally seating against the windshield, all-in-all a slick operation, I must say.

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Strewn about the parking lot are an eclectic variety of cruisers, from street rods to antiques, modern Corvettes to classic old T-Birds, muscle cars, pony cars and a few old pickup trucks. My favorite is a wonderful old Studebaker Hawk driven by a women with a big grin.

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The in-charge Mr. Parrish is joined by local Clare dignitaries, and a county cop (they have police escorts much of the trip) for the day’s instructions. Next stop is the Clare County Fairgrounds where the cars will be on static display for a few hours while the folks get to hang out in the 4H barns admiring the sheep, pigs, cattle and kids - being careful, of course, not to step in anything smelly.
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It’s too early in the day for the carnival to get going but there was plenty of time for wandering through the merchant displays and gathering around the cars. By mid-afternoon we’re ready to head further north for a late afternoon and evening event at the Grayling Ford dealership.

Margaret and I put the top down again and hit the old road looking for hints of its history. A few of the buildings in Clare still have the ambiance of the old days but very few. Out on the road we find few hints of the road’s former glory – a deserted diner here, a falling-down roadside shop there and just one sign indicating that the road is the “Old U.S. 27. How sad.

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Fortunately, the sun is staying behind some clouds so we needn’t put the top up or slather ourselves with sunscreen. This front-wheel drive Volvo is a pleasure to drive with a light clutch, precise steering and impeccable road manners. While the suspension is a tad stiff it is not obnoxiously so. On the rough sections of road we can feel a little flex in the body structure when the top is not securing the car. When the top is up it’s as sturdy and stiff as anything.

This Volvo C70 Convertible lists for $39,240. We have a few options on our test car (Dynaudio Package and a Premium Package as well as 18-inch wheels and a Convenience Package) that bring the bottom-line price to $44, 675.

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We had a great time at the Grayling Scott McNamara Ford dealership where another static show brought in some more cars and another photo opportunity. A roasted pig and some local dancers rounded out the evening for us.

Just about dark we headed back south and kept the top down the whole way. There is something pure and exhilarating about a fast, top-down cruise on a cool summer evening. Perhaps next year we can hook up with another special car and do the whole route from Coldwater to Cheboygan.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved