Where Can Your Volvo Go?

Our expedition car is ready—time for a last check on the roof rack. Our Volvo 240 seems to be from another world among the urban cars in Brussels. The car is heavy, and we have some doubts about the rear suspension. Let’s go! It’s too late to change our plans. Direction: Tehran in Iran.

Our friends and family are a bit worried about our trip. Some of them think we are crazy to go with our two boys (8 and 4 years old) in this old car to Iran. We are confident, though.

We quickly crossed France and Germany to reach Italy. Our first step is to visit our family and to enjoy delicious Italian food. No issues with our Volvo so far. But driving through the Alps was sportive. With our higher tires and very soft suspension, it is difficult to manage the car.

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We left Rimini by night boat to reach the meteors in Greece. It was our first opportunity to test our car off-road to reach some monasteries. Thanks to our reinforced tires, the gravel and stones made for an easy playground.

After two weeks of cultural visits through Greece, we reached Athens. We planned to visit friends on Paros Island. The sea route to reach all the Greek islands is like a big Tetris. As we would like to reach south of Turkey, it becomes more difficult to find the best sea road. No boat is reaching Bodrum. Perhaps a Turkish company? No more info.

To leave the island (and the European Union) I spent one hour in a 40-degree custom container in the harbor. There was a misunderstanding about my license plate, and I was told that the car was stolen in Germany. Of course, sir; I love to steal cars with my family! Especially old cars with no value!

We were allowed to embark our car in the boat. It’s not a ferry. It’s a small boat with a four-car capacity and a 2-meter high limit. We are lucky not to have a big Land Rover Defender.

Bodrum here we come! It’s almost 7:00 p.m. and it’s still very hot outside. We are tired. We’ll spend one more hour at customs. They are very curious about our black boxes on the roof rack. These are only expedition boxes as you see on some 4x4s. But, I think it doesn’t fit on a Volvo.

After three days in Bodrum, we started to travel the Turkish south coast to Antalya. One day, we got lost trying to reach a beautiful beach. The path was destroyed by the rain. We passed some 4x4s whose inhabitants looked at us as if we were aliens. That was our first hard off-road experience. And the car worked great. Original Volvos have high clearance. Thanks to our tires and clearance, our car can go almost everywhere. The car has only 120 horsepower but a lot of torque.

After weeks of sea leisure, we headed in the direction of Cappadocia, an amazing place. But it was too crowded for us. New direction: Tatvan, in the far east of Turkey, with no tourists at all.

The road to the east is marked by many huge police checkpoints. The Syrian border is 100 kilometres to the south. English is not spoken in this part of the country. Travel is becoming really funny.

After a four-day stop in Tatvan, we crossed the Iranian border at the end of the day through a small checkpoint. A few containers in the middle of nowhere, and voilà, you have a customs office!

No signs, no administrative info. The place is overcrowded, and we are lost. A customs officer invited us to take a seat in his office. He served us tea and juice for the children. Welcome to Iran, he said. And he apologized in advance for the procedure which would take time. What a welcome. This country was so amazing that we spent one month there. We drove 2,500 miles through this country, crossing mountain ranges at more than 3,500 meters high, crossing rivers, sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere, passing the paying roads for free near Tehran because we are tourists, were hosted by families for a meal, visiting places with incredible historical wealth, speaking quietly with people about local politics, meeting smugglers at the Iraqi border to survive the blockade on Iran, refusing the many invitations to share a meal, and sharing daily life in a village.

As in many countries, the government is not always representative of a country and the kindness of its people. It was in Iran that the radiator of our beloved Volvo began to disintegrate, forcing us to turn on the hot ventilation (to cool the engine) on the climbs when it was over 100°F.

Our entrance to Armenia was a return to the Soviet era and a real shock after so much human warmth in Iran. After three hours of unnecessary procedures with lots of forms and requests for bribes, we were free to visit Armenia. I was impressed by the great patience of my children at the borders and when we drive.

Driving in Armenia is just as dangerous as in Iran but more aggressive. It’s like in the Mad Max movie: no rules, and everything is allowed on these destroyed roads.

We visited some beautiful churches in this country, the cradle of Christianity. We rested for 12 days in a camp with a swimming pool, a meeting point for overlanders. The opportunity to share their stories and benefit from recommendations was helpful. The time also allowed me to do maintenance on the car. Our little Volvo was lost in the parking lot with fully equipped 4×4, VW T3 Syncros, and other overlander trucks. But we attracted a lot of curiosity and admiration.

After a little detour in Karabakh, we reached Georgia. The capital allowed us to taste a little luxury again. It is a perfect country for wild camping with a rich and incredible nature. The people are very welcoming and everyone makes their own wine. We finished crossing this country by a long unpaved road, mixing with 4x4s. The kind of road where you think your car will lose something.

After enjoying the joys of the sea in Batumi, we embarked for three days of journeying to Odessa in Ukraine. The return to civilization is more striking. No more unpaved roads, and modernity is more and more present. It smells like the end of the journey. We visited Kiev and its wonders before staying with a family near the Polish border—a nice meeting with the opportunity to learn a lot about the country. I threw myself one last challenge. Reach Brussels without a night stopover for the last 1,000 miles. After 19 hours of driving, I collapsed in my home bed.

Four months, 10,000 miles, a defective bulb, a capricious radiator, but no major issues later, the Volvo saw us home. I think I’ll keep it for many more years.

 

Editor’s note: The author was inspired to travel via Volvo by an Expedition Portal article in 2015:Tuusula Finland to Bishkek Kyrgyzstan in a Volvo 240 Wagon

 

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Claudio is passionate about old cars and challenges. In 2008, he connected Montreal (Canada) to Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) in a few days with a 1986 BMW 325. After driving the western roads for 3 months, he linked Calgary (Canada) to Montreal passing through Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in only three days (alone). In 2018, with the Volvo 240 and a friend, they circled the Baltic Sea via the North Cape in the middle of winter, totaling 5,000 miles in 15 days. In 2019, the thirst for adventure will be fulfilled with the family and a four-month road trip to Iran. The same year, he created a company that organized the North Cape Rally in Sweden and Norway, the Irish Rally and the Belgian Beer Rally.