Meet the winner of Hagerty’s Volvo 240 giveaway!

Sam Smith

So! We helped give away a car! On Monday, October 24, at 6:00 in the morning, I boarded a flight to Spokane, Washington. Thirty hours later, I flew back home. In between, a man met his “new” Volvo.

Perhaps you remember why.

I was greeted at the airport by Griff Shelley, 32, a marketing manager from Spokane, and Matt Yantakosol, 35, a consultant from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Two nice people who had never met before this week and who could not be more different. They had one thing in common. Each looked at a slightly scruffy 1990 Volvo 240 DL sedan with 260,000 miles on the clock and saw … a glimmer.

That fact was obvious early. I had been in Spokane maybe an hour. We were in the Volvo, Griff driving, picking through downtown traffic. Griff turned on the heat. The blower bearings grumbled.

“I still remember the windshield wipers, the shape they leave on the glass,” Matt said.

“A man who pays attention,” Griff said. “I like that.”

Sam Smith

Matt is the winner of Hagerty’s 2022 Project Freebrick contest. When he flew to Spokane, the Volvo, formerly Griff’s, became his. More than three decades of hard miles but still trundling along, as 240s do.

The dash was peppered with cracks. The door-seal trim had shrunk with age and no longer fit right. The e-brake handle was pointed up, maybe 45 degrees off vertical, but the brake was not engaged. Stuck pawl, perhaps, after a broken cable.

“Look!” I told Matt. “It’s excited to see you.”

“Oh, yeah,” Griff said.

Matt and I did what you do when you meet an old car with stories on its sleeve: We smiled. No one got judgy, because this was not that kind of party, and those parties are no fun anyway.

A quick recap: In June of this year, in this very space, we announced our contest. Meet this imperfect car, I said. Those untroubled by the images that followed were invited to visit the Hagerty Community forums (RIP), where they could enter to win the Volvo by writing a short essay. Response was surprising, especially given how most people hate writing. We received more than 170 entries. Griff chose a winner. Matt wrote about his family’s love for 240s and how he had made a pilgrimage to the Volvo factory in school, to see the last one built. It was a nice piece, full of heart.

Sam Smith

Hagerty flew Matt in. We put him up in a downtown hotel. The night I arrived, Matt, Griff, and I had dinner at a local brewery with Griff’s parents and his wife, Christi. I was reminded that we are all, on some level, broken in the same fun ways. Christi joked about the deal she had made with her husband: Griff is okay to buy weird old cars that may not be worth much, and she is okay to fill their house with plants—which she loves—until the leaves touch the ceiling.

As I drank a cider made from Washington apples and we all laughed, Christi kept going, a bit bemused. She was even okay, she said, with Griff buying even more weird old cheap cars than he already had. Maybe he could build a larger garage, she said. I looked at Griff, eyes wide. Griff, an otherwise intelligent person, made grumbly noises (!), describing that path as maybe less than practical (!!).

Naturally, much of the table (it may have just been me) then spat extremely well-intentioned words, words about how he should listen to the nice plant lady, for Pete’s sake, because she was obviously taking pity on her brain-damaged husband, and perhaps said damage was keeping him from understanding how, uh, seriously, she said a bigger garage?

Sam Smith

Everyone laughed again. Later, around midnight, Griff and Matt and I had drinks at an ancient Spokane bar-diner called The Satellite. This establishment has Mac and Jack’s Amber on tap and serves eggs until 4:00 in the morning. If that weren’t enough, the bartender will sell you a one-dollar dessert called a brownie bite, which comes with a mug of whipped cream and is best consumed by the half-dozen. I will return to this place one day, because my name is Sam Smith and I like things that are good.

Earlier in the evening, I had asked Matt about his first drive in the Volvo.

“It was an adventure.” A grin.

“Does it match what you expected? Peeling clear coat, cracks, dents?”

“Pretty much! Brakes are better than the 240 I had. There were definitely handling things I appreciated. The acceleration wasn’t too bad, actually!”

Sam Smith

This is how it is with 240s. People often meet the cars after years away and end up pleasantly surprised. I could have sworn it was slower. I found myself wondering if Swedish interior plastic is like tequila, where you let it into your life and are later unable to recall reality as it really was.

“I always forget the size,” I said. “How small and tidy they feel.”

“It’s not a sports car, but it has a tight turning radius, it’s easy to handle.”

Free car or not, what made you get on a plane?”

“There’s something … it’s almost like coming home. It just brings you right back, as if nothing’s changed. And I haven’t been behind the wheel of one in at least a decade.”

“You grew up with them?”

“Yeah. We had two. From ’94 to 2012. A white one for a month—it had a smoking issue—and a blue one after that. The blue one had about 43,000 miles when we got it and 147,000 when we donated it. But my extended family was kind of rough on it—between my mom, myself, my sister, and my brother-in-law.”

Sam Smith

“What will you do when you get this one home?”

A grin again. “Take it around my hometown. I’m really excited to show it to my nieces and nephew. They either weren’t born or don’t remember the ones we had. I want to show them a real car, not just another big crossover. Just kind of trying to see if I can keep the Volvo love going another generation.”

This contest began as a pitch to the editor of this website. I made that pitch because Griff emailed me. He’s a reader. He wanted to give me the Volvo, he said, felt I might like it. He had owned the car for a bit but was ready to move on.

Old Volvos are one of history’s more satisfying ways to get somewhere sitting down. My parents bought an ’85 240 wagon new. Ten years later, I drove that car in high school, and I still miss it. A significant part of me wanted Griff’s silver brick, but I am fortunate. I have a few projects of my own. Nobler ends beckoned.

Sam Smith

The contest seemed like a way to make a statement. A shout into the abyss—on how car enthusiasm has no rules or set entry cost, no specific worldview. Even if the toilet of social media rarely suggests as much.

It is Ferraris and Pebble Beach, six-figure Mustangs and million-dollar Cobras. But also humble old family sedans worth less than a month of groceries. There is no lesser or greater way in the door. Only in or out, you get it or don’t.

If you get it? Welcome! Can we kick it?

Yes! We can.

 

***

 

At this point, I have known Griff for months. Giving away a car in a national contest requires lawyers and logistics, which means a string of emails and phone calls and weeks of patience.

Video calling and free long-distance now allow you to grow remarkably familiar with an individual you have never actually met. If an actual meatspace encounter occurs, it is often predictable. There is a subtle and awkward sizing-up. Ten minutes later, you have each become convinced that the other is a good human, or you each have a strong desire to leave the room.

At one point, during that day in Spokane, Matt stepped out to the restroom. When he was out of earshot, Griff looked over.

“He’s a good guy,” he said, nodding. “He’s the right guy.”

He didn’t have to explain.

Sam Smith

Why all the fuss for an old family sedan most folks wouldn’t look twice at? Why not? I have spent much of the last 20 years professionally immersed in car culture. If I have learned one thing, it is that every last bit of that culture is interesting. There’s no accounting for taste, of course. You like what you like. But the more I travel in this arena, the more I believe it lacks ceiling or floor. The people who knock what they don’t like are just mooks with a head full of Dunning-Kruger.

We are each a long time dead. On the way there, we cast around for the moments that help us remember how we weren’t put here solely to pay taxes and sit at a desk on a Friday afternoon, staring down the barrel of a weekend and wondering how much decompression can be crammed in before Monday comes back around and dishes up a bunch of real-life stuff about which we may not be entirely thrilled.

Sam Smith

In other words, I helped give away a car, and I felt lucky to do it. And all of you, not just Griff and Matt, made it possible.

What next?

I want to do this again. Go bigger, maybe. Rehome another off-the-path entry classic. Make the hand-off a destination, or more of a celebration.

When I told Griff all that, he offered to help. Again: good human.

When you really get down to it, that’s why I got into this business, and why this website exists in the first place.

We’re lucky to have you. Thanks for reading.

 

— Sam

Sam Smith Volvo Winner Meetup Bronner
The author with Shelley, Yantakosol, and a very fine old brick. Sean Brauner
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Comments

    Another Top Ten Smith. The tone is perfect. Forgive the comparison, maybe, but you often remind me of Chaucer, who could always find a way to make us understand that we have a good chance to be enriched by common things if we resist preconceptions.

    Has Matt made it back to the Pine Tree State? Did the return trip include protracted pit stops? (For the car, not Matt.)

    Great article & project, yes good people. I almost wrote an entry, but did not, give others a better shot.
    Will be looking for follow ups! My 2007 XC70 is great & loves road trips. we wont talk about whats in the garage.
    Well Done!!

    Sam Smith- you are the BEST! We enthusiasts are lucky to have you in our world and sharing your ideas in writing. I hope there is a day when we cross paths- until then, I salute you as the premier automotive scribe of our time (I’m pretty sure Peter Egan and others who went before you would agree!) Keep the love and inspiration you get from the world around you flowing, my friend 🙂

    Sam,

    This is such a great idea for a contest. Of all the Volvos my family had over the years (a pair of 240 wagons, a 740 GLE, and an XC70), the 240s were my favorites. Safe, balanced cars with predictable handling. Fun to see a Volvo aficionado get to enjoy a model he knows and loves.

    I have an appreciation for unrestored cars that gives you the freedom to just enjoy them with out worry that they might pick up another scratch or dent. its life long patina as it were. The car is part of the landscape not a pristine version that must be protected against all hazards. So there is no stress only happy memories being made.

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