Even without this fine-tuning, the performance improvement as you reach sea level is noticeable – around 17% more power than up on the Highveld. As we blasted through to Colenso towards Estcourt, the car misfired and cut out, but luckily the town was less than a kilometre away and we had momentum and gravity working with us. Lesson: when the fuel level warning light comes on, believe it.
Fuelled up again, we blasted through Mooi River, Nottingham Road, Howick, Hilton and Pietermaritzburg. We stopped for another splash of juice before the final run in to Durban along the Comrades Marathon route. The PV544 beat the bends and conquered the Valley of a Thousand Hills like Bruce Fordyce in the 1980s; the cruiser truly transforms when driven with a bit more heel-and-toeing and gusto. It becomes a sporting machine as the steering seems to weight up and become more direct, and the torque pulls the car out the corners and up the hills from low down on the rev counter.
Grinning, we rolled into Durban in fine style and even had a few rand spare to spend on dinner, thanks to skipping the use of the toll roads. For a few days the Volvo was put into action as a daily around Durban. Winter in Durban is still shorts-and-swimming weather but the PV544 has quarter-vent windows, so there’s no need for aircon. Friday afternoon traffic was no problem either, with the water temperature staying slap-bang in the middle of the gauge, and the clutch action doesn’t kill the left leg.
Job done, we left Durbs a few days later. The plan was to use the national highway all the way home, but a jack-knifed truck at Van Reenen’s Pass meant we were diverted onto our friend the ‘old’ road again. Only this time it was dark. Very, very dark. We pottered along at 80km/h, thankful for the 12-volt systems that lit the way.