If you ever chance to visit the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn. – and you really should – one of the first things you'll notice is that whoever dreamt this place up thinks differently abut cars than most people you know. Wading through the rows of gleaming Tatras and Steyrs and Reliants and other cars the majority of Americans would find unfamiliar, you'll eventually notice that one of the cars isn't gleaming at all: that's Jeff Lane's dull, rusty 1974 Volvo 142 coupe, Big Orange.
In any group of friends, there's always one guy who will suggest that the rest of the group accompany him in a wretched beater on a long road trip. I'm definitely that guy, and when I met him, quickly deduced that Jeff Lane – founder of the Lane Motor Museum – is also that guy.
He bought his rusty beater Volvo on a whim, thinking that he could race on the cheap in SCCA's ITB class. As it turned out, the car didn't have the fuel injection system he'd thought it had – one with an adjustable fuel pressure setting he said would be good for racing – so he ended up using another crapcan Volvo for that job.
It seemed that Big Orange should then have been destined for a low-buck Craigslist sale and a henceforth dubious future. But Lane had different plans for the car, which happens to have a cavernous trunk and wide, comfy, tweed-covered seats: It was to become a road trip mule.
Eventually, Lane dropped in a new engine, ripping out the sputtering Bosch fuel injection in favor of a pair of Weber carburetors. But before he got to that, he took the car on an epic road trip.
A friend was having his bachelor party in Northern Michigan, so Lane volunteered to drive part of the group of guys that was making the trek.
"One guy works for Ford, so he always has a company car," Lane said. "But I said, 'Let's take Big Orange! It'll be fun; an adventure!' and off we went."
Somewhere along the way, it began sleeting, and the lights began to dim. After a while, they got so dim that Lane pulled over to see what was wrong. But he couldn't fix the lights, so they stopped at an auto parts store to pick up a fresh battery.
"The Ford guy was pissed," he said. "There was no heat and the radio didn't work, so there were no weather updates."
The bachelor party went as bachelor parties go (Lane didn't go into detail, so you'll have to let your imagination run wild over how a bachelor party consisting of 12 dudes in the northern wilderness would go), but on the way back south toward Tennessee, the weather took a turn for the worse.
All the while, the lights continued to dim as the weather went downhill. Traffic ground to a complete halt, so Lane said he drove the car in reverse for half a mile and got off I-75, stopping for the night. His illegal exit maneuver turned out to be prescient – many people had spent the night sitting there, not moving. Louisville, Ky., was paralyzed from the 16-inch dump it had received. The only thing to do was to avoid Louisville like the plague and take a huge detour toward Indianapolis in order to get back to Nashville.
That way turned out to be OK for a while, but as they traversed Indiana, the road deteriorated into a sheet of ice coated with an even, slow-moving layer of trucks and cars driven by white-knuckled motorists.
"We could've driven my friend's Ford Taurus and nothing would have happened," Lane said. "But it wouldn't have been an adventure."
And it wouldn't be the last adventure either. Another time, Lane says he was on his way to catch a flight to Paris with a friend from Lexington, Ky., which is about three hours away from Nashville by car.
"Since there was a direct flight from Cincinnati to Paris, I drove Big Orange to his house and we flew from Cincinnati," he said. "We returned about a week later and I left his house about 2 in the afternoon. After about 30 minutes, the throttle cable broke."
Lane had his tools, but couldn't manage to fix the cable. So he set the idle high enough to run the car and hit the road.
"Going uphill I was down to 45 m.p.h. and going downhill I rode the brakes," he said. "I would just turn the car off at the stoplights."
But he made it, and has, against all better (but not as much fun) judgment, driven the car to his father's house in Florida a few times, too. His dad lives in one of those gated communities where pickup trucks and beater cars are not permitted out in plain sight, so Big Orange goes in the garage and his father's $100,000 Mercedes-Benz is relegated to the driveway.
Then there's its place of honor in Lane's museum; a lusterless Volvo with rotted out rocker panels that looks as if it's been moldering next to an overgrown shrub behind a Pep Boys for eight years sitting right next to a gorgeous, mint condition Jaguar E-Type.
The only thing better than beholding it in that context – and watching the museum's patrons realize it's there and start pointing and laughing – is to drive the thing, which we did. The battery was deader'n a door nail, but once we located a jump box, Big Orange fired right up (and stunk up half the museum with rich mixture fumes spewing from its dual Webers through a rust-perforated tailpipe).
Driving it is as fun as you can imagine. The steering and suspension are terrifyingly soft, and it makes a lot of noise. It's not slow and it isn't particularly fast, but that isn't the point. When you let off the throttle and the whole car lurches toward the ditch at the side of the road (because its worn shocks long ago leaked out all of their oil), you feel the hoon gods grab you by the seat of the pants and shout, "Hit the gas before we all die, idiot!" into your ear in the form of a chorus of rusty-muffler Weber rasp.
So yeah, that's Big Orange, and even though all the other cars in the Lane Motor Museum are way nicer and much more worthwhile to spend your time drooling over, that one beat-up Volvo is the spirit of the place. It, better than anything else, really sums up who Jeff Lane is and why that museum is even there.