A few seasons back, when the Washington Redskins were soaring rather than sputtering, Sports Illustrated did a story about the town behind the team. Amid the usual coachly pronouncements and passing statistics was this remarkable piece of information:
Washington, declared Sports Illustrated, is a city of Volvos.
Now maybe the writer got lost in a Volvo showroom en route to RFK Stadium. Or maybe he got invited to dinner in Cleveland Park or Chevy Chase, where you might find two or three Volvos in a few particularly yuppieish blocks.
But come on, SI! A city of Volvos? The writer might have had Washington on his plane ticket, but he surely had Stockholm on the brain.
The other day, however, I passed a house in Montgomery County which had five -- count 'em, five-Volvos parked in the driveway, the garage, and in front of the house.
My first thought was to wonder which bank the occupant had robbed. My second was to wonder if maybe Sports Illustrated was right -- or, at least, getting righter.
Since the 1985 Redskins are sinking slowly in the direction of Sweden, I knew SI wouldn't be dropping by Beltwayville anytime soon. So I asked researcher Michelle Hall to check out the D.C.-area new car sales figures for domestic and foreign models.
Here are the Metropolitan Washington top-ten rankings for 1984 as provided by R.L. Polk & Co., an industry study group.
As Sports Illustrated might put it if this were a horse race, Volvo could do no better in D.C. than a distant fifth -- at least by this measure.
But perhaps a better measure is how D.C.-area sales compare with sales of the same kinds of cars in the rest of the country.
Here are those figures. A ranking of 100 means a particular make sells exactly as well here as it sells in the country as a whole. More than 100 means it sells better here; less than 100 means it sells worse here.
Chrysler 145 (Nice going, Lee!)
Plymouth 128 (Clean sweep, Lee!)
Nissan 116 (Some of us have budgets!)
Volvo 170 (!!!!!!!)
Mercedes 115 (Budgets? What are budgets?)
Well, you could have knocked me over with a Swedish meatball. One Swedish car -- Saab -- leads the D.C. pack by this statistical measure. And another Swedish car -- Sports Illustrated's favorite -- is second. No other car -- foreign, domestic or Iacoccan -- is even close.
So a certain columnist of little faith would like to aim the following message in the direction of the Time-Life Building in Manhattan.
You wuz right, guys.
We may not be A City of Volvos. But we are certainly a more Volvoesque city than most others.
So I would like to offer SI a humble apology, and a humble invitation.
Come on back and do another story on Washington and the Redskins sometime.
Not only will you find a relative abundance of Volvos, but you might bring the Skins some luck. They could use a big Volvo station wagon full of it.