Mechanic Peter Landsman, who operated a small garage in Victoria specializing in Volvos, closes the shop and retires after 30 years. People went to great lengths to be his customers.
For 55 years, Peter Landsman has been a Volvo guy.
Recruited by the Swedish automaker as a 20-year-old mechanic, he was sent abroad as the brand expanded its global markets, landing in Hamilton, Ontario, for a decade and eventually Victoria, where he spent the past 30 years with his son, Robert, operating Landsman Motors, a modest and busy shop on Store Street at the foot of Chinatown.
Here, the father-son duo have repaired Volvos – thousands of them and generations of owners – for collectors, enthusiasts and diehards of the marque.
Landsman was so good, so generous and accommodating with his time and service that no one wanted to take his Volvo anywhere else.
Legendary Canadian folk singer Garnet Rogers, who drove his 1991 Volvo around the United States and Canada on frequent tours, didn’t trust anyone else with his Volvo – at one point he towed it over 1,200 kilometers from North Carolina to Hamilton, where Landsman had its first store.
Rogers has covered over a million miles in a few of his Volvos over the years and frequently brought his cars to Victoria when he drove around the west for Landsman’s loving care.
“He didn’t seem to trust anyone else,” Landsman said with a laugh as he reflected on the closure of his Landsman Motors store at the end of the month.
“But we’ve had so many great clients over the years, and I’ve appreciated them all,” he said.
Changes in weather and technology in new vehicles signaled to the Landsmans that it was time to hang up their keys and close their modest garage.
“I’ve made a living with Volvo for 55 years and it’s fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my grandson,” said Peter Landsman, 75.
“The future of small shops is probably over.”
Robert added: “It becomes dealer only. [for repairs now]. The future is all-electric and you simply cannot afford to make all the necessary investments to [take care] of cars. »
Peter Landsman’s long association with Swedish-made vehicles is impressive, especially since he was born in Czechoslovakia.
Landsman escaped the Eastern Bloc country during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1968. He was able to leave because student bus travel was still allowed, crossing Poland, East Germany and Sweden, where he sought asylum in a Stockholm police station.
Landsman had to leave his then girlfriend – and now wife of 53 years, Pavla – in Czechoslovakia.
But he was determined to get her out, despite canceled student trips and closed borders.
They came up with a plan. Pavla would go to a town in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia), where the passage of Czechs was controlled, but allowed.
Landsman packed up an old Saab he bought “for $20” – he couldn’t afford his first Volvo yet – and went to rescue it.
“I didn’t think the old car was going to do it,” Landsman said. “She had told me the city where she would be and after some trouble I found her.
“I smuggled it out in the trunk of the car. I was lucky that the border guard in Yugoslavia was an older man and didn’t bother to check the safe. The car was so low that I thought I was going right under the gate. Corn [the guard said] “Are you Czech? We are brothers.’
“She would stay in the car until we got to each border – Austria, West Germany, Denmark and Sweden – and she would go back in the trunk because she didn’t have a passport.”
Arriving in Sweden, the couple went to a police station where Pavla applied for and was granted asylum. They were married and had three children, including two daughters. The entire family, including six grandchildren, lives in Greater Victoria.
Landsman got a job at Volvo’s Swedish factory, then at one of the country’s largest dealerships before heading to Houston, Texas, where his brief military service in Czechoslovakia caused an immigration problem.
Volvo told him a mechanic was needed in Hamilton, and in 1978 they moved. The couple took a ski trip to Whistler in 1991 and got a coupon for a two-night stay in Victoria at the Empress Hotel.
“I said, ‘Wow, a lot in a beautiful place,'” Landsmen said.
That same weekend, the couple were so impressed with Victoria that they went to an estate agent, found a house on Triangle Mountain in Colwood, and bought it a few months later. The Landsmans still live there today.
“It seemed like every other car we saw was a Volvo in Victoria – it was Volvo heaven for me,” Landsman said.
He worked briefly for a dealership, but found he wasn’t making enough money for his growing family.
They found a closed garage in Chinatown and the couple rolled up their sleeves and got it working again, but “we had no customers at all”.
But Pavla was not discouraged. She found a small print shop on Johnson Street and had some flyers made – “I’m the Volvo guy…I just moved here.”
“She drove all over Victoria putting flyers under the windscreen wipers of every Volvo she saw – at university, in every mall,” Landsman said. “I had so much work right away and was so busy that I asked my son [Robert] to visit. He fell in love with Victoria and moved away.
Generations of customers followed, drawn to the older, larger models of the 1970s and 1980s, known for their solid construction and safety in crash tests, as well as their reliability.
Landsman said the wagons have become almost as popular as Volkswagen vans among young people.
However, he said, brand loyalty is declining across all automakers. People buy cars based on their own prices, even on the internet, and repairs and services are tied to dealers more than ever. Electric vehicles are also emerging rapidly.
“It’s a good time to close,” he said.
Customers are sad to see the Landsmans closing up shop.
“They ran a lot of Volvos and they will be missed,” Doug Henderson said in an email.
Adrian Chamberlain, who has been taking his 1990 Volvo 240 station wagon there for more than 20 years, called Landsman “an accomplished Volvo mechanic”, often fixing things for free – “who does that these days?”
“His knowledge of these vehicles is amazing,” Chamberlain said. “Beyond that, Peter is one of the nicest people I know. Always kind, always friendly.
“And he’s a huge Rolling Stones fan.”