By ALMAR LATOUR and SCOTT MILLER
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
JAERNA, Sweden -- When Hans Rekestad set out to sell old Volvos and
spare parts on the Internet, he never dreamed he would descend into a
war with Ford Motor Co. that would involve a $100,000 lawsuit,
allegations of "cyber-squatting" and a national hubbub that would bring
television crews swarming to his weathered wooden farm house.
But he did.
Never mind that Mr. Rekestad, a former rally-race driver, has grease
under his fingernails, no employees and just a tiny basement office with
a concrete floor and no heating. Nor that he'd rather be fixing up a
1951 Volvo 444 or reading a Guenther Grass novel than talking to
lawyers about trademarks and Internet domain names. Ford, which
owns Volvo Cars, decided last spring that Mr. Rekestad was a
dangerous pirate. And pirates, Ford said, must be stopped.
What ensued offers a window on Ford's love-hate relationship with the
Internet. Like other big auto makers, Ford loves the idea of using the
Net for buying components, advertising and fostering a sense of
community among customers. But it is less happy with how the Internet
has weakened its ability to control its intellectual property. Witness
Ford's legal battle with Web publisher Robert Lane, who posted internal
Ford documents on his site, blueovalnews.com
So Ford felt impelled to go after Mr. Rekestad's Web site,
ClassicVolvo.com (www.classicvolvo.com). "Ford feels it has the legal
right to protect its brand equity," says a Ford spokeswoman, Kristen
Kinley. "Ford has invested billions of dollars over the last 100 years to
develop its reputation and its trademarks."
Mr. Rekestad, 48, never thought twice about trademarks until one
muggy day in late May, when a fat envelope from Detroit landed in his
mailbox. Inside was a thick letter from a law firm employed by Ford,
which said that the name of Mr. Rekestad's Web site violated U.S.
antipiracy law by using the Volvo brand name without Ford's
permission. The 39-page document ordered him to stop using the Web
address, claimed $100,000 in damages, and noted that Ford had filed
suit against him in a district court for eastern Michigan. The pages
included a contract under which Mr. Rekestad could waive the law firm's
need to send official legal documentation to notify him of the lawsuit.
The lawyers threw in a self-addressed envelope and some U.S. postage
stamps for good measure.
Mr. Rekestad was perplexed, and not just because the stamps were
worthless in Sweden. As he saw it, his Web site offered Volvo free
advertising and goodwill. "Ford should really send us a check, not a
lawsuit," he fumed on ClassicVolvo.com. Besides, he asked, what was
he supposed to call his business? ClassicVolov?
Even Volvo Cars was baffled. "Rekestad is our friend," said Ingmar
Hesslefors, a spokesman for Volvo Cars in Sweden. "What Ford did is
shooting down sparrows with ballistic missiles."
But the bird, it turns out, had some weapons of his own. Since that day
in May, Mr. Rekestad has bombarded Ford and Volvo officials with
e-mails, explaining that what he does for Volvo is good. He has posted
a crossed-out Ford logo on his site. He has even purchased, for $75, an
alternative site, ClassicVolvo.nu, which could force Ford to sue him all
His next move: If Ford proceeds with the lawsuit, he plans to collect
donations and petition signatures from agitated Swedes, for whom
Volvo remains a symbol of national pride. He won't rule out an ad
campaign. Support for his struggle is strong: Swedish newspapers have
backed him in editorials; encouraging e-mails have doubled the traffic on
his site since May to 550 visits a day. One e-mail even mimicked the
song of Janis Joplin fame: "Oh Lord, don't you ever buy me a Ford."
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Rekestad climbs into a noisy 1973 Volvo 142
that he has been repairing. It needs a test drive, but his mind is clearly
elsewhere. "Ford is trying to close down my business," he says,
slamming his hands on the steering wheel. "But do they realize they are
simultaneously killing the mystic quality of Volvo that made the car a
success? I am willing to wage a guerrilla war to defend the spirit of
Volvo against corporate lawyers in America."
Mr. Rekestad may be no match for Ford. But he's no ordinary Volvo
enthusiast, either. In fact, he's something of a fanatic.
Mr. Rekestad bought his first Volvo, a second-hand 1951 PV 444 with
no brakes, for roughly 100 kronor (12 euros) when he was 12. Though
the car's body was rusty, its engine loud and its steering wheel almost
inoperable, this was love at first sight. The attraction? It reminded him
of the harvesters he rode on his father's farm. "Volvo engines are
simple, like tractors," he says. "You can rely on them. You can
understand them. They never fail you."
An aspiring rally racer, he hurtled the junker full throttle through the
countryside until it conked out three months later. Then he dismantled
it piece by piece, trying to learn how it worked. But when he tried to
reassemble it, he couldn't remember where all the parts went. For
months, the car and components littered the ground outside his
Three years later, he spent 300 kronor on a second Volvo 444, from
1957. But this time around, he also got hold of an official Volvo repair
manual and pored over it day and night. "The book," he says, "was my
After he graduated from high school, Mr. Rekestad started repairing
other people's Volvos to earn some money for a road trip through
Europe. And so it was, a year later, that he set out on his two-year
journey in a 1958 Volvo 445 station wagon with a trunk full of tools and
spare parts. He made it all the way to Greece. By then, the Volvo was
riddled with rust holes and the gearbox was hopelessly clogged with
dirt. Most people would have left the car for dead, but not Mr.
Rekestad. He found a Greek farmer who could use the kaput gearbox as
weight for a scale and swapped it for some tools and figs. After two
weeks of fiddling, Mr. Rekestad managed to bolt in a spare gearbox he
had brought along. He was on his way home.
Back in Sweden, Mr. Rekestad went into the spare-parts business. He
bought up junk Volvos, cannibalized them and sold off the pieces. He
also started a Volvo newsletter, through which he sold repaired classic
Volvos and packets of Volvo parts. During the day, he would fix cars in
his garage, interrupting his work now and then to read his beloved
Guenther Grass. In the evening, his wife and six children would help him
keep up with his growing correspondence, licking stamps and sealing
envelopes. Slowly but surely, Mr. Rekestad gained a solid reputation
among Volvo fans in Sweden and beyond.
Then, in 1996, Mr. Rekestad learned about the Internet, which sparked
ambitions he never knew he had. He could now publish his newsletter
on the Web, allowing him to buy and sell cars and parts by e-mail. His
ClassicVolvo.com was an instant success, receiving more than 250 visits
a day, far more than the 30 phone calls a day he could handle before.
One day, he dreamed, venture capitalists would invest money into his
Web site and make it a global portal for all things related to Volvo
classics, cars that are older than 25 years old. Fishing for cash to
expand, he offered to sell to anyone his domain name for $250,0000
last year. "I wanted to get cash to develop the site," he says. "I didn't
really know how to go about it."
Unfortunately for Mr. Rekestad, the offer to sell the domain name also
drew the attention of the holding company that controls the Volvo
trademark, which is owned 50% by Ford Motor Co. and 50% by truck
maker AB Volvo. The holding company contacted Ford's legal
department, and the 39-page letter to Mr. Rekestad followed. "It says,
'To whom it may concern, a lawsuit has commenced against you,' "
reads Mr. Rekestad, struggling with the American legalese. "It's all I ever
got from Ford. It's a shame. Had they come forward in a more civilized
way, we could have discussed the matter."
Ford says the action was warranted. Among other things, says Ms.
Kinley, the spokeswoman, the auto maker worries that visitors to Mr.
Rekestad's site could think it has the full backing of Volvo and Ford.
That assumption could create confusion and possibly anger potential
customers. In at least one case, she explains, a Web site based on
another company's name contained pornographic material.
Ford is waiting for a district court judge in Michigan to set a hearing
date for its case against ClassicVolvo.com. But whatever the outcome,
Mr. Rekestad intends to press ahead. He has already bought new
Volvo-related domain names, he says, including ClassicVolvo.ny.
"It will take them years to shut me down," he says. "I will not give up
just like that."
Write to Almar Latour at email@example.com and Scott Miller at