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Customer Feature - Gary Sellstrom

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - Gary Sellstrom

It all began in the mid 1980’s when I first helped my dad combine 2 1973 164 parts cars into my mom’s daily driver when I was 8. Dad had a 122 at that time, which got sold and later replaced with a 73 144. After seeing that, I liked it so I decided that was something I wouldn’t mind driving when I got my license. Well that car got sold before I realized I liked it, but when I was 15 I started looking for something to fix up for when I got my license in a couple years. After 6 months I finally found a 74 144 for $1200 that was actually a solid color, (oxidized burgundy from Maaco except for the trunk lid and rear valence panel that were the original red) had current non-operational status, and actually ran almost decent. After looking at it, the price dropped to $800, so when dad went up with me to drive it (since I didn’t have a license) it needed work, but the price dropped to $430 (the owner’s monthly rent) so it came home with us. So begins the tale of the ongoing project car.

First thing it needed was to get it to run under its own power reliably. The previous owner paid for a new fuel pump which never got installed, the transmission was worn out in first through third gear, the seat belt and window crank on the driver-side were shot, lights didn’t work right, the left rear caliper was dragging and the brake pad had worn halfway into the metal backing, and then of course there was the normal tune-up stuff. I also came across a set of 240 Turbo wheels so the car got a little dignity instead of the narrow stock wheels it came with. At this point it ran well enough to run on the road occasionally to keep it in decent shape while working on other projects, including rebuilding all the calipers and watching as chunky brake fluid was bled from the lines. From that point, any jobs I could get to make money I’d take so I could put this or that on whether it be cosmetic or mechanical. Over the next 3 years the engine was rebuilt (twice, due to bad parts the first time) and bored to 2130cc with an IPD Street Torque cam and header. The suspension got IPD sway bars, stock bushings, new shocks, and that was followed by a conversion to an M41 overdrive transmission, an aftermarket ignition, and a few little things like a new windshield, working headlights, and all the stuff to make it legal. Finally it came time to get it on the road and smog-checked. Passed on the third try about 5% under the maximum limit because of the cam, but it passed and was registered, and I now had my license!

Now that I had a car and my license, I finally got a full-time job but was still living at home so any money that didn’t go to gas went to the car. With the daily-driver status now, it had to be weekend projects if it was big as this was my only transportation. When summer arrived, it saw a lot of use in what some might consider rally-type use while driving the 3 miles into a summer camp along dirt roads. After my first two minor accidents on the road that weren’t my fault, I slowed down a little, but I was still impressed that after hitting a Dodge Caravan and only getting a broken turn signal lens and being hit by a Ford Expedition and only having $120 in repairs from junkyard parts, the car held up really well to my abuse. Summer ended so it was back to work and working on the car. Next up was the B20 electronic distributor, MSD ignition and surface-gap plugs from dad’s outboard boat engine that seemed to work wonders on the car, a new fuel tank and new (not from the junkyard) fuel pump, cleaned radiator, new water pump, and seats from a 240. I thought at this point, ‘now this is really a fun car, and if I do this it’ll be nicer, but I can do that at the same time and it’ll be even better!’. That seems to get me in trouble, but any time something needs replacing, it almost NEVER goes stock but rather an aftermarket or modified part of some kind.

For the next year or so it was basically just upkeep, a new stereo, IPD white-face gauges, urethane bushings front and rear, Bilstein shocks, and a few other things I’ve forgotten. I finally landed a decent paying job so I thought I’d try the Toyota Celica transmission conversion to replace the overdrive unit I was having minor problems with as well as add a heavy-duty clutch and lighten the flywheel by 7 pounds. That was a serious headache due to the local recycler trying to scam me with a bad transmission (ended up in court over that deal), a few bad parts in the conversion kit I purchased and having to replace the transmission 5 times throughout the process. On the flip-side, I got to where I can do the transmission replacement by myself in about 90 minutes to remove and the same to install. After getting that in and working right, it really ended up being a nice conversion that I’ll never do again. That was followed shortly afterwards by a custom 2 ¼” free-flow exhaust which really woke things up and gave it enough tone to let people know it’s not your typical Volvo, yet not sound like the typical teenager’s import car with some obnoxiously loud muffler either. Then came the dreaded noise in the differential, to which I answered back ‘Why not put in a limited slip while I’m having someone in there doing bearings.’

After buying the parts, I took it to the shop that was going to do the work since I didn’t have the experience or tools to do it. I walked in carrying the parts, left the parts in the shop, and get a call the next day with the wonderful news that the car was broken into overnight and they destroyed the trunk, dash, passenger door and took a few things. I must say, hearing that sets a horrible feeling in your stomach when you hear that your ‘baby’ that spent it’s first night out of your care at a shop was just broken into for no real reason. Ironically, the drivers door was actually unlocked, yet they still did $2300 in damage trying to get in. The shop finally got the differential parts installed since they were taken into the shop and didn’t get stolen, and after a fight, I ended up fixing that shop’s mistakes as well, but still had to deal with my insurance trying to total the car based on the damage. Fortunately I had kept all my receipts so after showing them to the adjuster, they allowed me to keep the car without a salvage title and get the car fixed. The money from the insurance went to getting the entire car sandblasted, the new door and trunk installed, the dings filled in, and the car painted in the original color with a base-coat/clear-coat paint job. I did all the parts removal and had everything sitting in the garage for 6 weeks while the car was being painted, but when it came back home it looked simply incredible! I got everything put back on including a set of tinted windows I got from the local recycler as well as new late-model 240 door panels and matching seats, new 240 door trim, and a couple emblems that were missing. It looked amazing but now I was afraid to drive it in fear of getting a scratch, but I had to since I was otherwise stuck driving my truck at 10 miles per gallon. When I first pulled into work with the ‘new’ car everyone was amazed, and after 8 years I still get people asking me what year it is, telling me they had one just like it, or just complimenting me on such a nice car. Seeing what it looked like at this point, I decided to enter it in the VCOA meet in Davis, California in May 2004, only to end up taking the Best in Class for the 120/140/160 series! That was a huge shock as there were some really clean cars there, but since that event it has taken numerous awards at the same show and a couple other shows, including the Volvo Club of America’s West Coast National meet in 2007 and the Carlsen Volvo meet in 2011. Since then it has also received an R-Sport instrument cluster and an Air/Fuel gauge to aid in my constant tuning, plus a modified air intake without the airbox, a polished intake manifold, and was run at the local track which turned up a 18.22 @ 73.6 with a slipping clutch and myself having no experience running at the track as well.

I’m sure there’s a lot more history of the car I’ve overlooked, but it’s been an adventure regardless. I recently had it appraised as well which came up with an amount that was only about $5000 less that what I have in the car, so it’s now insured to that amount so that nobody will be able to take my car from me! I’ve told a few people that the only way I’ll be getting rid of this car is if I either die in it or it’s damaged beyond recognition. Am I obsessed with it? I don’t think so, just very much in love with a wonderful Swedish piece of art.

We love featuring some of the great Volvo stories that come across our desk. We plan on doing this on a regular basis so if you have a project car, helpful tech tip or other cool Volvo related story, share it with us and we’ll likely feature you in a future customer spotlight.

Email me at to submit your story.

Community Comments

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - SAMANTHA TARA LEWIS

What an awesome story, inspiring actually, the story of a true petrol head's love story with a now very special machine. Well done!

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