Customer Spotlight - Kim Ueeck 544
Monday, January 20, 2014 - Kim Ueeck - ipd customer
As I started jotting down a few highlights in my Volvo history, I began to realize just how many fond memories include my Volvos. In 1991, my wife and I, for example, toured Alaska in our 544 for our honeymoon. Just last summer, we strapped the cedar strip canoe on the 240 wagon and spent a fantastic week bumming around our beautiful state of Alaska camping and looking for calm water. It is interesting to note, my two brothers were raised in the same Volvo-rich environment that I was, and both of them turned out normal, you know, no old Volvos in the back yard. So what happened to me? What follows is my Volvo story. I thought it could be captured in a few pages. I was wrong.
Living in Alaska in the 1960s, my parents became fond of these tough little Swedish cars. One winter on the way to work, a moose jumped out in front of my Dad’s 122S. In a valiant effort to miss it, he went for the ditch, a wise decision when confronted with a beast the size of a moose. He missed the moose, but rolled the car five or six times (he said something about losing count). The car landed on its tires and with a tug from a neighborly motorist, he was back on the road headed to work. Apart from a cracked windshield and some cosmetic damage to the roof, the car fared better than Dad, who complained about a sore neck for years.
In 1971, we made a special trip outside (Alaska speak for the lower 48 states) to pick up a brand new Volvo 145. With three growing boys, seven, eight and 12 years old, our 122S and 544 were getting a bit crowded. It was after the commercial fishing season in Bristol Bay, where my parents fished with an old wooden power boat, called the Lorraine. It had been converted from a sailboat, which until the late 50’s were all you could use to drift-net in Bristol Bay. The work was an exhausting day and night grind, especially for my Dad, who never really got over the seasickness. I can still remember driving through endless miles of waving grain in the new car. When, without warning, my father who, still recovering from commercial fishing, was sleeping in the passenger seat while Mom drove, started gesturing wildly and yelling, “We’re going aground, we’re going aground! Pull the net!” Yeah, we never really let him forget about that one. Shortly after this, we hit a deer, thus getting the awkward first dent out of the way. The rest of the journey was uneventful and the shiny white wagon was transformed into a dull mud brown by the time we pulled into the driveway back at home in Alaska.
My dad was a mechanic, so when my brothers and I got interested in cars, we were without exception, given Volvos. For any number of reasons, these cars were “fixer-uppers”. “If you can get it running you can have it,” he said. My oldest brother got a nice little 544 which only needed a water pump, carburetors, tune-up and a brake job, he was lucky. My younger brother received the ’71 wagon we had driven up from Wisconsin years before. Since the engine needed rebuilding, he had it bored forty thousandths over, I suspect, looking for a little extra zip, an important detail for any sixteen year old. I’m not sure who bored it out, but it was tight, really tight. It just wouldn’t turn over. So in a stroke of genius we hooked 24 volts to the battery and vvoula, it started cranking . . .for about five seconds until the battery, straining from the torture, blew up. BOOM! Without the hood on the car, the battery hit the ceiling. Thank goodness we had stepped back a few feet. Lesson learned. Dad, having witnessed the near disaster, calmly suggested we take it outside, tow it around the yard a bit, and give the starter a rest. That engine never was really right and my brother eventually sold the car and purchased a rusty 1800ES. Until the mid-90’s that 145 sat alongside the road, slowly disappearing into the brush in someone’s yard. Every time we drove by, it would evoke fond memories such as family campouts, fun road trips, and riding to grade school picking up so many neighborhood kids that the doors could hardly be closed. One day it just disappeared and part of me hopes it found another good home, like so many old Volvos do.
When my turn came to start my long and exciting driving career, I was given the family’s trusty old 1964 544 with the engine torn apart in boxes in the trunk. This wasn’t just any 544. This one was special and had a lot of family history. It had even been called the “miracle car”. She had rusty rocker panels, a red rear fender and a blue door. But it was mine, and I couldn’t have been prouder. I recall one time, years before the car became mine, we were out for a Saturday afternoon drive with another family. Our family was driving the 544 and they were driving a brand new 1976 Baja Bronco. We were exploring some pretty sketchy roads, trails really. One of these trails led up to and crossed the Little Susitna River. From where we sat on the boulder strewn gravel bar, we could see the continuation of our trail system disappearing into the brush on the other side of the swiftly moving river. After an inadequate amount of deliberation, a rope was produced and tied between the two vehicles. As the Bronco crept out into the current, the water got deeper and deeper on its tall tires until they were nearly submerged. It was at this exact moment that the rope tightened up on our front bumper. At this point, we were all seriously considering our decision paradigm. At least the five of us in the 544 were. The water quickly reached the 544’s rockers and raced up the driver’s side door. About this time, we started floating downstream, bouncing from rock to rock as water squirted through the brake and clutch pedal holes into my dad’s lap. Thankfully, the rope held and the Bronco pulled us safely, but with wet feet, onto the distant shore.
That little car went places ordinary cars, and some trucks, didn’t dare venture. It is amazing the obstacles that could be overcome with a handyman jack, a hundred feet of nylon rope and tall skinny tires. Another summer in the early 70’s my family decided to drive into an abandoned copper mine as a weekend adventure. The Kennecott Mine is nestled in the beautiful Mt. St. Elias range. It was at the end of a 60 mile dirt and gravel road with alder brush crowding the shoulders. The road was actually the bed of an old railroad that serviced the mine until 1938. The rails and cross ties had been bulldozed into the ditch years before, thus creating the rough road. As usual, we’d talked some friends into coming along. It was a particularly wet summer and the road gave our tow-rope and jack a real workout. Some of the water holes were so long, the cars just couldn’t make it through on their own and we all got covered in mud, pushing and pulling on them. One bridge on the way in was over a thousand feet long and 280 feet above the water. It was constructed for the railroad in 1910. The wife of our friend who was driving our 145, wouldn’t ride across in the car, she was so scared of heights. There were no guard rails and the only thing between you and the churning river 280 feet below was two rows of three by twelves, one for each car tire to ride on. Believe it or not, she walked across the bridge with her eyes closed the whole way, trusting her husband to guide her. I was glad the 544 was a small and relatively light car, even with all the mud. We eventually made it to the end of the road. It was totally worth the drive and is still a favorite destination for our family. Even though they put some gravel on the road and made some improvements to the bridge, it is still an adventure.
Through the years, many more good memories were made in that old car. As us boys got older, Fred, our sheepdog, got moved from the rear seat to the rear window where she would lay her head on top of whomever’s head was closest, and enjoy the view.
At one point the car was loaned to our friends who were going through a tight time financially. They had moved to a small A-frame house at the end of a nasty mile-long dirt road near Soldotna, Alaska. One week, when the husband was out looking for work, one of their large dogs bit his wife’s Pomeranian and popped its eye out of the socket. Needing to get to the vet in town, she sent her oldest son out to start the 544. He came back in and told her it wouldn’t start. Saying a quick prayer, she gathered the other two youngsters and the dog and got in the car. Vrooom! The car started right up and she headed out the muddy rutted road, slipping and sliding as they went. The youngest son, probably five, looking out the back window said, “Mommy, the angels are pushing us!” She said she just clutched that big old steering wheel and went as fast as she could. They were able to find the vet and get the dog’s eye put back where it belonged and make it home safely. The next day, when her husband got home, the first thing out of his mouth was, “How did you move the Volvo?” noticing it was parked in a different place than it had been sitting. Excitedly, she told him the whole story about the slippery trip to town. He said, “That’s impossible! I took the starter off the car and took it to town with me to get it fixed.” She still wishes she’d looked in the rear-view mirror!
Eventually the car was returned to us and sat quietly in the back yard, patiently waiting for someone to take an interest in it.
By now it was the start of my junior year in school and I was going to drive from Delta Junction, Alaska to Wisconsin for school, near where my grandparents lived. I had all summer to resurrect the 544. Once the parts were obtained, it didn’t take long to rebuild the engine, slap on a coat of red enamel and install it in the car. I learned a lot about torque specs, timing, valve adjustment, and carburetor tuning to list a few things. I also got acquainted with the brake slave cylinders which needed attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about IPD at the time, but Dad had told me they were the same cylinders as used on certain years of Studebakers, which Napa could still get parts for.
When I discovered IPD in the 80’s, I was like a small child in a candy store, what part to buy next? Without IPD I probably would have been forced to seek help for my older Volvo addiction and move on. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
I can only imagine what was going through my mother’s mind as she kissed her two youngest boys good-bye. We were heading down to school, I’d be dropping my brother off in Bozeman, Montana and continuing on to Wisconsin by myself. I had put a couple hundred miles on the car prior to departure and had all the confidence an ignorant seventeen year old can have. What an epic journey for a couple of boys. We drove pretty much day and night, only pausing for gas, food, and rest stops. The engine purred like a kitten the whole way. Somewhere in the middle of British Columbia I started feeling an annoying vibration while climbing hills. It didn’t get better as hoped, but was getting noticeably worse. I finally pulled over on the shoulder of the road and crawled under for a look-see. The culprit was the rear U joint. All the bearings were gone from two opposing cups and they were starting to get pretty beat up. Our trusty map indicated we were coming up on a small community within the next ten or fifteen miles. We limped the car in at 4:30 p.m. and found a small auto parts store open. These guys were good, after a few cross references and a phone call, I was able to purchase the one and only U joint that fit. About an hour and a half later, using a hammer and my now beat up tool box, we were on the road. Bozeman to Wisconsin seemed to drag on forever, I can still remember the music I listened to, over and over and over. I didn’t have much money and lived a hundred miles from the nearest record store, so my collection was limited. Two cassette tapes was all I had. C.W. McCall was one of them. Some of you over fifty might remember a few of his hits such as “Wolf Creek Pass” and “Convoy”. I can, to this day, recite most of the album word for word. The other cassette was Abba, quite fitting, I suppose, to be driving a Swedish car and listening to Sweden’s only super band! I’ll tell on myself here, I still like Abba and have most of their albums. Now instead of a tape-eating player, it’s the iPod, thank goodness for technology.
Upon arrival at the boarding school, I had to relinquish the keys of my Volvo to the dean as per school policy. Almost every day, I would sit in it, fiddle with this and that, rewire the rear fender on, kill the black flies, you know, old Volvo stuff. Mid-winter, one of the staff, an elderly lady, needed a ride to town ten miles or so. It was decided I could take her in my car. They figured since I was from Alaska and drove a Volvo, winter driving would be right up my alley. The joke was on them! I’d never driven on icy roads like we had that day. Plus, the tires on my car were decidedly bad bias tires that were way too wide. This, in no way, stopped me from agreeing to go. With Mrs. M and a good buddy along for the ride, off we went. It was all I could do to stay on the road. Any acceleration would swing the rear end out and braking was even worse. As any 544 owner knows, the car decided which way it wants to pull when the pedal is pushed no matter how carefully you adjust those drum brakes. Mrs. M thought I was just showboating for my buddy in the back seat, who was loving every minute of it. We had about an hour to burn while Mrs. M was at her appointment. So we decided a movie was in order. I’d never been to a theatre before so it sounded fun. Parking the car around the back, so it couldn’t be seen, in case other staff were in town (movies were off-limits at this Christian school). We went in to see what was showing. One was billed as “adults only”. It sounded good, so, ignorantly, we bought tickets and went in. I think I learned more in the fifteen minutes we watched than I got out of the whole year in school. So, with a remaining 45 minutes to burn we drove around town in a state of shock.
That trusty Volvo made two successful trips from Alaska to Wisconsin. I really got attached to that old car. But the truth of the matter was, she was falling apart around me. All those water crossings and winter driving were finally starting to take their toll. The front fenders had by now been wired on as well as the rear fenders. The rockers were non-existent and a drive down any gravel road made it hard to breathe inside the car.
Man, what should I do? The decision seemed obviously clear, find another 544 with a little less rustification. That’s of course, exactly what I did. Except one 544 turned into three. My Volvo garden was slowly starting to grow. With a quick engine swap, I took the heart of my first car and gave it to the second one. This 544 wasn’t perfect and I labored all summer to take the best of the three and make one. After a quick shot of white paint out behind the shop, I was the proud owner of a better 544. My talented mother even redid the whole interior for me in crushed red velvet. It was the 70s! It was a great car, but still a little underpowered for my taste. The handling was also just a bit on the soft side. So I began dreaming of an even better, faster, shinier 544.
The next year I started going to college in Walla Walla, Washington. In the spring, I found a red ‘62 544 setting on two flat tires between Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater. It took me a month to finally contact the owner, as it turned out, he was a long-haul trucker. After talking his ear off about the car, he finally agreed to let me have it for $350. I’m not sure how many classes I made it to after bringing that car back to a friend’s shop. It was in great shape, original paint, no rust, minimal dents and it ran. Every chance I got was spent block sanding the body and fixing the dings preparing it for paint. I was really getting attached to this car and had all kinds of visions for a high-speed handler. But my budget said paint and drive. I’ve always liked a white car, so I went to the local paint shop, poured over their books and came up with the brightest white they had. It almost makes snow look dirty. Washing it on a sunny day was not advisable without sunglasses. The paint turned out as beautiful and as bright as expected. I’d saved a few bucks so I went down and purchased a set of sporty rims and new tires for the drive back to Alaska. When I bolted the 215 60 R 14s on, they looked great except the front tires wouldn’t spin. The bolt that you loosen to adjust wheel camber was firmly pressing against the rim. After a little head scratching, I solved the problem with an angle-head grinder. There was just enough of the bolt head left to get a wrench on, good enough. I was on the road!
All my friends wanted to ride in that car, thus exposing my next issue, rear tire clearance. My tires were wide enough to scrub the rear fenders whenever I hit a bump, corner, or had more than two people on board, pretty much all the time. My buddy’s ’55 Chevy had a neat set of air shocks that looked like the ticket. I actually found a set with a top post that worked. Man, they made that car set cool when aired up! With a little pressure the hind end of the car jacked right up. Just for fun, we aired the shocks up all the way and did a quick spin through campus. Something just didn’t sound right, in fact it sounded really wrong. After a trip to the salvage yard, I came back with a straight drive line to replace the one I’d just bent. Finding a willing driver to bring my other 544 north wasn’t difficult and we had a lot of fun rallying all the way home. We got a lot of double-takes from other motorists, it could have just been our reckless driving, who knows?
My younger brother had by now moved on to Datsun Z cars and had sold his rusty 1800ES. I was getting tired of being left behind by his 280Z every time we raced so decided it was time to do a few engine modifications. It is also important to note here most of my friends had big American sports cars, for example a ’69 Mustang Mach I, ’67 Mustang GTA with a 390, a ’55 Chevy two door post with a built 327 capable of lifting the front tires off the ground. Now you can understand why they all piled into my car anytime we went anywhere, they couldn’t afford to feed their beasts. As you can only imagine the need I felt to show my friends that the little 544 could run with the big boys. They were encouraging me to slip a small block V8 under the hood with a Mustang II front clip. Really? Are you kidding? Ruin its handling and mileage on purpose? I knew this older gentleman who used to race Volvos in the sixties. He’d told me wild, unbelievable stories of how he’d whipped Corvettes and other muscle cars shamelessly with his B18 544, highly modified, of course. That’s all I needed to hear. I was able to raise money for an engine rebuild that summer by selling my other driving 544. I think I got $1000 plus another 544 for parts. With a little looking, I found a B20F at the salvage yard and drug it home, tore it apart, and started spending money. The block went to the machine shop to get bored thirty-thousandths over to fit the new forged pistons, the head was milled and given a complete valve job. The injector ports were sealed off and a set of DCOE 45 carburetors purchased used for $500 with the manifold. Of course a header was a no-brainer. Interesting note here: I drove over to IPD in Portland from Walla Walla to buy the header. I walked in, cash in hand, but was informed they didn’t have any in stock. I think it was a pretty new item in ’86 or ’87. I was feeling pretty blue until I noticed a shiny B20 sitting in their showroom and it was sporting a beautiful black header. I quickly inquired about it and was told it was actually the prototype and not for sale. Long story short, they were kind enough to sell me the header, probably to get me out of their hair. I used that header for over eight years until I just couldn’t weld up the cracks anymore. Yes, the salesman had warned me about this. Of course the engine got an Iskenderian race grind cam. (I can’t remember the lift or duration). I also put in a complete set of bearings and a timing gear set. And, oh yeah, a shiny new coat of red paint. With a new IPD valve cover and a Mallory dual point distributor, she was ready to run. When I’d bought the engine, I’d also scored a transmission and overdrive unit. With a little creative cutting and fabrication, it went right in. It took a little more time to cut and shorten the drive line and design an operable tranny mount. I liked the short shifter, so converted my tunnel to accept it. It was obvious the first time I lit a fire in that engine that it wasn’t a B18. Stomp on the throttle now and that light little car would set you right back in the seat and keep you busy shifting gears, steering, and watching the gas gauge race towards empty.
One afternoon, I filled up the ten or so gallon tank and my brother and I spend the next hour stop and start racing on the Alaska highway. It is straight and wide where we live, and paved. I ran that tank out of gas in just over fifty miles, five miles per gallon. Maybe the V8 wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I found if I choked my carbs down to, I think 38mm, and kept my foot off the floor, I could still achieve mileage in the mid to upper twenties. It would really tear the road up, but the handling was still 1962 544. Once again, I turned to IPD for a set of sway bars, I’m still not sure if I installed the rear one properly, I couldn’t get the muffler clamp brackets to stop twisting on the axle and stop collapsing the mounts. I finally welded up some new brackets that are still on the car. I also had to weld in new floor plates under the rear seat that the sway bar mounts had cracked up and tore out. I have to admit I wasn’t very easy on the car and am fully responsible for the damage. One time, while screaming around a tight corner at around double the posted 45mph speed limit, I actually tore the driver’s side front sway bar bracket completely off the frame when I hit a misplaced pothole. Now that’s fun! Another modification I made was a brace to keep the engine from torquing over and tearing my motor mounts out. It went from a head bolt on the rear of the engine to the firewall. This made a noticeable improvement but eventually started to crack up the firewall. With the improvements to the power and handling, it was now able to hold its own with my brother’s Z car. He could catch me on the straight-aways, but I would lose him on the corners. Corners he’d be swapping ends on, I’d be in third gear with my gas pedal on the floor. I only lost control of it one time and swapped ends on a nasty corner. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but my dad and brother were riding with me. In my defense, the road was wet and I didn’t see the gravel on it. (Idiot?) Dad didn’t say a word, but my brother, in the back seat, was a little more vocal.
From our house in Delta Junction to Palmer was 300 miles of winding mountain roads with very little traffic. This was our proving grounds and each time we drove it, we tried to beat our previous record. One time, my parents flew their Cessna 170B down to Palmer. We left shortly after they did in our cars. A respectable average time to drive this route was six hours, we made it in four with gas stops. When we pulled into the campgrounds, my mom saw us and was more than a little upset. They flew down and had only been there for about thirty minutes. We almost got our wings clipped on that one.
The only drag strip in the state of Alaska is in Palmer, why not? When I drove into the Polar Raceway with my older brother as pit crew, it was Harley motorcycles wall to wall. They had rented the track for the day. It took some talking, something I’m good at, and they finally allowed me three passes down the track. They agreed to look the other way when it came to my non-existent seat belts and loaned me one of their helmets. All I had for tires were a completely shot set of Eagle GTs which had no stick left in them. After emptying all the non-essential weight from the car, I was rarin’ to go. My shift points were at 7500 since my valves started floating at about 8000. I had no idea what I was doing but had a blast anyway. I’d smoke my tires through first and second and get a good chirp out of third. My first pass I turned in 17.5 seconds down the quarter mile track. The crowd seemed to be getting a charge out of the 544. On my third lap, we pulled off the air cleaners, put on the velocity stacks, threw out all but the driver’s seat then put about fifty pounds back in the trunk for traction. This dropped me into the mid-16s. I had one guy come up to me afterward, slap me on my back and say, “I’ve never heard a Volvo scream like that before.” Of course, that’s all I needed to hear. I would still like to think with better tires and more experience driving I could have shaved at least a second or more off my time.
Back at college, it was still the Volvo that everyone wanted to take to concerts and cruise around town in. On our way back from a Loverboy concert in Tacoma, some friends and I were coming up over Snoqualmie Pass and pulled over on the shoulder to relieve the sodas we’d had at the last pit stop. The engine had recently developed this nasty habit of sneezing through the carburetors at an idle. This time, it not only sneezed, but caught fire. By the time I got the hood opened, it had blistered the paint on it and was really devouring the foam air cleaners. The powder extinguisher I always kept by my driver’s seat had packed solid and was totally useless. With the three of us frantically scooping gravel from the shoulder of the road and throwing it on the engine, we finally got it extinguished, but not before damage had been done to the Webers, rendering them useless. (I now carry Halon extinguishers.) It was my lucky day. I had been blaming some of the car’s sneezing on the Webers since there was no heat shield on them. I figured this might be the issue and had thrown a set of SUs plus manifold in the trunk, just in case. About 45 minutes later we were cruising home. I finally solved the sneezing mystery when an oil leak developed on my timing cover. The retainer that held the cam in had come loose, allowing it to move in and out wearing a hole in the timing cover and eventually breaking the fiber timing gear. The cam moving in and out was constantly changing my timing, thus the sneezing. With a new steel timing gear set installed from IPD, I was back on the road.
I was able to hold my own against most of my friend’s big cars and did very well stop light to stop light. One summer, in an effort to see what she would do on the top end, my younger brother and I opened it up on the way to Fairbanks. It was easily able to bury the speedometer at 120 miles an hour. At this speed, the car was really loose and the rear end felt like it was about to take flight. Apparently my brother could feel it too because He was strongly vocalizing his desire to “Slow down!” Every spring, just before heading back to Alaska from college a rally race was set up in the Tri-Cities area at an abandoned parking lot. Each year I would show up with my pit crew of friends. Funny how they never brought their cars to play. I was always placed in a modified class because of my intake and exhaust set up. This pushed me up with the boys who had built rally specific cars with gum tires and bodies that were slammed to the ground. The three years I attended I came home with second place finishes, which was quite an achievement considering my running mates. The only car I couldn’t catch in my class was a 240Z that had triple Webers, headers, and gum tires. If he didn’t have those tires, I’m sure I could’ve had him.
Flogging the 544 constantly made it inevitable that there would be some unscheduled equipment failure. On one trip back up to Alaska, driving through the middle of the Yukon Territories, the car quit, like the key had been shut off. What? Figuring it was ignition, the problem was soon solved. With the distributor cap off and cranking the engine, the rotor didn’t move. I’m thinking cam. Not good. When I pulled the Mallory out, there seemed to be a lot more rattling in it than there should have been. The centrifical advance weights had worn off the pins and broke the springs, allowing the rotor to become disengaged. With some head scratching, I got some wire and hardwired it all back together. With some trial and error I got the timing set where it ran free as a bird at 75-80 miles per hour. It was a little doggy at take off, though. My fix lasted until I got home, 600 miles later. You can bet a spare distributor made it into my trunk after that. The Mallory was just over a year old, thus out of warranty. I wrote Mallory a one page letter explaining the fix their product had gotten me in. About three weeks later, I got a brand new one in the mail with a receipt that said, “No charge.” Thanks again, Mallory. I’m still using that distributor today.
The 544’s weak link was the transmission. I think I went through three while in college, although I must add, the overdrive never skipped a beat until much later. One time, I blew the side of the transmission completely off when I dropped the clutch in reverse. Luckily it was only a three block push to our house. I was well on the way to becoming a master 544 mechanic.
One summer, she started smoking a little. So I pulled the engine down for a rebuild. I found two broken valve springs and a few slightly bent push rods. No wonder it had noisy valves, I’m surprised it was running as good as it was. Probably the most surprising find was one side of the distributor shaft that drives the oil pump was broken off. I’m lucky I made it home at all that summer. Maybe the road rallying before driving up wasn’t such a good idea after all! My friends may have been smarter than I thought. In anticipation of more high rpms, I ordered dual valve springs and chrome molly push rods. When I started looking for forged pistons in the plus 40 thousandths they couldn’t be found. I couldn’t even locate any caste ones. I was over their proverbial barrel. School started in about a month and the engine lay scattered all over the shop. The only solution I could find was offered by IPD. It was billed as a big bore kit. I believe it was 120 thousandths over. It is not what I wanted, but that’s what was available. The engine was never the same after the rebuild. It was no longer the high rpm screamer it used to be. On the other hand, I could pull a dump truck with it. It has lots of torque and would, with a few hits of the throttle, I could almost lift the front tires off the ground. The car made several more trips to college before being back-burnered for my ’83 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. I thought my girlfriend would really appreciate my new quiet, comfortable, smooth riding car. I found out after we were married, it was the 544 that had first caught her eye.
Her first car was a beautiful 164E backyard find. We paid $100 for it. The lady said they just couldn’t get it to stop overheating. When I was putting the water pump back on in her back yard, I found the fan belt on the rear seat. It was about 3/8 inch wide. Problem solved. With a new belt on, we drove it to Alaska twice and finally left it in Nome, Alaska after moving to a new job. She still misses that car.
About twenty years have passed since those college years. Our lives have taken us many places. For the last eighteen years we’ve worked in a remote Alaskan village along the banks of the Yukon River. We have to fly in and out since the closest road is about 250 miles away. This does give the Volvos a much needed rest. Every summer finds us back on the road system at our summer home. I have all winter to plan what Volvo projects to hit the next summer.
This summer I’m putting the finishing touches on a 1970, 145 for the wife. We salvaged it from the junkyard for $250 plus a complete parts car. Someone needed a windshield for another car and didn’t have the cash so they traded the Volvos in on it. My buddy, who owns the yard, knows my Volvo thing and told me I might want to check this neat Volvo out. It was filthy from sitting for decades, but straight as a pin and rust free. The worse damage was an engine fire which had burned the paint off half the hood and cracked the windshield up. I hate wiring, so almost left it there. On closer inspection, I could see someone had cleaned the engine compartment up and started installing a new wiring harness but never completed hooking up anything. When I got the cars home, I was digging through several boxes of parts and found the original speedometer cluster that had smoke and fire damage. The odometer read 27,000 miles. The car was in great shape, but 27,000 miles? It was obvious it hadn’t run after the fire since the wiring was never completed and you couldn’t see out the front windshield. After cleaning it up and checking it out, I’m positive this is the correct mileage. The interior is mint and the carpets are perfect. Underneath all the grime, the car had its original turquoise paint with matching interior. The aluminum rocker guards actually still have some of the plastic protective covering on them. The tar undercoating is still all there and not at all beat off like on my ’84 wagon. Everywhere I looked confirmed my suspicion that the car is a low mileage survivor. The wagon is getting a fresh set of rebuilt SUs from Dana Britton and will be ready to roll as soon as we hit the road this spring. It will be the lowest mileage car we have ever owned. My wife is excited to be getting another Volvo to call her own and I am already on the prowl for another project. Actually I’ve got a 1960 544 I bought for 65 bucks back in 1983. It’s rust free and you know my need for a better, shinier and faster 544, who knows , supercharger?
We still take the 544 out and stretch its legs every summer. It always starts right up. It sure sounds a lot louder than I remember. As you can tell, when it comes to Volvos, the 544 will always be my favorite. I have come to appreciate the other early models as well and have slowly been filling the back yard with them. My newest Volvo to date is a 1984 240 wagon. I don’t know how we ever survived without this car. It is our tent when foul weather catches us camping and our truck for trips to town for supplies. I bought the car from a friend leaving the state. I low balled him for 750dollars and still feel a little guilty about that. It of course came with a complete parts car plus a low time engine. With a new set of IPD sway bars, shocks, and springs it’s a lot of fun to drive. I still haven’t felt the need to go for any of the newer model Volvos yet (although the naughty Volvo is intriguing). I’m pretty sure with the proper maintenance I can get another 250,000 miles out of this one.
In our back 40 acres I have a pole barn in a small clearing. It has been affectionately named the “Volvo Garden”. Every summer it seems I find one or more Volvos to add to the collection. To date, I have seven 544s, four 140s, a 122 wagon and the 145 which is hitting the road this summer. So where does this illness come from? I guess we can always point to our parents or maybe we should blame Volvo for making such fun, durable and arguably stylish cars. Who really knows? I do know if my friends started talking about their Chevy’s or Fords the way I go on about my Volvos, I would think they were crazy, too! Happy Volvoing!
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Monday, January 13, 2014 - ANONYMOUS
Wow Kim, what a great story! Thanks for sharing all the old memories, brought back a few of my own that I had long forgotten! Almost makes me want to get an old push rod Volvo project for fun. Almost........... :-)
Saturday, April 26, 2014 - CHRISTOPHER GRABER
Thanks for the great stories. You are an excellent writer, keep it up