I grew up on the backseat of a 1979 Volvo 242 DL. My parents had an Alfa Romeo Alfasud just before I started remembering things, so the Volvo is the one I remember. Later my mom started driving the 242 daily, while my dad got a 1977 245 L van. When they split up, my mom kept driving the 242 and my dad got a pristine 1984 740 GLE. Then my mom got a Fiat 127 and a first generation Mazda 626, and then back to a Volvo 360 four door diesel. Then she went with two Nissan Sunnys, a Renault Megane and finally a Fiat Punto before she stopped driving. My dad, meanwhile, replaced the 740 GLE with the holy grail of performance Volvos: a 1995 850 T-5R station wagon in dark green with every of the few available options ticked. At 20 I figured I’d better get on the Volvo train too.
In 1999 I was working a low end job at a travel agency and managed to save up 10,000 DKK (around 1,800 to 2,000 USD) to look for a car in the Danish equivalent of Craigslist; Den Blå Avis.
So, in short, you can see where this is heading: In 1999 I was finally getting a Volvo! Knowing every piece of useless information about cars and nothing about actually owning them, I exchanged said 10,000 DKK for a bright red, backyard painted 1978 Volvo 242 L that was definitely not worth what I paid for it. This initially became apparent when I drove the car home and it ran out of gas though the gauge said full. “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about that,” the charming gentleman of a seller said.
Everything about the car was worn out, but I loved it and it never gave up on me until when I ended up running it without oil, because I hadn’t checked the level in a while and it did use a bit of it – the seller “forgot” to tell me about the non-functioning oil pressure light as well.
I had plenty of ambitions for this car.I got upper strut braces from IPD and built my own 2½” exhaust system with headers, all ordered from the Swedish company KG Trimning. I stripped the interior and built my own ram air induction system. You see, at this point I had abandoned car audio and fluorescent lighting.
I frequented and participated in the Turbo Bricks mailing list and was a member of the Bad Bricks list when it started up. I wanted to get a Turbo engine in this thing (at one point it was a smallblock Chevy and I read conversions manuals for that swap despite it being next to impossible to register in Denmark, but you see where I’m going: SPEED!).
I knew nothing about wrenching on engines. I bought books on turbocharging and carburetors. I bought Volvo repair manuals for gearboxes, various turbo engines, the LH fuel injection system and other stuff from a Volvo shop in the US. But my lack of practical knowledge and money meant I only ever got to jack up one corner of the car to install lowering springs and new shocks.
As proof of poor planning I did this on a car that was not running due to being run dry. Something I didn’t know how to fix. I figured you should look for success where you can: It’s better to have a proper handling car that won’t drive than just a car that won’t drive. In the end, though, I got neither.
By 2002 I was able to spend 17,000 DKK on another high-mileage adventure. This time it would all work out, I told myself as I scrapped another car due to lack of maintenance. Well, we’ll see about that next time.
Man does this sound like me and my first car- mine was red, it looked better than it was, it needed a clutch, exhaust, springs and shocks (among other things) so what did I do? Tear the nose off, to fix the dent it had, and then not be able to get it back together… Oh, and registration issues, too- I lived in a county with strict emission laws (but literally the other side of town was in a different county with NO emission laws) my catalyst was plugged, so my friend on the other side of town helped me hack saw the cat off, and put flex pipe where it used to be. Then when it was time to renew the registration, they wouldn’t because of the missing cat, and a new one cost more than I paid for the car. Ugh. It still needed a lot of work, and the front was still hanging off, so I sold it (for next to nothing) Kids are kind of the same everywhere, huh?
Always fun to see the differences in local versions of world cars. On this ’78 we see the 8″ diameter headlamps with wipers (US/Canada cars got 7″ lamps and no wilers), the 2-colour corner park/turn lamps with DRL capability and no sidemarker (US/Canada got 1-colour lamps without DRL but with sidemarker), the “missing” rear sidemarkers (US/Canada cars had thrm), and the B21A leaded-fuel engine with single manual-choke carburetor (last carbureted Volvo in the US was a ’72 model, though this what’s shown on your ’78 could be had in Canada til ’84).
Good catch on the not available after 1983. My old golf GTI was a 1980 German model with a 1.6 litre engine and fuel injection and didn’t have a cat. It seemed like in 1984 Canada came in line with the US 49 state emissions standards. Looking through the manuals for my old vw van I was sure glad it didn’t have all the extra hoses and egr system the California models did. And luckily for me in Alberta at the time no emissions testing.
Your story sounds similar to the first car I bought. After running out of oil in an inherited Subaru wagon that my mom had given me. It had a blown front main seal and ate the motor on Vancouver’s famous lions gate bridge in a cloud of smoke. I got enough money ,$75, to get a bus ticket home. I bought a 1974 VW bus (Kombi) and drove it around for a couple of trouble free months until one day it ate a vavle and seat. I called the previous owner who must have felt bad for me and sold me a good used engine for $400 CDN. Luckily I had taken a couple of years of high school auto shop. Between that and buying a how to keep your VW alive for a complete idiot manual (which I pretty much was in those days) I was able to get it back on the road. I ended up getting over a 100 000 kms on that van before that engine died. By that point the body was getting pretty rough so I found a better one and saved the good parts for the new one.
Great post, I look forward to the next one.
We all need one of these “lesson cars” early in life. To teach us lessons like what happens when you don’t ask the seller the right questions or when you don’t check the oil.
My 63 Cadillac was a lesson car, teaching me that old expensive cars are more expensive to fix than old regular cars. I know, right?
I loved your story. Especially the part about the value of improved handling on a car that will not run. Another lesson, I guess.
BTW my first car ever was a ’74 Volvo 142E, manual no O/D. My extended family have owned I dunno like 25 Volvos starting with ’67 144s when they first came off the boat. I owned only one and went the VW/BMW/SAAB route, with one RX-7 Turbo thrown in for good measure.
Fun story, thanks!
Holy shibbles! Look at you under that 3000lb hammer, those spindly ramps and no back up protection!
Glad you are still here to tell the tales…..
I grew up in the back of dad’s big bumper 145 DL. Then it became my first car. Mum got a fire-engine red ’83 240 sedan which, to this day, was her favourite car.
You had a two-door. Way cool.
Another great read, Mads. I’m hoping the next car in your series finally comes to a happy ending. I especially liked the photo-of-a-photo treatment, which I felt suited a COAL entry perfectly.
Poor brick! Hopefully it yielded parts for others together with the lessons we all need to learn. Thanks for the tale.
Volvo Australia offered the 242GT in the 2 Series and I suspect they must have been fully imported judging by the fact they were rarely seen.
We also got the 262C by Bertone and I really hope this is Mads’ next choice! Style and speed! Ideal for beach work! Douvrin V6 simplicity and economy!
What more can be said about Volvo’s being one of he greatest automobiles built. My brother in law had a 1973 144 wagon that he bought new and he drove it for 15 years. He accumulated over 400,000 miles on it and never needed an overhaul. His last Volvo before his death was a 1990 740 sedan which was a very lovely car. My sister kept her deceased husband’s Volvo for like 10 years. I don’t think she ever had any issues with it. Vovlo’s have the most amazing seats. Amazing comfort not found in any other car made. . Even better than BMW seats which are some of the best in the world.
As the owner of an old Alfa Romeo, I absolutely refuse to discuss the subjects of poor decision making, fixing the wrong problem, spending way too much money, not having the skills to repair something I’ve already taken apart, or mistaking a lump of coal for an unpolished diamond.
Or rather I would refuse to discuss them if my wife would stop bringing them up. At least you have the excuse of having been young.
I think you’ll enjoy the next installment…
Reminds me of a certain Volvo that is sitting in a certain driveway under a certain tarp about 30 feet from where I’m currently sitting. Everything works, I thought. Everything works, said the seller. And it did, for a little while. At least it’s never been my primary transportation (and at least it still runs, or it did the last time I started it up) but some lessons aren’t only for the young.
Hoping your next one doesn’t end up scrapped! I’m not that far gone…yet…
Thanks for the comments, everyone. I’m on vacation and have had limited internet access which is why I haven’t responded. But I do appreciate them.