COAL: 1978 Volvo 242 L – Unfulfilled Potential


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.

Bookends: My dad’s last Volvo and my first.