COAL: #22 1954 Volvo 444 – My Dream Car?

Alright, fair warning readers, this post could be a little long as it has a story that I think I should share.

I am sure I am not the only person that just checks Craigslist at least once a day for cars. I have a bad habit of checking several times a day for Volvos, especially when I am in the market – you never know what might pop up and how fast it’ll sell. So I was in my second year of college in 2016, and just happened to check Craigslist, and a 1954 Volvo 444 popped up. I had to do a triple take because the Volvo enthusiast in me knew that Volvo didn’t start importing into the US until 1956, but really 1957 is when we saw cars. I clicked on the ad, and saw a few poor quality pictures, and read some vague information on the car. So of course I called the number just to see what this was. Could it be a typo on the year? I talked to the seller, an older gentlemen, in Topeka. He told me he picked it up a few years ago, and does not know a lot about it. He was asking $5,000 which for a decent 444 regardless of the year is fair. The seller also informed me that the paint was good, tires were fine, basically it was a good running Volvo.

At this point I am sure you are thinking, so you bought it? Well, no. I thought about it, asked some Volvo owners if they knew the car, etc. After hearing no info from others on the car, I decided eh, I want something else, and never thought about it again. I instead bought my 62 1800, and got busy with that investment. I watched the car, and the ad was still up for a long time. Several months went by, and I thought that maybe I had made a mistake. I called the owner again, and he said he had just sold it the day before. Day late, and a dollar short. I asked him who he sold it to, but all he could tell me is it was a classic car dealer in Missouri. My heart sank, and I kicked myself endlessly.

A few months had gone by, and I could not stop thinking about the car. I decided I was going to go full on FBI on this car, and track it down. I started Googling classic car dealers in Missouri, just to see if any of them had it. I thought it might be Country Classic Cars near St. Louis, but I checked their inventory, and nothing. I spent days calling, searching, asking if they had a Volvo. My search was coming up with nothing. At this point I knew I had lost the car. There could be thousands of classic car dealers in Missouri, some could just be hiding without much of a trace on the internet. My last ditch effort was to throw an ad on Craigslist with the picture of the car that I had luckily taken from the ad, saying to please contact me if there were any leads.

About 2 days later I got a call from a Missouri area code. Could it be? I picked up, and it was a guy saying he was from Happy Dayz Classic Cars, and he had a Volvo that I might be interested in. At first I thought he had seen my ad, and was trying to sell me a random Volvo. Then he said his boss threw my ad across his desk, and that was the car he bought. I had to take a second to gather my composure. I quickly asked him if it was for sale. He said yes it sure is. Again, I had to gather myself. Without asking much about the car I wanted to know the price, because there was no point in talking about it if I could not afford it. He shot back at more than double the other sellers asking price. My heart fell to my feet, I don’t think I could swing that. I gathered some more information about the car. He had said he picked up the car from the seller I had talked to, and it had 4 flat tires on it, but ran well. They brought it back to their shop where they put on white walls, new battery, wax job, re-chromed the bumpers, and tuned it up. I told him that I would think about it, and see what I can do on the money side. Remember, he knew that I knew what he paid for it at the most. He also knew that I really wanted the car.

I did some number crunching from what I had saved up, and what I could sell to get the money, and could just swing it, barely. I had just bought another classic Volvo, and spent way too much money on new parts for it. I called my good friend David, and said I needed his help looking at this car. I can still remember how nervous I was to get that car. I had not driven a manual since I learned several years ago. It was a lot of money to spend on the car, and I wanted to make sure what I was getting wasn’t junk. I met David in Harrison, Arkansas, and we snaked our way up to Warrensburg, Missouri. As we pulled in, it was the nicest building in Warrensburg, you could eat off the parking lot. There were a number of high high end cars, and some weird cars as well. The seller agreed to meet on a Saturday just for us. As he pulled up, I found out he was also a Volvo driver, so my nerves already had calmed. He stood in the parking lot for a minute talking about Volvos and he brought us into the showroom. Tucked in the corner of the showroom was a black Volvo 444, even better than it looked in the old ad. I was blown away, I could not get over how nice the paint was, how bright the chrome was, and the interior was flawless.

We got the car up on the lift, and David and I had a look around, but I mostly was just searching for obvious things like giant holes in the frame or floor. David looked at me, and calmly said he can’t find much of anything wrong. He found a few bushings needing replacing, but that was about it. We took it out for a drive, but David drove since he could be the one to tell if there was something wrong by the way it drove. When we got back from the test drive, David once again told me that he couldn’t really find anything wrong.

My main concern is buying it right. I wanted to make sure that if I had to sell it, I would not be losing any money. David and I both talked about it, and had watched 444 sales, and see what they were actually selling for, and agreed where would you find another one? I went back inside, and wrapped up the paperwork with the seller. David and I loaded it up on the trailer, and off we went.

To this day I cannot find anything as far as history on this car. I do have it tracked down to where it possibly was when it came into the US, but that is about it. I have reached out to Volvo, and they were really only able to tell me when it came off the assembly line, but the waters get a little murky as far as when it was imported. Volvo does not get much in the way of records for import cars unless they do it.

One night not too long after I got the car, I did a social media search for “1954 Volvo 444”, and nothing really came up. I kept scrolling, and suddenly I found my car. It was posted a few years back by a restoration page that showcased the car as being the shop’s owner. I quickly reached out only to find the owner had died. The car had some work done at Ohara’s Restoration in Frostproof, Florida. How much work I do not know, as the current shop owners were not exactly sure how Bob Ohara got the car or what he did to it. Sadly he passed away with cancer not long before I reached out to them, and unfortunately taking some information about the car with him. From Florida the next account of the car is at the seller in Wichita who I talked to. Other than those small bits of info, the car is a complete mystery.

My 444 has a bit of an upgraded engine from the B4B to a 1.6 liter B16 4 cylinder. The B4B is what the 444 was introduced with back in 1944, and was kept in it all the way until 1957 where it was replaced by the B16. They are basically the same motor, just a little bit more power. It has a single Carter carb on it that is mostly seen in on Willys Jeeps. Paired with the 4 cylinder is a 3 speed floor shift that moves the car along nicely. As with any Volvo you will not win any races with it, but it is still fun to drive. The interior on this car is believed to be original or a really good imitation of the original. The original owner of the car opted to get a few accessories when they purchased the car. It has the front sun shade on the car, as well as the radio, and radiator cover. The radiator cover simply is a curtain that the driver can pull up to block the radiator in really cold weather. Much like you saw on semi trucks back in the day.

I have done quite a bit on the car in my 4 years of ownership. I did go ahead and replace all the bushings on the car, as well as shocks on all corners. I put on a new exhaust system as the old one was getting worse for wear. The carburetor will need to be rebuilt here soon as the gaskets are starting to weep. I had the starter rebuilt as I wanted to keep the original one on the car. I also put on a generator from another 444. I have tried to keep the engine bay all original and somewhat sweaty. I do not want to clean it up too nicely. Someday I would like to take the engine out, and go through everything, but for now the car does not get many miles on it, and it still cruises just fine.

This is the second car in my series that I still have to this day. It has been a trouble free, for the most part, car. Given that the car is 66 years old I am ok with replacing and tinkering with small stuff, as long as I have a garage to do it in. This car has moved from my parents’ house while I was in college, to my first house that I got myself, and now my wife and I’s house. She was nice enough to build a shop for me, I am not sure if it was because she was tired of my Volvo collection spilling in the house, or if she thought I really needed one. This was the car that we drove away from our wedding in, and I am sure that I will have this car for quite some time. I have never really had too much interest in the way of offers to buy from others, which surprises me a bit. I guess I could be the only one to find it as cool as I do. I have however won several awards for it in various car shows. In 2017 the Volvo national meet was hosted in Tulsa, and I brought home best in show, and Volvo Cars corporate came down and presented me a special award for the car.

Right now, I don’t see myself getting rid of the car anytime soon. I don’t get to drive it as much as I would like, but when I do, I always have a smile on my face. People are puzzled by the car, and often ask in traffic what type of car is it. When I tell them it is an old Volvo, they just kind of look at it and say “hm”. There are a few others in the US that are 54’s, but mine is special to me. I tracked it down after losing it once, and I don’t really want to lose it again.