COAL: Nora II, III, IV, Etc. – Own ALL the Volvo 240s!


[Nora II looked just like this]

If you read the story of Nora (the first), you may recall that my first experience with a Volvo 240 was a bit of a bust. I wasn’t a very good mechanic at that point, shops that would work on an older Volvo were scarce in my part of the Midwest, and replacement parts and information for these cars weren’t easy to come by. I swore off foreign-car ownership after that, and went back to American iron.

Then I got married.

She told me she’d always wanted a Volvo 240. Her father had had a 164E and she always liked it. And I told her “no”, and I told her about Nora the First.

I was 35 and it was my first marriage and I wanted to do the thing that would make my bride happy. So I caved. I don’t remember where we found Nora II, but she was a 1983 240 sedan, base DL trim. She had the beloved 4+1 M46 overdrive manual transmission.

(One of the things that drew me to my wife was her insistence on driving stickshift cars. Don’t let that fool you, fellas.)

Well, this was around 1997, right around the time of the rise of “Internet for the masses”. There were communities of folks dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of all manner of cars, including Volvos. Folks in the Volvo community were generous with their knowledge regarding repairs and parts sources. I absorbed all the information I could, and took the opportunity to become a much better mechanic and far less intimidated by cars.

When you have any older car, you eventually wind up needing parts. If you have the wherewithal, at some point you realize it’s cheaper to buy a whole parts car for a hundred or two dollars than it is to buy just the parts you need. Then, since she was driving Nora II all the time, I wanted one of my own, but I wanted a wagon. So I found an ’84, named her Nora III, and it was good. But it needed parts too, so along came a second parts car.

With all that, I wound up having more parts than I needed. Since I was fully engaged in the online Volvo groups and forums, I started selling excess parts there. This was right around the era of the rise of eBay, so I started selling parts there as well.

Before I knew it, I’d become a well-respected member of the community by freely sharing what I knew with folks that knew less than me. I also developed a good reputation as a fair seller of good parts at good prices. If you Google my name and “Volvo” even today, you’ll still see traces of everything I earned by being decent and fair.

Meanwhile, friends and co-workers would see me driving different 240s all the time, and parts cars started coming out of the woodwork. “Hey, my uncle has one of those rotting in the back yard. Do you want it?”. I would scour the papers and drive through neighborhoods looking for parts cars that I could drag away for cheap. It had really become a side business for me. I never kept books, but for about 5 years I probably made $5-7000 a year, selling parts and scrapping out the remains.

I flipped a few as well. Pick up a non-runner for $200, grab the necessary parts out of the stash, and turn it into a $500 beater. The Volvo world became my oyster, with folks seeking me out to take their heaps off their hands, knowing I was going to take them to a respectful end.

At some point I chatted with my Volvo friend John, and we attempted to list all the cars that had passed through my hands. We counted up somewhere near 40 cars, some parts cars, some runners, over which I’d had stewardship. There were at least a dozen after that as well.

Right around 2005, everything fell apart. My marriage was in total failure mode. That put me out of my house and garage. The land I was using for my “personal junkyard” belonged to my father-in-law, so I lost access to that as well.

The business model fell apart as well. Many people figured out what I (and a few others) was doing, and too many people jumped in, severely depressing prices. Some smarter folks figured out what parts they could grab at DIY junkyards for cheap and flip for a quick profit on eBay, with virtually no overhead. As an example, when I first started out, a working ECU was selling for $100. By the end, they sat unsold online at $10.

On top of all that, the price of scrap metal had risen dramatically. The backyard scrappers were grabbing every junk car they could, for more money than I could profitably spend for a parts car.

The whole thing was over. I gave away my stash of pre-pulled parts to other Volvo nuts, or sold them in bulk at dirt-cheap prices. I gave the hulks of the last 3 parts cars to a young guy I knew with some moxie, who was scrapping cars to feed his kids.

It was a great experience to have had. I enjoyed the respect and reputation I’d made for myself. I learned a lot about people, and about cars, and about being a member of a community. Even though it ended on a sour note, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Except maybe a mint-condition 1993 240 wagon. After all my experiences, good and bad, I still to this day consider the Volvo 240 to be among the finest cars ever sold.