COAL: #5 1974 Volvo 164E – The Cheech and Chong of Volvos

In the summer of 2013 I had just sold my 1987 Volvo 740 GLE to buy this car. I was looking for a project that I could do, and drive around a bit to Volvo car shows. My friend had bought this 1974 164 local to him after it had sat for a long time in a barn. I was fired up to get this car, as it ran and drove, but needed a little bit of work. Looking back this was a car that I definitely should not have gotten.

The car was Seafoam Green, with a saddle color interior. Minus the driver seat, the interior was great. The 164 came standard with AC, and this one had a sunroof. Being in Michigan, I thought the car might be covered in rust, however the car had Ziebart back in the 70’s. Not one spec of rust, and the paint was decent. I kind of think of the 164 as a mini luxury car. Small, but it had the appeal that it was luxurious without the high price tag.

The 164 was located in Millington, Michigan, which is about an hour north of Detroit. Like I said, my friend had found it for sale locally, but had very little history on the car. He told me it smoked really badly, but it ran great. Having done a little research on it, I knew it was either due to the Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection system making the system too rich, or bad seals in the engine. He did not tell me how bad it was smoking, just that it smoked. I called another friend of mine who was familiar with this type of Volvo fuel injection system, and he said he would be willing to help me diagnose the problem.

So off to Michigan I went. I was going to rent a U-Haul trailer when I got up to Michigan, but found out it was cheaper to rent a trailer in Arkansas and haul it empty to Michigan. I left Friday after work, and made it to Indiana that night. Then the next morning I made it the rest of the way, loaded up the car, and headed back down south. I stopped in St. Louis to visit some Volvo friends, and got home that Sunday.

Once I had the car off the trailer my friend Craig helped me replace old hoses, and figure out what was wrong with the car. The title of this post really does relate to how badly the car smoked. When I picked the car up, it really didn’t smoke at all because all I did was start it and load it on the trailer. When I got it home, and took it around the block, woah. Let’s just say the entire city of Bentonville did not have mosquitos after that. After seeing this, Craig and I looked at each other and thought “it’s the seals”. We still muddled on, and checked various things on the car, like the valve clearance, and how rich it was running.

In the end our efforts did not pay off, and we had determined that the seals in the engine were letting some oil past, and burning it. Nothing seemed to help, and the car still smoked like a freight train, so we decided to pull the engine. The plan was to pull the engine, and have it rebuilt to be good as new. First though, I had a friend who happened to have a spare B30 engine used only for the 164. I decided to go and pick it up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and take a chance on it. Once we pulled the 74’s engine, we compared the flywheels, and the donor engine, and they have different bolt patterns. Darn it! So I continued with the plan to have the original rebuilt.

Finding a shop nearby that would even touch a Volvo engine was tough. I finally found one that could get replacement rings and pistons. He quoted me around $1,000 for the rebuild, and paint for the engine. I went on with it, and about a month later the engine was ready to pick up.

Once we got the engine installed back into the car, we could not get it started. We tried and tried, but each time the B30 fought us. For some reason the machine shop wanted the distributor to “test fit” once the engine was done. I dropped it off, and never thought anything about it. Well, as we would discover the machine shop had pinched a wire going to the distributor causing it not to start. Luckily I had a brand new distributor that I was going to put on eventually. That seemed to do the trick, and the car fired right up.

At this point I had already lost interest in the car, because of the roller coaster ride it had given me. I decided that I was going to try and sell it, just to see if I would get any interest. Surprisingly I got a few hits, and a guy in Maine wanted to buy it. Rightfully so he wanted a shop to check it over before he bought it. So he paid to have the car hauled to an import mechanic that he chose. The mechanic had no idea what he was doing with this car, and that soon became apparent to the buyer. The buyer wanted the car test driven and a number of things checked on. The mechanic didn’t know where to start, so he just kept putting it off. After about a week, the buyer got impatient, and just agreed to buy the car after some haggling. I got the payment, and dropped the title off with the mechanic to never think about the car.

About a week later I got a call from the buyer, and he said that he was going to get the car shipped to Maine. He wanted to know if I would drive it to a big parking lot so the shipper could load the car. I of course agreed, and went to pick up the car assuming the mechanic who still had it knew what was going on. The mechanic handed me the keys, and I drove the car down the street to the car hauler that was waiting. The driver loaded up the car, and he was on his way. When I went to get my car at the mechanic’s, he asked me for payment for the work he did. Shockingly I told him I had nothing to do with that, and he would need to take that up with the buyer. The mechanic shrugged his shoulders, and held up the title saying “oh well”. I left pretty fast never to hear from the buyer or mechanic again.

I had really loved the 164 styling, but decided that I really needed to save up, and buy one that was mechanically sound. So, this is exactly what I did, but I had to find one first. If you know anything about 164s, they really didn’t make hardly any of them. The ones that they did make were not around long. This 164 had left me with an empty feeling. I was still needing to fill my 164 void. The hunt was on to find one.