The Blue Car

1985 Volvo 240 DL

Oh, yes, the proverbial flying brick. Most car guys I know have owned at least one at some point in their lives. For an all-around parts chaser there really isn’t anything better. They feature a large enclosed cargo area, simple engineering and are built to last 300,000+ miles. Besides, if you are going to have a 4-door, you might as well just get a wagon. (I really don’t get the 4-door sedan thing…)

With the back seat folded down, you can stretch out and sleep, and if you have the “way back” seats that fold up out of the rear floor, you can comfortably seat the whole Brady Bunch – with Bobby and Cindy facing backwards into oncoming traffic (of course, Alice and Jan may have to ride on the roof rack…).

These things are overbuilt, solid and very straight-forward. Volvo started the 140-series in 1966 and basically made variations on the same car until 1993. The pushrod B18 engine with dual SU’s from the Amazon became the B20 and gained an alternator and Strombergs (US). The ’74 240 got the B21 and fuel injection (again US versions) and eventually morphed into the OHC B230F before production ended. Volvo made almost 3,000,000 240-series cars, and if each one did the seeming average of at least 200,000 miles, that is a stupid-large amount of asphalt covered by these beasties (3,000,000 x 200,000 = 600,000,000,000 miles!).

Previously, I had a ’70 145 that I got for free – one of those drag-it-away-and-it’s-yours deals. It had been well-loved then put up in a barn in Sonoma County, CA for 10 years. A horse blanket was left on the hood and held moisture right up against the paint – really the only tinworm on the entire car. New fluids and a battery and it started right up – but had a rust issue in the gas tank that would randomly stop the car from time to time. I took it with me when I moved from Alameda, CA to Seattle.

Olga - 1970 Volvo 145

The 145 served me well and dragged home a load of 4 Datsun U-20 engines and a 5-speed tranny on one occasion – hood pointed at the sky across the bridges back into Seattle. I foolishly sold it when I moved again. The old fellow who bought it was quite excited to get it for the princely sum of $1,000. He planned to use to for a fishing car – and loved the fact that he could sleep in the back.

Now living in Portland, I missed the utility of the 145 and had a Craigslist RSS feed for Volvo wagons to see what was out there. Oregon is crawling with Volvo wagons so almost every city block is a constant tease. A running 245 is much like a running pick-up truck in the Pacific North West – the value hovers around $1500. In early January 2010 I saw an ad for a manual ’85 240 wagon with overdrive for $500 in Hood River (about 60 miles east of Portland). A quick call to my fellow Datsun nut, Mike, and a quick drive-by confirmed that the beast looked promising. It had a mysterious malady that made it a non-runner, but the bones were solid.

I bought it and Mike provided a place to work on the car – luckily downhill from the seller. I found a $200 junkyard engine from a ’93 and Mike and I spent the next few weekends engine swapping. I put in a new clutch and we got the old girl going. The problem with the original 275K-mile engine turned out to be a collapsed valve spring and loose harmonic balancer.

The car is an odd mix of parts as the previous owner was fond of raiding bone yards for goodies – a habit that I’ve recently picked up. I’ve never had a car that is so well represented in the pick-n-pull. Already I’ve found a set of beauty rings and old-style chrome hubcaps to replace the horrific late-style plastic hubcaps.

We have since taken the “Volvo-car” (that’s what my two-year-old daughter calls it) to Sun River and camping at the Oregon Country Fair and Beverly Beach as well as trips to Home Depot, Lowe’s and the dump. I’ve harvested some upgrade goodies from the Pick-N-Pull – now if someone can just tell me how to keep those license plate lights from popping out of the the rear hatch….

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