A Volvo 242 saved my life, and I’ve never crashed one

I grew up in the back of a SAAB 900. Weekend trips watching pine trees whip by out of a flipped out quarter window. A 16 valve turbo race to the lake, motion sickness was not an option. Every night I’d go down the basement steps to say goodnight to Dad, he’d be under a 900 until midnight, moonlighting as a SAAB and Volvo repair man on top of his full time day job. I would watch, hand tools, hold lights. This was our time as father and son; I was sometimes interested in the cars, always interested in our time together. Our family story is intertwined with the Swedish cars in the garage and spilling into our driveway.

When I was 16 we dragged an old rotted ’88 900 turbo out from under a tree and turned it into a car again. We spent countless hours in the garage together, welding, doing body work and paint, and making it fast and loud like any high schooler wants. I was immensely proud of it; it was our first project as a team and a very well executed car. Later on we would repeat much of the same process with a 9000 Aero before I went off to college. These were good days.

Suddenly, I find myself in my early 20’s hours way from the garage and the focus commanded by a project. New interests develop – some positive, others destructive. I stop caring about my 9000, I have other things to spend money on and the passion for cars has dwindled to a barely-there pilot flame. The addiction to cars was replaced with new addictions, demons which are much less forgiving and surprisingly even more expensive. I had lost sight of who I was, what life was, and where to go. Years were lost, opportunities squandered, relationships damaged. I was on the edge of a cliff, a point of no return. I needed to go home. So I bought a Volvo.

1979 Volvo 242 DL

I bought my 1979 Volvo 242 DL on January 3rd, 2013 and it is an easy marker for when my life began to change. The car had sat in a dirt floor barn for over a decade. I had no idea what I was getting into or how much work was really going to be involved, I just really wanted to drive a 242. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Volvo Engine, Exhaust and Body Parts Restoration

Volvo 242 Dirty Engine

The original plan was to just get a car up and running with a stock engine swap from a Volvo 740 turbo. A modest project goal which would be abandoned within the first months. Many major Volvo parts like the engine bay and underside were an ugly scene after the time in the barn. Pressure washing turned into stripping to bare metal. Every bolt came off, every Volvo part considered. I was obsessed, it was great.

Volvo 242 Drive Shaft

We now found ourselves amid a complete Volvo restoration project. Every free moment was dedicated to research and Volvo OEM part upgrades. We were back in the garage talking, planning, learning. Dozens of new directions and ideas for what the Volvo could be if we took it just a little further. It was restorative to all involved.

Volvo 242 Floor

As one might expect, the vision had grown a bit. With the Volvo’s body coming along so nicely a 180hp stock swap started to seem boring. The rusty Volvo replacement parts like suspension parts found on donor cars felt undeserving.  So, a string of Volvo parts purchasing began, which has yet to stop. Several Volvos have died so one may live on in glory.

Volvo 242 Fresh Paint

Now that all hopes of a basic build were abandoned I was hell bent on building a show stopping Volvo 240. I scoured Turbobricks on an hourly basis sucking up all the spun-off Volvo parts and abandoned project I could get my hands on. Stock Volvo exhaust parts turned into stainless steel tube headers and v-band clamps, OEM+ turbos turned into giant Holsets. At some point all pretense was lost and a completely built long block rolled into the garage including a fully balanced and blueprinted assembly and a CNC shaped head.

Volvo 242 DL Underbody

Throughout all of this was hours upon hours of research and Volvo discussions. There is no guideline to follow when trying to build a 400whp Volvo 242. There are no catalogues to order from or shops to visit. Every step in the assembly was a new puzzle, a new challenge begging for a solution. It is an equally frustrating, exciting, confusing and rewarding experience. For my Dad and I it was a chance to get back together and reconnect where we started: underneath a rusty Swedish car.

Volvo 242 DL Tuner

For me this Volvo came at a time when I needed it most, and it has reignited the passion which has always been with me. I am grateful to this Volvo, and to the community, for giving me so much. The time spent in the garage or at events with friends and family is where the true heart of this hobby lies.

Volvo Parts Restoration Project Complete

Volvo 242 DL Twins

Volvo 242 Holset Engine

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