Monday, February 23, 2015

The Volvo 444.

Forgive me - this first installment will be pretty brief and perhaps terse. A number of people have been asking about this project, so I'm going to document things here on the ol' blogosphere where it's easily accessible.
We begin. Sort of.
Actually, this all began some time ago - more than 20 years, in fact. The notion of preparing an old Volvo to participate in La Carrera Panamericana. If you're not familiar with this event, google it and see what it's about... the short verion is this: it's a race from one end of Mexico to the other with really old cars that have to run pump gas and deal with all kinds of breakdowns and hazards along the way. I'd love to tell you a lot more about it, but there's already a lot of great information available right here on the internets. Please do check it out. The nature of the event is pretty different than the typical vintage racing kinds of events, and cars prepared for LCP often end up not appropriate for use in other events - not for points, anyway - so preparing a car for this event is a commitment of sorts. Once finished, it won't be good for much of anything else. (Note: cars must remain street legal, so it's conceivable that you could use such a car as your regular commuter in the off season. But that would be silly.)
A lot has happened with the car over the last 20 years and I don't want to bore you with too much about it. So for now, I'm just going to give a little bit of background, and (hopefully soon) we'll move on to more current developments.
In 1996, I bought a 1957 Volvo PV444-L with the intention of preparing it for exactly this event. Pretty humble beginnings:


... and the view from the other side was even less awesome:

To be fair, this was a (kind of) complete and (kind of) drivable car when I started, and these pics were taken after I had the bright idea of dousing the car with paint stripper and taking off a bunch of parts. But still, this is about where we started.

Unfortunately, over the course of the next several years, the car sat neglected for quite some time before getting painted. And by the time it was painted, the racing ideas had kind of faded and the old Volvo became a daily driver. You can use a 50 year old car as a daily driver in Portland. We don't salt the roads, there's no safety inspection, and they don't have to comply with DEQ. I have mixed feelings about this last detail but I don't complain.

Final paint prep:

... replacement panels for the rusty trunk floor:

... and after paint, reassembly begins:

I put the car together with parts I had on hand: a pretty well used up 2130cc B20, a 4 speed and disk front brakes from a 122. Just about everything else was what had come with the car - original shocks and springs, old rotted bushings... I replaced the tie rods and eventually the bushings, but otherwise, this was really a marginal car to be in frequent use for a while.
The engine room, nearly complete, first version:
The original clutch linkage didn't quite line up with the later engine and trans configuration, and was horribly worn out anyway. So we used some heim joints and came up with something that did line up and didn't wear:

Fast forward several years, and pretty much everything had  been refreshed except for the kingpins, which were dangerously worn. And this is how the car remained up until last summer:
... and that's where the project really begins. I started off with what I thought would be a race prepared car, made it into a very presentable - but not show worthy - daily driver. After a couple of really great conversations last summer (one with someone who wants to go racing, the other with my wife in which she gave her blessing), realized that the time had come. I took the 444 almost completely apart and am now in the process of putting it back together. In race trim. For La Carrera.
That's the background. From here forward, we'll get into how this transition from street car to LCP contender is coming together (and how it sometimes isn't).
I do hope it's as fun to drive as it's been to work on. I really do like this.
Cheers --

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