Sunday, July 1, 2018

Proof That Saving Time Doesn't.

Thanks for tuning in again. I'd hate to be one of those Real Bloggers who post stuff so frequently that everyone just got bored and left. Much better to be the kind that's easily forgotten in the dark and dusty corners of the internet. That's what I deserve. snifl.

Last we talked about the old 444, I was resigned to using excited about installing the converted marine engine that had an alleged 5 hours of running time. I did, and it ran, and I drove it, and I did my level best to convince myself (and you) that it was something close to terrific. I was lying to you and fooling myself. Apologies all around.

I also mentioned that I'd be rebuilding a TRS-USA 2400cc stroker for the car, and I did rebuild that engine, but before I had the chance to install it someone bought it. This kind of thing happens sometimes.

From the moment the Penta (the boat engine that was converted for car use) first fired, it just never did seem to run quite right. But it sure did get the car down the road and would even maintain 80+mph in overdrive while climbing a 6% grade. How dare I not be delighted?

And after about 3000 miles and a couple years of use, that old thing was pretty well covered in oil and was leaving toxic unsightly drips everywhere I parked. Not oil drips that come only from a rear main seal or a weepy fuel pump gasket - we're talking about the oil leaks that see wet motor oil weeping out of pretty much everywhere and getting itself all over everything. Like the underside of the floor and the rear suspension, even.

At the shop, we have a leakdown tester and so I put that to use. This old boat engine had leakage ranging from 35% on the low side to 65% on the high side. This is well outside even the lowest standard. I'd always wondered why the engine was taken out of use after only 5 claimed hours of use. Now I think that's how long it took before the boat sank.

As luck would have it, a customer with a dud engine chose to not repair what he had, so I acquired one of the early ipd "6 Bolt Big Bore" engines. These were similar to the more common 2130 kits that work in the 1974 and 1975 blocks, but instead used custom pistons that would increase the bore and also fit the wrist pin size used by the 1973 and earlier B20 engines.

Oversized pistons - in a variety of sizes - with this wrist pin size are currently available via KG Trimning in Sweden, and they're forged, and they're lovely, so we got some of those. Because this engine had suffered broken ringlands with its earlier pistons, we went with a 92.5mm bore/92.43mm diameter slugs. I think these are the largest stocked such piston, so if this engine ever needs a rebuild, things will get creative.

The grey coating on the skirts is teflon. Slick stuff.


That's a 1mm top ring. Skinny little thing.
I'd fitted the (prior) boat anchor engine with a Schneider 274 camshaft. This is a more modern and more aggressive grind than the more commonly available Isky VV71. For this new engine, I wanted something one step more obnoxious and chose the 284. I'd learn later that they aren't kidding around and Big Scary Numbers actually equate to Thrilling Results. I will not be using anything more aggressive than this cam on any street engine in the future. Probably.

You read that right: valve lash is .015."
The machinist I use returns engine blocks wrapped well enough that they could sit outside in the rain for a year and not get wet. But I'm always in a big hurry to get them unwrapped.


Before paint, things that shouldn't get painted get covered. The head isn't bolted on - it's just sitting on the masked deck so that it can be painted at the same time. Volvo didn't paint engines after assembly, so we don't either. Tradition and stuff.

 Instead of the traditional red, this one is grey.

 … then assembly begins...

The head that came off the 'new broken' engine got a complete rebuild with new valves, guides, double springs and retainers, hardened seats. It's hard to see in the photo, but someone in the past did a fair amount of port work to this one. Their approach is pretty typical for what was happening in the late 1980s -- much has been learned since then, but this is very respectable for its day.

… to prevent reduce any loss of oil pressure, the pan got a baffle.

Normal and boring.

Test fit before grinding on the edges.

Tacked. Sorry - no pics of the finished product.

 Bottom end gets finished up...

… head gets bolted on...

… and finally, a fully purge welded stainless and properly tuned 4 into 2 into 1 header, custom made by Craig Coburn, finds its place in this world. This is a thing of beauty.

 Time was short. I wanted to take the car to the Davis Volvo Meet, and barely had time to get the new engine into the car. I did manage, though, and broke it in, then torqued the head and drove it home. The next time the engine started, we drove it 580 miles from Portland to Davis.

Looks the same as it did before. Runs a lot better now, though.

And that's where we are now. For kicks, we gave this engine a leakdown test after about 2000 miles and were happy to find a nice even 1% result across all four.

If you're interested in what we're up to at the shop, check out  or visit us on Facebook.

PS: now that the 444 is about as 'finished' as it's going to get, we'll likely move on to other projects (not that this one has been flying along or anything). If history serves as an example, you can look forward to our next installment in another several months.

'til then, then.

Monday, November 14, 2016

In Search of Gusto.

Hey, guess what's different this time?

Yep: it's not been a few months since last time. Don't get used to it.

It's been a busy time with the shop and my beloved three-and-a-half-plus year old tyrannical kiddo, so time spent on the ol' 444 hasn't been well documented, and it often seems that there's hardly any sensible documenting to be done. It's always an hour or so one week, then another hour or so a week (or two or three or six weeks) later, with the poor old car either: 1) sitting alone and neglected, or 2) getting robust exercise at every opportunity. We prefer the latter.

Back when the car was to remain a regular daily driver, we first wore out an old 2130cc B20 that had been used in not one but two prior Volvos - this was the very first Volvo engine I'd ever assembled, a job which was completed in my bedroom before being wheeled out the front door on a skateboard and carried down the front steps by hand with the help of my two stout roommates. That was 1993, and that engine served me well without any major failure for more than 300,000 miles before being traded for a rebuildable 1971 B20E that was destined for use in my fabulous wife's fabulous '57 445.

We got the 444 back on the road with a well built but unremarkable B18. It was a low compression version, .040" over, fitted with a D cam, neoprene seals, HD oil pump and reinforcing ring, and some of those Cloyes aluminum/steel timing gears. Nothing super exotic, but easily capable of a hundred thousand trouble free miles. It got DCOEs partly because they were on hand and partly because DCOEs. I love them.

Simple B18. Back to our roots and stuff.
Then that whole endurance racing notion started, and every single thing about the car was changed except the engine (well, that and the transmission, which you heard about last time). And we talked about and thought about and hemmed and hawed about what engine would eventually live in the car. Our needs are simple, really: must run on pump gas at all elevations while making tons of torque from idle to redline. The B18 became a functional placeholder while the thinking and talking went on, and then a few magical things happened kind of all at the same time.

First, a guy I don't know found my number and called to see if I wanted a factory rebuilt AQ130 that had only 4 or 5 hours of running time before being stored since the late 1970s. For you who might not know, an AQ130 is a marine spec B20, which means it has some weird stuff on it that doesn't work with a car, but the insides of the engine don't care what the outside world does or does not include. Initially, I planned on finding someone with a boat who'd want to buy this engine, and I sort of tried to find that person for about an hour a very long time. And didn't.

B18 getting undressed.
Then I offered this marine engine to the car people, and none of them wanted to buy it either, so I thought I'd go ahead and repurpose it myself for use in the 444. Maybe it'd be good enough for the long term, and maybe it'd only be good enough to last until the "real" engine manifested itself (whatever that means - we still don't really know). So I took it apart to see what a factory built engine looks like on the inside. And also to remove the not-car-compatible stuff.

B18 removed.
The minor bummer: It wasn't built by anyone who was trained by Volvo. All the gaskets were heavily slathered with orange RTV, and there were blobs of the stuff floating loose inside the crankcase. The major awesomeness: aside from sloppy gobs of cheap sealant, everything else inside the engine looked brand spanking new. Like really 4 or 5 hours' away from new. And the marine engines all came with steel timing gears, which is plenty cool enough.

Marine camshafts aren't the same as automotive cams, and rather than find out what shortcomings the former might have when applied to use in the latter, we removed the boat-spec bump stick from the thing and sent it to Schneider Racing Cams down in California and asked them to regrind it to their "274 degree" spec. They did that, and sent it back to us. It's a lot less money to have them regrind your cam (if yours is good enough to regrind) than it is to buy one outright.

Marine heads aren't the same either, but they can easily be modified for use in an automotive application. This is really cool, as they have the biggest factory valves, and lots of material to work with should [ahem] anyone want to go about porting one for high performance use. The marine head (plus an NOS head that was part of the deal) went onto the shelf, and for this engine, we sent an old and well used head out to the machinist for reworking. This is a head that we ran on the 2130cc B20 mentioned earlier. It got new seats, guides and valves, and new double valve springs.

Ready for its new home.

We also managed to score a new valve cover by bartering away a copy of Swedish Iron. Good deal. A few teething pains - like the fuel pump flange warping and leaking 2 quarts of oil all over the underside of the car in about 40 miles, and having to rejet the Webers, but other than that, it's been a very decent (and more oomphy than expected!) pushrod mill.

2 liters of fresh goodness.
This still isn't the long term permanent engine for the old 444, though. If we manage to take it to Mexico for racing, we might have to run a B18 to be class compliant (or run against much newer and more powerful machines). If we can run a B20, this one might do the trick except that despite being pretty fresh and assembled with some good stuff, it's probably not quite the caliber we'd need.

And about the time that this boat engine got functional, we came into possession of a very rare old performance engine that we're now in the process of slowly rebuilding. We'll get into the details later, but for those of you familiar with old hotrod B20 stuff, stay tuned as we bring a 2400cc B20 stroker back to life.

'til then -


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

More Is Better. 5 Is More Than 4.

Dear Reader. Very happy to be back in the blogosphere, and happier still that you're along for the ride.

We've got a lot of catching up to do, and there's a lot of work yet to be done on the car. Funny thing about these old cars - you never really run out of things to do just to keep the thing on the road even when you aren't trying to modify every last thing that makes the thing go and steer and stop. Add to this the not-so-smart notion of getting the thing on the road only to then take apart something that you haven't taken apart yet just because it's next on the list as part of your sensible approach to a rolling restoration kind of long term project. At the rate I'm going, I'll have to replace worn out modified stuff before I finish modifying the rest of the stuff.

Smart way: take it all apart, collect all the bits, assemble, enjoy.
Our way: not the smart way.

Since our last session, a whole bunch has happened with the car. And in keeping with our tradition, it's not all getting into pixels in exactly the order that it's all going down. Alas. We've replaced the rock solid B18 with a slightly modified AQ130-converted-to-B20 with a nicely ported head and Schneider 274 cam (more on this later!), and we ditched the cute single Cibie Tango fog lamp in favor of a pair of Cibie Iode 45 long range driving lights. Thank you, ebay France!

We are not afraid of the dark. There is no dark.
As you know, one of the very best upgrades you can make to an old Volvo is the addition of an overdrive transmission to replace the original 4 speed... actually, though, this car started life with a 3 speed, but that's not the point. Simply put, the result is that you have the same four forward gears that you had before, but you also get a 5th 'gear' (not really a gear, exactly) that drops your highway rpms by 20 or 25 percent (depending on which version of overdrive you end up with). This is a big deal and it's all kinds of awesome. Example: cruising at 3500rpms with a 4.10 rear and a 4 speed in the 444 we're dealing with results in a highway speed of 62. With an overdrive, that same rpm speeds us along at about 78 mph. At 4000, the difference is 71 versus 89 mph.
This won't necessarily increase your (my) top speed by 20%, because torque and horsepower and wind resistance and a bunch of physics related BS conspire against us in our quest for unadulterated velocity. With a relatively standard B18, the top speed would likely be higher in 4th than in overdrive. And much as it pains me to say it: top speed isn't the point here - engine rpms while cruising on the highway is what we're tweaking.

I'm leaving out a bunch of stuff related to changing the rear axle ratio when converting to overdrive so that you can tailor your effective final drive ratio such that your engine will reach redline in overdrive. We're not worried about that just now.

Anyway, let's jump in.

The organ: M41 taken from a 1975 240 series Volvo.

The recipient: our venerable 1957 PV444.
The reason a lot of PVs don't have overdrives is that their transmission tunnels are too small for the thing to fit. 122 and 140 series have big cavernous tunnels. PVs do not. Proof:

Originally, this car had an H6 (3 speed) transmission. The one in the pic is an M40. It barely fits.

4 speed as viewed from above.
To accommodate the larger M41, we collected a transmission tunnel from an 1800 (bottom of the next pic). Then we removed the 4 speed from the car and tossed everything on the floor to get a good look.
The M41 is about twice the size of the M40.
Next, we cut out most of the old tunnel and some of the floor. I was super happy to find that the floors were much thinner than when they were new - all that metal that's rusted away results in a lighter car overall. It also ensures that any welding you might do will either blow holes in the old metal; or the weld slag will plop itself about in messy blobs.

Mind The Gap.

Test fit with 240 shifter.
The initial plan was to use the 240 shifter and its dandy overdrive switch that's built into the shift knob, but the dry fit demonstrated that the tunnel would have to be 3 inches taller than if we stuck with the original shift lever. And the original, nearly a meter long, is cool.

Tunnel dry fit.

Rough fit.
We made another change along the way: the brakeline that feeds the rear wheels used to tuck nicely into the tunnel alongside the transmission. The new tunnel, though, is placed such that there's no room at all to spare under there and we want to be able to remove the transmission without worrying about bonking a brakeline. So the brakeline is now routed inside the cabin, connected to important looking things with knobs and stuff:
Bias valve on the left, line lock on the right.
Two coats of Gloss Smoke Grey Rustoleum, and the new tunnel looks like part of the old car. The next step will be to add a platform atop the existing floor that will bring the driver's feet up about an inch and will also ensure that nobody steps on the brakelines. Because that would suck.

And now we wait. The driveline is away being shortened and balanced, so we can't test the new setup until that comes back. And we don't know anything about this 'new' M41. Condition unknown, other than that it looks ok inside the gearbox, and the solenoid works. Unknown quantities keep us on our toes.

Here's hoping.

'til then -


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

At the Cellular Level.

Irrelevant Intro Begins Here. To skip this part, please scroll down to the next bit of red text, found 5 paragraphs below.

I've started my blog entries off with so many different versions of "It's been a long time since the last time" that I'm having trouble coming up with a new phrase that doesn't sound like a broken record. A broken record. Record. And if that's not enough, now I've gone a step further and started this "here's a bunch of writing you'll probably want to skip." The absurdity that I'm doing exactly this same thing yet again is not lost on me. I appreciate your concern.

I need to convey the same old tired sentiment that I always say, but it has to sound innovative and sexy. Because that's the high standard to which we've become accustomed. Alas, the only expertise from which I can draw inspiration seems to be that offered by those mythological beasts we collectively know as "candidates." And though I'm desperate, I can't allow myself to be conflated into that social clique.

If I were, I might still be able to live with myself. But my reputation would suffer because you, dear reader, would instantly think less of me. On a personal level, that's okay. But now that I have the shop open and I'm playing adult games and stuff, I have to act like other people's personal opinions actually carry some weight in my corner of this vast universe. And if I'm wrong about all of that, then I'm wrong about my own opinion that lovers of Old Things Volvo are people of a high enough caliber that they aren't dulled to the point of apathy by this every-four-year-election-circus. We notice things. We think critically. This is not an endorsement of any candidate nor an invitation for political debate. Comments are moderated.

See what I did there? Paid you a subliminal compliment in order to foster a positive assessment and silently bolster my standing.

Now that we're all thinking about how much we don't like at least one of the someones who is working to become the leader of the free world and our moods have most certainly risen to something between Giddy With Excitement and Pure Bliss (no need to thank me), let's get back to the car thing.

The shop is legit: we got the stickers to prove it.

Irrelevant Intro Ends Here.

One of the things about this car that I've never wanted anyone to know (Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Beloved Wife!) is that it's been limping along on a crummy old original fuel tank for a few years. This isn't so bad, exactly, except that the pickup tube (you Volvo folks already know where this is headed) rusted and became perforated. The pickup tube is a metal straw that enters the tank near the top, and pokes down toward the bottom. Just like your soda straw does when you're sipping on a cola.

Anyway when these tubes get holes in them, they can't draw fuel from the bottom of the tank, and you end up basically running out of gas even though you might have several gallons sloshing around in there. With this one, I could fill the tank to its astonishing 9 gallon capacity, and after using about 3 gallons, the car would coast to the side of the road. For a long distance endurance kind of car, a range of 50 miles per tank is unsuitable. Eventually, 3 gallons became less than 2, and I was managing about 30 miles between fillups. I was not popular with gas station attendants (we don't pump our own here in Oregon) who, after being asked to "fill 'er up!" barely got things started when it was already over with.

There's an analogy in there somewhere, but I just can't find it.

See the shiny spots? That's where raw gas ends up.

I will not disclose the method by which a faulty fuel pickup tube was circumvented. Either you shouldn't know, or you already do.

There were also some pinholes in the top of the tank that allowed small amounts of raw gasoline to exit the top of the tank and stink up the whole car. We thought about what we need from our replacement tank.

It had to be bigger than the original, needed a provision for a fuel gauge sending unit, had to have a rollover valve, and had (this part is obvious) to fit into the trunk along with a lot of other things. Though a proper FIA certified fuel cell (that's bonafide race car stuff) is a really smart thing, it's also a thousand dollar plus kind of thing. For the events we're looking into, the cell need not be FIA certified.

So there was a lot of thinking about capacity and dimensions and how other stuff would stow in the trunk. Do we want a tall skinny fuel cell? A low flat one? How important is the filler placement? Sump or no sump? We finally settled on a 17 gallon piece that would tuck nicely* into the floor, included a fuel gauge sending unit, and had its filler located pretty close to the original fuel filler hole in the left rear fender. I don't know if we'll use the original fuel filler hole, but that seems more likely if the tank filler isn't on the opposite corner of the trunk.

*tuck nicely: 1. stow neatly within a small enclosed space in an aesthetically pleasing and functional manner. 2. the garish - but appropriately concealed - result of angle grinders, hacksaws, welders and various other devices of irreversible alteration applied to an otherwise perfect foundation with the robust intention of accommodating the absurd.

One of these is the old tank. The other is the new one.
The new tank is pretty flat, so it won't take up a lot of trunk space. If this were a track car, the cell would drop down into a recess ('the cell sits in the well') and we'd have a lower center of gravity (good thing) as well as more available trunk space (irrelevant on the track). But for this car, we really don't want a box of gasoline acting like low hanging fruit out underneath the car's stern. And this way, we can drop the original tank right back into place if we want; or we can quickly put a proper race cell in place should the opportunity arise.

Fuel tank hole gets bigger. Hard to tell with all the crap on the floor under there.
Another round of Irreversible Changes That Get Me Hate Mail, and the 59 year old Swedish sheetmetal trunk floor is adjusted to accommodate the new feedbag.

Adding a flange to the newly cut side.

Doesn't have to be pretty. Luckily.
One super-important aspect was the fuel sending unit. There are a few different kinds, none of which is advertised as having the proper resistance range to match the 444's original fuel gauge. This is no surprise. So we ordered the "GM" sending unit, then bought a gauge that would communicate with that. Then we spent a LOT of time figuring out how to fit an aftermarket VDO fuel gauge into the original instrument panel. Because that's how we want it.

The idea was to use sheet steel (right) and then...
... drill a hole for the gauge.
The issues with this: only one 2 inch gauge will fit on either side of the speedometer. And fitting one gauge per side requires irreversible mods to the instrument housing. The trick is to recess the gauge such that it's behind the lovely chrome fascia, but not all the way in the back of the housing where you can't see it. Thus, the plate shown above.

Because I practice full disclosure: if you've read my prior blog entries already, you know that I'm not always ever very any good about getting X to completion before starting in on Y. One result of this is that I sometimes do things that turn out to be completely worthless less valuable than I might choose. Another result is that I have a big stash of cool stuff to use when I make other cool stuff someday. All that fiddling with the new gauge and making up a panel fits into both of these categories. Because here's the thing I never could have predicted: not only is the mounting plate for the GM sending unit the exact same diameter as the Volvo piece, it also has 5 mounting holes like the Volvo piece. And though the holes aren't equally spaced from one another on the GM part, the unequal spacing is identical to the unequal spacing on the Volvo part.

In short, the two sending unit mounting provisions are identical. The Volvo sending unit fits perfectly. This wonderful news has delightfully rendered many hours of fettling irrelevant. Woot.

GM, top. Original Volvo, bottom.
The other happy coincidence is that because we chose a fuel cell that's about the same height as the original tank, the only thing we had to do to make the sending unit float span from the very bottom of the tank to the very top was bend the arm a little. In the Volvo tank, the sending unit mount is recessed (this keeps it tucked nicely* below any cargo that would be stowed in the trunk). Because it's recessed, the float actually reaches higher than the mounting plate when indicating 'full.' This new tank isn't like that, so the float reach doesn't need to go as high - by about a half inch. It does need to reach lower than before, though. By about a half an inch. Maybe this coincidence isn't any big deal, but I'm pretty stoked. Wouldn't have been possible with any other fuel cell that I was considering. A quick test with the ohmmeter tells us that we're good to go.

*See prior reference. Or ibid. I don't know.


I'm really pleased that we'll be able to use the original fuel gauge. And because we can do that, I've decided to not install a new VDO temp gauge and to run with the original. We aren't using the original oil pressure gauge nor the ammeter. It might seem like a minor thing, but despite evidence to the contrary, we want this car to stay old. We're changing it for a specific purpose and many of these changes call for modern elements. But these bits of modernization are side effects resulting from a primary goal that relates to vintage authenticity.

That's the Volvo sending unit on the right.
 Because the tank isn't secured the same way as the original, we added a ground wire to the sending unit cover. That's a simple thing.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you install a cell, even if it's a Not-Actual-Race variety like this one. Ensure that it's adequately supported from below, for example. And there's a vent, which you'll want to connect to a fuel-compatible line and then route well above the filler level before fitting it somewhere outside the trunk (and also outside the passenger compartment) so that it can draw clean air into the tank as the fuel level drops. Our vent tube leads up, then loops around and comes back down with the open end hiding behind the license plate and fitted with a small filter to keep the big chunks of dirt out.

And that's it for now. There's less trunk space than before, but there's enough. For comparison, here's a 544 that's run La Carrera 8 or 10 times and hasn't run out of gas:

That's 22 gallons of awesome, plus the spare/jack/tool kit, fire extinguisher and first aid kit. Photo courtesy of Michael Sharp.
We've done a few other things along the way that are kind of cool (and maybe a little silly) but they're minor and not worthy of their own blog post. So we'll just add them here.

First: based on advice from LCP veterans, the car now has windshield squirters:

That's the bottle. Keen eyed readers will notice that the coil and Crane box have been moved.
... and some exterior hinges that allow the trunk to open all the way:

The hinge pins are held in place with hitch pin clips so that we can remove the trunk lid altogether in about 20 seconds without tools. The original latch stays locked so you won't steal it.

And that's about it. We're looking forward to taking the car up to the Swedish Car Day event at the XXX Drive In up in Issaqua (that's sort of near Seattle) on Feb 14th. Hope to see you there!

'til next time -