Feb 13, 2019 update to the Volvo V70 XC project car

Project Volvo Wagon: Let’s Buy Two More

story by Tom Suddard

There’s a special kind of insanity that leads one to late-model Volvo wagon ownership, and the bug had clearly bitten us hard. We’d scored a nearly free Volvo and spent a few weeks using it as our daily driver, but it needed a few fixes. The interior wasn’t perfect, the tires needed replacement, and it had a few mechanical quirks like an ABS control module on the fritz and a wonky idle air control valve.

So, like any other cheapskates fixing up an old project, we started hunting for a parts car. And after a few evenings on Craigslist, we found our victim:

It was less than an hour away from home, and said to be a very nice car. So we hopped in the van, drove to the seller’s house, and were blown away: The car was nearly perfect, clearly owned by somebody who loved it dearly. Better still, it had great tires, a fresh battery, and a perfect interior. We handed the seller $200–our haggling bolstered by the car’s month on Craigslist with few responses–and loaded the car onto the trailer.

On the drive home, though, we started to feel it: shame. Were we really about to take this nice car, this car that somebody clearly loved, and gut it for parts? Were we really going to strip the interior out of a loaded, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive car in order to refresh our tired, naturally-aspirated front-wheel-drive base model?

No way. Before we’d even arrived back at home, we decided to change strategy and focus our efforts on the parts car, leaving our daily driver alone.

So we went to work. First, we needed to figure out what was really wrong. After all, it’s rare that a Craigslist seller is also a master technician and an expert at diagnosis. 10 minutes in, we had our answer: The Volvo had no compression, meaning it really had been badly overheated. Internet wisdom said these engines rarely overheat without warping the head, which meant we were in the market for a new engine.

We closed the hood, parked the white Volvo in the backyard, and opened Craigslist again. And after a few weeks, we found our next parts car and dragged it home for $400.

Gross. While the white parts car’s condition had convinced us to spare its life, this one was one of the worst cars we’d ever purchased. The interior was full of broken parts, ripped seats, and literal trash. The body was covered in dents and dings, along with poorly-done backyard bodywork that was more bondo than anything else. But what mattered was working: The car ran and drove, albeit with a massive oil leak spraying down the back of the engine. We parked it next to the white Volvo, convinced we finally had all of the pieces of the puzzle. Well, every piece but the time to put it together.

In the meantime, we were still commuting to work in the front-wheel-drive Volvo that we’d traded the old Mercedes for, waiting for a weekend of free time to get back to the other Volvos.

Yeah, that weekend never came. Instead, life happened. We bought a 350Z and LS-swapped it. Work started taking up more and more free time. We planned a wedding. We managed to finally finish building our garage.

While all of that happened, the Volvos sat, though we did move the white car into an enclosed trailer for dry storage once it became obvious that we weren’t going to get to it for a few months.

Then a hurricane came, and it managed to move the Volvos up our priorities list. It launched a tree limb through the window of our parts car, soaking the interior with water. We were now “that neighbor,” the one with the festering waterlogged car in the backyard.

Fortunately, GRM is a building full of car nuts, so we approached another staffer with an offer: Hand us $1400, and we’d deliver all three Volvo wagons to their driveway. Just like that, our own Miles Wilson picked up the torch. He sold the problematic Honda S2000 that he’d been daily driving, hopped into the front-wheel-drive Volvo wagon that started all of this, and vowed to finish what we’d started. He’ll be picking up the story from here as he tries to build a car that competes with a Subaru WRX for a fraction of the price.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Knurled. MegaDork
2/13/19 7:14 p.m.

I have calculated through observation that Volvo wagons are like kittens.  You get one, soon you have fourteen of them.

malibuguy Reader
2/13/19 7:22 p.m.

Ive always wanted to get into 5cyl Volvos and that white wagon...is like exactly what I would have wanted

bludroptop UltraDork
2/13/19 7:22 p.m.

Wait, the punchline is "abandon ship"?




I'm on my third one too...over the course of 22 years.

nutherjrfan UltraDork
2/13/19 7:25 p.m.

There are an awful lot of them consistently on DC cl. Looking pretty clean too. Just sorta non-operable most of the time. smiley

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
2/13/19 7:58 p.m.

In reply to bludroptop : We’re not abandoning ship, just handing the wheel to a new sailor. Expect the next update in a few days  


chinman New Reader
2/13/19 8:02 p.m.

We had two 240 wagons with 5-speeds that we loved but the 2002 S60 was bad enough to make us never want to buy another one.

Patrick MegaDork
2/13/19 8:03 p.m.
Knurled. said:

I have calculated through observation that Volvo wagons are like kittens.  You get one, soon you have fourteen of them.

I don’t think it’s fair to base this solely on Evan

dean1484 MegaDork
2/13/19 8:25 p.m.

See I told you. Once you have one you quickly end up with a yard full. Then parts cars become DDs.

EvanB MegaDork
2/14/19 6:16 a.m.
Patrick said:
Knurled. said:

I have calculated through observation that Volvo wagons are like kittens.  You get one, soon you have fourteen of them.

I don’t think it’s fair to base this solely on Evan

Well not all of mine are wagons...

Miles Wilson
Miles Wilson Reader Services
2/14/19 10:13 a.m.

In reply to chinman :

You are outlining the basics of smart Volvo ownership: the older, the better.

ebelements New Reader
2/14/19 12:33 p.m.

Early December I picked up a well-used but too-cheap-to-ignore '95 850 Turbo wagon from a guy that had two other Volvo wagons.  

After a month of doing maintenance, livability upgrades, and cathartic tinkering, I drove it from Cincinnati, to Chicago, to the top of Michigan, where it got to enjoy -20 degree mornings and unplowed roads for a couple days of chasing around rally cars. Piled on 1500+ miles in 4 or so days and it didn't bat an eye. 

I now get why people collect these things. 

Stealthtercel Dork
2/14/19 1:35 p.m.

There y'go, Tom: now you can tell the newest Mrs. S. that you're doing "cathartic tinkering."

bludroptop UltraDork
2/15/19 6:14 a.m.
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