Always remember this

Cars are not as complicated as you think. They’ve been doing more or less the same thing for 110 years. Sure the engineering has gotten better and the tolerances tighter, but it’s still “air and fuel go in, spark happens, and explosions moves piston.” Treat it like that and all shold be well, right?

New Hinge

“Hi, I’m New Hoodhinge. You may recognize me from such places as ‘eBay’ and ‘Some other white Volvo 240′”

Yes I got a new hinge to replace the broken one. I acted quickly on getting that because I didn’t relish the idea of my hood accidentally collapsing on me.

Funny Story Time

One part that I had been missing for awhile was part 1246561, the tailgate lock pin that coupled the outer handle latch to the inner one. Unfortunately they no longer make them. I had spent a long time looking high and low for this difficult to find part. I even used a common hardware store lock pin at one point. Thankfully a recent eBay search recently turned up a guy selling off his remaining stock of random 240 parts. As luck would have it this included the lock pin. I quickly bought it for $5, received it in the mail, and got it installed. However every once in awhile I would hear a clatter in the tailgate when I opened or closed it. Previously I had chalked those noises up to the unattached connecting rod rattling around, but all those parts were now tightly in place. What could be the issue? After hearing it one more time I reached into the innards of the door’s frame and rooted around in the dirt and gobs of butyl putty and came out with… a tailgate lock pin.

It had been in there all this time and had been intermittently stuck in said putty. I have to admit that I felt kind of silly, but in my defense it’s not too strange to think after all those openings and closing the pin would have fallen out or at least been visible awhile ago. So now I have two pins. I guess I’ll resell the old one on eBay and call it even.

Chase those threads!

I finally got ahold of an endoscope device that hooks up to a laptop and was able to look down into the spark plug socket. There I found no obstructions and while the threads looked relatively clean the focal length of the camera made inspection sort of difficult. The photo to the right is the top of the piston.

This really only leaves me with the conclusion that the threads are crossed and need to be chased. This is a tricky situation. Chasing the threads will probably result in some metal shavings which, if left in the cylinder, will potentially find their way into parts of the engine that definitely shouldn’t have tiny bits of sharp metal floating around inside them. I think if I grease the chasing tool up really well most of the shavings will remain stuck to it on the way out. The remaining ones that happen to fall into the cylinder can be cleaned out. I’ve heard that compressed air works fairly well at this, and the endoscope also has a magnet attachment that I can use to pick up the remaining bits. I’m nervous about all this, but also confident that I can do it. Wish me luck.

Crank and stall

As of late a combination of rainy weekends and other sorts of work have conspired to keep me from working on the car. Now that the engine is all back together I have had a chance to try and start the car. The bad news there is that while the engine will crank and catch it will almost immediately stall, something it didn’t do before. My cleaning probably dislodged some component or shorted some sensor. I was sort of expecting this to happen. It’s often times been said to me that on older cars it’s the accumulated grime and grease that actually hold things together. Maybe I just washed off some important bit of dirt.

Whatever it is, I need to check the three basics: compression, spark and fuel. I’ve already used the car’s primitive diagnostic computer to check the fuel injectors, and no fault code was returned. That makes me feel reasonable sure that the fuel part of that triad is ok. That leaves the spark plugs/timing and piston compression. I could easily see the spar plugs or distributor getting a little wet so perhaps opening them up will help sort this out. I might also take off the throttle assembly and clean it as I’m sure it’s quite dirty.

Is Volvo trying to forget its past?

I’ve bought a few things from Dave Barton, owner of Prancing Moose, a site with a lot of various and sundry bits for old Volvos. He definitely has a love for these cars. As such offers a lot of smaller items that larger retailers maybe wouldn’t bother with. For the last 13 years and until recently this included a lot of replacement stickers and decals for people like myself that are attempting to restore their cars. However, Volvo very suddenly decided that he was some sort of threat to their IP. They ordered him to stop making anything that had their logo or the word “Volvo” on it. Here is an article on this turn of events, and here is Dave’s own take.

It’s honestly baffling. Dave was providing a service they were uninterested in providing themselves. I don’t imagine he was making a huge amount of money doing it, so why on earth would they do this? Dave suggests Volvo is trying to shed their past. They’ve already done this in the sense. It’s pretty well recognized that Volvo’s cars underwent a “shift” of sorts in styling and general direction of their cars around 1999 when the car division was sold to Ford. The brand image (if not always the cars themselves) went upscale, closer to luxury cars, and left the days of “Boxy But Good” behind. Now by shutting down guys like Barton it would seem like they really, really don’t want to be associated with the old days. This is a travesty, and I very much hope they see the error of their ways in the future. Sadly, it doesn’t seem likely.

Tach/Clock Kit

I just learned that Volvo once sold a kit where you could replace your big clock in the instrument cluster with a tachometer that also came with a little clock that you would mount on one of the removable dash panels. My car has an automatic transmission (currently) so I don’t really need a tachometer and since everything nowadays has a clock on it I don’t really need one of those either, but man do I want this thing!

They’re relatively rare and therefore expensive, so it’ll have to wait for another day for now. On a brighter note, I got a bunch more part today! I’ll be posting about them soon.

Aspirational Photos

In my searches for parts and info I came across someone in New York selling the same model, year and color (321 – dark green metallic) of my car. Whoever kept this car did a fantastic job of either taking care of all the little details or in restoring them. I thought I’d post a couple of them as an example of what one day my car might look like. Enjoy.


In the beginning…

After a lifetime of admiring people with with mechanical ability, the so-called “car guys”, I finally decided that maybe, just maybe, I could join their oil-stained ranks. I’m vaguely handy. I’m an adult. I have a house and a driveway and some tools. I could do this! All that was left was to buy a car. But which one?

Choosing a Project Car

Every car-guy (or gal) I’ve ever met has had a “thing” when it came to what sort of cars they liked to work on. Some liked muscle. Others preferred performance. Some just liked the look of certain types of cars. I didn’t have a huge predilection in any of those directions. My initial thoughts went back to my own first car – a 1981 Chrysler LeBaron sedan – that I had bought when I was merely 17. It was a bloated, inefficient pile of carbureted garbage on wheels, but I loved it and thought it would be neat to have one like it again. However I seemed to be one of the only people who felt that way towards these cars  it because I couldn’t find one anywhere, at least not one that hadn’t already been souped up and/or customized. Ditto for my other long-time car love, the Ford Galaxie 500.

Next I looked at some of the more interesting compact cars of the 60s and 70s. Think the Ford Falcon and Dodge Dart. They looked cool in a mid-century kind of way, all swept lines and chrome. I figured that since the technology was relative old and computer-less it might be easier to work with. Mind you, I had (and still have) no idea if this is actually true but it seemed a reasonable assumption at the time. In the end it didn’t really matter as those sorts of cars turned out to be relatively rare yet popular enough to make them both hard to find and expensive.

What To Do?

I was starting to realize that I needed to find a car that wasn’t too old, rare, or popular, or at least a good balance of those things. Then it hit me… a Volvo 240! It punched all my important buttons. It was aesthetically distinct, well engineered, relatively easy to find, and had a big community of enthusiasts to join. Much has been written about the legend of the Volvo 200 series of cars, so I won’t bother to repeat it here. I was very aware of how well known the 200s (especially the 240s) were for dependability and functionality, and for a dork like me those two attributes are sheer poetry. I knew immediately that a Volvo 240 wagon had been the answer I was looking for all along. So on to Craigslist I went. Luck was on my finally on my side for at that exact moment there was a 1992 240 wagon for sale just a few miles away. I contacted the seller and, long story short, after some negotiation over the course of a week I managed to reach a deal for under $1000! I now had a busted old car in need of some love and was officially on my way to being an amateur mechanic.

The car was in what I’d call “rough but drivable condition”. Many of the interior  pieces, such as the e-brake cover, the door pockets, and so on had been damaged or just outright smashed at some time during the car’s 26 year lifespan. Mechanically, save for a several of the door latches not working, the windshield wipers being a bit touchy, the AC broken, the alignment pulling sharply to the right, and a few other things everything seemed to be in relatively OK shape. There was certainly much work to be done, but that was why I bought the car, right?

So, it all starts here. I’ll do my best to record the process and share the ups and downs of fixing and maybe some day even improving this car with the world. Wish me luck.