A few years ago, my wife and I decided to add another horse to the stable. We wanted something unique, safe, and that had a performance edge on most other cars on the street. It would need to carry kids, dogs, groceries, film-making gear, Christmas presents, firewood, and drunken former college roommates who have the weekend off from their wives.
I looked and looked, test drove boring car after boring car, and was pretty close to settling on a used Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but was having trouble getting over it’s bullfrog-like appearance and secondhand horror stories about repairs.
But late one night while scouring the internet, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman took me for a ride in a car that would keep me up all night thinking.
It was Letterman’s 1997 Volvo 960 wagon with a supercharged Ford V8, which Jerry and Dave had taken out for a spin in this episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
The next morning, I did some quick math and realized that for approximately the same price as the Cayenne, we could build a V8 Volvo wagon that would have everything that we were looking for.
After searching for a few months, I finally found the perfect car at Volvo of the Triad, in Winston-Salem, NC. A 1998 Volvo V90 wagon, which was the last of the rear-wheel drive cars built in Nova Scotia, before Ford ruined everything.
It was being used as their service loaner vehicle, and seemed to be in great condition. I obviously didn’t care much for what condition the motor was in, so it had to be as aesthetically perfect as possible.
THE DONOR CAR
The next step was to source all of the parts needed for the project.
I decided to go with an LS motor, as their reliability tends to be high, and you get really good horsepower for the buck. There are plenty of kits available to mount the LS into this particular car, so it seemed like no-brainer.
After finding myself looking at some pretty sketchy used motors in some pretty sketchy places, I found a donor car I thought had a suitable motor. It was an ‘03 Pontiac GTO, which happened to be be built by Rhys Millen Racing.
The car had been involved in a highway accident where it became entangled in the high-tension cables that span the median. There was extensive exterior damage, so the insurance company decided to total the car. It had been sitting for a while, and was clearly in bad shape.
Before the accident:
After the accident:
The car was a stick, and I wanted the Volvo to remain an automatic, so we pulled the motor, left the transmission, and went with a brand new Level V 4L60E from RPM Transmissions. The motor had newer, upgraded heads, and indeed did have some damage from the accident. The decision was made to rebuild it to prevent any surprises down the road.
As the the swap was too advanced for me to undertake, I enlisted the folks at National Speed here in Wilmington, NC.
They were able to create a custom plan, which included some minor fabrication, custom exhaust, and fixes for all of the little things that arise when undertaking a project of this caliber.
One of my main concerns was attention to detail. I wanted this to look like the motor was supposed to be there. We even installed a Volvo OEM sunroof switch in the dash to control the exhaust cutouts. A custom decal will cover the sunroof icon, so it will look original. We used red Corvette fuel rail covers to add to the ‘Wow” factor, and they turned out to be a nice splash of color on an otherwise gray car.
As of right now, the motor is installed, and we’ve had a successful start. There are couple more things to be done, but the car should be out of my brain and on the street soon.
Here’s a quick video demonstrating how the electronic cutouts work with an additional OEM sunroof switch.
We’d like to add a double-din Sat-Nav unit, along with On-Star service via the aftermarket rear-view mirror. A rear TV for our younger back-seat dwelling family members, and possible an upgrade to the center console.
Suspension will also be upgraded, as well as a change to the factory 1998 Volvo wheels. We’re still going to keep the exterior fairly unsuspecting, so there won’t be any badging or decals to give the whole package away.
I’ll periodically post updates, as this is definitely a long term project.