Another Volvo Story

Expedition Portal is an incredible site.  It’s a forum, a blog and a community of people that like to explore and get dirty- usually with trucks.  Like I said, usually with trucks, so I’m sure you could understand my surprise when I stumbled across a blog post of theirs that followed a Finnish couple’s journey to Kyrgyzstan in an old 1988 Volvo 240 Estate.

I wish I would’ve found this story first.  I really do!  It has everything.  Volvo’s, road trips, weird food, living in your Volvo- everything!  Unfortunately because Expedition Portal got to this one way before I could I have to link you over there. Never worry, though. Before you get to the link, I put together a short preview with pics I “borrowed” from the post.  If you want the whole thing, you should head over there. It’s a good one.


Link: Tuusula To Kyrgyzstan In a Volvo 240 Wagon


The Breadbox

It’s no secret that I like old Volvo’s.  I used to be ashamed of it much like my dad used to be ashamed he likes Barry Manilow.  And, just like my dad, I now embrace the weird squares with my dad-like awkwardness.

I like to tell myself hat I like Volvo’s for their tank-like reliability.  When’s the last time you saw a Volvo broken down on the highway? Nevermind that there aren’t that many sold here in Florida, that reasoning supports my delusion and that’s all that matters. It’s “Dad Logic”. I’m right, You’re wrong. Because I’m Dad, and I said so.

A couple weeks ago another cool Volvo appeared on the Facebook page.  As with other Volvo’s I couldn’t say no. It was white, boxy, and looked like a turbo.  It was the kind of Volvo I love.  It was used, abused and worked on in a driveway.  It was awesome.

So without further adieu here’s another great Volvo from Matt:

“When I got married in October 2000, my wife was driving a 1980 VW Rabbit Diesel.  By spring 2001, we were expecting, and the Rabbit had lost its brakes.  We decided that she needed something newer and safer to be carrying around the baby, and she decided she wanted a Volvo wagon – and old one, one that looked like a Volvo.  After looking at a couple of 240’s, she found an online listing for a 1989 740 GL wagon, in white, just like her Rabbit.  We went to a used Volvo dealer in Frederick, MD, about 40 miles from our home in Baltimore, to look at the car.  It had 168,000 miles on it, and you could see it was taken care of at one time, just not recently.  Other than the fact that the cruise control didn’t work, it seemed like a good car, so we bought it. 


We took delivery a couple days before Mothers Day, 2001.  My wife Eilean named it The Breadbox (big, white and square) and drove it almost exclusively, except on long trips, like our 2001 trip to Florida where a bolt on one of the trailing links in the rear suspension fell out and caused the driveshaft to hit the tunnel.  My father-in-law had to tow us back home from Richmond, VA behind his RV. By 2004 we were expecting our third child.  The Volvo wouldn’t hold 3 car seats across the back, so she reluctantly gave it up and we bought a minivan (aka the Blue Behemoth.)  We decided to keep the Volvo as a spare car since my ’92 Tercel was coming up on 300,000 miles and starting to have problems.  It was also right around the time our oldest started preschool, and it quickly became clear that unloading a preschooler out of the back of a 2-door Tercel in the carpool line wasn’t easy, so I started using the Volvo instead.  It took about a month before I loved the car too.  Except for one problem. The automatic transmission.

 I hate automatics, and the AW-71 in the 740 sucks any of the little power it has out.  Unfortunately, less than 20% of US 700 series cars had manuals, and most of them were Turbos, so good luck finding one.  By this time the 740 needed its rear main seal replaced, and I was already thinking about dropping the transmission (which I had never done before) when the torque converter went belly up.  I brought up the subject of converting the 740 to a manual, and after a conversation about “Do you really think you can do that?” I went hunting for a donor transmission.  I actually found 2 at the first junkyard I looked in, which I still can’t believe, and pulled everything I thought I needed to swap it out.  Well, after not getting all the parts I needed, several more trips to the junkyard, a mail order for a different flywheel, and 7 months, I had a 5-speed M47 equipped 740.  These transmissions, I later found out, are notoriously weak.  I’m on M47 #5 now, but having all the 700 series specific parts, I can use the much more common 240 5-speed and swap all the unique parts over.  Another upside is that I can drop a Volvo transmission in under an hour now. 

The next thing I dealt with was the suspension.  740s handle remarkably well for a car with exactly zero sporting intentions, they just wallow a bit.  My wife solved this by getting me IPD sport springs and 23 mm sway bars as a present.  God, I love her.  The springs and sways firmed up the ride, without killing it, and got rid of the sinking freighter-level body roll. 

The mileage was well into the 200,000’s by 2010 when I got a new job 38 miles from home, that’s when the mileage really started shooting up.  My daily drive is somewhere between 80 and 100 miles, so 300,000 came and went pretty quickly.  Shortly thereafter, another leaking main seal, combined with broken wire to the oil light, caused me to spin all but one of the main bearings.  I figured that since I needed a new engine, why not get a turbo as well?  Another junkyard yielded a 198,000 mile turbo motor from a ’94 960.  The plan was to get the new engine in and put the turbo on, since a few modifications need to be made, like relocating the battery and intake box, later. 

Well, that was 5 years ago, and I’m still running a turbo motor with no turbo and a bung stuck in the oil return in the block.  I also managed to score most of a new interior.  I was at another junkyard (big surprise) with my brother-in-law looking for parts for his 4Runner, when I saw an ’88 760 wagon with a perfect interior.  The car was one owner, garage kept, and was junked when the engine died.  I bought everything but the instrument panel and center console for $150.  Along the way, it also picked up a set of Draco wheels from a 740 Turbo, the rare center console cupholders, and a glass, power sunroof from the late 90’s S/V90. 

It’s caught on fire twice, blown up 2 clutches, had a short in the fuel pump wiring for 3 years that would cause it to randomly quit running, usually at the most inopportune time possible, multiple exhaust problems, more electrical problems than I can remember.  We tow a 12′ pop-up trailer with it, load it full of stuff, abuse it, neglect it, and it still keeps rolling, with some effort.  As it sits outside right now the mileage is 444,045, and there’s a big puddle underneath it from the leaking water pump seal.”



Big Bear And Highland Off-Road’s New 4Runner



Believe it or not, I am not huddled away in the back of a shop or junkyard somewhere smearing my greasy fingers across an old keyboard when I type these posts out. Believe it or not, I do have friends.  These friends live all over America. Most of them are still mechanics while the other half are teachers (weird I know).

I’d been begging one of these friends to come out to Orlando and visit for about 4yrs until I finally bit the bullet, bought a plane ticket and flew out to see him for a weekend. The second I stepped out of Sand Diego Int. Airport’s sliding doors I got a call from Mike saying he was a bit late.


After a quick lunch in Carlsbad, we grabbed all the extra pizza and headed northbound to Big Bear, CA to test out Mike’s newest build for his venture, Highland Off-Road.  It’s a pretty basic 4Runner build. Nothing too special, just everything that’s functional and not over the top.

Mike hasn’t had this project for too long so it hasn’t had a chance to get crazy yet.  Mike has made a point over his last couple builds not make anything “too shiny.”  His builds are an exercise of function. The vehicles are modified just enough to get the job done. No more, and certainly no less.

The truck was certainly a comfortable commute. The tires weren’t loud on the 2hr trip up to the mountain and despite those 35″ tires and V6 power, it got decent enough gas mileage.

We got to the mountain, found our spot and set up camp. A task made easier due to the sleeping space in the truck and the insta-tent we had. I threw my gear into the tent and turned in for the night.

Nighttime temps had gotten down to the high 30’s, which is cold for a Florida bred guy like myself.  I woke up at first light to find I had burrito’d myself in my sleeping bag (50* rated) with some warm and comfy Patagonia Flannel and an old hoodie I still carry around from the racing days. Breakfast was leftover cold pizza. Normally I wouldn’t have devoured day old pizza that had been sitting out in the open, but with air that dry and refrigerator like temps all through the night I figured we’d be fine.


We hopped in the truck and headed into town to refill on gas for the day and  grab some water before hitting the trails.  We started off at the top of Gold Mountain.  A truly beautiful vista parked next to an old mine shaft that overlooks parts of the Baldwin Dry Lake and the Eastern parts of Big Bear Lake. This also served as the perfect spot for us to air down for the upcoming trails.

We followed the initial trails into the lush brown, yellows and gold mountains.  The pines underbrush that hasn’t been burned out was a drastic but welcome change to the evergreen Florida landscape I’m used to.  Wildlife was scarce but the occasional eagle or hawk was visible floating on the updrafts.

The easy highlight of our day driving the trails was venturing a  new peak. The trail was short but not altogether technical.  There was some crawling over the boulders but nothing that the ‘Yota couldn’t  handle.  Mike and I eventually made it up the short but steep trail to the peak of the mountain and some more incredible views overlooking Lucerne Valley.

The rest of the trip for that day was fairly easy going.  We had planned to attend what was supposed to be a small Oktoberfest celebration in town that evening, but more on that later.  We made a short stop at Holcomb Valley to walk around and explore on foot an old panner’s homestead.  Mike shared a story about how one of the trees easily visible from across the valley was once used fo hangings and various executions back in the day.  The tree stuck right out.  Its scraggly and almost dead look stood out from the others in the valley.


Our break in Holcomb was done. We navigated our way back out of the mountain and into town for the night’s Oktoberfest celebration.  Mind you we weren’t sure what was going to happen at this party of sorts.  It takes place in the middle of nowhere in a small community center and there were loads of elderly people manning the ticket booths and gate.  At best we figured it wouldn’t be much more than a large church picnic. We were sorely mistaken.

Once inside and after our first round of beers, we discovered what can only be described as Beerfest. There were hundreds of people stuffed into this small community center. All of them eating and drinking like the world was going to end.  In the center there was an announcer, what we were told was an “authentic German band,” and various games.  Some of these games involved beer steins and ping-pong balls, others involved logs and saws. It was a madhouse.

Once the beers loosened our spirits up a bit Mike and I decided dancing was a good thing to do.  We found the nearest group of seemingly eligible women, grabbed them by the hand and proceeded to spin around long enough that we couldn’t tell if it was the beer or the women that were making our heads spin. As it turns out The Cupid Shuffle and Chicken Dance are the only dances that everyone, young or old, can do.  They’re universal dances.

Brats, potatoes, good beer, and lots of loud music and singing made for a pretty crazy night inside.  The party had shown us that strange things -good things- happen in strange places.  We stumbled back to the Toyota, Mike handed me the keys and we made our way back into the mountain to sleep off “Jaeger Hour”.  Now, I’m not the most competent off-roader, but the truck made things a breeze in the dark.  The bespoke lights that Mike had equipped this truck with fought back the darkness and gave even a novice like me the confidence to venture into the wilderness at midnight.  Every rock, every twig was illuminated.   I could see everything I was about to crawl over and because of that, I’m sure, we made it back to camp in time to fall onto our sleeping mats and be lulled to sleep by the tinnitus in our heads.


Sun-up. Cotton mouth. Puffy eyes.  We had had fun last night. We had finished off what was left of the old pizza at this point and had to go into town for breakfast.  A little diner in downtown Big Bear called to us as we drove by. It felt every bit the ski resort diner that it was for this ski resort town. Old pictures of the mountain on the walls. Old skis and sleds hung up for decoration. The food on the menu couldn’t escape this theme.  Mike order a coffee and OJ and something called “The Avalanche.” This dish was your basic breakfast staples; eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, and biscuits all smothered in sawmill gravy.

I had a coffee, black as I usually do, an OJ, and the steak and eggs.  They had apparently run out of steak, so the ver nice waitress put in an order for 2 pork chops instead. Lucky me.  After wolfing down our weight in breakfast food and hot coffee we climbed back in the rig and made for the hills.  This day’s trip would take us up the south side of the lake.  A scenic departure from the dry yellows, golds, and browns from the day before. He was right.  It was alpine!

Tall pine trees and evergreen underbrush made for some picturesque trialing that day.  As the temperature dropped, the fog rolled in and the rain started everything just seemed to get better. We rolled out onto a cliff face with a view of the valley some 1000′ feet or more below; with clouds rolling beneath us took a moment and breathed in the absolute beauty of this place.

The rest of the trip is probably best in pictures, really.  Along with the alpine forests the lower portions of the mountain forests were decked out in reds and yellows rivaling even the Northeast during prime leak peeking season. With the steady drizzle giving a welcome respite to the dust and dampening the roads everything seemed to shimmer in autumnal light.  Cold blue roads and warm colored trees really made for a beautiful backdrop for my last day in the mountains.

The drive back felt every bit as long as 2 hours could be. The sky was overcast and the once enchanting weather from up on the mountain became dismal and gloomy.  Mike and I were tired and worn out from Oktoberfesting and offroading in Big Bear for the weekend. The silence gave time to reflect on the weekend.  The damp atmosphere, always welcomed in parched SoCal, the same that made the orange leave glow was now depressing and cold.  It wasn’t until that evening, reflecting over ice cold beer and tacos on the water that our exhausted spirits had lifted. There really is nothing quite like a cold one after a long weekend eating pizza and driving around hot, dry, and dusty trails.

The weekend was absolutely perfect. The truck handled everything from low speed crawling to high sped interstate cruising like a champ.  Toyota’s are known for their reliability and this one doesn’t disappoint.  It still ran strong without a hiccup or cough. Every morning she started right up with no hesitation. Not every 250k mi build can boast that. Highland’s newest project 4Runner already looks solid.  It is no trailer or show queen. It’s driven every day. It beat on every chance it can get. I can’t wait to see what Highland puts out next.

Specs And Pics:



3.4L V6

Auto Trans

4WD w/ factory E-locker

K&N high flow drop-in filter

Hayden 678 Trans Cooler (Radiator Bypass)


Tundra Front coils sitting on 4Runner Bilstein 5100’s set on lowest notch – 2″ lift

OME 891 Rear coils paired with 4Runner Bilstein 5100’s – 2.5-3″ lift

Custom Sonoran Steel Rear Bump Stops

Wheelers Off-Road Front Super Bumps for 2nd Gen Tacoma

ProComp Wheels – 8″ wide (possibly for sale)

Cooper ST MAXX 315/75/16 (Full set of 5)


Custom Front Bumper

4″ square stock connecting rear frame rails for “custom rear bumper”

3 Highland Off-Road 9″ LED lights ( 2 fog lenses, 1 spot lens)

Trimmed firewall back

Trimmed front fenders up 2″

OEM ground clearance mod ( removed running boards)



What Did I Just Watch?

We’ve shared several videos with you guys over the last couple months.  Some of them good, some of them pointless. Until recently I was fairly confident that we were batting with a winning average (I have no idea how baseball works), that is until I found this video.

I feel obliged to share it because its a piece of crap flying through the air, but part of me is at a loss for words as to whether a junkyard heap of this level even counts as a beater or not.  You guys watch it and let me know because I’m super confused here.


“Absolute Class”

I’ve noticed 2 themes among our beater submissions. Jeeps and Hand-Me-Downs. Jeeps are cheap, occasionally reliable and perform many, some questionable, functions. Hand-Me-Downs, on the other hand, serve one purpose, to be cheap. Cheap isn’t always a bad thing, however.

A couple of days ago Ty posted up his Benz on the Facebook page and instantly I knew we had to feature it.  Old Diesel Benz’s, like old Volvos, are pretty much bullet-proof.  So, being gifted one by an old hippie or your dad might be the best thing for your high school self to get.  They last for millions of miles and if they break, are cheap and plentiful to get fixed most anywhere in the world.

Check out Ty’s Classy Benz below:

“My dad was looking for another vintage Benz having just sold his 1973 450SE and I happened to find what would become my 1978 240D on Craigslist in Richmond, Virginia.

We went down to look at it and, after about a month of dealing with titling issues, he ended up buying it. It was a 2-owner, original matching numbers car, factory 4speed, and had 285k on the clock.
My dad ended up driving it for a few years as an around town car, occasionally going to D.C. or Richmond for a day.

When my senior prom came around I knew I wanted to take that car, purely because it was the absolute definition of class in my eyes. That was my first experience with it. Never had I driven anything so slow but I loved it.

About a year later I was driving a $900 ’95 325i and when the rear end fell out of it, I needed a car to drive. Dad said, “Take the 240. DO NOT WRECK MY CAR.”
going from a 220hp tuned bimmer to a slower-than-hell Mercedes was quite a game changer but I loved it. Being an 18year old in a Benz, I thought I was cooler than sliced bread.

After about a year of not having a running car, the bimmer left and a 69 Bug came along, but the Benz stayed. still in my dad’s name I drove it to and from work every day and around town with friends. One night a friend and I even found ourselves in Virginia Beach at 2am after going for a cruise in the old Benz.


Here’s where it gets good.

At this point I’ve been driving the 240D for about a year, I’ve put about 10k on it.
I’m driving home from school one day and I see an older dude driving a w116 450SEL, and me being and old Benz guy  I followed him to the gas station to talk about his car.
After a great conversation, this old hippy dude tells me, “You seem like you know a lot about these old Diesels. I’ve got an 80 300SD sitting in my driveway. fI you want it, you can have it. come get it”. about a month later of conflicting schedules i picked up the w116. you can imagine how excited I was to get a free car but I didn’t want to give up the 240D. I liked it too much. so, I made my dad a deal. I told him I would give him my turbodiesel for the 240.

Now the 240D was mine and I couldn’t be happier. About 6 months later I joined another band and put that old diesel to work. Touring all across the surrounding states playing shows. After awhile I left the band and went back to driving to and from work and around town, but I really missed road tripping that old thing after having made so many memories in that car.

While on vacation in the Outer Banks, my family was talking about having a reunion in Buffalo and I knew what I had to do.

The ultimate road trip.
4 states, 750 miles.
So, I started planning.

The time came for the trip. My friend and I loaded up the Benz at 1am and hit the road. Going through WV, PA and NY we saw some amazing sights and I got my favorite picture of the car at 7am in Harmony, PA. It took 10 hours to get there, and 13 to get back. It was hands down the best trip I’ve ever been on. It wouldn’t have been the same without that old Benz.”