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.”



Petrolicious’ Renault Film

Petrolicious released this great film about a little Renault Turbo 2.  The car is obviously loved and gets driven pretty hard.  We love it.  Check out the video!



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Saab Story

I’m currently working on a series of essays that explore why it’s the oddball cars that are the best.  It’s the wallflowers that you really want. In the series are a bunch of analogies to supermodels and how they’re great for a quick ride around the block (see what I did there?) but, in the end, it’s the girl next door, the cute one that always been there, that you want to marry.  She’s reliable, understanding, your parents love her, yadda-yadda etc. I’ll stop there in case I use one of them for a later post.  You know, no spoilers right?

One of these wallflower cars that I spend some time talking about is Saab.  Yes, Saab.  I like a little bit of quirk; a little bit of different in my routine every now and then keeps life interesting. I think Saab did that for the auto industry, it added a little something interesting.  They did things their own way, like an ignition switch in the center console instead of the steering column or dash, or that whole early 2-stroke phase. This Saab, belonging to long-time friend Jim, is one of those cars that does things a little left of center.

I think one of the first actual conversations I had with Jim, while we were both living in Connecticut and working at Lime Rock Park, had something to do with Saabs and Volvos being underrated and under-appreciated.  Sure, they aren’t sexy but they’re fun and well, they can really move!  This week Jim was kind enough to tell us a little bit about his beater.  A car that, as long as I’ve known it hasn’t been the most reliable thing on the road, but it might possibly be one of the most interesting and unique things on four wheels. It definitely comes with its own unique personality.



I have a 1994 Saab 900se. 2.0 turbo w/ a 5-speed gearbox. 1994 was the first model 90 after GM acquired Saab and also the last year of the classic 900. Because of that, it was incredibly difficult to buy parts for my car back in 2011-2012. Parts stores would think I had a classic 900 or they would tell me my car didn’t exist. That problem has long been resolved thanks to They are a great parts supplier for German cars based out of my home state of Connecticut.

I bought the Saab in October of 2011 for $2600. I don’t remember the mileage it had, but if I had to guess then it would be 100,000 miles. I bought it from a guy in Massachusetts who bought it at an auction. I bought the car because no one I know had a Saab, and well because it was turbocharged (who doesn’t want a turbo?).

I didn’t have it barely even a month before I had to replace a transmission mount that split in half. After I fixed that I went to a Volkswagen and Audi event in New Jersey called WaterFest. The drive there was nice and smooth, but the drive back was a nightmare. The car was stuttering and wanting to shut off under load. Then when I shut the car off at a gas station, it did not want to start back up. I was 2 hours from home and did not have money for a tow. I waited 30 mins and luckily she fired back up. I didn’t want to break down on the interstate so a 2-hour drive on the interstate ended up becoming a 4-1/2 hour  backroad drive

As soon as I made it home I hit the forums hard. I got a bunch of answers on what it could be but no one was close on the issue. It ended up being a crank position sensor. That was my worst memory with the car.”


“My best moment with the car would have to be when my friend  (and Beater Life contributor) Dakota and I went to the Tail of the Dragon up by Deal’s Gap just to drive around, have some fun in our cars and then go home.

The thing I like the most about the Saab would have to be that it stays fun to drive and it is a car you don’t see often. It being a car from the north, it has seen a lot of winter driving. So there is rust and spots of rot in the underside and the chassis isn’t in the best of conditions.

Every time I meet someone new and they ask about my car or get in my car. They either don’t know what it is or they look at the center console and say, ‘Wow that is where your key goes in? That is so weird.’  It’s pretty funny




WE NEED YOUR STORIES!!! Send your stories and some pics about your everyday cars to:   If we like it. We’ll feature it!