Archive for June, 2014

Wrap it

The exhaust flange on a B16 sits right below the float bowl of the rear carburetor. On hot days this has the annoying effect of boiling the fuel and causing unstable idle. I’ve wanted to do something about it for a while and the other day I finally did.




Special thanks to Ryan for acquiring the DEI wrap and ties at a local thrift store.


SAAB C900 ebrake cable boots

Looking for two of these.

Before & After

I finally got around to starting the brakes on my 900. I started them earlier in the spring but decided to fix the rather profound wheel well rot first. More on that later.

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The Swedish Crown Victoria

Guest post by Tim. 

As a recent convert to Old Dead Volvos in the most literal sense, I’ve come to appreciate the virtues of the 164. To many people the B30 is an anomaly and something of an evolutionary dead end (the Penta AQ170 series marine engine notwithstanding). To me, however, it is an interesting offshoot of the traditional Volvo ethos of safety and economy.

The 164 was meant to compete against the lower level luxury class from the Europeans, presenting a face that only an Englishman could love: the Wolseley 6/99.

This very fact alone told you who the Swedes were trying to market this car towards, but in the end it also appealed to the American tastes: larger engine, longer wheelbase, leather interior and fuel costs be damned.

By 1973, the Volvo 164 gained the suffix E and B30 Bosch D-Jet fuel injection and was a fairly sprightly performer. In Federal trim it generated 138 net hp and sprinted 0-60 in 10.8 seconds, and testing produced a fairly impressing average of 17.8 miles per gallon. These figures will come into later on, so don’t forget them.

That miles per gallon number would be critical when gasoline became scarce in thanks to OPEC in 1973. Suddenly, the traditional full sized American automobile didn’t seem like a great idea anymore, and the consumers appetite shifted into high gear towards smaller and more efficient models, something that had started a little over a decade earlier with the Ford Falcon, Chevy Corvair and Mopar’s Valiant.

Gasoline prices effect everyone equally and just as much as John Q. Public felt the pinch in the wallet, so did government agencies. As one of the biggest purchasers of vehicles, the law enforcement agencies took the brunt of this right where it hurts most – in their budgets. Since police officers spend most of their workday in their rolling offices, higher gas prices were not a good thing.


Enter into this mixture of high gas prices and low fuel economies for the traditional police cars both the Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Along with Motor Trend (MT) they launched a far more comprehensive  joint vehicle evaluation program. Started in 1974, this evaluation was aimed and finding the best performance for the dollar in all kinds of categories, ones that wouldn’t necessarily mean the largest automobile was the best. Motor Trend magazine got into the act as well, claiming

“The average police car is little more than a taxicab with a big, wasteful engine. Motor Trend has a plan to end that, and save American taxpayers a bundle in the process.”

The testing that ensued was made up of six phases that utilized some of MT’s standard road test procedures along with tests that were specific to the law enforcement community. The scoring was set up so that 100 was the best possible outcome for any one vehicle. The test areas included:

  • High speed handling
  • MT road test metrics, including acceleration, braking, and handling
  • Human and space utilization
  • Heat check for various fluids over multiple time periods
  • Repair evaluation for ease and economy for fixing damages and maintenance

True to their belief that there was “…no logical, tactical, economical, legal or moral reason why any sedan used by any government agency need be larger than…an intermediate” MT pitted  the 164E  up against the Chevrolet Nova, Dodge Dart, Pontiac Ventura (a Nova clone), AMC Hornet and lastly a Plymouth Valiant. Since the tide of foreign cars was definitely here to stay, the test also included a Datsun 610, Mazda RX4 and a Toyota Corona MKII as purely administrative vehicles.

Guess what car didn’t win?


That’s right – with an overall score of 78.17/100, the Volvo 164E was the winner (I wish I could post a photograph of the 164E decked out in LASD livery, but there are exactly zero on the web or in any of my police car reference books). The Nova came in a very, very close second at 78.14/100.

By 1974 Volvo had a history of providing police spec vehicles in Europe so it was not impossible that they would field not only a competitive vehicle but the overall winner. MT explained that the 164 was taken from the assembly line at a very early stage and turned over to the Special Vehicles section at the factory, where special suspension, heavy duty interior bits and heavy duty wiring for lights and communication equipment. It is no wonder the 164 rated so highly.

Back to that fuel economy number that was all so critical in the fuel shortage years. The next best economical car was the slant-six equipped Valiant at 15.89, with the Nova clocking in at 16.15. These fuel economy scores were calculated with lights, sirens and AC on. Even when “having the hell barrelled out of it”, the Volvo still managed 14 mpg or better. When the average LASD police car for 1974, an AMC Matador, averaged 6 mpg over 25,000 miles in a year, you can see why even 1 mile per gallon more could make a tremendous difference.

So why did the 1974 Chevrolet Nova 9C1 go down in history as the first vehicle to break the stranglehold on what constituted a traditional police cruiser?

Plain and simple: it was not American. As noted in Dodge, Plymouth & Chrysler Police Cars 1956 – 1978, “Even in Southern California, no way could the Volvo 164E be America’s best patrol-class squad car”. And that was the sad truth. There was simply no way police officers in any municipality were going to swap out their body on frame, V8 powered 120+ inch wheelbase cars for six cylinder unibody 107 inch wheelbase foreign cars. So it wasn’t quite Volvo’s Crown Victoria, but it came damn close. Just as quickly as it rose to fame via MT and the LASD/LAPD, the police spec 164 fell into the dustbin of history.

One final note: As an 164 owner and having also climbed in and out of mid ’70’s American cars, I will say that the Volvo is a much tighter fit for my 6’1 frame, even if the testing figures don’t note that it was any less comfortable inside (the 164 earned the highest score in ergonomics with a 76 by a wide margin – the Nova was second with 64).

Stayed tuned, this isn’t the last time Volvo would make inroads into the American police car business…


Further reading:

July 1974 Motor Trend: “MT‘s Car Plan to Save Taxpayers $320 Million“, pt1

August 1974 Motor Trend: “You’ve Got the Wrong Car, Officer“, pt2


All images courtesy of Timothy Wade, unless otherwise noted.


Guest post by Tim. 

Momentum is important, especially when attempting to resurrect an Old Dead Volvo. I capitalized on my newfound progress and identified the next set of tasks that I could accomplish with minimal assistance from those with The Knowledge.

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This was going to be fairly straightforward: reattach the drive shaft. Since The Burg’s drive shaft was AWOL, another bit of Bitey would make the transition.

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I felt quite proud of myself for tackling this relatively simple job. I had to repeat several steps because I didn’t think things through completely, but it felt good to have to rectify my own mistakes. First it was forgetting to position the back half of the drive shaft in the right place regarding the emergency brake cables, then it was forgetting to maneuver the rear of the drive shaft into into place before securing the front, and lastly it was trying to figure out why the holes weren’t lining up. As it turns out, they only line up one way, so Zo and I had to jack up one side of the rear axle so we could rotate everything by hand.

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In the end, I got the drive shaft (mostly) reattached, the speedometer cable hooked up, and most importantly kept the momentum going.

I’m also adding to my list of things I want to repair in the future, including the rubber donut that dampens drive shaft vibration. The donated one from Bitey was looking rather sad, and I hope this won’t come back to haunt me.


All photos courtesy of Timothy Wade.

It lives! Or does it?

After fits and starts, work on The Burg commenced with great vigor. The plan for this day was to remove the exhaust from Spitey in hopes of salvaging enough to use as a makeshift exhaust on The Burg to get it down to Providence. Jim brought his torch up for the job, and after a delayed start we got down to business.

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My job was to crawl under the car with the impact wrench and sockets, ready to spring into action as soon as the nuts holding the exhaust together were cherry red. Needless to say, I was careful not to let any stray hot things fall onto me. Fortunately, all four came off with relative easy. Unfortunately, one of the pipes had two holes in it. We’ll worry about that another time.

After this, Jim wanted to show me how to clean the electrical connections in the ignition system. It was fun learning, even if I only retained about a quarter of what I was taught. Careful cleaning and repair work ensued.

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By this time, a rather large crew of folks had arrived, and it turned out to be a great night of a bunch of guys hanging around working on old cars. If I didn’t know what this hobby was all about before, I sure do now.

With the collective knowledge present, we forged ahead, we attempted to fire up The Burg with a healthy dose of ether down the intake manifold. Frustratingly it just wasn’t catching. After chasing down ignition gremlins, and some connections that had been re-installed correctly, we decided to check the compression.

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Initial results:

Cylinder 1 -30 psi, 2 – 120, 3 – 80/85, 4 – 140, 5 – 140 and 6 – 120.

Needless to say, I was in despair. Would this mean the end of my project? I didn’t have the resources to have this engine, or any of the other engines rebuilt.

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We pulled the valve cover off to check things out. Remember how great the valves above cylinder #1 looked (directly under the oil cap)? That might explain why it was so far out of whack. As it turns out the valves weren’t opening and closing on #1, so I was taught how to measure the tolerances on all of them, and Zo helped me to check each of the cylinders. The follow up compression check on #1 gave us a much healthier reading (although I failed to note it).

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Since the engine in Bitey hadn’t been run since 1989, it was decreed that an oil change was in order. I crawled under the car and drained the pan. Fortunately, it looked to be in pretty good condition, no water or any other contaminates. New oil was dumped in, and we were finally ready to try firing it up again.

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It was quite a thrilling moment when the engine finally caught. Even though it ran (sans cooling system and only on ether) for all of 15 or 20 seconds, it was still an exhilarating moment to hear it run without any awful sounds. I can’t thank my friends enough for making this night possible, and for helping in this crucial step of verifying that The Burg had a good heart.


All photos courtesy of Timothy Wade.

Life Support

The day of reckoning was here. Or the first day of reckoning, at least. On a nice and warm April day, the transplant team was assembled and the patient prepped.


We had prepared The Burg by removing its heart earlier in the day, making way for the new (old) engine.

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Photo courtesy of Timothy Wade

With the M410 overdrive transmission attached to the B30 straight six, the powertrain combination for the 164 is incredibly heavy, and impossibly long.


What do you do with a straight six and a bunch of empty beer cans?


Before the engine went in, however, the prerequisite standing around and looking at things occurred. It’s like the adage measure twice and cut once – if you look at the engine bay long enough, you can visualize the mayhem that’s about to occur.


Jim was kind enough to give me some pointers and tips, since this was my first foray into actually working on an engine and not just removing one.


I’d say it needed a bit of spring cleaning, wouldn’t you?


Everyone got into the act, even our photographer.


Everyone was going fairly smoothly. We removed the transmission from Bitey to replace it with the good transmission from The Burg, checked out the clutch and verified it was in decent shape, cleaned up the face with a sander and buttoned it all back up. As we hoisted the engine up into the engine bay, someone noticed that this:


It was a dirty, rusty mess, and after a few minutes of trying to remove it, the pulley broke into several pieces. The belt had melded right to the pulley itself, allowing water to pool and rust right through. I’m thankful whoever noticed it in time to give us the chance to swap it out.


Of course we actually had to read the Haynes manual to figure it out after a few minutes of fruitless wrenching.


Much more wrestling and grunting, shoving and pulling ensued before the engine finally went in. Haynes doesn’t recommend you remove or install the engine with the transmission attached, but when you take it out by removing the front end of the donor car, why can’t it go in the same way? Oh, that’s right, we didn’t want to plasma cut the front end off of the “good” car!

Much thanks to everyone who assisted in the transplant that day.

All photographs courtesy of Carrie Capizzano (unless otherwise noted).