By on April 5, 2012

Les is no rarity in the car world. He is a typical “get your hands dirty” kind of a guy. The rare part is the car he chose.

He chose a 1966 Volvo 544. Most people don’t think of this classic Swede with the late 40s styling as a rat rod candidate, but Les likes to operate outside the mainstream thought processes. His theme? “Nobody does Volvos”. A doctor from Switzerland brought this 544 over to North America in 1971. It is registered as a 1966.That makes it very rare. Les saw something else in this Viking immigrant. He saw a platform for a mean and nasty sleeper. A Swedish wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Volvos of this vintage were known for solid performance, safety features and bulletproof drive trains. In fact, Volvo purists might wonder what happened to the original B18 4 cylinder that came with the 544.

That indestructible original Swedish heart was installed in a boat 16 years ago and has been running like a clock since the transplant.

Les is a young guy with an old school hot-rodder’s heart so he went to the basic “do it on a budget and make scavenged parts work” plan. He didn’t write this playbook because that was done about 7 decades ago, but he sure knows the game.

True hot-rodder’s shop for parts on a budget. Les is proud of the $20.00 interior and the custom headers that were built for a case of beer.

The rear end is out of a 76 Maverick, and the heart is a 305 donated from an 82 Pontiac. The trademark tall shifter is gone, but the original Volvo steering wheel is still in place.

The 544 had the typical rust issues, so Les built up the unibody to handle the extra torque after some basic repairs. He also stripped the trim in typical rat rod style-with the exception of the classic vintage Volvo badges. Les likes to “drive the wheels off” his 544 on steroids and he still has faith in the standard drum brakes because rat rod guys like to live on the edge. Les is definitely true to that school.

The Volvo has traction issues because 544s are so light in the back that two reasonably sturdy guys can lift the wheels off the ground. Les burns up a lot of secondhand tires in his quest for speed. Why trash new rubber when the whole project came in under budget?

Les has taken the cute out of this Volvo in a big way because that loud American V8, stripped down look and menacing flat black paint took this car from neutral to scary in a big way.

Mission accomplished for the young 21st Century hot-rodder because this Swede has a “take no prisoners” Viking attitude with a heart in the New World.

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17 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: 1966 Volvo 544 – The Swede With The New World Heart...”

  • avatar

    YES a PV! You still see some of these as daily drivers here in Sweden. I have so many memories from my youth from a PV Duett, it was the wagon version (body on frame). The engines B18 was made as a half Chevy SB but much better quality and runs forever. The later Volvo Amazon (122S in the USA) is beautiful and are almost looking like a small Merc and has been lowered and chopped, tuned and fitted with V8 for the last 30 years.

  • avatar

    The B18 was really unkillable– I had a 1966 122S for only 8 years but it was still going strong. Unfortunately, midwestern road salt dissolved the body before the engine or any other part of the drive train needed major attention, despite never being babied — the redline was just a suggestion…

  • avatar

    My most infamous car as a kid was a 1962 Volvo 544 that I inherited from my older brother when I was 17. That poor car went through its own living hell every day I was behind the wheel. I finally mortally wounded it when I sank it in a flooded underpass because I thought it was also float-worthy. It lingered on for about a month after I dried it out, but that was the final stake in the heart of Velma Volvo. I plan to do a piece on the car for my site, but the longer version of my life and times with the Volvo will read more like fiction than fact.

  • avatar

    My group of friends has always considered my ’89 244 ‘old’… everyone except me. This is why.

    The things I’d do to have the tools and space for a project like this. Time and money are simpler, knowledge is learned by doing… but that initial hump remains. Alas, I’m sticking with newer Volvos for now.

    This does prove that not every non-GM product with a small-block Chevy needs to be uninspired, at least.

  • avatar

    Don’t agree with the B18 being indestructible. I’m the original owner of a 1967 122S. After three rebuilds (each lasting about 120,000 miles) I went to a B20. It is a much stronger engine. Still, they don’t make cars like they used to, they make them better. Much finer machining tolerances, much quicker, better fuel efficiency, and quieter. My wife won’t part with it, but she doesn’t really drive either. Oh well, repeat the mantra “legendary” and feel good

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In the seventies I had a friend who traded in a really nice 442 convertible for one of these -slightly rodded out. I thought- and told him- he was making a big mistake even though back then 6 year old GM midsizers were treated as just another used car- called “schoolboy specials” in the wantads, but it was even resale red with a clean white interior . The Volvo I believe may have been a 1962 or so, with Koni shocks and a rollbar. The interior was rather dirty and torn up .I drove it once but it didn’t change my opinion as the transmission- don’t remember if it was stock or not- popped out of gear .I don’t remember what other mods had been done but it certainly was no 442.

    • 0 avatar

      In the mid ’70s, gasoline was starting to get expensive after the oil embargo following the Yom Kippur war. A friend of mine traded in a nearly new ’73 Montego MX with a 351 CobraJet engine for a new Lotus Europa. FWIW he still has the Lotus.

      So trading an American muscle car for an import wasn’t that unusual in the ’70s.

      Or, perhaps your friend figured the arithmetic worked out. 544 > 442.

  • avatar
    J Sutherland

    For some reason the one thing that really jumped out was the shifter.This 544 just didn’t look right without the tall shifter.

  • avatar

    I don’t care much for this look/theme, or whatever you want to call it. Somebody throws some cheap parts on a old car, paint it a flat color, and call it a rat rod and a day.

    Not saying it has to be original…. personally I like a car with a more original look with updated/improved components.

  • avatar

    “Nobody does Volvos”?!

  • avatar

    544? Bah! They haven’t built ’em like they used to since about 1960…

    Mine’s a ’53 444.

  • avatar

    Sorry CRConrad. If “doing it wrong” is oil changes at 2,000 miles and regular maintenance and tuneups I suppose you are right. On the other hand, I have three noteworthy Volvo mechanics, one in the SF Bay Area and two in the Seattle area that will back me up. Real world experience tells me I’m right and you’re wrong.

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