By on May 24, 2012

With the my Miata now gone (sold to a friend who has given me the right of first refusal when it comes time for him to sell it), I needed a new car with a bit more practicality, and a low price tag. A quick call to my friend Vasco, who functions as Toronto’s version of our own Steve Lang, led me to the car you see above. Did I mention it’s a manual?

Originally, my plan was to sell the Miata and pick up a friend’s high mileage but well cared-for E36 BMW 328i. I’d already sold the Miata (for a sum that was impossible to refuse) and was looking forward to getting behind the wheel. The car drove well and was in great shape overall, save for one minor detail – during the government safety inspection, a portion of the frame near the jacking point was discovered to have rotted out. It was a double blow for me, since it wouldn’t be worth fixing, and I suddenly felt a wave of regret over selling my beloved first car, despite my now healthy bank balance.

A quick message to Vasco asking for “anything decent and cheap”, came up with the Volvo. It was his brother’s car, and Vasco had bought it at auction, using it briefly as his own car before handing it off to his older brother. For the last year, it had carried his brother, sister-in-law, their three kids and a large Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was a1998  non-turbo 2.4L with 162,800 miles on the clock, but it had a 5-speed manual and Vasco only wanted $1500 for it.

I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes (and looked at a couple S70 T5s – V70 turbos were all automatic, save for one V70 AWD that was questionable enough to make me walk away) but ultimately decided to take a chance with it. The Carfax came back clean, and although there were a number of scratches and stone chips, there was no rust on the rockers, quarter panels or frame rails. To pass inspection, it would need a further $325 for new rear brakes, parking brake shoes and a tie rod, plus $75 for the inspection and $30 for an emissions test. Another $200 or so for taxes, fees and licensing and it now sits in my driveway.

For now, the V70 will be a great shuttle to take me to Mosport for my bi-monthly karting series, as well as a bit of a beater to leave in parking lots while I have press cars. With the Miata, I always worried about leaving it sitting in outdoor lots for weeks at a time – it was in beautiful shape, but a few steps away from looking like crap. The Volvo is liberating in the sense that it’s totally anonymous, and any cosmetic damage is frankly inconsequential.

Although it’s not the most thrilling to drive, the V70 is enjoyable in its own right. As a manual wagon, it has its own novelty, and even with all those miles on the odometer, the engine is strong, the clutch feels like there’s lots of life left, and the interior is far better than the one in my Miata. The Volvo is also much better equipped (heated seats are going to make the frigid winters infinitely better), will fare far better in a crash and has some decent highway manners. With that said, I will likely have another Miata sooner than later (or something faster. who knows). The Volvo will go to my brother as a reward for his eventual graduation from a very demanding business school (and entry into law school, if he so chooses) – and also because his roommate has the exact same car, down to the wheels and missing roof rack.

Over at Edmunds, the team has started “Project Debt Free”, to prove that one can buy a decent car for a relatively modest sum of cash. They managed to come away with a $3800 1996 Lexus ES300 with fewer miles. Personally, I think our car is more interesting, but it may not have the clockwork reliability of the Lexus. In the spirit of that project, I’ll also keep everyone updated on any maintenance, issues and positive experiences. So far, the car will need some body work (14 years of stone chips has necessitated a re-spray of the front end), not to mention a good wash and a tune-up. But the V70, as boring as it may be, it’s not something I’d be embarrassed to drive, and is just interesting enough to make me look forward to driving it.

By the way, Project G-Body and Project Rallycross are still on. The Grand National is still in the shop awaiting some new old stock interior bits. Once that’s on the road, the hunt for a suitable Rallycross Project will begin.

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46 Comments on “TTAC Project $1500 Volvo Is Here...”


  • avatar
    vvk

    > I think our car is more interesting, but it may not have the
    > clockwork reliability of the Lexus.

    You mean this clockwork reliability:

    http://blogs.insideline.com/roadtests/2012/05/1996-lexus-es-300-stranded.html

    You goddamn right it is more interesting. And much cheaper, too.

  • avatar
    brettc

    What year is the V70? I don’t see it mentioned. And congratulations on the find. The only thing it’s missing is a diesel engine. Looks like it came equipped with an Audi 2.5L TDI in Europe. So get busy on importing and swapping in a crate engine from Europe. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      McKennaR

      It’s likely a 98. The absence of side marker lights would point to that end, unless the fenders have been replaced. In addition, it mentions in the article that its a “1998 Non-turbo…”

  • avatar
    vwbora25

    always liked the boxy old volvos, good choice

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    I was looking at Volvo but with turbo they couldn’t compete Saab 9-5 that comes standard with turbo, leather, sunroof, power windows and locks. I do like the Volvo wagon look better but with the negative news from Saab the deals are just too good, I bought three 9-5’s for a little over $6K.

    Keep us posted on the updates and remember RockAuto has a 5% discount.

    • 0 avatar

      I almost bought a 9-5 Wagon but for my purposes, the relability of a car that’s been in service with a friend for a year trumped the turbo fun and probable mechanical issues. My friend had a 9-5 with the oil sludge issue. That was not fun.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Good decision. I think the Volvos are more robust than the Saabs. At 80,000 miles, both main seals of my 9-5 Aero engine are leaking oil.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The 9-5 is designed to be driven. All you had to do is drop the oil pan and a compression test($40 for the gauge) and with no noises from engine or transmission your good to go. Just add an alignment and my 04 9-5 Arc sees 39 mph all highway before an alignment. Fuel economy drops 2 mpg when the AC is used.

        Like most turbo charged engines they tend to run rich and if operated in colder climates for short trips you can ruin the oil. Top of that Saab was recommending blended oil at too long of an interval when they were providing the service for free. My 130K mile sedan with 5-speed is used to tow 4,000 lbs worth of cars achieving 23.5 mpg through the hills of Massachusetts and Tennessee.

        Cozy up with your favorite forum for maintenance tricks and tips as over the decade someone has already done it.

  • avatar

    Good call walking away from the AWD car. Volvo’s early AWD systems are very fragile. Don’t rotate the tires frequently, or get a flat and don’t replace all four tires, and they’re toast. The typical fix when they break: remove the driveshaft. So you might think of your FWD Volvo as an AWD car with the most popular mod already done for you!

  • avatar
    McKennaR

    I’m the current owner of a ’98 S70 that has been in the family since new. 280,000 miles, all major components are original (engine, transmission, etc). Even the original head gasket and rear main seal. Engine and transmission have never been separated. For 260,000 of those miles, the car lived in Maine and was abused mercilessly as the winter beater for a family with 3 teenage drivers living at the end of a 2 mile dirt road.

    I still regularly drive the car between Arkansas and California, and its not rare to see 30+ MPG on the highway fully loaded with cargo and people.

    Nice choice, doubly so with the manual gearbox. Congrats!

  • avatar

    Best $1500 dollar car you’ll ever own.

    Looking forward to seeing where this project takes you.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    No Audi 5000?

    • 0 avatar

      Had to walk away from it, unfortunately.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        It’s probably better that way. Happiness and excitment come with a 5000 Quattro Turbo, but despair and suffering are more common.

      • 0 avatar
        Trend-Shifter

        I just started driving my 1987 Audi 5000 Quattro non-turbo stickshift to work everyday. This amounts to abot 600 miles a week. We will see how that goes.

        I bought it with 65,000 original miles for $2500. But yes, I have thrown a lot of coin at it over the winter getting it ready. So now it is one expensive $2500 car!

        My first fill-up netted me 25.5 miles per gallon. I was shooting for 30 mph as the computer always says I am getting 34! Next week I will install new ignition parts and filters to see if I get an improvement.

        At least no car payment, low insurance, and the Quattro system for next winter. It sure drives nice at speed and makes the commute through Detroit tolerable.

        Here is a picture. (I have two!) The gray one is the daily driver. Copy and paste
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/29396384@N05/6270316159/in/photostream

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Good call on the manual. Mr. Karesh notes the AWD is fragile, and if I recall, the automatic-equipped cars were destined for transmission failure, front- or all-wheel-drive.

    This is not a bad choice, assuming there’s nothing lurking in it to go awry (eg, like the inevitable sludge on the 9-5)

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      No sludge issues with the 9-5 V-6s, and not on the fours either with 5k oil change intervals, at least in our experience.

      But best of luck with the TTAC Ovlov. Character and fun for cheap (keeping fingers crossed).

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    Motor mounts, PCV, endlinks. Volvos have an insatiable appetite for front end components in general so you might as well buy one of those lifetime alignment packages, it’ll be worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      All true and for this particular variant, the dreaded air pump system. Hopefully where you live, you don’t need any form of emissions check. The air pump likes to drown after a particular valve dies (I have happily forgotten the name). If you don’t hear whirring after it starts up, it’s probably dead already. However, you’d have a check engine light to go with the dead air pump. If you’re lucky enough to have one that currently works, immediately drill some drain holes in the bottom and you can avoid dealing with it. O2 simulator does not fix the dead pump issue, never did sort out a way to trick the OBDII to believe I still had the pump.
      When mine drown, I took it out and sealed up the hose ends with soda caps and zip ties (classy, I know).
      However, when my (auto GLT) wagon was in good order, it was unstoppable in the snow–and it was only FWD.
      Also, get some good strut tower mounts as the clunking you hear over potholes means the old ones are dead. IPD is a good resource for tougher parts.
      It’s a shame you couldn’t get the turbo, even with the low-pressure model, that wagon really did move!
      Do the headlight wipers work?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    How much money do you kids have? That’s quite a few dang project cars.

    I bought a 2004 F150 Heritage in 2006 and couldn’t justify putting dual exhausts on it until last week. (Mostly because the factory system was still intact and solid.)

    • 0 avatar

      The Grand National belongs to a friend (in the tradition of the great British mags) and Project Rallycross will be split three ways among him, myself and another friend.

      I love TTAC so much that I pour my own money into making the site a better place. How’s that?

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Funny, I recently decided to conduct my own experiment in cheap wheels. I just scored a 1967 Volvo Amazon, 4 door, for $650. It will need new tires, and the general maintenance items tended to, but after a good bath and scrubbing its a solid little car with minor rust and a livable interior. With registration and everything it should be on the road for under $1500. Bought it from the second owner, and it has a verified 145,000 miles.

  • avatar
    phreshone

    I still think the 1998-2000 S70/V70 are the best looking bricks ever. Highly efficient, yet low drag. (greatly pleases my inner engineer… plus one saved my life) The 5 cylinder turbo is good for 250k, never mind what the lifespan for a normally aspirated, understressed, version like this one. Front end bushings/mounts will keep you with a wrench in-hand, but the pinnacle of efficient transportation while still having character… Plus swedish seats have no match for highway travel

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Boxy Volvo wagon with a 5-speed and heated seats for $1500? Win.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Derek, I know I’ve voiced disagreements with you on here before, but this is a great purchase. My best friend has an s70 glt awd that he bought with 120k miles and just gave to his mom with 170k miles. he loved the car and she does now too. major kudos for the stick shift wagon and at a great price. when I got my car, i had been looking for a v70 turbo awd with a stick but was never able to find one. Luckily being a 98 you missed out on that wonderful Magneti Marelli ETM.

    • 0 avatar

      That was the reason I walked away from the aforementioned S70 T5s. All had those damn ABS module lights on!

      • 0 avatar
        EVdrive

        The ABS module fix is common, but not an expensive fix.

      • 0 avatar
        McKennaR

        $55 for a rebuild from a commenter over at Matthew’s Volvo Site. Install is easy despite the location, just 5 minutes with a t-5 torx and your swap is complete.

        Another popular fix is the “popsicle stick” method, wherein the “mechanic” shoves an expended popsicle stick between the ABS module plug and the ABS body where all of the brake lines come from. This re-establishes contact between some of the solder joints that crack over time and takes 2 minutes and the cost of a popsicle.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    I bought a ’94 850 wagon, also a five-speed, for $700, replaced part of the front clip, and have regretted nothing. Mine’s a bit rusty, with 221k on the clock and some servicing in its immediate future, but it’s hard to go wrong with the right example of these. It’s not as simple and bulletproof as my RWD bricks have been, but neither of those ever averaged 27 MPG (US) over a tank of mixed driving.

    Being a ’98, I’d worry about the electronic throttle, as well as the ABS/TRACS module – if the ABS light comes on, buy a soldering iron or make a few friends. Still a good deal on a solid car, though.

  • avatar
    Marko

    These are decent cars. My father had one from new (though a sedan) until it got totaled at 140K miles. The front end was a problem, though, and the dealer wasn’t so great about dealing with it or the resulting tire wear problems. Fortunately, we found an independent mechanic, and we just brought it to a tire store for tires and alignment. The ignition switch was also a nuisance sometimes.

    Matthew’s Volvo Site is a good resource for Volvos in general.

  • avatar
    EVdrive

    Great find! 1998’s are the best year for the combination of features and ease of maintenance. I’ve got a 1998 V70 T5 manual that just plan rocks. It’s no autocrosser, but handles well for it’s size and doesn’t float like the wagons of old. Mine has 180k miles on it and should easily get to 250k. Just make sure to keep up with regular maintenance. Make sure the timing belt’s been done on time and look at the PCV system for any clogs which could result in expensive leaks. Motor mounts are normal wear items, but are usually fairly easy to replace. There’s tons of great info on the volvo forums.

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    I like it.

    There always seems to be at least one very interesting automobile in that lot, at Dundas & Sorauren. There’s usually one nice W123.

  • avatar
    MeaCulpa

    Needs mudflaps and driving lights. It’s a Volvo after all.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    D-Rock, what’s the story on the Mosport karting series?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Nice grab, I just hope that parts don’t cost too much for ya.

    I was considering grabbing a cheap Volvo 240 until I relised that parts were a bit high and the engine was over complicated (pricey and hard to fix), plus the thing didn’t run right.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, I don’t think you’d find one of these south of the border, not with the manual anyway.

    Sounds like a great buy and, I tell you what, after 4 or 5 hours in them, the seats in the 9-5 aero are not as comfortable as they look. Volvo seats are . . .

  • avatar
    mccall52

    Haven’t done a whole lot of research, but what’s the word on the 960, S90, and V90? I’ve always fancied them, with their last of the 740 styling, RWD, and 24v inline 6, but never took the plunge.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I had a 92 960 and it was great. Inline 6 avout 200 HP and RWD. It was built like a tank and ran really well. I only got rid of it to trade into the V70 because it was a deal and it had more airbags. However the 960 was a better machine. If you see one pick it up, you’ll be happy you did.

  • avatar
    petedmeat

    I’ll just leave this link for when your ETM light comes on.
    http://xemodex.com/technologyimproved/volvo-electronic-throttle-module
    Two 2001 V70s in the family (One XC and my R) and both had that issue pop up.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    My ’97 850 T5 is only the second car I’ve owned that I’ve loved (you never forget your first). 168,000 on the clock and strong, except the upstate NY potholes have caused the dash to come loose and I’m a little afraid to find out what that’ll cost to fix.

    • 0 avatar
      ekaftan

      The loose dash is a common problem. Mine has and I’ve been researching how to fix it and it looks simple.

      Read this: http://volvospeed.com/vs_forum/topic/68951-dash-removal-writeup/


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