Won't Someone Put This Race Volvo Back On The Street?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
won t someone put this race volvo back on the street

This 1985 Volvo DL was the first race car I ever worked on, and it had a storied history during its two-year run of 24 Hours of LeMons races. Now that much of its running gear has been transplanted into the 1927 Model T GT, the ol’ race Volvo is free to a good home (sort of).

Actually, it’s $1,500 with cage, fuel cell, welded diff, suspension mods, wiring harness, and many other goodies. I’d planned on bringing it to Denver after its race retirement, with the idea that I’d turn it into the World’s Coolest Street-Driven Volvo Brick, but even Colorado’s fairly lenient vehicle-registration laws don’t have a loophole through which I could drive the V8olvo. So, the car that started its race career after sitting dead in a San Jose driveway for a decade before a bunch of wild-eyed race monkeys bought it for a C-note and dropped a Ford 302 in it is up for grabs. You could drop a new engine in it (I recommend an AMC 401) and bring it back to LeMons, but I think this fine Swedish machine deserves to get back on the street. All you need to do is register it in a state that doesn’t have any sort of emissions and/or safety inspections, or you could totally violate the law and swap VIN tags from a crusher-bound ’75 240 and be California smog-exempt (which we recommend you avoid doing).

A bit of V8olvo history: After getting a Top Fuel-style hood scoop, Fiero wing, animatronic roof-mounted skulls, and 13-star Swedish Rebel Flag painted on the roof, the V8olvo became the grim, frostbitten Black Metal V8olvo (because one team member was— and is— a grim, frostbitten devil worshiper and Scandinavian black metal fan) in black-and-blue paint, complete with “BØSS 302” emblems.

The Black Metal V8olvo did pretty well at the last-ever Altamont 24 Hours of LeMons race, coming in 15th out of 90 entries; a certain very fast TTAC writer deserves much of the credit for that excellent performance (I was a Penalty Box regular, which you’d think would give me some empathy for the schmucks I bust these days in my present-day role as LeMons Supreme Court Justice… but you’d be wrong!). The car got the living shit beat out of it, which was typical of the old “bring your Sawzall” Altamont races, but lived up to the indestructible-Volvo stereotypes by needing just some new fenders and doors.

Here’s some video of the bloodlustfully blaspheming Black Metal V8olvo in action at Altamont, with a bit of Opeth accompaniment.

For the ’08 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, I was working as judge, journalist, and racer all at the same time, but I managed to find time to give the car a new, more Nordic-despair-inducing theme, including large “Eran Metal är Mjäkíg” (“Your Metal Is Weak” in Swedish) decals on the sides, Scandinavian black metal cranking on an all-treble PA system, and leaning-out-the-windows animatronic, blond-haired skeletons. The car whacked the wall during practice, but Swedish steel proved itself to be strong stuff— again— and the car was ready to go when the green flag waved.

Your metal is weak! The car looked and sounded great on the track, but I had a bit of brain-fade and took it on a little tour around the closed-off section of the track, resulting in a very long timeout for the team. Sorry about that, guys! Once again, you’d think I’d remember how easy it is to screw up on a race track when I’m faced with some miscreant in the Penalty Box nowadays, but this experience just makes me crueler! In spite of the big penalty, the car came in 29th out of 114 entries. Yes, a 2,700-pound car with four-wheel disc brakes, 3.73 gears, and 190 horsepower can really haul the mail on a road course.

At that point, I decided I’d be better off concentrating on writing about cars instead of racing them, so I left the V8olvo team. I was still willing to serve as the team’s artistic consultant, however, so for ’09 the Black Metal V8olvo got a coat of 70s-Volvo-ish yellow paint, a bunch of lefty bumper stickers, and a permanent left blinker: The Mustard Yellow Volvo Doing 45 In The Fast Lane! Yes, how many times have you been stuck on the freeway behind a mustard-yellow ’77 Volvo 244GL, driven at 45 MPH by some old dude who’s so hypnotized by a fascinating NPR report on Burkina goddamn Faso that he doesn’t notice the endless line of cars stuck behind him in the fast lane? That was the idea behind the MYVD4ITFL’s theme.

By this time, the team had become stacked with some very quick drivers, and the few remaining mechanical bugs had been more or less worked out. The Mustard Yellow V8olvo cracked the top 10 at the very tough 2009 Goin’ For Broken race at Reno-Fernley.

Let’s see how dirt-track veteran Wayne Evans eats up the slower machines at Reno-Fernley.

The next race for the Mustard Yellow V8olvo was the ’09 Buttonwillow Histrionics, and the team had added several of the top Spec Miata drivers on the West Coast (and I added the first of many bumper-mounted timelapse still cameras). And, whaddya know, the V8olvo won the race, after the race-leading Integra flipped over on the final turn of the checkered-flag lap. Definitely the most exciting finish in 24 Hours of LeMons history. This car has provenance! Someday it will be worth dozens hundreds of thousands of dollars at Barrett-Jackson!

After that, the Mustard Yellow V8olvo returned to Thunderhill for the ’09 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race. Things were looking good at first, but then driver Dean Thomas thought he could predict where a spinning TR7 would end up, with unpleasant results for both cars.

But Volvo 240s can take tons of punishment, and the team had the car beaten back into shape in a hurry. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before driver Wayne “Stratocastrator” Evans clipped a ’67 Plymouth Fury during a pass and got upside-down.

Remember the old Volvo ads that showed how you could stack a bunch of Volvo bricks and not dent the roof? They weren’t lying! Here’s a photo of the V8olvo after the rollover; the only damage was a busted radiator and a cracked windshield. The roof never even dented enough to reach the roll cage! Don’t try this at home, kids.

For the 2010 season, Spec Miata demon and V8olvo pilot Dean Thomas decided to break out his mad artistic skilz and re-themed the Mustard Yellow V8olvo as the Death Cab For Cutie V8olvo. Note crew chief Dave “Hellhammer” Schaible in the Grim Reaper outfit.

With Dean and the rest of the crew behind the wheel, the Death Cab was nearly unstoppable. Here’s some video of the Death Cab dicing with the legendary Eyesore Racing Miata. Unfortunately, engine and differential problems started cropping up, robbing the Death Cab of what seemed like a sure win at one race and knocked it out of contention at a few others in 2010.

Still, West Coast LeMons racers remember the Black Metal V8olvo, Mustard Yellow V8olvo, and Death Cab V8olvo as one of the toughest competitors on the track… and now it can be yours!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

More by Murilee Martin

Join the conversation
2 of 4 comments
  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.