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

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
wont 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 [s]dozens[/s] 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!

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2 of 4 comments
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
  • ToolGuy It is raining super-hard outside right now.
  • Analoggrotto It's getting awful hard to tell these Mercedes apart from one another.
  • Analoggrotto Ah the Fisher Price car for the uncoolest of uncool dad-bods.
  • FreedMike If it were a GLI, it’d be a decent project car. But at the end of the day you have a base Jetta, and those weren’t all that great. Speaking of project VWs - when I was living at my old house a few years ago, one of my neighbors had an OG 1983 GTI sitting on his lawn. Lord, did I want to take that car home.