Hammer Time: Saving Bluebird…
It was a long day at the auction. Over a thousand cars sold in a matter of three hours. Dealers were busy paying for their pre-tax season purchases and the size of the line seemed to just grow bigger at the understaffed counters. Everyone had ‘issues’. To make matters worse, along with the lines and chaos I had a headache. A crushing headache.
So instead of engaging in random conversations with friends I’ve known for forever and a day, I wandered off to the most remote corner of the sale. The TRA lane. Also known as ‘crusher fodder’. This is where banks, car dealers and charities get rid of cars that are usually worth more dead than alive. Bidding starts at $450 plus the auction fee and for that you can either help ‘export to China’ or find the parts needed to make a problem car good again.
In the very last space sat an old 1987 Volvo 240 wagon… a Bluebird… and she had one helluva story to tell.
When it comes to cars, nothing gives you more information than trying to find out the type of owner a car had beforehand.
This old brick had obviously been cared for by someone who was passionate about Volvos. Open the hood… it stayed up! No need to prop it up with an old broom or stick. I chucked away an old broom handle and looked deeper into the crystal ball that was this red brick engine.
The engine was completely immaculate and ‘all Volvo’. Hoses, wires, even the battery, starter and alternator were given blue stickers with the Volvo insignia. It was as if I had stepped on some strange time warp where 1987 had finally met 2011. That along with the coolant reservoir’s perfect coolant level and a recent tune-up gave me an ear to ear grin.
But it got better. I opened the rear gate and… it rocketed right up. The rear door handle worked fine as well as all the door handles on the vehicle. That was a surprise since almost every old 240 I see at the auctions has at least one inoperable or broken door handle. As for liftgates, you’re just happy if the thing even opens.
Wow… someone was junking this? After about seven minutes of looking through the car, the only issues I could see were that the driver’s seat had a few small rips (typical, 240 seats rip easily), and a couple of screws that held up the luggage rack were loose.
Paint job? Wonderful and original for the most part with no paint fade. There was evidence of an accident on the right rear quarter and the resulting substandard paint and bondo were cracking a bit. But this was a car that was first sold when I was in junior high school. The original paint job and pinstriping were still in great shape. I walked back to the auction and…
I bought it. The brunt of buyers had already left the sale so I ended up paying $400 and a $125 auction fee to bring it home. The Volvo wouldn’t start, yet. But I was confident I could figure it out given enough time and research at the Brickboard.
$65 brought it on a tow dolly straight to a nearby mechanic’s shop. The conversation with my mechanic went like this…
Steve: It may be the fuel pump.
Mechanic: It’s the distributor Steve.
Steve: The distributor? I’ve never replace one of those in… well… ever. Those things were engineered by Nordic Gods. You can’t kill em’.
I spoke to the guy who owned it last night. He said he left it on his driveway for about four months and got rid of it cause he didn’t drive it anymore. Never replaced the fuel pump according to him.
Mechanic: It’s the distributor Steve.
Steve: I sure as hell hope not. Distributors on these things run over $200 at Advance Auto Parts. I can’t even find em’ on Ebay. Pat at Salvage Hunter has one for $40 and that’s the only one I can find in all of Georgia.
Mechanic: Well, if you want to replace the fuel pump we can. But I am getting pressure down there. It’s the distributor Steve.
Sure enough, it was the distributor which was blown to pieces. Plus the blower motor was blown. I took a fuse for the fog lights and put it where the blower motor fuse had been. Nothing. Replacing the blower motor would be a ‘long’ six hour job assuming that there weren’t any electrical issues (another 240 weakness) that needed attention as well.
At this point I weighed three options…
1) Fix the blower motor. I would have about $1100 in it if I let my mechanic do it. Or $800 and change if I did it myself. The bet here was that the electrics would hold up and I could make up for the repair cost and time with a higher retail price.
2) Sell it for $1500 as is. A brick enthusiast wouldn’t need to get the blower motor replaced right away since it’s a mild winter here in Georgia. Plus a lot of em’ just drive the car with the windows down during the summer months. The 240’s A/C system is notoriously overmatched for the humid summers in Hotlanta.
3) Keep it as is. I had this strange dream where I drove the car up to the house of its one and only owner (who only lived a few miles from the shop). I would give him a spare key and tell him “You can drive it any time you like.” as a special thank you for keeping the car in great shape for so long. The old wagon would be covered during the summer months and used for light hauling in the winter time.
After a week’s worth of playing Hamlet, I sold it.
The 240 was put on Craigslist for $1500. Within a day I had three calls from genuine brick enthusiasts. Had I lowballed the price? Perhaps. But I figured that the buyer would try to dicker me down to $1500 anyhow due to the blower motor and the cracking bondo on the rear quarter.
Why not just get a quick $700 profit and give the vehicle a good second life?
That’s what I did. The fellow who bought it came with a 1992 wagon and had two others at his home. One for the family and one as a parts vehicle. Bluebird should now have another five to seven years on the road. Hopefully she’ll make it all the way to the big 3 0 and beyond.
Jimal on Dec 26, 2011
I briefly owned a very similar 240 wagon a few years back. Same color combination, manual transmission, just a couple years older. Mine had some floorboard rust which I was going to have fixed. I enjoyed driving a RWD wagon with a stick for a winter with just a set of snow tires on it. The problem was the car left me stranded twice in a two month period. The first time was when the oil seal blew out of the back of the head, dousing the engine in oil. The second time? I never figured out the problem. Both times it died at about the same mid point of my commute and both times I had to rely on a generous friend, his understanding wife and their trailer to get the car home. I was so disgusted with the car after being stranded the second time I gave the car away after doing things like the tach upgrade, replacing all the broken lenses around the car, busting my nuckles to replace the EGR valve, etc. The word "Volvo" will never be uttered in my house again.
Golden2husky on Dec 27, 2011
Makes you wonder how we survived going on long trips without cell phones...the give and take of progress. Sometimes a lifesaver, other times a cross to bear. Engine block material: Did Volvo really use something special? All blocks are not created equal, that's for sure. Those who build classic muscle cars and the like always seem to go for early blocks due to wall thickness or nickle content. Later year the beancounters looked everywhere to pinch. Good save on the brick though. I fully agree that with the complexity of today's cars, long term ownership for people like me will be difficult. I suspect that mechanical items will still be repairable, but once wiring degrades and countless modules fail, the car's dash will be lit up like a Christmas tree. Some people actually drive like that; I couldn't, though I have had very few MIL issues over the years to complain about. No, cars of today and tomorrow will be more like fax machines. Throw them out instead of fixing them when they get old. I wonder if you can even get troublehsooting manuals for equipment like fax machines anymore...
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