Car Collector's Corner: 1966 Volvo 544 - The Swede With The New World Heart

J Sutherland
by J Sutherland
car collector s corner 1966 volvo 544 the swede with the new world heart

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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4 of 17 comments
  • CRConrad CRConrad on Apr 07, 2012

    544? Bah! They haven't built 'em like they used to since about 1960... Mine's a '53 444.

  • Mfherbert Mfherbert on Apr 07, 2012

    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.

  • Jdt65724922 How can a Chrysler E-Class ride better than a Chrysler Fifth Avenue?
  • Lorenzo This series is epic, but I now fear you'll never get to the gigantic Falcon/Dart/Nova comparison.
  • Chris P Bacon Ford and GM have decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Odds are Chrysler/Cerberus/FCA/Stellantis is next to join in. If any of the companies like Electrify America had been even close to Tesla in reliability, we wouldn't be here.
  • Inside Looking Out China will decide which EV charging protocol will become world wide standard.
  • Chris P Bacon I see no reference to Sweden or South Carolina. I hate to assume, but is this thing built in China? I can't help but wonder if EVs would be more affordable to the masses if they weren't all stuffed full of horsepower most drivers will never use. How much could the price be reduced if it had, say, 200hp. Combined with the instant torque of an EV, that really is plenty of power for the daily commuter, which is what this vehicle really is.