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

J Sutherland
by J Sutherland

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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J Sutherland
J Sutherland

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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.

  • Ted Lulis Head gaskets and Toyota putting my kids through college👍️
  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.