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30 years and 800,000 km out of a Volvo. Here’s how I did it

Published November 19, 2012
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Most people would like to get as much value for their automotive buck as possible. Anyone would feel cheated if they could only get four or five years out of their vehicle before they have to replace it due to wear and tear.

What if you could get 30 years and more 800,000 km out of a vehicle and still enjoy driving it?

I did and I still enjoy driving it.

I bought my 1982 Volvo GLT in the fall of 1981 at the long gone Lawrence Park Motors Volvo dealer that was located on Mount Pleasant Rd. This was my very first new car after driving three used cars. I had decided I was going to look after my new baby and make it last since it would be very unlikely I would be able to own a new car again. So, when it came to maintenance, no cheap stuff for me, only the best.

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The Volvo is fun to drive, has almost no blind spots and is simple to operate and work on. Not like many of today’s new cars.

Volvos had a reputation for safety, comfort, reliability and durability. These were the qualities that attracted me to this boxy design. Form follows function. I knew with good care, it would last me quite a while.

So what have I done with my Volvo in the past 30 years and 800,000 km?

The first two years were just normal use. In 1984 I started to compete in the Volvo in the sport of autoslalom and Solo I (Time Attack as it is referred to now). I won four Canadian Autoslalom Championships plus many Solo I and Regional Autoslalom Championships. I have lost count of how many championships I won in the Volvo over the 17 years I raced and “tracked” it. I competed all over Ontario and as far away as Salina Kansas in the SCCA U.S. National Championships. There were many seasons when the Volvo went undefeated.

In these competitions it has defeated Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, Porsches and even a Lamborghini Countach.

The Volvo has been to B.C., Newfoundland and every province in between and even down to Florida. I would have entered it in the Targa Newfoundland if I had Jim Kenzie’s budget.

It has been a very comfortable car for long drives. The leather seats are heated, which was a rare option in the early ‘80s but offered little in lateral support.

As I looked back over the many years of competing in the Volvo I estimated it has about 30,000 full-throttle, push-it-to-the-limits kilometres on it. Not exactly the tender loving care I was thinking about! The Volvo, however, took the licking and kept on ticking.

Speaking of ticking, at the 720,000 km mark, the engine did start ticking. It turned out to be a bad connecting rod bearing so those were replaced to prevent further damage. Maybe I should complain to Volvo about only getting 720,000 km before the engine started knocking!

I should point out though, in the early days of automotive engineering before the computer controlled engine management systems all vehicles have now, the engine rev limiter was located on the end of the driver’s right leg, known as the driver’s right foot! This allowed me to over rev that 2.3 litre SOHC engine to 7,000 rpm on some tracks. That was 500 rpm over red line. Not good for longevity but it was easier than up-shifting and then down-shifting again in a matter of a split second.

It is important to note that I never raced the Volvo on the street. That type of driving is just plain stupid. I had the competitions and track days to satisfy my racing urges. On top of that, I had a responsibility to my sponsors to act and drive in a mature and responsible way. All my racing was done at sanctioned events.

So, how did I get this durability out of this Volvo despite the abuse at the track?

The two most common causes of a vehicle’s demise are corrosion and engine wear and tear.

To combat the corrosion I did some research and chose to have the Volvo sprayed with Rust Check every fall. This had kept the Volvo rust free for the past 30 years. There was also a wonderful side benefit. Since the Rust Check solution creeps into all the car seams to displace moisture, it also kept all the bolts, nuts and screws rust free. Anytime I had to replace a bulb or part, there was never a seized bolt or nut. That was perfect for a do-it-yourself type home mechanic like me. I found a Rust Check location at 752 Warden Ave. where the gentleman applying the Rust Check was thorough and knowledgeable. This is as important as the solution itself. If it’s not installed right, you won’t get the same benefit.

When it came to looking after the mechanicals, I decided early on to use synthetic lubricants for their superior performance. In the early 1980s synthetic oil was relatively new to automotive use and it was not easy to find. Today, many cars require the use of synthetics and it can be found in every automotive store.

Using synthetic oil was expensive but the benefits far outweighed the cost factor for long-term, severe use which was what my motoring was about. I used synthetics in the engine, transmission, differential and wheel bearings.

I chose Mobil 1 since they were one of the first mass producers of synthetic motor oil and they had the best test results. An added benefit of the switch to synthetic oil was a 10 per cent increase in fuel economy from 32 mpg to 35 mpg. Today the Volvo still gets 35 to 38 mpg.

During my races and track sessions, my engine oil temperature would skyrocket and the wheel bearings would get so hot from the heat of the brakes it would liquefy normal bearing grease. This is where using the synthetic lubricants paid off. The Volvo also benefitted from synthetic lubricants in the winter when conventional motor oil would thicken up in the cold temperatures but the synthetics remained fluid and flowing.

For tune ups, oil changes, brake jobs, etc., I did the work myself. The heavy mechanical work was done by Swedish Motors which sadly closed its doors a few years ago.

The modifications I made to the Volvo were cross drilled and water cooled brakes for the track racing. A custom exhaust system by Hot Rod Scott’s in Etobicoke made a noticeable difference in power and torque. These changes were permitted under the rules of the CASC racing series I competed in.

Over the years the Volvo has been in numerous car shows including the Canadian International Auto Show at SkyDome.

After 30 years and 800,000 kms of tough driving it still sports its original paint, except for the hood, which recently had louvers installed simply because I really like louvered hoods.

Having the Volvo sprayed with Rust Check and washing and waxing it regularly has made this possible.

It still has the original seats and interior. Vacuuming the carpets and cleaning and treating the seats with leather conditioner contributed to the long life of the interior. I used Armour All on the dash and plastics to keep them from drying and cracking.

The engine still has the original cam shaft, head, etc. I replaced the faulty connecting rod bearings and the pistons even though the original pistons were still like new. The fuel injection system (CIS) is original with only the pump and injectors having been replaced.

Despite all the intense competition driving as well as everyday city driving the Volvo has had only one clutch replacement at about 520,000 km. It had plenty of material left on it but was replaced because the transmission needed to have a “syncro” replaced. Since the transmission was already out, you might as well replace the clutch and pressure plate.

Today it is a lot easier to get a vehicle to last longer due to better designs and quality in machining and building. Computer aided design and machining means better tolerances and fit and finish.

If you want to get a million kilometres or more out of your modern vehicle, use quality lubricants and look after it with preventive maintenance.

By the way, the cost of my Volvo GLT in 1981 was $14,500. I just bought a new Hyundai for About $19,000. Not much change for 30 years!

It looks like I have decided I will buy a new car every 30 years!

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