P1800 My Car Project

I bought my 1969 1800S (#28887) in August of 1995. It was a total impulse buy. I had been looking for a 240 sedan and I ran across an add for the 1800. I remebered the car from my youth, watching "The Saint" on TV drive the car around. There was also an ES wagon in my neighborhood as a kid. But honestly I knew practically squat about these cars when I purchased mine.

It's been a learning adventure, that's for sure.

The car was originally forest green (Swedish Army Surplus Green) with a tan interior. It was purchsed in New Jersey in 1969. Chassis number 28887. I still have the warranty booklet showing where the original owner took the car in for all the scheduled maintenance (well he got a little lax near the end). Either he or the second owner brought the car down to Florida. This second owner moved the car to the Atlanta, GA area in 1989. In 1992, he sold it to the third owner in the same suburb of Atlanta. The third owner repainted the car black himself and redid the aging interior with some homemade pieces. He was "restoring" the car for his teenaged son. The son didn't want the car. Afterall it is an oven inside the car in the summer, and the car needs more attention than he was probably willing to give it. So the car sat in the garage for a year or so until Mom ordered its sale. That's when I bought it.

When the car was brought to GA it showed 195,000 miles on the title application. The odometer was broken when owner number 3 bought it. He had a rebuilt speedo put on the car. I have assumed the car to have about 200,000 miles on it when I bought it. It probably had about 230,000 on it, but 200k is all I can document.

Repair/Restoration/Mantenance Stories

Body Work

Transmission (M41 - 4sp + OD) (October 1995)

Since the car sat for a while, all the transmission seals dried up on the car and it started leaking from everywhere imaginable underneath the car after I bought it and drove it for a few weeks. I had to jack the car up every 2 weeks and fill the tranny box until I found a mechanic I could trust to rebuild the transmission.

Since it all had to come apart for new seals, all the bearings, synchros, etc. were replaced. The OD unit was rebuilt and a new clutch installed. I wish I had a picture from when the mechanic had the transmission all apart. There was very little wear evident in the gear themselves. The synchros and the shifting forks showed wear.

The transmission has performed flawlessly since the rebuild. My only delemma is the fluid. Volvo originally specified SAE 30 weight oil for these transmissions. Supposedly the specification was later changed to 80/90W gear oil. Many people have told me that this will fry my OD. Also some people have suggested going synthetic. Some people have suggested Redline MTL, sythetic SAE 30 (Amsoil makes one) or any synthetic 10W 30. I am not sure which to use. for now I'm sticking with Castol SAE 30. Besides, that's what my lawn mower uses.

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Weber (October 1995)

At the same time that the transmission was leaking like a sieve, my dual SU carberators were going south. '69 models were supposed to be equipped with dual Strombergs, but mine had dual SU's. My car had a problem with idling too fast when hot. Also, the car would not start when the engine was hot. I here that this was common with 1968 and 69 1800S's after the intake and exhaust manifold setup was redesigned. Knowing that there were parts missing from my SU setup (notably the choke cable only went to one carb), and given my inexperience with the SU's, I opted to change the car over to a Weber DGAV. The Weber is a single two-barrell progressive carb.

The car has been much happier with the Weber. Although the car doesn't like cold starts very much. My decision to change may have been a little hasty considering what I have learned about care for SU's since last year. But I'm still pleased.

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Suspension Saga (Fall 1996)

The following story was submitted to Volvo Sports America and was printed as an article in the club's newsletter S-E-ES. It was also submitted to the VCOA and Swedishbricks mailing lists.

ACT I - The Shock(ing) Tower

A while back, I wrote in (to the VCOA mailing list) talking about how my right front shock was starting to punch through my 1800's crossmember. The overwhelming response from everyone was "weld a washer on top." Well, my perfectionist Volvo mechanic wasn't satisfied with this approach, especially since the tear in the metal was larger than what one washer could handle.

So he began playing with cardboard cutouts, designing a SHOULDER PAD reinforcement to cover the entire end of the cross member. He had a machine shop fabricate several of these pads. He welded one in place on each side of the car. THEN welded a washer on top of that with a hole slightly larger than the hole in the pad. This gave the top rubber bushing a place to seat. Then he coated the whole works in undercoating.

It looks fabulous! It looks Stock! NO - better than stock!

He gave me the cardboard mold and the pattern he made for the machine shop. Here are 2 diagrams showing how to make the pad: Pad1 / Pad2

He also had a few extras made up - call: Fred at Volset 404-351-5730

(I was talking with Bill Eidson, owner of Voluparts - Atlanta's big Volvo-only parts store, and he said, "Yeh, Fred is so proud of that thing, you'd think he'd given birth...")

Update 1999: Fred has put these reinforcing pads on at least one other car and at least one other 1800 owner has had pads fabricated from my drawings.

ACT II - In the SPRING of life

For those of you who have seen my 1800, it sits very low. I assumed it was from bad shocks and weak springs. We pulled the existing springs and found to our horror: The original springs had been CHOPPED!!! And rather amatuerishly too. Springs are usually tapered or flatted at the end to sit in the supports on a flat surface. My springs were just chopped and one end of each spring would rest on the tip of the coil.

No wonder my car's ride was crap!

Anyway, I had 3 choices:

1) Volvo stock springs
2) ipd's progressive coils
3) Duane Matejka's 20% stiffer springs from Foreign Autotech

We couldn't find a set of stock springs, and ipd's springs lower the car (and I was afraid of that word), so we went with the springs from F.A.

The difference is phenomenal! The car sits MILES higher off the ground. I call the 1800 "my TRUCK". In retrospect, the ipd coils would still have RAISED the car 2.5 inches over what it was, and that would have been fine. Either way - I'm happy!

ACT III - Remember, you have to STOP the car, too...

I was having a probem with the car pulling to one side when applying the brakes hard, so I wanted an inspection of my brakes while my front end was disassembled. Well, my front rotors are shot. They have been turned down to a tiny - tiny thickness and they had been cross-drilled at some point and could not be turned again.

So as my mechanic, Fred, began to call aroung for new rotors, I stopped him and told him about my wheel dilemna:

Some of you may remember this question of mine from 6 months ago.

My 1800S is a 1969. Originally it came with front disc brakes and rear drums. At some point a PREVIOUS OWNER converted the rear brakes to the 1970 and on discs. 1968 and 69 models came stock with the updated master cylinders and the famous Volvo dual triangular brake circuit, but still with the old style rotors/calipres and rear drums.

BUT this previous owner left the old rotors on the front. The problem there is that 1800S models from '62 to '69 conform to the hub bolt circle standard of the 122 (7.5"). And the E model hubs have a bolt circle of 7.25" (like the 144 et al.)

I had these HUGE 1972 1800 E/ES wheels on the back of my car, and stock S wheels on the front.

SO, I had new E sized rotors/hubs put on the front this time!!!

The rotors are new from Volvo (beautiful) and the hubs came from a junked E model at Voluparts (machined to beauty, also).

Then I had to act fast for some wheel choices:

1) 1972/3 E/ES wheels like whats on the back - (I hate them)
2) 1970/71 E mags - love them but allergic to price
3) 14 other rediculous wheel options from later Volvos with the 7.25" bolt circle (a set of 240 Turbo alloys painted black would be just tooooo trick!)
4) 1969 144 wheels - which look IDENTICAL to the 1800S/122S stock wheels (black center V dish caps) only featuring the 7.25" bolt circle.

SO I went with option 4. And drove home with 6 wheels in my trunk.

2 removed 122/1800S steel wheels 7.5" circle 1 (spare tire) 122/1800S steel wheel 7.5" circle 3 used early 144 steel wheels 7.25" bolt circle

I just need to get the used 144 wheels painted and new tires mounted. (I have the extra hub caps at home - he he he) AND THOSE MONSTER 215/65 R15's off of the back!!!! (sold them to Balu Vandor who put them on his 242GT).

So I had a couple items for sale:

3 122/1800S steel wheels 7.5" circle painted black
2 1972/73 1800 E/ES wheels 7.25" circle painted black (sorry missing the tiny V-caps for these)

Note: Within one day of posting this story on the net originally, I had sold the old wheels and had 3 offers to sell me 1970/71 E mags - which I resisted.

My car This picture of my car shows how it looked before all of these suspension/wheel mods. Note the 1972 E/ES wheels on the back. (Click on it for a better view). 
This picture shows how it looks now with the "new" wheels. 

After finally returning home with the very new feeling car, Fred, my mechanic calls and tells my wife - Kirk has to stop in tomorrow! (She panics, thinking he left some part off of the car - or that the credit card didn't clear....) And he says: "Kirk just has to see this P1800 that this woman just dropped in...."

I did, it was a Jensen model, grey with red interior. great shape.

Final note: I have since gotten the 144 wheels blasted and painted, and 4 new tires mounted. (See the photo above).

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Gauges (Winter 1996/97)

These cars "feature" Smiths guages. They are of a UK design. They have a reputation for unreliability. When I purchased my car, the tach and the dual temperature (oil and water) gauges and the clock were dead. The gas gauge died shortly thereafter. I have sent all but the clock away to be repaired. I have waited over 7 weeks and they haven't come back yet.

UPDATE (7/5/97): I waited for several months and the early this year, the guages came back. The dual temp guage was fixed, however the face was put on upside down. This guage uses gas-filled capillary tubes The water temp guage connects with the top of the head and the oil temp tube connects with the oil pan. The oil tube is the longer of the two - so it was apparent that the face was on upside down because the short tube wouldn't reach the pan.

The gas guage was proclaimed to be "unrepairable". Several of my Volvo friends said that that was impossible. So I called Nosinger (the place where the guages were being fixed) and the man there said that between my guage and all the broken ones he had, he didn't have enough good parts to piece together a working guage. So I purchased a used guage off of Don Thibault. It is acting erratic so I think that my sending unit is trashed (no big suprise).

The tach was installed and worked for about 3 days before the needle started wandering ALL OVER the place. Turns out a resister on the inside had worked it's way loose and was making intermitant contact. So the tach was sent back to Nosinger under warranty and was repaired at NO CHARGE!

So finally, nearly 1 year after I removed my guages, they are all in and functional.

Last Word on guages: Volvo 1800s use Smiths gauges, which are notorious for breaking. Nosinger, the place I used to fix mine is one of the last places on earth that will work on Smiths gauges. In fact, after Smiths went out of business in the 1980's, Nosinger bought a lot of the spare parts stock off of Smiths - including the last boxes of chrome bezels and lenses. On the S model and earlier cars, the chrome ring must be deformed to open the gauges for service. Nosinger has a special machine for not damaging the bezel too much. Apparently, they are out of bezels for the smaller guages. Despite the problems stated above, I feel that I got good service out of Nosinger. The lesson to be learned from all of this is HORDE gauges. Parts for these gauges are growing scarce.

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Alternator (October 1997)

One night, the generator light came on while driving the car home. I knew then that the Alternator was toast. I removed it and had it tested. Sure enough - DEAD. So I replaced it with a rebuilt 55Amp Marchal SEV alternator from Kore-Tek (1-800-258-0940). The owner is a Volvo owner and a very helpful guy. He specializes in BOSCH equipment. So why did I put an SEV on the car? Well, that's what it had on it - or so I thought! 35 Amp SEV Marchal alternators are standard for '69 1800S. 1967 and before cars have Generators, and if you wanna use an alternator, you need to have a special bracket to fit one. My engine's block already could handle attaching an alternator. Anyway - it turns out that I did NOT have an SEV Marchal. Motorola decided at some point to consolidate their line of equipment, so they created a UNIVERSAL alternator which is very similar to the correct SEV Marchal unit. The differences: the SEV will have SEV MARCHAL VOLVO stamped on it and only have one hole for the adjusting bolt. The UNIVERSAL will have 3 adjusting bolt holes. (See picture). Why is this important? The Universal's shaft is NOT the same size as the SEV MARCHAL, so you can't reuse the pully and fan from the Universal.

I went with the Marchal, because I thought it would be the cheapest route. The Kore-Tek guy likes to take Bosch cores for Bosch's and SEV cores for SEV's. Also, he recommends not mixing Voltage Regulators - since I had (or thought I had) and SEV, I could save by not buying a new Voltage regulator. I received a lot of greif from Volvo friends for not getting a BOSCH alternator.

Anyway, turns out that he couldn't take the Universal as a core trade-in.

THEN I ended up buying a new Voltage Regulator anyway! I couldn't get more than 12.5V out of the new unit.

But the Voltage regulator didn't help. So finally I had ALL of the wiring replaced that runs to the Alternator.

WHAMMO - that did it! 14.5 Volts!

Lesson learned here... if the alternator goes, GO FOR THE WORKS! Buy the Bosch 55Amp, with the correct pully and fan ALREADY attached! Get a new Bosch Voltage Regulator (mechanical or solid state) and replace ALL the wires. Just DO IT!

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Body Work

As I tell people when they ask me what to look for when shopping for an 1800: "The big evil thing to look out for on these cars is RUST. The body and frame are unitized, these cars won't last long if too much is rotted away and repaired with fiberglass and/or Bondo. The Rockers, frames pieces, and jacking struts are especially susceptable."

Well hindsight is 20/20. As I said, my car was purchased as an impulse and I do have a rust problem underneath. It's all repairable and I am starting to collect parts for a major structure rehab and repaint job currently slated for summer 1998. (For latest news) At that time I plan to put the car back to original forest green.

Also I am slowly replacing all the body rubber (tail light gaskets, etc.) There is a fortune in rotted rubber on this car.

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Typical of my car adventure, I never know when some part/aspect of the car isn't right and has been "Rube Goldberg Rigged" that is until it fails and I find out through investigation, friends, Net-mail,etc. that things weren't right. Prime examble being the suspension mess I described above. With my car being a 1969, there are so many things that are transitional on it.. The 1800's underwent a metamorphosis in 1970 becoming the 1800E. A 1969S is sort of an S+ or an E-. Another contributing factor to confusion is the simple fact that ANY 1800 is a rare thing. It's hard to know if something is really correct on the car or not.

The latest example of crimes against nature commited by a former owner is my hood badge. For months it had been loose. I looked at its underbelly with a mirror and saw little nuts screwed onto studs. I kept tightening it. Well one day I noticed that it was GONE! Fell off or stolen - I don't know. Anyway - that's when I found out that it SHOULD have been held on with three little clips. So know I need a new hood badge ($$$) and the little clips.

Update 7/5/97: I have a new hood badge in place, held securely by 3 clips!

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Latest news:

(Summer 1998) My B20 finally gave it up.  I knew that one of the cylinders (#3) was weak.  Well, #2 went south also.  I was traveling at 25 mph, putting no stress on the engine at 3000rpm and "BOOM" black smoke everywhere.  I was only 2 blocks from home, so we drug the car into the front yard where it became a "lawn ornament" until a friend of mine came over with his come-a-long.  We limped the car up the steep drive and to a resting spot.  I won't have the cash to pull the engine until next spring, so I prepared the car for long term storage and put a cover over it.  Next spring I'll pull the engine and rebuild it.  At the same time I will have the rust eliminated and have the body prepped and re-painted.  Basically the car will be undergoing an extensive restoration.

Update 8/24/99: Still haven't started on the rebuild. Current plans are to start spring 2000.

Update 12/15/2000: Moved to Texas this past spring. Still haven't started on the rebuild. Current plans are totally up in the air!.

Update 12/20/2000:  In a wind storm following an ice storm, a large pine tree snapped in half and fell on the 1800 and crushed it!  I had been agonising over the restoration of the car for so long and there have been so many delays, but now it doesn't matter, the car is too far gone to be worth the effort.  The tree came to rest along the length of the car's passenger side.  the roof crushed, front and rear windshields shattered and the trunk was crumpled.  The amazing part is the passenger side window did not break and the door still opens and closes!  If this had been a real accident, as in logs from a truck roll off side of overpass onto car, the driver would have walked away unharmed, the passenger would not have been so lucky - BUT, no jaws of life would have been necessary, just open the door!  If the passenger could have ducked, then the passenger too would have been spared.  As far as suspension, etc, the car's springs and shocks are still supporting the weight of the car and the tree trunk.  Amazing!

tree01 tree02 tree03

What's is store for me next?  I'll save up and buy another!  In 1995, I knew almost nothing about these cars, and in the passing years I have learned more than I thought possible.  My next purchase will be much more informed!

Update 8/27/2001:  I've purchased a 1971 142S to hone my vintage Volvo skills until I am in a position to get another 1800.

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