Leapin’ Lutefisk – The Volvo Needs an Engine!


The front cam bearing was badly galled, and the cylinder bores had degraded due to shredded bits of cam metal filtering down through them.

My problem is not uncommon. When zinc was removed from motor oil in the early ’80s due to an EPA mandate, there simply wasn’t enough lubrication for old engines. That problem has now been remedied by modern “high mileage” oils and additives, but the 1800ES had covered 125,000 miles, and the engine had never been apart. After Wayne pulled the block, we bundled it up and set it over to the nearby Napa shop, where Gary had just finished another Volvo engine. (He said, “I remember you—you were blowing up Alfa engines I had to fix 25 years ago.” Some things never change.)

I’ll have the engine balanced “while I’m in there,” along with updating as many new parts as necessary. If I’m lucky, it will be less than $4,000 total, in and out. I also sent the carcass to Europa Auto Body to have the engine bay steam-cleaned and detailed. 

If it’s any consolation to me or my pocketbook, it’s taken 39 years and bad oil to get the Volvo engine to this state. At this rate, it should be at least 2051 before it needs to be done again!

In hindsight, there was no way we could have discovered this problem without having a leakdown test done. The compression was terrific, at 160 pounds across all four. The engine sounded good, pulled well enough and had terrific oil pressure. And I’m sure the seller wasn’t aware of it – he owned the car for 35 years and had all his maintenance records in a big file.

Sometimes you do the best you can, and then just roll the dice. Will I be buried in the car when it is finished? I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit the $20,000 mark before I’m done with it, about $5,000 above where the current market is. If I didn’t have to do the engine, I’d be fine.

I figure 45 days from now, Snow White’s Coffin will be back on the road. Watch this space for a report.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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