When the SCM 1965 Volvo 122S automatic arrived last week, SCMer Dean Koehler arrived to inspect the car.
Dean is the founder and the self-appointed Volvocrat of the PDX Round Fender Volvo Club. He’s also the iron-fisted content arbiter of the PDX Volvos FB page.
As he walked around “ELF” (my powder-blue 122S) he immediately and emphatically said, “Just don’t touch anything on the car. Leave it alone. Don’t modify it like you always do. It runs fine now.”
Dean was right that the new-to-me 122 drove “just fine” as it was.
But “just fine” doesn’t work for me.
By modern standards, “stock” and “just fine” for a 55-year-old car are really pretty crappy.
With all of my cars, I try to make them perform and handle as well as they can, while still being streetable. I don’t worry about increasing power; if they can go 75 mph on the freeway that’s enough.
This can mean eschewing things we used to do like putting wider, lower-profile tires on our cars.
Turns out the suspension designers of 1960s sports cars, including Alfas, MGs, Triumphs and Volvos, knew what they were doing when they put 165×15 radial tires on their cars. Skinnier tires with tall sidewalls allow a car to slip-side away through the turns. You can feel like you are going really fast without even approaching the speed limit. And they don’t have rock-hard rides.
This is my recipe for improvements, with apologies to Mr. Koehler.
This same recipe goes for every classic car I own.
I immediately have all the suspension bushings, front and rear, replaced. Period. A car with a loosey-goosey front end is no fun at all.
I find intermediate springs that lower and stiffen the car slightly — but don’t make it rock hard to drive. I prefer Bilsteins for everyday use, as Konis can get a little tooth jarring.
I have the cooling system flushed, and I often replace the thermostat and the radiator cap. They are not expensive and why let a small part strand you? I also renew all the cooling and heater hoses. All of them.
I change the fan belt and put a spare one in the trunk. A shredded fan belt is the one part on an old car that defies an improvised, roadside solution.
I replaced the front windshield gasket on my 122 as it had spent its whole life in dry, hot Southern California. I’d rather replace the gasket BEFORE Oregon rain starts dripping onto my feet.
I always make sure the cigarette lighter socket is hot, so I can plug a USB adapter into it. I also have an auxiliary USB adapter mounted under the dash.
I have a reputation for being the “King of Cupholders” for vintage cars. Keeping a hot latte between my legs on a curvy road isn’t really the fun time I was looking for in an old car. The SLOrolling vintage Volvo group created some purpose-built cupholders, and I am buying a set.
I also have the windshield wiper blades replaced. Why not?
Of course you change all the fluids, including flushing the brake fluid.
I make sure all the window winders work. I want all the lights and switches to operate, including the defroster and heater fan. I upgrade the headlights to halogens.
My 122 had already been upgraded to an alternator. I’m not set on this, as a properly set up generator and regulator will give you plenty of power for most situations.
An electronic ignition had already been installed in my Volvo. Given how little we actually use our old cars, I think a new set of points, a cap, a condenser, plugs and wires will serve you just fine.
I make sure the spare tire is inflated, and the proper tire-changing tools are in the car. I like to have a reflective triangle to put out if I stop by the side of the road.
When all of this is done, I will have doubled my “investment” in the car.
But I need all my vintage cars to start on the button when I want to drive them. I want then to handle as well as they can while still being good on the street. I want the wipers to wipe and the heaters to heat.
I have done exactly the same thing to every one of my classic cars, from the Land Rover 200 TDI turbo-diesel to our now-departed Mehari. Every Alfa is set up this way.
When you are done, you have an old car that is fun to drive and reliable. It isn’t cheap to set up a car this way. However, you will know that sitting in your garage is a vintage car you can get in to, rain or shine, and head out on a road trip, destination unknown. And have a hell of a good time driving it.
Isn’t that what it is all about?