The Volvo ‘Red Block’ engine is famed for its longevity and tuneability, so my brother-in-law Robert has taken on a plunge on this purple brick with a whole host of modifications
Oakley Wheelwright is a serial sh-tbox buyer and the current owner of Miles, CT’s now-legendary 400,000+ mile Skoda Octavia
Regular readers will know that my family suffers from a common affliction. Volvo-mania. Most of my earliest automotive memories revolve around them. Frantically waving from the rear-facing seats and cheering with delight for every greeting returned was the highlight of any trip. This is a pastime my young nieces and nephews are now discovering thanks to my brother-in-law Robert’s latest purchase. It’s another chunk of Swedish metal, but this time the volume is turned up to 11.
Robert had already compiled a long list of modifications for his green 940 – a larger turbo, coilover suspension, VXR injectors, a new exhaust and a host of other go-faster parts. Then fate intervened. What should pop up on the nightly classifieds search but a 940 with all the desired mods, a fresh MOT and a price tag of £3500?
Scouting mission duly arranged, Miles the Skoda Octavia wafted Robert down to Aylesbury and back with ease. Thankfully, the Volvo lived up to expectations. A few things needed attention, with corrosion on the offside front door and an inconsistent idle giving Robert pause for thought. A few days passed, but the want was too strong to resist. Mind made up, Robert picked up the phone and struck a deal. The fastest purple brick in the south was coming.
I heard it on approach long before I set eyes on it. The peace of the dark December evening shattered, a guttural rumble from the three-inch exhaust announcing its arrival. Purposefully loud without being obnoxious, it certainly didn’t sound like any Volvo I’d heard before.
Jumping into the passenger seat, heater on course, we headed out for an evening drive. The first thing that struck me was the height. Accustomed, as I am, to the standard ride height, the lowered suspension creates a very different feel. Dropping down into the cabin, you’re instantly aware that this is no ordinary Volvo. The BC Racing coilovers are fully adjustable, in theory allowing the level of attack to be dialled up or down depending on your mood. How often Robert fettles them on the morning commute remains to be seen, but it’s nice to have the option.
Another transformative modification is the bushes. Polybush items replace the creaky old rubbers. Gone is the wallowing, replaced by competent and predictable handling. Hustling along the backroads no longer provokes bouts of seasickness. Provoke it, and the back end will happily step out of line. Standard 940s are happy to slide, albeit at 20mph, but this one loves to break traction. Thankfully the True Trac limited-slip differential allows graceful drifting.
Of course, all the alterations would be overkill without a powerplant to support them. Happily, the red block engine is more than up to the task. Gutsy in standard form, these engines are famous for being tunable. The standard low-pressure turbo is gone, replaced with a TD04 19T. Stainless braided turbo lines, racing camshaft and supporting mods ensure this Volvo can embarrass many unsuspecting drivers. Stopping next to a Ford Fiesta ST and disappearing into the distance will never get old. Our highly sophisticated timing equipment, an iPhone app, measured the 0-62 time in around 5 seconds. Not bad for a 24-year-old Volvo.
In real-world driving, power delivery is addictive. Pick a gear, plant it and the big swede responds instantly. Once the turbo spools up, the rear hunkers down before launching itself towards the horizon with aplomb. On these damp winter days, the rear tyres like to spin through first and second. Given the space and enough miles of ‘Mexican’ motorway, the purple brick could achieve some buttock-clenching high speeds.
The resulting combination makes a compelling package. Fast, affordable and infinitely practical. What else delivers on so many levels? That said, there are downsides. Drive hard, and the fuel gauge goes heads south at an alarming pace. In its standard form, the 2.3-litre petrol engine likes a drink, but this one merrily downs the whole bottle.
Maintenance is also going to be the key to longevity. Hardy though these engines are, with the increased power comes increased pressure on the internals. Plus, the purple brick will be on daily duty, covering around 30 miles a day, come rain or shine. Thankfully, Robert is now well practised with old Volvos. Two head gaskets have already been replaced this year, along with plenty of routine work.
There are also a few things still on the to-do list. The white steel wheels are living on borrowed time. Soon to be repainted in a more discreet anthracite grey, and the driver’s door needs replacing. The heated seat on the driver’s side isn’t working, and the gaudy aftermarket boost gauges won’t be staying for long.
But what project car is ever truly complete? Those hours spent researching parts or drooling over completed builds. Scrimping and saving for every component. The favours called in from handy friends, working late into the night to finish the job. All of this makes a car so much more than the sum of its parts. Any vehicle can become a hobby, a member of the family, and sometimes lastly, a means of transportation.
With three generations of petrolheads around, the purple brick will become all of these, and more besides. Watching the beaming faces smiling out of the rear window as the car pulls away, I can tell that our family’s next generation of car fanatics are already coming down with Volvo-mania.
It’s a mere 10-years until they can learn to drive. Let us hope that owning and running a modified car isn’t outlawed by then.