The 1990 Volvo 240DL

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Phase I – the beginning

Welcome to the world of our second Volvo 240, affectionately known as “Grandpa”. Since we already had “Granny” (our freshly refurbished and fully operational ’92 240), it seemed only right to name this new addition to our growing garage “Grandpa”. He’s a 1990 240 DL.

“Grandpa”: A non-running 1990 Volvo 240 sedan as photographed by the previous owner.

Purchased on Saturday, October 15, 2022, “Grandpa” was not in running order. The car was purchased by the previous owner in 2016 for his teenage son. The son drove it considerably during his high school years, but eventually joined the military after graduation. His interest in the car waned, then disappeared after a few years. The father had been starting it periodically, thinking his son would eventually want the car when his military career settled down. Since that wasn’t the case, the father chose to sell it.

Enter me…. someone who did not need another car, especially one identical to one he already had. However, the car’s condition was slowly deteriorating just sitting there, and while the Volvo 240’s are seeing an incredible rise in value and desirability, a non-running 240 takes the right buyer. Like a rescue puppy, I couldn’t just leave it there to deteriorate any further. I had to save it!

Luckily, my husband is non-plus about some things – the purchase of old cars being one of them. I get the “eye roll”, and that look that just says, “Why?”. He already knows the answer, and doesn’t bother waiting for it any longer. After nearly 30 years together, it’s just a given. I think he would rather just go with it, than listen to me go on an on about how and why I just need to do this.

The day I was to view the car I brought along my buddy Randy, who is a trained and skilled Volvo technician who has formally serviced Volvo’s since the 80’s (when 240’s were in their heyday) and runs a very successful Volvo repair shop in Chesapeake, VA. Randy felt if the engine would turn over, it wouldn’t take much to get it running. Before the deal was sealed, the father hooked his old work vehicle’s battery (an older Expedition) to the Volvo and “Grandpa” turned over and sounded like he wanted to start and go, but just wouldn’t. At that point, Randy said, “Get it! We’ll get it running, and it isn’t full of rust or other worrisome issues. I think with little effort, you’ll have a winner here.”

View from the passenger’s side. Upholstery and interior in remarkably good shape.

So… I bought it for nearly nothing. I think I made the dad happy by taking the Volvo off his hands (as he had two other classic vehicles in various states of repair on his property) and I must admit a bit of excitement in taking on another tired looking, non-running 240 under my wings and seeing what role I could play in bringing it back to operation and respectability.

Like “Granny”, “Grandpa” had an excellent-looking interior. The exterior was tired, and it needed more attention than “Granny”, but it wasn’t more than some fresh parts, pieces, and a good deal of elbow grease couldn’t cure. We could eventually have two nicely running, decent looking 240’s in our midst. That was my goal, anyway.

A view from the driver’s side.

Two days after purchase, I made arrangements to have “Grandpa” towed from Williamsburg, VA to Chesapeake, VA where Randy’s shop was located. The vehicle arrived at 2:30pm. Randy texted me of its arrival, and stated he would take a look to see which direction he needed to go to get it running. At 4:00pm, Randy texted me stating, “It’s running, and runs great! I think this 240’s going to live to see some more miles!”

A new battery, and a fuel pump sensor, and “Grandpa” came back to life. After sitting for 3 years, I knew there was much more to do, and with Randy’s help, we’d get it there.

To start off, we needed new tires. The tires originally on the car were old, had severe flat spots, and were a bit rotted. We put a new set on, which made the car drive and ride much nicer. Fluids were changed (oil looked old, but no signs of issues). Plugs looked decent. Fresh gas (luckily, there was very little old gas in the tank).

Comfortable seating for backseat passengers

While Randy started looking over systems and getting a game plan together, I began my search for parts and accessories for the car. An initial assessment showed we needed the following:

  • New drivers side lock motor for the central locking system to function throughout the car. Parts acquired through eBay.
  • New lock actuator for the passenger front door (current one seized). Part acquired through eBay.
  • New gauge cluster. Odometer stopped working before the previous owner purchased the car, so the car’s actual mileage is unknown. Car’s condition suggests somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. That’s a big difference, but we’re simply left to guess. Part acquired through vendor who sold me a refurbished cluster for “Granny”. New refurbished cluster has mileage of 197,000. Vendor asked if I needed the mileage corrected to the car’s actual mileage. I told him to simply leave it where it was. We didn’t know, and had no way of finding out. So, “Grandpa” starts his 2nd wind with a stated mileage of 197,000.
  • Driver’s and passenger’s seat cushions were done. New cushions and under supports needed. Parts secured through Swedish AutoParts and Wagonmeister.
  • New carpet. Original carpet was holding a strong odor from car sitting for so many years. Also, a sizeable hole in the carpet underneath the driver’s foot was present. A floor mat was obviously NOT used for a long period of time, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a hole. Original color/pattern custom cut carpet acquired.
  • New floor mats. Acquired.
  • Dash. The car is now 33 years old. Typical of cars of this age, and older, to experience cracks in the dash. Proper repair is very expensive, so we go with Plan B – a custom fitting mat over the dash. This will hopefully help prevent further cracking once it has been cleaned and conditioned. Dash mat acquired.
  • Glove box. Current glove box is missing a hinge, and there are clear and evident signs duct tape had been used to keep the door closed. A new glove box (from a donor car) was needed. Part acquired.
  • Exterior lower door molding. In the car’s 30+ years on the road, the lower door plastic molding had begun to separate from the car. You can see this in the photo above. A previous owner’s answer to this issue was to take a couple of stainless screws and screw it to the car door (YIKES!). Decent trim from a donor car was needed (or new, which can still be purchased).
A look at the driver’s side door. Lower door pocket cracked (they usually all are). New pockets have been ordered.

That’s where we are at the moment. Parts are arriving each week, and Randy is working “Grandpa” in between his other customers as we work through this punch list. It shouldn’t be too terribly long before I’m actually able to pick up the car and bring it home and get to work on bringing the paint back to life, as well as the trim and plastics. Will also need to investigate the air conditioning. 240’s before 1991 had an older style setup for their AC (also used the now outlawed R-12 refrigerant), which can be problematic. Most owners don’t address non-working AC in 1990 and prior 240’s. We’ll dig deeper into that after we get the car properly running and driving, and looking better. Still lots to do, but it’s getting there. Stay tuned as we continue work on “Grandpa”.

Here’s a short video depicting the gutted interior, as well as the car running.

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Phase II – The cleanup

Let’s start with the fact this car sat still for more than 3 years. While the owner states he started it regularly the first few years, the last (unknown) months he states it wouldn’t start. So, it sat there unattended, underneath a big, old oak tree. It gathered dirt, limbs, leaves and much more. It was filthy, and the filth looked as if it had become part of the paint.

A look at the trunk. Just years of dirt embedded into the paint.
The hood. Not much of this car didn’t have a healthy layer of embedded dirt and filth.
There’s hope. A small section of the trunk buffed a little to see if a shine still existed. I think it does.

On a chilly February afternoon (02/05/23), I just couldn’t wait to get started, despite the fact it was still quite chilly outside – so chilly, my garden hose wouldn’t unwind and gave me a fit as I gave “Grandpa” his first bath. After the first couple of swipes, the water was filthy. I kept going. I’ve always said I’d rather wash a really dirty car than one that was somewhat clean but needed a little “touch up”. There’s far more satisfaction in working on a dirty car. Well, I certainly felt accomplished after getting all the way around “Grandpa”. I think I could’ve given it two more baths and still removed dirt, but a good solid first bath would have to do.

“Grandpa” looking more driveway worthy after his first bath.
We’re getting there. The compounding, waxing and buffing are soon to come.

The lower trim project is coming tomorrow. The lower belt trim (goes along the bottom of the doors) had begun to come loose. Previous owner’s answer was to drive 3-4 sheet metal screws into the molding and door to keep the trim affixed. Yikes! So, my project will be to get the entire belt line clean, free of old adhesive, fill the screw holes with an epoxy, smooth them out and touch them up with white touch-up paint, then place the refurbished, black belt trim.

After that, we will give the underside of the hood and trunk a good wash and cleaning. I want to be sure all pathways for water drainage are clean, clear and able to do what they were designed to do. We will follow this up with the clay bar/compound/wax routine.

We haven’t discussed the interior. The interior is actually clean. There are a few minor projects that need tending to. The headliner (which is a hard material) needs a good cleaning, and the dash needs cleaning and moisturizing. A new dash mat has been ordered to hide the cracks in the dash, along with new custom cut floor mats to protect the new carpet installed during the near-4 month Phase I of the project. From sitting closed for so long, a slight odor of “old” exists that is slowly getting weaker and weaker. Arm and Hammer car baking soda hangers have been placed in the car to help with this, and it is improving.

The glovebox obviously had trouble staying shut under the previous owner’s tenure, as it appears someone used duct tape to keep it closed. The tape has long gone, but the residue is evident across the cover and dash. We will work to clean that up and get it looking better.

Once we got the car running nicely, trim pieces in and cleaned/painted, and a myriad of other improvements, this is what “Grandpa” looks like now.

A shine returns after a number of years sitting under a tree. Multiple washes necessary to get to the paint. The color and shine finally prevailed.
The paint is thin on the hood and trunk lid, but still yields a shine.
This angle shows the shine that finally got to see the light of day after much elbow grease, and a number of professional detailer products.
Very excited to get the lower beltline trim back on the car. Purchased new pieces where necessary, cleaned and painted. Very pleased with the “after” look of this car. It was in such poor external condition from sitting, and a couple of poor repair choices by the previous owner (ex. screwing the lower molding into the door using sheet metal screws). All of that has been addressed, and the end result is a car I’m not ashamed to drive around town.

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