Friday, December 16, 2011

A Long, Rambling Post, A 1988 Volvo 740 GLE Turbo Wagon

(My BMW. I took this picture in October, 2009, just after it hit 200,000 miles.)

I discovered something about myself last month... OK, that's not true. I confirmed something about myself last month.

What I confirmed is that I really like looking at cars. I mean I really like looking at cars. (Every woman I've ever dated, every friend that I've dragged to a car show - and made them look at the same cars over and over - just mumbled, "Gee, Dave, ya think?")

Last month I mentioned in this blog that a chunk of tree fell on and through my BMW in late October. I love my BMW. I've owned it for 14 years. I bought it with 18,000 miles on it and it just rolled over to 231,000 last week. There are very few things that have been in my life for that long.

As much as I love the BMW, seeing it with a smashed window and a broken exhaust (not related - the exhaust broke a week or two before the tree fell on it) was pretty disheartening. It's starting to have other problems, too. There are a few small spots of rust below the trunk (which really wouldn't be too noticeable if it wasn't a white car) , the throwout bearing has been growling for awhile and the headliner has started to sag in a few places. None of those problems have become too bad, but I know they're not going to get better on their own.

Looking at the BMW in such a sad state made me think it might be time to buy a new car. Not a "new" new car, but something else. I have two close friends whom I consider true car geeks. Both attempted to give me some advice. One thought I should buy a newer car, something "built in this century". I understood her point, but I wanted to practice what I preach in this blog and buy something older. The other was advising me to buy another BMW. "Look at how well your car has held up to your abuse". That was also a very valid point. But, I've owned cars built by Audi, BMW, MG, Triumph, Rover, Austin, Alfa Romeo, Sunbeam, Renault, Peugeot, VW, Saab, Opel, Chevrolet (Corvair), AMC and Jeep. I even once owned an NSU, but I never got to drive it. I wanted something I hadn't owned before. Something that could keep up with cars "built in this century" and hold up to my "abuse".

With that in mind, I decided to look for a Volvo 740 Turbo wagon. (I would have considered a 960 wagon, too.)

Pretty quickly I spotted a Volvo 740 GLE in Rhode Island listed on Craigslist. It was cheap, $1500.00. I called on it. The seller said it was still available, but he was going away for a week and wouldn't be able to show the car until he got back. I asked him to call me when he was available to show the car. He said he would. In the meantime, I figured that I'd check out a few other cars.

During that week I looked at 2 740 Turbo wagons, one immaculate 740 non-turbo wagon, 1 960 wagon and 1 940 wagon. I was having fun. A lot of fun. I was driving all sorts of Volvo wagons in various states of repair and disrepair.

True to his word, the seller of the 740 GLE wagon I first called on contacted me when he got back home. I drove to Rhode Island the next night to look at it. The owner was a Volvo enthusiast and the car, while not 100% perfect, was very, very nice. It was certainly the nicest Volvo 740 Turbo wagon I had seen so far. I had the full asking price in my pocket and could have made an offer right there and then. I didn't.

I didn't because I wanted to drive more cars. I started calling on - and driving - cars other than Volvo wagons. A BMW wagon in Vermont caught my eye, but the very expensive self leveling suspension was shot. An '89 BMW 325ix looked promising, but it had more Bondo than steel in the body. I drove a Saab convertible that I really liked, but the dealer was asking way too much money and wouldn't budge on the price. I called on and drove a few more Volvo wagons. I was having a ton of fun. But, I still had a crippled BMW.

Reality hit me the night I went to dinner with a friend. I had never gone out with this woman before and rolled up to her house in a car with plastic over the rear window and an exhaust note that would have made any wannabe gangsta jealous. It was not very impressive. We ate at a restaurant a few blocks from her house just so we could walk and I wouldn't have to explain the state of my car. Ugh.

The next day I decided I wanted the 740 GLE I saw in Rhode Island; the first one I had called on. It was very well maintained (it came with records), the seller was a very honest, nice guy and I was pretty certain it was a car that I could get a couple of years out of with minimal fuss. By then of course, it was gone.

Over the next few days I frantically checked every possible source of used cars for a Volvo 740 wagon. Other than a few of the "lesser condition" ones that I had already looked at and dismissed, there weren't any available. I decided to repair my BMW. I took it to a glass shop and had the rear window replaced. I convinced my friend Jeff to help me weld a new exhaust system on to it. (A new system from BMW is very expensive. More money than I wanted to spend on a 16 year old, 231,000 mile car. I decided to create one. ) Jeff and I went to an auto parts store and bought all the necessary pieces. We found just one muffler that would easily fit where the rear muffler was. It's made by Thrush. (I had no idea they were still in business. It even came with the classic Thrush sticker.) It gives the car a bit of a growl. My 12 year old son thinks it sounds cool. I'm not so sure that's good.

I don't regret repairing the BMW. As I said, I love the car. We've been through a lot together. (The whole time I was driving and thinking about buying another car I felt guilty, almost like I was having an affair. - Any psychiatrists read this blog? Can you cut me a deal on some couch time?) I'm hoping the throw out bearing lasts the winter. I'll replace it in the spring. I put a bit of paint over the rust spots and maybe I'll treat it to some real bodywork in the spring, too.

So why did I just write this way too personal, rambling post? 1) To answer the emails I've gotten asking me what I replaced my BMW with, 2) To have something on record to look back on the next time I think it's a good idea to pass on a nice car in order to drive more cars, and 3) to point out this car...

1988 Volvo 740 Turbo GLE

I can now attest from personal experience that a well maintained Volvo 740 Turbo wagon will keep up with - or blow the doors off - most cars "from this century".

These are pretty amazing cars. 60 MPH comes in 7 seconds. They are RWD and handle almost as well as my BMW. The interior sports a dashboard that is not as refined as those from Audi and BMW, but has all the right gauges and controls in all the right places. The seats are extremely comfortable and do a decent job of holding you in your place.

There are a number of mods that can be easily and safely done to this car. I've been told that the boost can be doubled (7 PSI is stock) without any real damage happening to the engine. There are suspension kits available that will give it sports car like handling.

As I found out while looking for one, the prices for 740 Turbo wagons are all over the place. This one might be just slightly nicer than the one I saw in Rhode Island, but the asking price is a bit over 2 1/2 times the asking price of the Rhode Island car.

Located in San Antonio, TX, click here to see the eBay listing.

A big thanks to John for sending me the link to this car. (Thankfully after I repaired the BMW, or I might have been on a plane to TX!)


desktopdave said...

I'm glad you decided to fix the e36. I'm also glad you looked at Volvo turbos. IMHO both of those cars are under-appreciated, victimized by their popularity. They're good all-round cars and are relatively well built for the long haul. How can you go wrong?

Blair Russell said...

While it's unfortunate you weren't able to get the car you really wanted, at least you were able to fix up your current ride and you can hold on to it a little bit longer before you find the car perfect for you.

At least it did make for an interesting story to read.

Anonymous said...

A picayune point, but "740 GLE" cars do not have a turbo. Those are "740 Turbo" models. IIRC, the 740 GLE had a NA 16v engine.

JT said...

Ugh, bad memories man. Coolest car that I've ever hated. I bought a gorgeous 1987 740 Turbo Wagon (4 speed + OD) in 1997 while still in college. It singlehandedly tried to bankrupt me. Seriously, you could not find a better used example than this car. Original owner, Euro delivery, all original documents + brochure, special Euro-only options, and every single service record documented.

It still tried to crush me. In the first six months the wiring harness melted and tried to burn the car down. The turbo lost pressure and made the car a slug (3 different volvo specialists couldn't diagnose the problem.) The head gasket blew while 7 hours from home and resulted in a $4000 cylinder head and block repair (on a car that I paid $5600 for).

I ended up selling it to my roommate for $2000 after one year of ownership....possibly my biggest loss on a car ever and I couldn't have been happier to see the title transfer over to him.