Jay’s Volvo Story
In ’94 I bought my first car, a silver ’87 740 turbo wagon, from a family of four in suburban DC. It had a power sunroof and a chunky, black, early 90’s cell phone handset screwed into the armrest, along with its 2 foot spiral cord snaking under the rug and attached to the antenna on the roof.
I was working copy delivery at the time and was able to put tons of cases of paper into the trunk. This was before widespread internet use, so company reports and memos were copied thousands of times on paper. I once delivered to a government storage hanger and was awestruck by the acres of cases of documents stacked 2 stories high. It looked like the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
I loved that ride and put on a lot of miles in the short time I owned it, including burying the needle at 120mph coming back from a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. But when I got accepted to grad school in New York city I decided to move from the auto-dependent suburbs to the walkable metropolis. No more silver brick for me.
Living for 10 years without a car wasn’t bad as New York is walkable and public transit is abundant. But once I started raising kids I knew I’d have to buy some iron. Lugging strollers and diaper bags onto buses and taxis was too much.
I worked as a web designer at MTV and thought I’d use my annual bonus as down payment on a car loan. Then I discovered personal finance guru Dave Ramsey and got some perspective. He advises to pay cash for cars and I realized car payments were a road to doom if they were stacked atop our astronomical student loans. Seeing as I was laid off from two media jobs in 2008 I’m glad I made that decision. Unfortunately the bonus wasn’t as good as the previous year and, once Uncle Sam took his chunk, I was left with about $3500 to find transportation for my family of 4.
My dreams of high performance disappeared and were replaced with 3 primal concerns: safety, reliability and carrying capacity. There’s not a wide selection of cheap cars that meet that criteria. I briefly considered decommissioned Ford Crown Vic police interceptors but figured they’d be difficult to park in crowded Hoboken, and I’d look like an undercover cop when picking my kids up from school. Subaru Legacy wagons seemed to be only available in a nasty teal color, and I had no need for the ground clearance of an Outback. With a mind to simplicity and rear-wheel drive I finally settled on the Volvo 245.
With the help of the $3-$4k filter on eBay Motors I found my current ride. It’s a black, 1992 240 wagon.The seller had bought it from a charity auction; the previous owner had given the car away as a tax write-off. It had 124k and we agreed to swap the 14″ Corona wheels for a set of 15″ Virgo mags.
I love the simple setup and analogue gauges; I have no need for a messy bunch of buttony computer gadgets. I spend enough time futzing with digital interfaces for work, why would I want that in my car?
I had no idea how enjoyable it would be to work on and it gives me an opportunity to get away from the computer and scrape the skin off my knuckles. I’ve installed ipd sport springs and anti-sway bars, along with full exhaust, motor and tranny mounts and brake pads and rotors. I document most of my work in pictures and/or video for my blog, My Black Brick.
myblackbrick.com was launched soon after I bought the car as a way to feed the cult following the 240 seems to enjoy. I started noticing 240s popping up all over the place and felt it held a unique position in our culture. They appear in a variety of movies and commercials as a generic or “beater” car, and show up at demolition derbies across the country ramming into Detroit iron. Jalopnik even entered a V8 conversion in a few seasons of “24 Hours of Lemons”. They’re an iconic car for their era.
The blog was a way to explore that cult, to document my work and to learn how to program in WordPress. It’s been a rewarding venture and it has helped guide my freelance designs for websites for Gayle King, Dennis Miller and Loveline w/ Dr. Drew. I post content up a few times a week and create DIY project guides when I can. I’ve always got something going on with the brick, some part to replace or improve. Next project will be a full rebuild of the front end to clean up my leaking shaft(s). The fun never ends…