People often ask why I have chosen to modify a Volvo. The simple answer, it’s surprisingly quick and I like being different. But driving a Volvo means something special to me.
Since I was a small child, I always had an interest in cars. At three years old, I thought Jeeps were the coolest thing on the road. By ten, I wanted a Mustang GT. Once I got my learners permit and began driving my mom’s VW Passat, my interest was turned towards a Golf GTI. But by the time I was shopping for my first car in high school, I was only considering a Volvo.
Growing up in the 90s, the media played a significant factor towards conditioning my mind for which cars were cool. After seeing the Fast and the Furious, the JDM car culture captured my attention, but games like Need for Speed and Gran Turismo made me appreciate the Euro Tuner scene even more.
By the end of the 90s, my dad had owned two Volvo S70s. They were boxy but I loved the design. Eventually, my family had a V70, which was a turning point in my life towards loving station wagons. As I began dreaming about my first car, I wanted to convert an XC70 into an overlanding vehicle and car-camp my way across the continent. The thought of track days and racing never crossed my mind until I drove a V50 T5 loaner while our V70 was in the shop. I suddenly realized how much better the smaller platform handled and how addicting turbo noises were.
At this point in my life, I was not fully familiar with the world of tuning. All I knew was that these T5 Volvos were quick compared to everything else I had driven; I never thought Volvos were slow Grandparents’ cars. In my mind, Volvos shared the build quality, reliability, and performance of many German and Japanese cars. What made them even more appealing was that a used Volvo far exceeded the luxury and performance of the slightly newer Fords and Hondas that my friends were buying, but at the same price point.
I was 18, a senior in high school and dual enrolled for college courses. This meant that I was taking my mom’s Passat to campus every day, leaving her stranded at home. It became apparent that I needed my own car; that first purchase was a 2004.5 Volvo S40 T5.
The S40’s styling was ahead of its time. Compared to other 2004 model year cars, it looked brand new. It also helped that Volvo did not drastically change the appearance of the S40 for the entirety of the production run, so it was often mistaken for a brand new car.
For high school graduation that year, my parents got me a set of 17” Volvo wheels and I bought myself a factory spoiler. It was a modified car now! I babied it.
A few months later, I was on my way to campus. Driving uphill into the sun, I drove through a cloud that instantly fogged up the windshield and made it opaque. An impatient person behind me was tailgating, so I put on my turn signal to pull over and wait for the windshield to clear.
There was a vehicle parked on the side of the road and I ran straight into the back of it. I was only going 15mph and already in the process of stopping. I was technically doing the responsible thing, so the officer never issued a ticket. The van was completely unscathed, but my beloved S40 was totaled.
What a sight that must have been for the tailgater: someone driving at a slow crawl and using their turn signal to crash into another vehicle.
After a month of devastation and beating myself up over determining what would have been the better action to take, I realize that this truly was unavoidable. By definition, it was an accident.
I then found myself in another S40. Same color, same options, it was even built on the same day as my first car. I was excited to be back in a Volvo, but I told myself it was just a car. I would make it as good as my last one, but not get attached. Modifying cars was clearly a waste of money…
So naturally, every spare penny I had went into parts. When something needed to be replaced, I upgraded it. This resulted in a slow build progression, but it was reasonable for my daily driver and college kid budget. This truly was my first big venture into modifying a car and that S40 is what initiated my recognition within the Volvo community.
There was very little aftermarket support at that time, so I had to get creative and fabricate a lot of my own parts. I learned a lot about body work and the quality of factory engineering. This even led to mass producing and selling custom parts for a few years.
I quickly realized that taking the DIY route for maintenance and modifications could save money, which would further fund more car parts. Volvos are not necessarily expensive to maintain, so long as you are diligent about performing maintenance on time, it’s the labor that gets costly.
This S40 was not only my first venture into modifying a car, it was my first venture into getting my hands dirty and working on things myself.
Following my epiphany of the cost savings, I swore that I would never pay someone to do something that I could do myself. It was very rewarding to learn about my own car and even more-so to teach others. At one of the largest Volvo gatherings of 2018, I was honored with receiving a Volvo Genius award; an award that I was almost embarrassed to accept in the presence of multiple certified Volvo technicians.
As my automotive journey ventured further and further down the rabbit hole into modifying for performance, I began taking a greater interest in driving. Autocross and hill climbs were places where I could put these parts to the test. Four years into the ownership of my S40 and it was finally tuned with all of the “stage 3” performance bits. That is when I discovered that the automatic transmission would prevent me from becoming any faster. I actually boiled the transmission fluid at multiple events. But the real frustration was that the gear ratios of the automatic five speed made it slower to 60mph than a bone stock manual transmission Volvo, despite all the performance parts.
At launch in 2007, I had fallen in love with the design of the C30 but I could not afford to buy a brand new car, so I settled for the S40. The S40 models had been around for a few years, they were on the same chassis and used the same engine, which made them the affordable option of my dream machine. Fast forward to 2014 and a used C30 showed up on Facebook. As it would turn out, this particular car actually belonged to a fellow forum member. Despite never having met this guy, we shared 20 common Facebook friends within the car community. After two weeks of messaging about the hatchback, I converted my S40 back to stock, sold it, and was on a plane to New York to bring the C30 home.
Between the modifications that the previous owner had installed, and the parts I saved from my S40, this C30 was picking up exactly where I left off in my modification journey and it was a canvass for future mods. The C30 has always been one of my favorite cars, and I believe it’s a future classic. I can still go to car shows and often have the only Volvo present; many people still don’t know what the car is.
But this is not the entirety of my Volvo journey.
Rewind a bit, my wife and I were high school sweethearts. Once she was ready to buy her first car, I influenced her into shopping for a Volvo. She got a 1997 850 GLT, which was the only year the GLT came with a turbo. My wife has always been interested in cars, though not to the extent that I am. She only did a few cosmetic modifications and upgrades to her 850, nothing too extreme.
Once we got married, it was time to put her into something newer. We bought a 2005 V50 for a great deal, but being front wheel drive and automatic, we fixed it up and sold it within two months. Our search for the perfect wagon continued and we finally bought a 2006 V50, T5 engine, all wheel drive, and manual transmission; a true unicorn. That became our Project V50, which was thoroughly documented from start to finish.
I have owned a few other Volvos along the way. A couple for parts and one just to fix and flip.
Eventually, both my C30 and V50 sat parked in my driveway with mechanical issues from track abuse. My solution was to merge these cars into one. The light weight C30 body with the AWD V50 drivetrain would make for the perfect AWD hatchback. While a bit of a Frankenstein build, my two favorite Volvos continue to live on as one.
I can confidently say that I have touched every single bolt on this car, truly building it from the ground up.
Throughout the whole process, I have come to greatly appreciate stock engineering. While we can do things to squeeze out more power, the capabilities of a stock car are very impressive. As I have gotten older, wiser, and arguably lazier, I have slightly drifted away from the modifying scene. Rather than modifying cars into something that they were not originally intended for, I have begun seeking out cars which already check most of my boxes in their stock form. This has currently placed me in an FA20 WRX and a Porsche 987S. Both are phenomenal machines, but Swedish cars are where I got my start and I hope to always keep my Volvo C30 in the fleet.