Boxy, but Good! - The 144 original brick
By Dana Howe
We can all thank, perhaps in a semi sarcastic way, those pioneers who developed a prototype back in the mid 60's that gave Volvo cars the “boxy but good” reputation everyone associates Volvos with today. The car that changed the face of Volvo from round to square? The 140 series. Even with its short run from 1969 to 1974, its easy to see its impact on Volvo's design for at least the following 20 years.
Gary Sellstrom is no stranger to the 140's, his 1974 144 has been the center of his attention for the last 10 years and has undergone more weekend reconstruction than Pamela Anderson. However anyone can tell in its current state, it's a standing beauty. From its immaculate factory color red that was re-sprayed on sandblasted body panels, to the countless other oddities packed into the interior let alone the assortment of engine and drivetrain enhancements there is no doubt why it landed the “best in class” award at the last Golden Gate Chapter VCOA concourse.
It seems to be a trend that for many of us its our fathers that somehow con us into this sick addiction with rebuilding and modding Volvos, it was no different for the Sellstrom family. Gary being the 3 rd generation of Volvo enthusiast, first got involved at a young age helping his father rebuild a 164 and riding co-pilot in his dads 122 and 144. It only seems to fit in line that Gary start his own project a few years prior to obtaining a license. So he stumbled across the 144, picked it up for $430 and started in on his project. Right off the bat he tackled all the non functional aspects of the car, swapped in an m41 transmission, upgraded the suspension and ignition then slapped some 15” virgos on it from a 240 turbo. Once it was drivable, he began the first of two engine rebuilds, ending up with a 2130cc B20F using the IPD big bore kit along with their .256/.410 street torque cam and lifters.
Enduring the daily driver routine proved to be no problem for the 144, minor brushes with minivans and SUVs failed to slow the process by any margin. The consistent use out of the newly restored car led to a few additional minor changes to keep things running smoothly, a B20 electronic distributor, MSD ignition with surface-gap plugs from his dad's outboard boat motor, a new fuel tank and new fuel pump, new water pump, and seats from a 240 did the trick for the time being. Shortly after that a new stereo along with some white face gauges were added and the suspension was once again upgraded with Bilsteins and polyurethane bushings all around. The next major milestone Gary conquered was the great Volvo transmission ordeal, he opted for the Toyota Celica 5-speed using Dellow's conversion kit with an IPD 1500lb pressure plate and knocked 7 lbs off the flywheel for faster throttle response. Driveline Specialties built the 1-piece driveshaft for the car, and a Tru-Trac LSD for a 4.10 differential was added to provide more traction.
It happened to be the unfortunate event in which his car was vandalized while in for repairs at a local shop that transformed this brute street thrasher into the show car we now know it as. Thanks to the sponsorship by his insurance company the entire car got sandblasted, a new door and trunk installed, all the annoying dings filled in, and painted in the original color. Thanks to the local junkyard he managed to grab new late-model 240 door panels and matching seats, new 240 door trim, R-sport gauge cluster, and a couple emblems that were missing.
“I've told a few people that the only way I'll be getting rid of this car is if I either die in it or it's damaged beyond recognition. Am I obsessed with it? I don't think so, just very much in love with a wonderful Swedish piece of art.” Can we add anything to that? Nope, just like the tollhouse cookie recipe.. perfectly stated.
- Model: 1974 144E
- Owner: Gary Sellstrom
- Photographer: (himself)
- Motor: Rebuilt B20F with an IPD Big Bore Kit (2130cc) using an
IPD/ISKY Street Torque cam and lifter kit. A
Custom engine stabilizer was also fabricated for the engine. An MSD 6A Electronic Ignition controller and MSD Blaster 2 coil powers the 1975 B20 distributor (magnetic pickup) through MSD Spark Plug wires to NGK BUHW-2 Surface-gap spark plugs. A Stock Bosch K-Jetronic system using an '84 Turbo fuel tank w/pre-pump & Control Pressure Regulator provide the needed fuel while a custom built ‘airbox' including sensor mounting plate from 1981 B21F and K&N cone filter supply the other half of the mixture through a ported/polished intake manifold. IPD/Clifford headers out to a Custom 2 ¼” exhaust with Dynomax muffler do a great job at giving the car its grunt.
- Transmission: A Toyota Celica 5 speed tranny using the Dellow kit has an IPD heavy duty 1500lb pressure plate and lightened flywheel by 7.5lbs stuffed in it. The custom 1-pc driveline from Driveline Specialties
passed the torque through a Detroit Tru-Trac limited slip differential w/ 4.10 ratio.
- Suspension: IPD sway bars and Superflex urethane bushings (from MVP) and the custom-made adjustable torque rods
give the car some additional rigidity while the Bilstein rear/KYB Gas-Adjust front shocks keep the tires planted.
- Wheels & Brakes: 15x6" Volvo OEM 240 Turbo "Virgo" wheels
with Bridgestone Potenza 950's
added a stylish touch to the car, and the factory brake system has been mostly rebuilt to keep the car on the pavement.
- Cosmetic: The car was completely stripped down to bare metal by sand blasting and repainted in the original red color from the factory. Tinted windows and minor trim pieces from the 240 series add a nice touch.
- Interior: The interior of the car was swapped over to '89 240 door paneling and seats. New carpet and padding was installed along with the R-Sport instrument cluster. An Alpine CDA-9813 60x4 head unit currently powers stock Volvo 4” front door speakers and Pioneer TS-D690R 2-way 6x9's in the rear deck.