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Not a Cross Country - 240 Wagon 4x4 Build-up
by Brian Roth

At A Glance

Body 1975 Volvo 245 wagon $500.00
Front Axle 1984 Cherokee Dana 30. 4.11 ratio Free
Engine 1997 EFI Camaro 3.8 Series II V6 200hp $600.00
Transmission 1986 S10 Blazer 700R4 (rebuilt by me) $150.00
Hours Invested Approximately 250  
Time from start to finish 12 Weeks  


In the fall of 2001, with the horrors of 9/11/01 still fresh in our minds my wife, three year old daughter and I moved to Pollock Pines, California . It is a Sierra Nevada community of 5000 people located half way between Sacramento and Tahoe at an elevation of 4000 feet. It snows there. This is not Minnesota snow but Sierra snow. It is generally wetter and falls on more hilly terrain. I needed a four wheel drive to get up my paved, 12% grade, 300 foot long driveway.

We started with a 1984 K5 Diesel Blazer to get buy until I could build something more interesting. That something turned out to be a 1981 Mercedes Benz 300TD turbodiesel station wagon married to a 1984 Nissan 720 4x4 pickup chassis.

That was followed by a 1974 Honda Civic 3 door hatch whose floorpan was removed and replaced with a shortened pan and drivetrain from a 1989 Honda RealTime 4x4 wagon.

The MB has been sold (for $5000, total cost to build including the $950 I paid for the car: $2600 and tons of hours) to a guy in Southern California and the Civic remains my faithful daily driver.

However, the need for another family 4x4 soon reared its head. More Diesel Blazers. Then in the winter of 04/05 I began thinking about a new wagon hybrid (not a hybrid in the sense of combining an internal combustion engine with an electric motor but a hybrid in the sense of combining components from different vehicles into a new one).

After the last diesel blazer sold we were down to a Ford 2.3 turbo powered Porsche 914, the previously mentioned Honda Civic 3 door and a 1984 Ford E350 Banks turbo 6.9 diesel camping van. I determined that we needed another four door four by four. I love station wagons and we all really missed the Mercedes hybrid(my daughter cried as we drove away from the Sacramento airport as the new owner drove it back to Southern California . My number one priority with any vehicle is that it be legally exempt from any emissions testing. In California that means it needs to be diesel powered or older than a1976.

I considered converting an American wagon. I did not want to use a really big car like a Custom Cruiser or an Impala and smaller wagons like Lagunas, Aspens and Falcons are hard to find. I thought what wagon made before 1976 is the most common in America ? The Volvo 245! Besides I have always liked Volvos. To quote Dudley Moore from Crazy People: They're boxy, but good. It is easy to get body and interior parts for them at local junk yards.

Next question: What type of drivetrain? I am not part of the rock crawling crowd and value on road handling . My 914 is the sports car of our fleet but I still wanted decent on road handling. I decided to go with a Chevy S10 front suspension. They are independent, have lots of travel and have adjustable ride height. A fair amount of wheel choices are available for the lug pattern (I planned on making adapters for the stock Volvo rear Dana 30 with disk brakes).

I acquired a free 1986 S10 4x4 Blazer with a bad 700R4 and a 2.8 V6. My plan was to use the front frame clip, differential and transfer case. I did not want to use the boat anchor 2.8. I spent a great deal of time on the fueleconomy.gov and autos.msn.com websites checking out horsepower and fuel economy ratings of different engines. My goal was to get better than the 22 mpg the MB got and get more horsepower than its 3.0 liter 5 cylinder turbo diesel's 120 hp. I considered the LT1 5.7 V8 from Camaros, Roadmasters, etc. This engine is rated at 28 mpg highway in a Camaro and put out 275 to 300 hp. However, it runs on premium and has some reliability issues (the opti-spark ignition primarily). I considered the Dodge FWD V6's and tried to find out if a Dakota transmission would bolt up. No dice. I seriously considered a Ford 2.3 turbo like I have in my Porsche 914. The 914 gets 27 mpg on premium and has 200 hp. I went to RangerPowerSports.com and found that guys running the 2.3 turbo in their 4x4 Rangers were getting less than 20 mpg so I gave up on that.

I finally settled on the GM 3.8. This engine has been around in one form or another since the 70's. My understanding is that it was a descendant of an Olds V8. In 1995 GM came out with the 3.8 series II. This engine is rated at 200 hp and gets 29 mpg highway in the Camaro automatic and 30 mpg highway in the Camaro 5 speed on regular gas. It turned out to be difficult to find one cheaply. You can find the FWD versions at self serve junk yards fairly easily. Converting a FWD one to RWD is not impossible but involves making custom accessory mounts or acquiring the RWD accessories from a Camaro or Firebird. I searched for over two months and was about to pay $1K for an engine and auto trans from a full serve wrecking yard when someone answered an ad I had placed on Craigslist.org. I hitched up my small trailer to my 914 and drove a couple of hours to Dixon , CA . I paid him $550 for a 1997 3.8 from a Firebird. I got a complete engine with wiring harness and Powertrain Control Module. He had a rebuilt 4L60E automatic transmission that I could have bought for $150. However, I decided to rebuild my free S10 transmission. My understanding was that changing the tail shaft in the Firebird transmission would require disassembly and reassembly tantamount to a complete rebuild in order to install the transfer case.

I got the engine home and my next task was to rebuild my S10 700R4 transmission. I bought a overhaul kit from a local auto parts store for $110. It turned out not to contain all of the parts I needed. I called Placerville Transmission to get some more of the parts. The owner, Adolf, told me he could get a better kit for about the same price. For $145 he got me a good kit that contained everything I needed. He also helped me out with some special tools and other stuff along the way for no extra charge! A great guy. I was also able to return the unopened kit to the auto parts store.

The next step was to bolt up the engine to the transmission. It was a direct bolt up although I did have to slightly elongate one of the torque converter holes in the 3.8's flex plate. By the way, a 3.8 Series II will bolt up to any GM 60 ° transmission. The 3.8 is a 90 ° engine but GM changed it to their 60 ° bell housing pattern when they adapted it for FWD use in the 80's.

One problem with this choice of engines was the starter location. The S10 has a passenger's side starter and a driver's side differential. The 3.8 has a driver's side starter. Some careful measuring showed that I would have to do some serious oil pan surgery or settle on a ride height taller than I really wanted. I began to consider other front axle options besides the independent S10. I Eventually settled on a Jeep Cherokee Dana 30. I found that 4 cylinder Cherokees, at least the early ones, came with 4.10's. That was the same ratio as my Volvo's rear D30. The differential was still on the driver's side but not as intrusive to the starter's position as the S10's independent setup. I knew this was a compromise on my desire for good on road handling but liked the idea of Dana 30's front and rear with four wheel disc brakes. Also, I thought that if I ever wanted to sell the car a potential buyer might like the solid axle better.

I prepared the engine bay for installation of the engine.

Next I made the cart shown here to position the engine/trans/transfer case under the car.

It raises and lowers using 3 jacks and rolls on casters. I jacked the car up to the approximate height that I wanted for the finished product. I rolled the drive train under the car and checked for fitment. The fitment looked decent. The biggest issue, as I had guessed, was the transfer case. With the Mercedes, on which I had used a divorced case, I cut up into the floor and had to narrow the seat tracks. I decided to try to avoid that this time so I pounded on the driveline tunnel sheet metal to make room for the transfer case. I rolled the drivetrain under, checked the fitment, rolled it out, pounded some more. Check. Pound. Check. Pound. I think it was about 7 times. I compromised on a drivetrain height that was lower than what I really wanted. The height of the drivetrain, of course, determines the minimum ride height as the differential must clear the oil pan. I was able to use the stock rear drive shaft from a Cherokee. A little work with the U joints and I was able to connect it to the Volvo rear axle. I then made the engine mounts. I used the stock rubber mounts from the 3.8 but fabricated brackets to bolt to the Volvo's unibody. I made a driveshaft for the front by shortening a stock S10 shaft. I have done better before. This one is out of round about .050 and I will need to correct this at some point.

I then fabricated a custom exhaust system.

This is a task I generally save for last when doing an engine conversion. Since it is my most hated task I decided to get it out of the way early and save something more fun for last. I used most of the y pipe from the S10, the Camaro catalytic converter and O2 sensors and the Volvo muffler and tail pipe.

I then rolled the front axle under the car.

Things looked pretty good. I positioned the axle tube under the notch in the front of the oil pan. I fabricated mounts for the Jeep's 4 link setup. I put the rear mounts closer together vertically than stock, which, undoubtedly causes more caster change during suspension travel than stock. I installed adjustable upper spring perches and used stock Cherokee 6 cyl springs. I used a bumper bracket from a 1965 Olds Vista Cruiser I restored for a steering box mounting bracket. This turned out to be too weak. Even after reinforcing it 3 times it was not strong enough. So I later came in with a complete new front crossmember and some channel steel. It looks much nicer and is now strong enough.

Wiring the engine was one of the easiest hurdles to clear.

There turns out to be little information on the web about custom installations of the 3.8 series II. Fortunately there is a great deal of information on custom installations of the LS1 V8. Almost everything that works on an LS1 works on a 3.8 series II. The pins on the Powertrain Control Modules (PCM) are almost the same. I got a lot of help from LS1Tech.com. I hooked everything up, using the stock Volvo Bosch fuel pump. The 3.8 series II is essentially a self contained unit. If you get a complete engine with the wiring harness all you have to do is hook 12V to it, ground it, give it fuel and it will start. Except for one small detail: Vehicle Anti Theft System (VATS) is a system GM has used since the 1980's. A Body Control Module (BCM) must send a signal (the signal is different for different years and body types) to the PCM so that it will make the injectors pulse. The BCM uses its own criteria to decide whether or not the vehicle is being stolen. The signal is apparently quite complicated. Most LS1 guys have their PCM reprogrammed. I did not want to do this. I am too cheap and did not want to entrust my PCM to someone else. I got a box from Baker Electronix for $28. When it came I hooked it up and the engine started up and purred like a baby cat.

Then I made the wheel adapters for the rear.

I used 2" aluminum plate. I calculated the locations of all of the holes for the 4 on 4.5 Jeep and 4 on 4.25 Volvo bolt circles. I then used my x and y dials on my import mill drill to make the holes. The first adapter worked with a little filing of the wheel's holes. I adjusted the slack in the milling machine table before making the second adapter.

It came out almost perfect. I accomplished cutting the round spacers out of the rectangular plates by drilling a series of 1/2" holes around the circumference.

Not easy but I did not have another suitable way to cut it. One of my criteria for a custom car project is to do everything myself so I did not want to pay anyone else. This also helps in my marital relationship. I am a high school math teacher and usually spend my summers on these projects instead of earning a wage. My wife tends to frown on me spending money instead of making it. Having said that I have always made a profit when I sell one of these vehicles.

The first drive went pretty well.

What amazed me most was that it would move since I was the rebuilder of the 700R4. After more and more driving the trans seems to be working perfectly. I had to replace a leaking heater core and reseal the top of the steering box. I have not yet hooked up a torque converter lockup switch. For now I intend to make this a manually operated switch until and unless I find a way to get the PCM to do it. I have about 200 miles on the car so far. I had to switch to some stiffer Mercedes front springs and had to raise the front ride height a couple of times because of clearance issues. This is not yet finished as the front axle hits the oil pan sometimes (not good). The engine runs perfectly. I am anxious to check the fuel mileage at the second fill up. I also need to hook up the vacuum control of the front axle which engages the passenger's side wheel with a diaphragm operated sleeve. I also need to install the S10 cruise control system and the power windows, mirrors and locks I got from another Volvo.

At this point I am thrilled to death with the car. It has way more power than the MB. If the Volvo meets or exceeds the fuel mileage of the MB I will be satisfied.


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