Until Don Nicholson entered the late-model Volvo tuning world, Volvo fans had very few outlets for aftermarket performance parts. Unlike BMW, VW, Audi et al, the North American Volvo enthusiast had scant pickings. That's not to say there aren't any, with ipd, Polestar and K-Paxx springing to mind, but finding quality parts for your Volvo can be a challenge.
"I come from a family of hot-rodders," explained Nicholson, owner of Elevate. The bug bit after buying a 740 Turbo to haul his kids. "Before long I was commissioned by Volvo to build two S60R for its 2003 SEMA booth, and it kept growing from there!"
Fast forward to '06 and Nicholson, founder of Evolve (later changed to Elevate) was again commissioned to build a C30 for SEMA and he decided to create the wildest C30 ever seen.
The insane creation would be painted a wild shade of yellow over custom fenders that housed an AWD system, center-lug wheels and 386mm rotors with 14-piston calipers, all controlling a twin-turbo motor. "Unfortunately, we've never built another AWD conversion, or had a customer ask for the crazy brakes; probably because they cost $30,000 a pair to build!" he laughed.
The AWD SEMA car put Nicholson on the map and, in a matter of months, the car landed on the 4/07 cover of eurotuner magazine. Unfortunately, Volvo eventually came calling for its car and without a C30 of his own, Nicholson decided to purchase his own shop car. "I acquired a Brilliant Blue C30 Version 1.0 in '07 with the sole purpose of designing parts for the C30 and P1 platform it shares with the S40 and V50," Nicholson said.
Back then, there was no T5 or R-Design variants. It was just Version 1.0 (base model) and Version 2.0 with a front spoiler, fender flares, side sills, rear wing and bigger wheels. In fact, it would later become the R-Design.
Over the years, his C30 would become the test mule for an entire line of Elevate parts. In fact, it helped to develop Elevate's 3" downpipe and exhaust system, along with a popular cold-air intake and new inlet manifold. "The ECU is mounted to the factory air box to keep it cool because after lots of R&D I found that most open-air systems don't adequately cool the ECU. So it took lots of trial and error to sort out the details," Nicholson said.
Speaking of details, you should see the inlet manifold: apparently adding a few ponies to a stock car, but with the potential for 26hp and up to 22 lb-ft when the motor is highly modified. "The stock plastic intake manifold can burst under high boost, so I designed a high-flow aluminum upper manifold that mounts to a ported lower unit with a spacer. This keeps the temps down while increasing airflow," Nicholson explained.
Other motor mods developed on this very car include AN external oil cooler and turbo control valve. It also has a larger intercooler - double the size of the stock part with larger 2.5" piping to remove further restrictions.
This bolt-on combination would help Nicholson develop several tuning packages. Without the cold-air intake, the car made 251hp and 340 lb-ft at the wheels using the small stock turbo. This translated to 72hp and 79 lb-ft over a stock C30 2.5L turbo.
The test mule was subjected to more than just motor experiments; a torque mount was eventually created, for example, to isolate engine vibration while reducing movement under wide-open throttle. "I tested ten different torque mounts and gradually perfected the unit over the years. So the current version is the production unit and I'm finally satisfied," Nicholson continued.
Yet one of the first modifications on the C30 was actually a set of Elevate Sport springs that drop the hatchback 1.6" front and 1.75" rear for a nice stance and better spring rates.
The matching rear sway bar wasn't far behind, and together they transformed the C30 into a proper corner-carver.
When owners complained of uneven rear tire wear as a result of excessive camber from the stock control arms, Elevate came to the rescue with adjustable rear camber arms. The units can be dialed-in to prevent uneven wear or can be set to improve the handling.
When budget brake upgrades weren't enough, the Volvo became the recipient of another first: a budget-friendly big brake setup that would later become the production version. "I designed it with 320mm slotted rotors and six-piston calipers plus stainless steel lines - everything needed to install the kit," Nicholson said. Of course, being an upscale European car it wouldn't be complete without interior add-ons, so Elevate can offer leather upholstery plus new mats and aluminum trim.
Let's not forget the 19x8.5" HRE P40 wheels in the fenders, along with the 235/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tires that take a starring role on an otherwise understated exterior.
After four years of almost continuous development, Nicholson eventually went where no North American aftermarket Volvo tuner has yet gone, offering a plug-n-play big-turbo conversion.
"It took us countless hours to design but, with the help of some friends overseas, we were able to resolve the software issues and source the K16 turbo from the vaunted Ford Focus RS500. Coincidentally, we were delighted to find the Ford's turbo actually has an OEM Volvo part number," Nicholson divulged.
It might have taken years to complete but, as they say, you can't rush perfection. The kit comes with all the hard- and software, adding heaps of power to the T5 motor without needing internal upgrades. "We were able to safely increase the power without compromising the stock motor or even the automatic transmission thanks to precise tuning and torque management in the lower gears," Nicholson said.
Speaking of the lower gears, with 347hp and 353 lb-ft at the wheels on 91-octane pump gas, the first three cogs are nothing but wheelspin under a heavy foot. However, a highway pull rewards with hard acceleration so fierce you'd swear you were in a proper sports car far above this Swedish hatchback's price tag.
"There are bigger turbos out there, but the K16 is a factory unit with our tuning behind it, so the reliability, fuel economy and performance is unparalleled," Nicholson opined.
This white 2012 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design before you, sits in stark contrast to Don's stripped down, blue car. "Owner Kris Ly approached me to build the ideal daily driver that would be fast, fun, economical and unique. And since he already owned a 997 Porsche 911 and BMW 550i, I knew the C30 would have to be extensively modified to meet his expectations," Nicholson said.
Although Ly hadn't yet bought a C30, he was intrigued by its unique style. So it took one phone call to Elevate for him to realize he'd found the ideal daily driver. "Together we planned the build before he owned the car, and one month later the white C30 R-Design showed up," Nicholson stated.
Much of the build process mirrored the test mule, except for a 300mm front brake kit, Koni shocks and 19x8.5" Vertini Magic wheels wrapped in 225/35 Hankook Ventus V12 tires.
At that point, the K16 turbo kit wasn't complete so Ly commissioned JR Audio in Norco, CA to add a full stereo using Focal component speakers and JL Audio subwoofer juiced by JL and Alpine amps. "The stereo was a nice addition and he even had us insulate the car with about 100 lb of material," Nicholson said.
Shortly after, Elevate released the K16 kit and Ly was beyond impressed with the power. "He was content with the bolt-on parts but was really impressed when we stepped up to the K16," Nicholson said.
Although many might consider the Volvo an unlikely candidate for this treatment, Nicholson counters that assumption. "The only thing unlikely about a high-performance Volvo is that they're not mainstream... yet! "The latest S60, S40 and C30 are extremely affordable on the used market and seriously fast when properly modified. I'm already seeing more modified examples and it's only a matter of time before people discover how amazing these cars can be."
2008 Volvo C30 Version 1.0
Owner: Don Nicholson
Location: Monrovia, CA
Occupation: Elevate owner
Engine 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo with Elevate K16 turbo upgrade, extrude-honed lower inlet manifold, high-flow upper inlet manifold, 3" downpipe, sports exhaust system, front-mount intercooler, hard piping, silicone hoses, turbo control valve, cold-air intake, engine torque mount, external oil cooler
Drivetrain stock six-speed manual
Suspension Elevate Sport lowring springs, rear sway bar, adjustable rear camber arms
Brakes 320mm slotted rotors, Elevate six-piston calipers, pads, stainless brake lines f, slotted rotors r
Wheels & Tires 19x8.5" HRE P40 wheels, 235/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tires
Exterior OEM Volvo Version 2.0 body kit, smoked tail lights, Elevate custom grille, signal bulbs, window tint
Interior custom alcantara interior pieces, shift knob and steering wheel with blue stitching, Elevate pedals, dead pedal and mats