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1981 Volvo 245 DL - Race Wagon

Lock Up Your Labrador, This Volvo 245 Wagon Isn't Your Average Grocery-Getter.

Greg Emmerson
Jul 13, 2010
Photographer: Anders Odeholm

There's something über-cool about cars that aren't what they seem. They draw real car guys like moths to a flame. And this '81 Volvo 245 wagon is living proof that we all love something out of the ordinary. While most people would be scratching their heads and asking why you'd do this to a Volvo wagon, car guys nod in approval because it's a Volvo wagon!

Eurp_1007_01_o+1981_volvo_245_dl+owner Photo 2/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL - Race Wagon

Let us explain: anybody with enough money can make an M3 fast. But for some guys, it's too easy. And for others, it's too predictable. There's something perverse about taking a grocery-getter like the Volvo 245 and turning it into a track car in your father's garage, on a limited budget, in your spare time.

Living close to Stockholm, Sweden the 28 year-old auto mechanic Tobias Wasserman was indoctrinated early. His earliest memories are of his father's blue '84 Volvo 245 GLT. It was followed by more Volvos until the 15 year-old bought his first car; a '72 Volvo 142 DL.

In turn, this was followed by a '76 242 with a '84 front-end and B23 motor on dual Webers, then came a '83 360 GLS with the same B23 motor, followed by a '84 242 with another built motor.

Currently, Tobias owns a widebody '89 245 with a '04 T6 motor as well as a '80 244 that's getting a '98 S70 2.5T motor. And there's a turboed '89 245 used as a tow car. He even works at a Volvo dealership...

The Race Wagon, as he refers to the 245 featured here, was bought in 2003 as a winter beater. "At the time I had a '92 BMW M535i, but it wasn't the best car on snow and ice. So I bought the wagon from a buddy in good condition for its age.

1981 volvo 245 DL in snow Photo 3/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

"The following year it passed the Swedish Vehicle Inspection with a 170hp 850 GLT motor as a "modified vehicle" for private use. Shortly after, I lost control and the car began to evolve... Unfortunately, my father hasn't been able to use his garage since, but he kindly extended it to give me more work space!"

The inspiration for the project was drawn both from the Group A Volvo 242 touring cars and the 850 wagon raced in the British Touring Car Championship. "Modified 240 sedans are quite popular in Sweden, but very few use the 240 wagon, especially on the track," Tobias explained. "I enjoy having something different and my plan was to build a 240 race wagon using a combination of 242 and 855 parts.

Power trip Having paid $800 for the 106hp, four-speed car, he bought the 2.3L GLT five-cylinder motor for $3300 from a friend who ran out of steam on his own project. "The inline five-cylinder engine is really nice to tune. It's fairly easy to get lots of power from them and they sound terrific!" Tobias confirmed.

As the power of his imagination grew, so did the power of his project. Tobias originally aimed for 300hp but ended up with far more. He started with a Chinese ST70 turbo mounted on a home-built exhaust manifold fabricated from 42mm steel tubing. He then machined a '93 Audi S2 wastegate, enlarging it to 40mm and used the lower half of a Scania truck intercooler, making 3'' pressure pipes for it and adding dual Bosch dump valves with return feeds.

"I enjoy finding OE parts that will work on my car. I'm experienced enough to know if a certain part can be used and it saves money for the aftermarket parts I really need," Tobias explained. "I used as many modified Volvo parts as possible, such as the 850 GLT cams, V70 coils, S60 intake, 3'' 960 throttle housing, shortened 960 oil pan, two V40 radiator fans and a 940 alternator with my own mounting.

1981 volvo 245 DL build Photo 10/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

"Then I got parts from other makes, such as an Audi wastegate, Saab fuel pump, Mercedes pressure pumps, Toyota oil pumps, etc. These generally had to be massaged to work. And in some cases, I made my own parts too such as the motor mounts, headers, pressure pipes, cam gears, side-exit exhaust, etc."

When OE parts weren't available, he turned to the aftermarket for items like the SPM connecting rods, Siemens 630cc injectors, Nuke fuel rail and KG Tuning oil filter adaptor and remote filter assembly.

After Tobias had built the motor at home, he was pleasantly surprised when it "fired the first time and worked unexpectedly well," he said. "My buddies and I then spent time fine-tuning everything."

1981 volvo 245 DL engine Photo 11/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

Then began his biggest headache; programming the Motronic 4.3 engine management and adding an extra controller to run five individual coils rather than the stock coil, distributor and rotor. He worked with friend Jörgen Gustavsson, but it took a lot of trial and error to get right. "We did it for the challenge," he said. "The first chip sucked but eventually we got the hang of it and an understanding of what worked."

Buoyed by success, he's building a new engine he hopes will deliver "a couple of hundred hp more." It uses a '96 850 block with JE pistons, SPM rods, a ported '04 V70 head with Autotech cams, home-made headers, Siemens 875cc injectors, his own aluminum intake manifold and a new turbo.

Pushing power to the rear wheels is a Getrag tranny from a BMW 535i with a custom bellhousing to mount it. It also has a lengthened driveshaft from a '89 Volvo 240 and he converted to a hydraulic BMW clutch assembly before adding a four-puck sintered-bronze clutch with Sachs Racing pressure plate.

1981 volvo 245 DL start of build Photo 12/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

Classy chassis With track days on the agenda, serious chassis mods were required. He started with custom-built Sellholm coilovers up front, which would lower the car about 4.5''. However, this meant the front ball joints would need to be moved 15mm further out, and 60mm spacers fitted between the joints and coilovers to maintain the geometry of the special Volvo lower A-arms. Machined 60mm spacers were also fitted to the steering linkages to prevent bumpsteer.

In the rear, the link arms were modified and lowered 2'' to work in conjunction with the Bilstein shocks and homebuilt height-adjustable Sellholm springs. This also gave him mounting points for the Sellholm's adjustable sway bar.

Firmer bushings were fitted all round and ambulance-spec strut tower braces were bought from Volvo to stiffen the front-end.

The brakes are another ingenious mix of factory and aftermarket. He utilized 360mm front rotors clamped by four-piston Brembo calipers, all from a '01 Jaguar XKR. In the rear it's a combination of 305mm discs with four-piston AP Racing calipers and a custom drum for the e-brake. There's also a bias adjuster to balance the set up.

When looking for wheels, the Swede liked the retro style of Compomotive's MO five-spoke design, especially since they would accommodate his large brakes. He opted for 17x8'' all round because a friend competes in the Swedish Camaro Cup series and could supply him with 265/640-17 racing slicks.

"I needed wide tires in the rear for better grip when I exit turns. And widening the track improved the handling," Tobias told us. However, this brought its own complications. He needed to extend the rear fenders, so bought and modified front flares from RP-Glasfiber in Kalix, Sweden. The front fenders are also fiberglass, while "a friend who works at a shipyard made the carbon fiber hood, which weighs only 9 lb."

The wagon also wears a Bross front spoiler, M3-style side skirts of unknown origin, a fiberglass rear hatch and Lexan windows all round (except the front screen). Further weight savings were found in plastic headlights from a US-spec car and a pair of Cup mirrors.

1981 volvo 245 DL exterior detail Photo 19/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

With the new fender flares both providing an exit for the tail pipe and covering the stock fuel filler, Tobias relocated the latter to the side window. A long tube feeds the 10.6-gallon fuel cell mounted in the middle of the diamond plate-lined trunk

Once the bodywork was complete, the owner did the prep work before his cousin (who works at a paintshop) sprayed the car in its original factory blue. "It makes the car look more innocent," Tobias suggested. "I honestly think the paint has saved me from being pulled over more than once - the Police just don't get it."

For the same reason, he deleted a rear wing because although it was "useful at top speed, the law doesn't like aftermarket wings and I didn't want to attract too much attention. I also felt it ruined the overall look of the car," Tobias said.

1981 volvo 245 DL static Photo 20/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

He was bolder inside, removing everything behind the front seats and lining it with diamond plate. He also removed the sound insulation and carpet, but kept it up front to look less hardcore.

Motorsport equipment includes the pair of Cobra Monaco seats with six-point Willians harnesses, a quick-release steering wheel and a full GUS rollcage.

The stock instrumentation wasn't going to suffice, so the speedo was replaced with a VDO dial that reads to 300km/h, while a giant KL-Racing rev counter with shift lights is mounted to the console. The center vents were also blanked off with diamond plate to mount a series of oil, water, AFR and boost gauges.

1981 volvo 245 DL dash Photo 21/28   |   You've got to wonder what the missing gauge did?

Looking forward We've already mentioned Tobias is building a new engine for the 245 and, money no object, he'd like to add a carbon fiber roof and tubular chassis but freely admits there's a long wish list. "I started the project in '04, so it's been in development for six years. The day I sell it or crash it beyond repair will be the day I'm done with it," he confirmed.

But for now he's content to fettle the car and continue cutting lap times with suspension adjustments. "At the first track event I attended, the Race Wagon behaved better than I expected, and my expectations were very high!

"The car got lots of attention, and it's still a curiosity when I race because most people underestimate a station wagon. I love to see the look on the faces of M3, Audi, Skyline and Porsche owners when I pass them on the track. They simply can't believe it happened - being passed by an '81 Volvo 245 DL is nothing to tell your friends about!" he laughed.

Tech Spec
1981 Volvo 245 DL
Owner: Tobias Wasserman
Location: Norrtälje, Sweden
Occupation: mechanic

Engine: Volvo 850 T5 B5234 2.3-liter five-cylinder with reinforced block, SPM rods, shortened '96 Volvo 960 oil pan, ported head, modified Volvo R gasket, '94 850 GLT cams, adjustable cam gear, fabricated exhaust manifold and 3" stainless steel turbo-back side-exit exhaust, '04 S60 T5 ported intake with '96 960 throttle-body and housing, ST70 turbo, '93 Audi S2 wastegate, dual Bosch dump valves, dual '92 Mercedes 500 fuel pumps and '96 Saab 9000 pressure pump, '93 Toyota Hilux fuel cooler, '94 Volvo 850 Motronic 4.4 ECU with custom tune and distributor-less ignition controller for individual coils, Siemens 630cc injectors, modified Scania intercooler, Turbo-bandit aluminum radiator and catch tank, dual '02 S40 cooling fans, oil cooler with cooling fan

Drivetrain: '92 BMW 535i Getrag transmission, custom bellhousing, lengthened driveshaft, BMW pedal assembly with hydraulic clutch, '96 Volvo 940 clutch cylinder and '92 BMW 535i slave cylinder, four-puck sintered-bronze clutch with Sachs Racing pressure plate, lightened flywheel, '88 Volvo 240 axle with Torsen diff, 3.54:1 final drive, axle cooler and pump mounted in rear bumper

Brakes: '01 Jaguar XKR 360mm front rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers, 315mm AP-Racing floating rear rotors and AP four-piston calipers, custom e-brake drums, brake bias adjuster for rear brakes

Suspension: Sellholm front coilovers, relocated front hubs, reinforced '88 Volvo 240 ambulance upper and lower strut braces, 60mm lowered A-arms with uniball joints, quick rack without PAS, Bilstein rear shocks with Sellholm springs on custom height-adjustable perches, adjustable panhard bar, rear A-arms lowered 40mm, Sellholms adjustable sway bars

Wheels & Tires: 17x8'' Compomotive MO wheels ET11, 265/640 R17 Pirelli P Zero slicks

1981 volvo 245 DL headlights Photo 25/28   |   1981 Volvo 245 DL Race Wagon

Exterior: Bross front spoiler, M3-style side skirts, custom carbon hood, RP-Glasfiber fenders and tailgate, Lexan windows, US-spec '86 Volvo 240 headlights and signals, single wiper, Dalhems Cup mirrors and fuel filler in rear window, quick-release latches on bumper and spoiler, red/clear tail lights, Volvo 139 paint

Interior: six-point GUS rollcage, Cobra Monaco seats, six-point Willans harnesses, Dalhems driver's net, rear seat and insulation removed, 300km/h VDO speedo, KL-Racing tacho, gauges for AFR, oil press, oil temp, water temp, volts and boost, Tekniq Snap-Off steering wheel, custom aluminium washer reservoir in diamond plate-lined trunk, Fuelsafe 10.6-gallon fuel cell

Thanks: Tony Eriksson, Lennart Nyström at Nyström's Mekaniska, Jörgen Gustavsson, Daniel Gränsgärd, Mikael Baalack, Jill Nilsson, Tage Wassermann

By Greg Emmerson
1078 Articles

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