It seemed like a good idea at the time...y'see, my 2004 Volkswagen R32 (the A360P this blog is named after) was throwing a check engine light but there didn't seem to be anything wrong. And the idiot light was intermittant and after QBN plugged in the computer we kind of narrowed the problem down to the probability that the problem might be cam-related. But then the light would go off and the problem (such as it was) couldn't be traced. When the car went dead on the 405 freeway a couple of weeks later it made sense to have the car towed to a nearby dealer for repair. During the course of replacing the fuel pump, the dealer magically brought the check engine light back to life and thence proclaimed that the cams were malfunctioning and that for about $3K they could replace them and solve all my problems.
This didn't seem right to me (especially after the $900 fuel pump replaicement) so I called QBN but he was swamped with having to fly off to Havana or somewhere to fix a faulty gas tank cover or replace a windshield wiper on a Spyker and he didn't have time to deal with my plebian Volkswagen so he sent me over to see Jose Davilla at EuroTech Motors in Culver City. Jose plugged his computer in, listened to the engine, and said that the problem seemed to be cam related but that he'd need some time to figure out for sure what was causing the problem. This was in late-November and by the time I got around to making arrangements to get the car to him, most of his crew was already heading out of town for the holidays, so it was early January before I was able to get the R to his shop.
In the meantime, I realized that I'd need to do something about having a car to drive while the R32 was in the shop, plus it would be good to have another car to use as a daily driver in the winter. The 2004 VW MK IV R32 had about 145K miles on it, and although that's well within the realm of probability with a high-quality German car, mine has seen time on the track and has been driven somewhat, well, assertively on the streets, so if I could use it more sparingly I'd probably be able to keep it longer without having to resort to extremely reactive repairs (better to be proactive than reactive, right?)
2004 VW R32 on the way to Big Sur
Speaking of driving sparingly, my friend Roberto purchased a 1965 Volvo 1800 S about ten years ago and drove it during the winter and on days when his Alfa Romeo was in the shop (surprisingly few of those). His landlord had decided to increase the garage rent to an extorionate amount and Roberto decided on principle to not pay the ransom. He'd contacted me to see if I knew of anyone who might be interested but we were still sort of/maybe getting out of the recession and nobody really had any extra money laying around. The car was parked in Inglewood in front of an office complex and by November, Roberto just wanted the goddamn thing GONE and when I absentmindedly mentioned to him that I was sorta/kinda looking for a transportation vehicle that ran consistently, he made me an offer to sell me the Volvo at a price that was so reasonable that I (well, almost) felt bad about accepting it.
I made arrangements to pick up the Volvo and drove it over to Wade Wiehe at Volvos Only on Crenshaw and Hyde Park. It was my first time actually driving the car for more than a few blocks and I noticed that it wasn't really a "just wash it and it'll be perfect" sort of car. It ran a little rough. The transmission didn't really like to go into gear, and once it got into gear it didn't always want to stay there. The brakes weren't particularly in fine fettle either, but WTF, who needs brakes when the body is in nice shape? Volvo 1800S parked at Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon
I got it to the shop and Wade said he'd check it out to see what needed to be done to make it a great daily driver. He called me back the next day with the good news/bad news report. The good news was that the body was rust-free and was in pretty good shape and that it had a lot more original parts than one would expect on a 45 year old car and that I could put a LOT of money into repairs without being underwater in terms of the car's value vs. what it cost me. The bad news was that there was more than a little work that would be required before the car could be deemed "safe" and "consistent" and that I wouldn't exactly be underwater but I should probably have a scuba suit handy.
He set to work repairing the brakes, giving it a complete tuneup, redoing a good chunk of the electrical system, and compiling a triage list of things that would need attention at some point in the relatively near future. I never really grasped the importance of the term "sorted out" in an auction catalogue until Wade had "sorted out" this 1800S. As seems to be the case with Volvos of this era, shops that should know better (and mechanics who don't have a clue) have a proclivity to repair problems with parts that look sort of like the actual part, or use parts in an 1800S that were supposed to be used for an 1800E. I had this issue with my 1973 1800ES and this 1800S was no different. There's no possible way that this car could have been running with the assortment of just plain wrong replacement parts that had been inserted here and there on it, but it did. Some of the gaffes were understandable, but how does someone come up with a wiring scheme resulting in the electronic overdrive being able to work in ALL gears, not just 4th? I had the world's first 11-speed Volvo transmission (including overdrive capabilities in reverse)! We also discovered that the engine had been upgraded to to a B-20 and that the aftermarket wheels didn't exactly fit properly (but they look good so I left them on). Other good news is that the car has virtually no rust, the non-stock seats were recently redone, new carpet was installed a year or so ago, and overall, it looks good if you're more than 10 feet away from it (not quite so good if you're closer, but still not all that bad).
After getting the exhaust rewelded and installing a radio, the car worked well until the VW was finished, sometime around the middle of February. It turned out that the problem did involve the cams, but after a couple of weeks of tests and pondering the results of the test, Jose narrowed the problem down to the cam regulator. This was good news, because this is the sort of repair that doesn't require pulling the transmission, and in this car, you might as well replace the clutch since the transmission would be out already, but that adds about a grand to the bill. With visions of a <$1000 repair bill dancing in my head, I agreed to have the necessary work done. Unfortunately, once he got into the engine and began pulling stuff out, he discovered that although there were certainly problems with the cam regulator, there was way more than the usual wear one would expect to see on a timing gear. A couple of thousand bucks more later, a bullet had been dodged because of Eurotech's desire to do things right. A new timing gear went in along with timing chains and the cam regulator. Neither Jose or QBN had ever seen gears with this sort of wear on its teeth - it's likely just a defect in manufacturing, but the car is way past warranty at this stage so I'm not going to get too upset about it. At least the problem was discovered before there was massive failure and I'd need to buy a new engine.
(good one on the left, bad one on the right)
A couple of days before work on the R32 was going to be completed, the Volvo began leaking transmission fluid like it was trying out for the leading role in "The Niagra Falls Story". There was a problem with the master clutch cylinder, and I left an lake of transmission fluid just about anywhere I'd park. It gave me the opportunity for a lot of good practice in speed-shifting, as I began to get pretty good about shifting without using the clutch by the time I got the car over to the shop in Covina.
At the point the two cars have never been in my garage at the same time, but that situation should change within the next week or two. The VW is running as flawlessly (I've put almost 2000 miles on it in the past month) and the Volvo has had a new Weber carburetor installed (buh-bye to the dieseling!), the rear brakes have been repaired and the wheels rebuilt, and the transmission repairs are almost complete so it will be a breeze to get (and keep) it in gear. Some little nicky-nacky things have also been done on the car to make it a little more driveable and now it's just a matter of selling enough wine and/or plasma to be able to pay for it all. I've also done a fair amount of soundproofing and heat proofing with stuff bought from Second Skin and I'm looking forward to driving the car throughout the summer, at least on the days that aren't going to be too hot (no A/C in the Volvo).
There's always supposed to be a rainbow at the end, right?