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Walking up to a Volvo whose owner talks of having water up as high as the driver’s window shouldn’t inspire confidence in the machine’s ability to run properly. The modern Volvo is a green and eco-friendly approach to the upscale family car. Prior generations were less eco-friendly but were always a quirky and luxurious choice for those seeking an artfully designed daily driver. Thoughts of an 850 blasting through a four-foot-deep water crossing probably never came up while developing the model because Volvo never intended it to be that kind of car.   

Every car a manufacturer creates is done so with a purpose. Porsche’s GT3RS is a track-focused weapon that trades comfort and noise for swiss-watch-like precision on the Nurburgring to pursue the perfect lap time. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class is the absolute pinnacle of attainable luxury in a nearly 5000lb package best suited to highway cruising rather than your local autocross event. The two models from Stuttgart are a shining example of what a manufacturer can do when there is a singular goal. However, those kinds of models don’t work for the majority of people. Instead, manufacturers build many of their cars as all-rounders to hit a number of criteria to best serve people every day. Unfortunately, that often produces cars with lackluster performance in every facet. 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

In the mid-seventies, Volvo produced their attempt at the perfect all-rounder. The 240 series was Volvo’s newest family-oriented sedans and wagons meant for comfort and safety. The pursuit of safety led to the inclusion of massive front and rear crumple zones that gave the new car its signature rectangular shape, leading to the “Brick” nickname. Volvo’s previous rally success did provide some good suspension design, and a turbo model was eventually available for the power-hungry Swede, but most examples were low-powered, laidback, and safe. Volvo built them to survive the cold and snowy Nordic climate, not the tight streets of Monaco. 

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However, sound engineering is good engineering no matter which way you look at it, and that’s the magic of a Volvo 240. The chassis is rugged and overbuilt thanks to Volvo’s pursuit of safety. The engine bay can fit an engine with triple the cylinder capacity of the original engine without modification, and the suspension is easily suited to comfort or motorsports with the right parts. The 240 lends itself as a blank canvas for its owner to do with whatever they like.  

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

In a way, the moldable nature of the 240 matches with those who would own one. Volvos have never truly been the mainstream choice, not like a Ford or BMW anyway. Yet they’re still supported by millions who see the brilliance in the Swedish design. Volvo owners know better than anyone how capable their cars can be, and when let loose, their creations are often unlike anything else around them. 

Go to any motorsports festival like Gatebil, and you’ll see just what I’m talking about. The Nordic motorsports festival is a melting pot of eccentric owners with jaw-dropping motorsports machines. As far as the eye can see, there are 240 “Bricks” fabricated into wild drift or time attack machines featuring radically different engine swaps like BMW V10s, Toyota 2JZs, turbocharged Audi five-cylinders, and even Mercedes diesels. In America, too, the live rear axle has made them a funky but competitive choice for drag racers and, in the case of Vermonter Mike Budai, a capable off-road adventurer. 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

As outdoorsy people, Budai and his partner Sam were always into the idea of a go-anywhere vehicle, and the Gambler 500 provided the perfect excuse. The off-road rally-style navigation adventure encourages people to spend around $500 on their vehicle and put it through the wringer on backcountry trails. It’s an event filled with shenanigans, good times, and good people. Even though it is a competition, everyone’s main objective is just to finish in whatever creation they’ve brought.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

Budai’s regular motorsports machine, a K24-swapped EP3 Civic Si, was built for the twists and turns of Lime Rock Park, not for blasting through mud holes and over boulders. Taking on the Gambler 500 was going to require something else, and that turned out to be a $600 junkyard find. 

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A call from a friend put Budai onto the silver Volvo sitting at a junkyard, and after a small cash exchange, the 240 went home with him. Without knowing much about the car's history, Mike ordered a blue-taped box full of maintenance parts like plugs and filters from FCP Euro to bring the old Volvo back to life. It ran just like the day it left the factory but remained on its road-going suspension and wheels, a combination wholly unsuited to the rigors of an all-terrain adventure. 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

Initial preparations for the Gambler were simple; raise the suspension, make a skid plate, put on some big tires, and send it. Budai started with the 3” suspension lift kit from Bad Decision Works, a Netherlands-based company owned and operated by Johannes von Tongeren. “It was simple to install and has taken two years' worth of abuse without a single issue,” Budia said of the suspension kit. “It’s been great.” 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 On Trail

With the suspension jacked up, Mike squeezed in some 30” all-terrain tires onto OE Volvo wheels to give the 240 the trail capabilities it needed to have. Then came the supporting elements; a street-sign turned skid plate was installed for oil pan protection, and a high-lift, off-road jack was mounted to the trunk. Wrapping up the extra bits were a roof rack and some Hella spot lamps. 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

The jacked-up silver sedan is such a far cry from what thoughts of Volvos typically conjure up that Budai is constantly facing inquisitive minds. “I can’t go anywhere without being stopped. From cops at red lights to every gas station trip, everyone wants to know about it.” 

 

Volvo 240 Snow Drifting

 

You would think that getting the not-so-light sedan with its heavy off-road tires and extra lights, racks, and jacks would require the help of a powerplant with some extra grunt. Surely an American V8 and automatic transmission would lend better to all-terrain driving. Still, Budai makes it work without any of that.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

In his case, the silver 1992 240 retains its B230 “Redblock” 2.3-liter, inline-four-cylinder engine sporting some number of horsepower and torque. Does it truly matter in this case? Probably not, but the numbers were somewhere around 114 and 136 lb-ft, respectively, when new. Providing the distinction between forward and backward drive is an M47 five-speed manual transmission, but not the original one. That gearbox has been relegated to the machine shop in the sky as Budai munched reverse gear on some trails.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

Once out on the road following the initial assembly, Mike and Sam were presented with more than expected. The Volvo “was supposed to be this funny joke to go through the Gambler,” but it provided an unending supply of smiles and surprising practicality. Testing the car on local trails became regular trips into the mud, as well as regular trips to the shops in town. The thought of trashing it on the Gambler was eventually too much for their newly beloved 240, so the decision was made to keep it around for a while.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Heavy Mud

It’s been two years since Mike completed his first round of modifications, and the Volvo has proven to be as capable as anything else on the trails in that time. According to Budai, it has seen water most of the way up the doors. The mud covering the engine bay up to the edge of the cowl certainly aligned with his statement. 

While that might sound like a lucky break for a thirty-year-old sedan driven through mud holes and over rocks, not breaking is somewhat of a typical 240 character trait. Regardless of the body style, Volvo’s bricks are known for their Nokia-3310-like toughness, though they aren’t perfect. In any case, Mike’s ’92 DL puts all of those qualities on display every day.

 

Volvo 240 Steep Water Crossing

 

Talking to Mike about his adventures, it was clear that the old Volvo had seen its fair share of abuse, but its willingness to keep going and cheap running costs have made it an everyday option. Looking over the exterior shows no shortage of scrapes, dents, and scratches from sliding into foliage and being pelted with dirt and gravel. Still, Budai pays no mind to any of that. “If something breaks, I just slap a bandaid on and keep on trucking.” 

 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

Some of those bandaids are permanent, though; improvements made through wheeling experience—the first of which came on a trip through a deep water crossing. “We made it about halfway through when the car started sputtering and spitting before shutting off. At that point, we saw water spraying out of our leaking exhaust manifolds, so we just cranked it and cranked it until we got it going and moved out of the pit. We sat for a while to let everything dry up and continued on our way!” 

Obviously, that would cause a problem again if they went through a similar crossing, so they devised the perfect solution: the quarter-panel-exit exhaust. Now it serves as a constant talking point on top of eliminating any fear of hydrolocking the engine.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Water Crossing

At the back of the Volvo, the trunk lid doesn’t sit quite right on the chassis. Why? “While coming back down an embankment, we slid sideways and got caught in some trees. The high lift jack mounted on the trunk got caught and pulled the trunk’s hinges straight. when we got home, we parked the tractor bucket on top of the trunk and pushed it back into place.” 

On another adventure, a short brush up with a large tree tore the rear bumper off, but again, not an issue. Mike ran the eight bumper bolts through the bumper and into the brackets—problem solved.

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

Those quick and dirty repairs are why Budai loves his Volvo so much. His laid-back and carefree approach to life is in harmony with his approach to the 240. No-fuss over making every inch line up square; repair the mechanicals and keep on driving. 

Lifted 1992 Volvo 240 Off-Road Lime Rock Park

But don’t take his laid-back attitude for lack of respect or love for the 240 or Volvos in general. Having owned several 240s prior to this one, his current fleet includes an XC60 and Sam’s 245 wagon. The old Volvo’s reliability and inexpensive running costs have certainly been a factor as to the growth of Mike and Sam’s fleet, but it hasn’t been without the help of the Volvo community.

Whether it was parts, knowledge, or someone to cruise around with, Mike credits the community with unbridled support for his Volvo adventures and ownership. He even credits a friend he made through the community with setting up the impromptu purchase of Sam’s wagon, the couple’s next project, something they’re both looking forward to. 

FCP Euro (397)

However, Budai isn’t done with the lifted 240 either. Plans for a locking differential and taller springs are on the board to make it even more capable over and through the tough stuff. Other than that, though, it’s going to be regular maintenance and hard-driving.

It may not have the flash of a drift car or the outright power of a drag car, but Budai’s cheeky overlanding Volvo does the 240-series and the Volvo community justice. You don’t need a motorsport pedigree and a million horsepower to have fun in a car, all it takes are a good group of people and the right approach. 

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Written by :
Christian Schaefer

Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.


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