What's Your Eleanor? – A Galaxy Far, Far Away Edition

Blue Volvo 142 Coupe
Seems like a lot of our “Eleanors” have dated from our awkward high school eras, and my “Eleanor” is no different. I grew up in a solidly Japanese car household, where four cylinders were more than enough and velour interiors were a gaudy and ostentatious display of excess. Vinyl burns on your legs were a sign it was summer, and having to turn off the A/C going up a long hill was the norm. However, when I unintentionally gave our ’84 Toyota Truck (model names were too bourgeois for Toyota, or for us!) a sheetmetal nosejob courtesy of a VW Fox just after getting my license, my father fixated on the idea of safety. And safety meant Volvo. Of course, the pitiful amount of cash I’d managed to save from my grocery store job had gone to a mountain bike and a Clarion head unit, so I could barely scrape together a 4-figure number.

Volvo 142 rallying at Monte Carlo
Be still, my beating heart ...

What I ended up with was a once-totaled, multicolor (brown and white, actually) ’79 Volvo 244 DL owned by the jock who was dating the girl I had a massive crush on. Galling, to say the least. Prior to committing electronic suicide via an exploding ignition coil, it taught me two things: electrical gremlins are not the exclusive purview of Britain’s best, and European cars FEEL different than Japanese cars. That feeling is solidity. The 244 hugged the road and drove with a stately purpose that was completely foreign to me.
Volvo 145
Bonfire courtesy of Robert Bosch GMBH

But it wasn’t my Eleanor … my Eleanor wasn’t any one particular car, but a whole actually gaggle of cars: on Craigslist, on the street, driven in traffic, roaring around the woods with driving-lights flooding the treetops. It was a Volvo that actually looked halfway decent. No 470-pound bumpers protruding like a punched lip. It was clean, crisp, and classic – almost Italian in stance, but austere in its Scandanavianness. It was the Volvo 142, and it’s been haunting me for years. It bugged me so much that at one point, in a fit of desperation, I bought a ’71 145 off of eBay Motors, sight unseen, for a couple hundred bucks. I had no tools, no experience, and nowhere to put it. Beset with the worst carb timing ever to afflict a B18, it barely hacked and coughed into life, sputtering raw gasoline through the SU’s overflow right onto the cast iron exhaust headers. I unloaded it to a guy for a couple hundred bucks, who promptly swapped in new carburetors and drove it all the way to Portland on its threadbare tires. He is evidence that the 140-series love is both irrational and powerful.
At some point, my IPD-equipped, Cibie-festooned, plaid-insert-Recarro’d 142 will arrive to sweep me off my feet into some European fantasy world of class, safety, and reliability. Until then, I’ll be rattling around in a Japanese four-banger, burning myself on the seats, and dreaming about Sweden’s finest.
Images courtesy: Chaos Motorsports, VolvoAdventures.com , IMCDB.org


  1. Back in the late 70's, when my little brother and I were in our late teens, I owned a 144 for several years. My little brother owned a ratted out 142, a total rustbucket. One summer he cut the roof off of it and called it a convertible. I played my BS card saying it wasn't a convertible, it's topless. Yeah car pron even then. Now I lust after a 145 longroof.

  2. There was a beautiful 140 series Volvo at the fruit market the other day. I parked next to it, which I rarely park next to another car. With that thing in the shape it was, I figured the owner would not be flinging his door into my car.

    1. Well, considering that I'm taken and he's presumably uninterested, yes. 😛
      I like to think that my car is just a 144 with more modern front suspension, LH-Jetronic, and restyled front and rear ends. It's easy to think that, because it's basically correct.

  3. The 71 and 72 models are the nicest, black grill and chrome stripe. I have had a bunch of them (142, 144 and 145) and all most all were dark green except for a 144 GL (with d-jetronic and electric overdrive) and a 145 that had that baby blue color as well. The 144 GL had the leather seats which I always mounted in the next Volvo I did owe, I can tell you that these seats still are one the most comfortable I've owned, so I do not think there was a need to put in the plaid-insert-Recarro in the 142.

    1. In building the Uberbird, I was shocked just how much parts interchange there is between Volvos and BMWs of that era.
      EFI systems, brake parts and (guh) guibos…oh my!

  4. So Hooniverse – a busted out mix and match panel'd green 144 for $500. Good deal? One was for sale in a garage sale 'round the corner from em for the longest time. I wonder if it's still around. Actually, let me rephrase this entire comment. I miss Northern California.

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