Live Auctions

V8 Sleeper: 1998 Volvo V90 Wagon

“And I’m thinking to myself, what circumstance would Paul find himself in driving around in a Volvo station wagon where he feels like he’s gotta chew somebody’s ass?” That’s a direct quote from late-night host David Letterman, upon discussing the virtues of a V8-powered Volvo wagon with actor Paul Newman. It’s one of my favorite quotes about Newman, who was a car guy’s car guy, despite his fame and fortune. And this 1998 Volvo V90 wagon listed here on craigslist is exactly the kind of car he would give a full-throated endorsement to, with a 4.8L LS under the hood and paired to a 4L60E automatic transmission. It’s offered for $13,900 and the seller would trade for a camper.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader Paul C. for the find. The Volvo is described as the family beach wagon, hence the desire to work out a deal for a VW Eurovan with the Weekender package or a similar Sprinter/Nissan NV camper conversion van. The V90 is the last of the rear-wheel-drive Volvos before the company went entirely front-wheel drive, so it’s an ideal platform for a V8 swap. The install looks incredibly tidy, almost to the point of appearing factory – if you didn’t know already what it was installed in, you might even say this was a GM vehicle just looking at the engine bay. The seller notes the conversion cost around $3,000, including final tuning/shakedown and getting the A/C to work.

As he notes, it’s not exactly the fastest thing out there, even with the V8 swap, but it’s still highly entertaining at stoplights. I can’t imagine how many times a day you get to surprise someone in the lane next to you trying to get a jump before the merge and being absolutely smoked by this thing. The best part about it, to my mind, is how the seller kept all of the factory creature comforts and layouts intact – there’s no evidence of crude fabrication or jamming round pegs into square holes. The Volvo retains all of the style and luxury associated with one of the higher-end models you could buy from the company in 1998, and that’s a good thing.

The Volvo looks stock, all the way down to its factory wheel and tire package. I’m actually surprised the seller didn’t upgrade the rubber to handle the additional thrust, but I do love that the sleepy personality is completely preserved. Even the muffler still appears stock! The Volvo also comes with the desirable third row of seats, and the seller notes all interior features and electronics work as intended. The body looks clean and straight as well, so the seller definitely started with a good example. The Volvo is located in California but does come with a clean Pennsylvania title; the seller had plans to register it out of state. You could do far worse for $13,900, and Paul Newman would be proud.


  1. Big_Fun Member

    There are a few car shows that have
    A “Chevrolet Powered” class. Perfect for that.
    Some will say, “Why?” I say, “Why not?”

    Like 6
  2. alphasud Member

    I wanted to do that when I had my run of 240’s. Back then it was the SBC or 5.0 Ford option. There were a couple companies that make kits to install. We worked on old Volvo’s when I was at the VW/Audi shop. I used to joke about the cars being Swedish Chevrolets. Little did I know back then.

    Like 4
    • RayT Member

      Years ago, a guy fairly high up in Volvo’s U.S. operations told me the Ford 5.0 was the Hot Choice among techs who worked for the factory. Several converted their own 14-series cars that way.

      At least one I heard of had stuck a 289 Ford into a 544. It was, if I remember right, slightly shorter and narrower than the SBC, which made both installation and service easier. With 271 horses, it performed rather adequately!

      I’ll confess that made me look for a 544 with a worn-out engine for a time….

      Like 5
      • RayT Member

        That should, of course, be “240-series,” NOT “14-series”….

        Someone needs to ‘splain to me why members can’t edit our “Early Access” posts!

        Like 3
  3. Steve R

    Contrary to the authors opinion, this won’t be particularly fast with the 4.8. It will have about the same output of many current mid-sized imported offerings. What it is, is a cool driver that’s in great looking condition which will now have the reliability and easy if maintenance, at least on the power train, as a mid-2000’s Chevy pick up.

    Steve R

    Like 2
    • DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

      If someone was going to the effort to do this kind of install, may as well have found a good 5.3 or bigger LS with some higher output numbers…. A 2011 Chevy 3500 which is part of a work fleet has the 6.0. VERY impressive and capable of moving the truck and trailer right on down the road. I something this light…. GRINS!

      Like 3
  4. Doug

    There was an episode of “Chasing Classic Cars” where Wayne Carini was
    representing Paul Newman’s Volvo wagon, which had a supercharged Ford 351 in it. He described it as a great touring car, capable of covering long distances at speed with ease.

    Mr Newman was known to love “sleepers” – I remember reading about his VW Beetle that had a Porsche 912 engine and 5 speed that he used to love blasting around the back roads of Connecticut. He also holds the record for being the oldest person to win a world class professional motor race, which in his case was the 24 hours of Daytona in a Corvette at age 70+..

    He used to say when someone at the track would ask him anything about the movie business – “That’s the other guy- he just does that to pay for my racing.”

    Like 16
    • DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

      P. Newman, one of my driving heroes for sure. Another one: Dan Carmichael, who won the SCCA Runoffs Formula Atlantic class in 1995…. At the age of 76!

      Like 2
  5. Derek

    I had a Volvo hotrod – but it came from the factory like that. If anyone ever offers you a shot of an 850 T5 estate car with a manual gearbox, I urge you to accept! What a ridiculous car; it made me giggle stupidly ‘cos it was so ludicrously fast for something that size and shape. Full leather interior, too; a proper “gentleman’s express”, if you like.

    Like 3
  6. Keith

    I thought cars with truck motors in California were… illegal? not able to be registered? not able to pass smog? Something like that.

    Like 1
    • alphasud Member

      The vehicle must go to arbitration if the power plant installed is not on the approved list. The substitute engine must be of the same model year as the vehicle or newer and the engine must have the same emissions equipment it was federalized with. Also depending on where in California there are different emissions criteria. When I lived in Santa Barbara the car only needed a visual and a scan test. A lot of shops would let it slide. If you are in an enhanced area it’s a whole different ballgame.

      Like 2
    • steve davis

      it’s not emission legal in Pa either unless it gets re-titled as some collectable or something

  7. chrlsful

    ‘flyin brick’, hada 5 oh ina 240 waggy. “Last of the RWD”, hada 1st FWD volvo (850, for usa) due to housing situation. All ways hada sweet spot for their products even tho ‘a ford guy’. Gotta go AWD w/these swede/dutch guys esp now china owns them after ford…

  8. Paul R.

    There was a Volvo wagon out here in B.C. with a V8 conversion, probably still here..
    You wouldn’t give it a second look , until it started and you heard that V8 rumbling away, from a Volvo !
    Kind of startled the hell out of you!

    Like 1

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