A carpenter from Maine named Eric Carlson finds himself in a predicament. Money is tight, and he’s got access to four cars—a Chevy Corvair, a Ford F-100, a Volvo 240, and a Volvo XC70—but they’re all broken. He has to choose where to invest his limited time and money, so he’s reached out to car enthusiasts for advice. Let’s see if we can help him out.
“Options time,” Carlson’s post on the car-enthusiast Facebook Page “Oppositelock” begins. “I have a budget of about $600 and need a daily asap.”
Carlson then lists his four options (actually, there’s a fifth option, which I’ll mention later):
A: put $450 into parts for my 63 Chevy Corvair which in 2017 was a daily
B: put about $250 into my 79 F100 sleeper farm truck
C: find a new engine for my 04 Volvo XC70 and fix the AWD
D: buy another $500 shitbox Volvo
Then the single parent of two teens clearly spells out the problem: “none of the 3 existing vehicles are road worthy as of today.”
Carlson posted a photo of each of the cars. Here’s the 1963 Chevy Corvair, which Carlson says he’ll never sell, and which apparently had an engine and trans overhaul back in 2018.
Back in 2017, Carlson even put the car on the racing circuit:
The volunteer firefighter broke down for me what this Corvair needs to get back on the road, writing over Facebook Messenger:
Entire exhaust, trans pan gasket and fix the linkage on it, Speedo cable, front brake line, parking brake cable, engine cover gasket, and has a broken valve cover bolt (flat 6 engine, pours oil out from there) and to finish the safety bits for the electric fuel pump conversion
Then there’s the 1979 Ford F-100:
Here’s what the work-truck needs:
Truck needs new cab floor at cab mounts, new headlight buckets and turn signals (2 different deer strikes) and grille, new starter and alternator and 1 leaf spring hanger and new exhaust
Next, there’s the 2004 Volvo XC70 shown above, which needs an engine and an “angle gear” for the all-wheel drive system.
Carlson tells me that, right now, he’s daily-driving his friend’s 1983 Volvo 240 GL, but this isn’t a long term solution, and Carlson wants to give his friend the car back as soon as possible.
“I just need [a car that’s] running and road worthy NOW,” he told me.
It’s this urgency that takes Carlson’s other car, a 1992 Volvo 240, off the table.
Carlson has owned and daily-driven the Volvo—which now has a three-inch lift on it—since 2010. “I had to take it off the road in winter of 18/19. Its needs became too great,” he told me.
Luckily, a friend says he’d give Carlson another 1992 Volvo 240. It is rusted out, but is apparently in good mechanical shape. “[it] has all the parts I need for mine but would be much much more labor. Basically replacing the entire rear axle and suspension and front suspension with parts from the organ donor. And many other small parts.”
“Its an option but the most labor intensive option and I need to get out of my friends car asap.”
I asked Carlson whether selling a car was an option, but he told me he doesn’t think it’s worth it. “A 16 yr old xc70 that needs an engine. A 92 240 that needs everything from the suspension down (and a gas tank too) a beater farm truck (I need a truck in my life) the corvair I wanted since I was 12 and flew to IL to get and drive home... I mean I could but it would not gain me much other than space,” he wrote.
In an ideal world, Carlson wants to keep the full herd. The truck has practical advantages. Carlson uses it to go to the dump and for his work as a carpenter. The lifted 240 is just cool and was a “faithful daily.” And the Volvo “is great for winter, warm, AWD and such.”
Plus, Carson says his sons will need vehicles soon, and that one of them is interested in rebuilding something himself. “if they bring another back to the road themselves they will have a better appreciation of it (and can fix it themselves too),” Carlson told me. I think he’s right.
Okay, so let’s evaluate Carlson’s options. I’m not sure I’d buy another $500 shitbox Volvo unless I were certain what was wrong with it. Sometimes you can get a great deal; I bought a fully-functional Jeep Comanche for $500, for example (Okay, it does have a lot of rust, and the turn signals require you to push the lever repeatedly to get them to “blink”). If you can find a bargain like that, go for it.
But purchasing a new shitbox could just compound your problems, so I’d stray from that and look at the vehicles whose problems you completely understand. The XC70 is clearly out; it needs an engine and drivetrain work, and that’s just going to take too much time. Plus, it’s a modern car, meaning wrenching will be a pain in the arse, comparatively speaking. The 240 has a similar issue: It just needs too much work.
The truck sounds like it’d be pretty easy to fix, but then you’d just end up with a fuel-sucking, regular-cab truck that’s not exactly well-suited for daily driving.
For these reasons, and the fact that you clearly love the Corvair the most out of the bunch, I say you fix that up.
The fact that it was your daily-driver until 2018, and that it’s had major engine and trans work done recently tells me it’s the one to invest your time into.
I bet the exhaust work won’t be too bad, since the car is rear-engine and the exhaust doesn’t really have to go far. The trans pan gasket, too, should be simple, and I bet the engine cover gasket won’t be too tough (you can see where the engine cover goes in the image to the left; it looks fairly accessible once you’ve taken everything off the top of the motor, including the fan—see image below). The valve cover bolt extraction—that’s the one I’d be most concerned about, but if Carlson can figure that out (he says it’s recessed, so will have to be extracted or re-tapped. He thinks this can be done in-vehicle), I think he’ll be in good shape. And I don’t think the electric fuel pump job will be hard, either.
What’s most amazing is just the variety of these options. We’ve got a beat-up old truck, a modern Volvo, and a Corvair. It’s just all so random, and with the various mechanical faults, it gives this predicament so much intrigue that I figured I’d share it with Jalopnik readers.
So if you have an opinion on this, write it in the comments. If your initial response is, “buy an old Honda,” I’ll just mention that I’ve proven that this isn’t necessarily a good idea, and also, Carlson wrote me “...it needs to be added that my TOTAL budget is $600 and buying some other Toyota or Honda is not an option.”
I think the answer is a few socially-distanced nights with friends and your sons, a 12-pack (maybe make it soda for your kids), some good music, and an air-cooled Chevrolet Corvair. Sounds fun.