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Volvo 740 sedan makes the perfect 'sleeper' car
It may not be a vision of performance, but Ian Giles' Volvo can really move

By: Robert K. Rooney, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006

The name Volvo means "I roll" in Latin. It was a brand name owned, but not used by the Swedish SKF ball-bearing concern until that company began making automobiles in 1927. Over the years, Volvos gained an excellent reputation for safety and reliability. They rolled just fine -- but they didn't really rock.

The term "sleeper" refers to a car that looks like a mild-mannered passenger car, but has been modified until it is capable of serious performance. Volvos make excellent sleepers. Take the 740 sedan of Calgary human resources consultant Ian Giles, for example.

Offered from 1984 until 1991, the Volvo 740 Turbo was a decent if not brilliant performer in its day.

The 160-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine that originally equipped Giles' sedan provided reliable service for many years, but began to fail at 210,000 kilometres.

The 740 is the 46-year-old's 43rd car. He has owned cars of every description, from full-size Detroit sedans to Mini Coopers. Of the four vehicles in his stable, three are Volvos.

However . . .

"I like performance," he says. "I've always had some kind of toy to play with. Volvo is not the vision of performance."

Giles was aware a growing number of enthusiasts had taken to replacing their Volvo's Swedish powertrains with beefy American V-8s.

When he compared the cost of the swap with how much it would cost to rebuild the car's original engine, Giles was intrigued.

"I thought, 'For the same money, I can do that and have a fun little sleeper'," he says.

It got better. Giles discovered that a five-litre Ford V-8 with a stick-shift actually weighed less than the original turbo four with automatic.

The Ford's front-mounted distributor allowed the engine to be placed lower and further back in the chassis. The result was a very desirable 50-50 weight split between the front and rear tires.

" 'Go' is important, but so is stopping and handling -- the whole package," Giles explains, which is why the 740's suspension features lowered and upgraded springs, Bilstein shock absorbers, 2.5-centimetre sway bars and Brembo brakes.

The Volvo's first V-8 was a tired 302, which was still good enough for a 12.7-second pass at 108 m.p.h. at a Secret Street night at Race City.

"I was very pleased with how the car went, so I decided to do it right," Giles says. Now it has what Giles calls "a relatively healthy" Ford mill making an estimated 400 horsepower driving through a Ford Racing close-ratio T5 transmission.

The car has a carburetor rather than fuel-injection because, Giles explains, "I'm old-school. I'm actually a mechanic. I twisted wrenches for 14 years before I changed careers. Carburetors were always my thing.

"To me, you can't beat the sound of a four-barrel carburetor at full song."

Perhaps the biggest job of the whole project, Giles says, was building the exhaust headers, which had to be custom-made. He estimates he spent 250 hours getting the car to its present configuration.

"It's totally stock-appearing. That was the concept behind it," Giles continues. "It's an absolute blast. The power's unbelievable and it handles like it was on rails and yet it's very well-tempered. It's a fun car to drive, plus it's practical.

"Not only can you have fun with it, but you can go shopping and take your kids to soccer practice."

© The Calgary Herald 2006

 

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