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Old 09-14-2020, 06:20 PM   #1
Mk V
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: SF, CA
Default Field Find: 1963 544 Sport

A little over a month ago I was driving in my 1993 245 headed towards Reno a week of dog sitting while my brother visited Colorado. As per usual, my route to Sacramento involved back roads rather than going the most direct way via Interstate 80. Just after seeing a pair of KC-46 tankers take off from their roost at Travis AFB, I settled into the 18-mile stretch of Route 12 along the sprawling Shiloh Wind Farm in the Montezuma Hills and into Rio Vista to cross the Sacramento River (aka Sacramento River Deep Water Channel.) About two miles shy of Rio Vista see a familiar shape in a field next to the highway, the distinctive curved back of a Volvo 444/544. "When did this show up?" I wonder as two weeks before I drove this same route to assist my brother in reassembling and installing a rebuilt engine into his 1986 Vanagon.

Slowing down, the familiar red outline of a for sale sign is quite the irresistible siren song. Driving up to the car, the one-piece windshield quickly identifies it as a 544. The body work contains spaced-out horizontal holes, a tell-tale sign of missing chrome, trim and badges. Walking around the 544 does not reveal any significant body damage though occasional bubbles of rust are evident in the rockers as well as a missing passenger door handle. Looking through the glass, find the front seats have been replaced by racing seats though faded and a bit worn. All the for sale sign contains is a name, number and the ambiguous phrase of "best offer."

After taking several pictures of the 544, get back in the wagon and return to my route as I am trying to make the next CalTrans car ferry across the river just north of Rio Vista. Arrive at the landing with 3 minutes to spare (it crosses once every 20 minutes) and continue my way Northeast. 9 miles down the road catch the second car ferry to get me over to CA160. These are the only two car ferries run by the state of CA and while adding to the overall time and distance of the trip, certainly make the drive more interesting. In Sacramento I merge into the maelstrom of I-80 to make the run over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into Reno.

A couple days later I dig up the photo of the drivers door window and call the number. Quickly I learn the owner has passed away, the daughter does not want the car and the seller is not a fan of imports. "European cars, when you let them sit to long they don't want to start or run." He then shares the owner was a "messy mechanic, if you know what I mean." While the 544 has a title there are no keys for the ignition/locks, he also states the car does not have any rust. Inquiring about the price, the seller pauses and says he would like to get $500 for the car. "If I don't sell it in the next couple weeks I'll just scrap it." Concluding the call, the 544 definitely something to think about.

On my way back to San Francisco four days later, I decide to stop and look the 544. Calling the seller I find out he is out of town and tells me to check out the car regardless. Open up the drivers door to reveal a fair amount of dust, dirt and spider webs. It is pretty much the same situation under the hood. Going under the car I see jagged, melted metal and panels riveted into the drivers side floor and quickly evaporating his no rust remarks. The passenger side is more solid and intact, it unfortunately has rust holes just outside of the transmission tunnel. The trunk is locked tight, though the gas tank looks solid from the bottom side. After about 20 minutes it is time to get back on the road, I being the process of internally weighing the pros and cons of taking on the car.

Now back at home I go through the pictures of the car and notice a few peculiar aspects of the 544. Someone has definitely done some work to upgrade and personalize the car. The steering wheel is from an older 444, the transmission tunnel has been modified with a short-shifter set up and the B18 has been upgraded with an alternator. Conversely, the front drivers seat is mounted onto a piece of wood, the hand brake is nowhere to be seen and realize the custom front bumper is actually made out of a leaf spring.

The next day the seller calls and we start to discuss the car and my interest level. Without much ado I open things up with an immediate valuation. "After inspecting the car, its worth about $200 to me due to the amount of rust in the floor pans, no keys..." At which point he stops me to state "It is what it is..." The discussion pauses, and after a little more back and forth he comes back with "How about $250?" We settle on the price and the deal is finalized. A week later the 544 towed back to San Francisco and I am able to start to dig into the car.

Last edited by polaris; 09-15-2020 at 03:36 AM.. Reason: fixing a typo
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