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Old 02-13-2017, 01:27 AM   #1
zimmerdale
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Default Fred the 444: a 1958-ish jalopy project

I love all my Volvo bricks, and I try to take very good care of them, but a couple years ago I started dreaming of an old beater that I could take a looser and more creative approach to. I wanted an old jalopy to drive slowly on Kansas back roads.

After many months of off-and-on multistate Craigslist searching for a cheap and suitably patinaed 544, a rusty and beat up (but relatively complete!) 444 popped up in my own small Kansas town. A 444 is even better--I just didn't expect to have a chance at one. The opportunity was too good to pass up.

As it sat when I bought it for $425:



The "complete" car didn't actually come with wheels, I learned. But the seller was kind enough to trailer it the couple miles to my house, where I put it on jack stands and gave him back his vintage Ford wheels.



This patina is EXACTLY what I was dreaming of. I would probably prefer a single matching paint scheme, but I think the mismatched door and trunk lid are growing on me. This car is honest, with no pretenses.



The first tasks were to find some wheels and get the car titled in my name.

Wheels:

I have plenty of extra Volvo wheels, but this old car has the 5 x 4.5" bolt pattern, so none of them work. After spending way too much time researching my options and failing to find a set of 15x5.5 old Ford wheels, I decided to go sort of stock. The best source for narrow steel 5 x 4.5" bolt wheels? Newer Ford Mustang spare tires. I really wanted to go with 16x4 wheels, because they look so cool on the car, but I couldn't find any tire options for that size. So I ended up settling for four matching Ford Mustang 15x4 space saver spares for about $17 each at my local LKQ. I plan to buy a set of Nankang CX668 165/80R15 tires when I'm ready to start driving. That's what a lot of old VW guys are using on 4" wide rims. I think the the wheels and tires will work fine, and they're cheap, which is my primary requirement for this car.

The 16x4 Ford space savers, which I returned because of the lack of tire options:



Which I think look remarkably similar to the OEM wheels in this early factory photo from the Volvo website:



The 15x5 Mustang spares:



These will work just fine for rolling around until the car is ready to drive. At that point I'll order a set of the Nankangs and see how those work.

Title:

The seller listed the car as a '57, and I bought the car thinking it was a '57. The car came with a title, but the title was signed by a seller and buyer (and notarized) in 1974. The title also lists the car as a '59. Apparently the title has just been passed along with the car since 1974, but no one has ever taken the time get register the car in their name. I'm at least the third purchaser since that title was signed.

The other complication is that this car can't possibly be a '59. It has a split windshield and "444" on the dash. Depending on what source I read and how I understand the manufacturing and titling process back then, the 444 was either last made in 1957 or 1958. I also tried to use the Chassis Number to narrow down the model year. It turns out that this car has ID tags from a 1959 544. The title matches the information on the ID tags, but not the facts of the actual car. I don't know when these 544 tags were put on this 444. And I can't figure out why someone would do that.

When I explained most of this information at the DMV, the helpful ladies recommended that we pretend the old title from 1974 doesn't exist. This car is old enough that a simple bill of sale and a VIN inspection are all I need to get it re-titled. The seller and I get to decide what year the car is, and from that point on, it becomes official.

In the end, I decided to call this car a 1958 because the '58 Kansas license plate matches the car much better than the '57 plate. I wanted an old beat up plate to go with the old beat up car, and I lucked out when a local kid had the perfect plate for me--suitably dirty, bent, and corroded:



Cleaning and Assessing:

The car came with a trunk full of stuff and the bumpers in the passenger compartment. There were also a head and crankshaft behind the passenger seat. I spent a few hours pulling everything out and organizing it to figure out what I have. I could see that someone had put a selection of Volvo OEM gaskets in the trunk, but the packages have disintegrated and the gaskets are useless. Many of the parts are for a B20 engine, but this car has a B16 in it.















The Name:

I named him Fred, which is the Swedish word for peace. When I was reading this article about the 70th anniversary of the 444, I was intrigued by the fact that even as WWII was still going on, Volvo was looking forward to the war's end with hope for the future. The 444 was referred to as one of "Volvo's doves of peace." Technically, the name should be pronounced something like "freed," but I'll probably just call him "Fred" with a good American twang.

Rolling:

The car wouldn't roll at all when I got it. The seller thought the rear end was locked up, but it checked out fine when I inspected the car before buying it. The wheels were all very stiff because of the drum brakes being tight, but they would move with effort. When we tipped the trailer to roll it off, the car wouldn't budge. It finally rolled back with a lot of pushing and some major clunks from under the car.

I thought maybe some U-joints were seized, but it turns out that all but one of the bolts connecting the driveshaft to the transmission had fallen out. The driveshaft had shifted and was wedged against the tunnel. I pulled the driveshaft for some cleaning and inspection, and all the U-joints move freely. That was good news.

I pulled all four hubs (with major help from a 3 arm puller; I need to make a good 5 bolt drum puller for the future). The wheel cylinders seem to all be seized, so I just pulled out all the brake shoes for now to let the wheels spin freely. I will need to do wheel cylinder rebuilds and some wheel bearing maintenance at some point too.

But for now, the car will roll freely when I need to move it.

Tow Bar:

I need to be able to move the car around while it's still not running (VIN inspection, etc.), and I don't have a trailer. I use my 940 turbo to flat tow 2/7/9s using the tow bar adapters I made for those bumper attachments. I need to be able to use a tow bar with the 444, too.

After lying under the car and staring at things for a while, I came up with a plan that wouldn't require much modification to the car. The original welded bumper tabs are weak, and one of mine was already broken off (and still attached to the bumper, which is probably why it was in the car). I used a cut off wheel to take off the other tab to make room for my new tabs.

I used some scrap 2" angle iron and fashioned two pieces that fit under and bolt with the sway bar. They recreate the mounting tabs but are securely bolted to the frame with new Class 10.9 bolts.



The original tab for reference:



Bolted in place:





I have the pieces for my adapters cut and ready to weld tomorrow. They will bolt to my new tabs and mate with my tow bar ends. If I decide to put a front bumper on, my new tabs will come in handy. If not, I'll leave them on for that inevitable day that Fred breaks down and needs to be rescued.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading!

Jason
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1996 855 R (red) 218k miles
1993 945 T (white) 207k miles
1993 244 (black) 264k miles
1992 244 (blue) 260k miles
1958 444 (jalopy)
--------------
1988 245 DL (tan) 221k (sold)
1978 245 (white) 200k (sold)
1990 244 (red) 241k (parted and sold)
1991 944 GLE (black) 194k (parted and crushed)
1988 745 (green) 260k (parted and crushed)
1975 245 (white) 75k (parted and crushed)

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Last edited by zimmerdale; 02-13-2017 at 02:35 PM..
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Old 02-13-2017, 02:26 AM   #2
Tom Wiley
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Your photos aren't working.
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Old 02-13-2017, 09:42 AM   #3
GTJordan
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Yup photos aren't working.

I picked up a 57 444 this past summer. It had been sitting in a garage since 1980, then spent the last year under a tarp. I only found one rust hole (spare tire well).

Mechanically it was taken apart. But my dad just found a b16 and 4 speed- running- for free, if he took the rusty 544 shell from the guy's house.

Cool cars, but a project I don't have time for, so my dad is taking it over.

Good luck. If you find a nice shape trunk lid in your travels, let me know!

Jordan
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Old 02-13-2017, 01:53 PM   #4
zimmerdale
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Photos should be working now, I think. Let me know if they're not.

Last edited by zimmerdale; 02-13-2017 at 02:36 PM..
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Old 02-13-2017, 02:44 PM   #5
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they work! cool car!
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Old 02-13-2017, 03:01 PM   #6
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Neat!

FWIW those front sway bar mounts aren't all that strong, I've had both sides rip out on mine. Granted, that's with a stiff IPD bar (part of the front and rear set) and plenty of 'spirited' driving, plus my car is a rust bucket, so really, might not be a concern on your car

I <3 my PV. While my 240 wagon is considerably faster, and quieter, and nicer in pretty much all respects, the PV is simply more fun to drive. It's just so light, so flingable, so straightforward. Mine is pretty fun with a roughly 165 - 170 hp B20 engine in it, I occasionally ponder putting some more HP in it but my rusty shell would probably fall apart.
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Old 02-13-2017, 03:23 PM   #7
zimmerdale
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnMc View Post
FWIW those front sway bar mounts aren't all that strong, I've had both sides rip out on mine. Granted, that's with a stiff IPD bar (part of the front and rear set) and plenty of 'spirited' driving, plus my car is a rust bucket, so really, might not be a concern on your car.
Thanks for that advice. I'll keep it in mind. I don't think it will be an issue, since I just need to be able tow around town for a bit until I get it running. I don't plan any long distance towing for any reason. But I'll keep an eye on them.
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Old 02-13-2017, 03:44 PM   #8
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A stiff swaybar is probably harder on them than a tow bar would be. They just were a bit weakened from rust on the back side/inside of the frame arm, and fatigued and cracked and finally ripped loose after a decent bit of use.

If you want to drive this thing with any zest you'll probably want to swap the front drums for some discs. I found that the stock front drums are pretty easy to overheat, then they fade, and next thing you know they're stinking and you're standing on the pedal and not getting a lot of slowing out of them. That happened to me once or twice before I swapped 122 discs on.
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Old 02-13-2017, 03:48 PM   #9
zimmerdale
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Can you tell me a bit (or point me to a thread) about the cost and labor of converting to front discs?
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Old 02-13-2017, 03:59 PM   #10
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It helps that the 122 originally came with the same front drums that the PV had through end of production, and when the 122 switched to discs, they made them fit into the space vacated by the drums.

What I did was:
- get donor 122 brakes - down to and including the caliper bracket that bolts to the 122 hub carrier (and the dust shield)
- strip the PV down to a bare spindle as well
- relocate the shock from behind the wheel to in front (although perhaps putting the calipers in front would work as well? Not sure on the clearance issues with the tie rod end)
- this is easier than it sounds because the shock mounts are just bolted through the suspension arms and can be switched around, but I had to cut a notch in the lower mount, bend it in, and reweld to maintain full steering range...
- test fit the caliper mounts from the 122 on the 544 spindle. You will need to drill 2 1/2 holes to match the irregular bolt pattern on the 544 spindle. 1 bolt is in the correct position, 2 are way off, and the real PITA is one hole that is half overlaid by the existing hole. A drill press would be nice.
- once drilled, bolt the caliper mount onto the 544 spindle with the heat shield.
- put the 122 hubs/rotors on
- put the calipers on (bleed valves go up)
- a little minor creativity is required with the brake lines. I initially put my 544 flex lines directly onto the calipers. This worked, sort of, a little rubbing on them at full lock. After a year or so I replaced it with a different flex line and a short hard line from the caliper to the hose mount on the heat shield.
- it's vaguely possible that the master cylinder still has a pressure retention thing at the exit which maintains a slight backpressure on the system (5 psi or less), which is nice with drums, not with discs. If it does, you'll have to take it out.

All that said, 122 rotors and 122 calipers are getting fairly rare and spendy these days, it might be worth the effort to find something newer and more common that would work and make up a caliper mount to match.
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Old 02-21-2018, 05:11 AM   #11
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We need an update and some more pictures here!!!

Please...
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Old 02-21-2018, 12:49 PM   #12
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Love these cars, looking forward to seeing more.
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Old 02-21-2018, 10:43 PM   #13
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We use to have a 58 444.it maybe was the most fun car ever. B16 put #2rod thru the block so in went a fresh b18. With the 4:56 gears it would really cook.
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Old 05-25-2018, 07:54 AM   #14
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Any progress here?
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Old 05-29-2018, 07:21 PM   #15
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I know on the 122S cars the model and s/n of the car is across the top of the engine firewall. Maybe there is a similar location on the 444? I know the riveted on plate isn't the only location of the model and vin of these cars. Using the firewall location on my 123 is how I verified that the car was a real one.
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Old 06-05-2018, 09:28 AM   #16
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If the 122 is late enough, they got 'real' VIN's, or at least a completely revamped numbering system, stamped directly into the metal.

On the older cars, there are two different plates with different numbers.

One is a plain(er) metal plate screwed to the firewall, and painted over (attached before the car hit the paint shop). That is the 'body number' applied in the body plant. Back in those days, the plant that made the metal car bodies was separate from the one that took the bodies and added all the components to make a car. I think they were all owned by VOlvo by the 60's, but earlier (forget how much earlier) they were actually a separate company. Either way, bodies were numbered sequentially at the body shop, and not all of them made it to the final assembly plant for whatever reason. So the numbers didn't match, the body number shuold be lower than the chassis number, by a slowly increasing amount over the life of the model.

The black and silver riveted plate has the 'chassis number' - this was sequentially applied at the final assembly plant. They'd get the metal bodies in from the body plant, put all the parts on it, and affix the chassis number.

Having two separate, non-matching numbers probably lead to a small degree of confusion here in the US when car titles became a thing Probably some places used the chassis number (probably what should have been used), perhaps some used the body number, which could lead to duplicates.
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