1968 Volvo 142S: Sourcing The Perfect Platform For A Scandinavian Muscle Car
Photography by Jonathan Harper
The first rays of sunrise bathe the two-door sedan in warm, golden light. The lowered three-box Volvo sports a suggestive rake in its stance, almost like a Scandinavian muscle car, though a 1968 142S isn’t what comes to mind when you think of torque and tire smoke. As the South Bay fog burns off, the owner of this red brick, Chris Persons, shares the curb with me to talk about his car and boil down the build in progress.
Jonathan Harper: I assume a lot of people think of older Volvos as either Amazons, 240s, or P1800s, but what are we looking at here?
Chris Persons: This is my 1968 Volvo 142S. It’s a three-speed automatic, and for those that know their Volvos, the grille is out of a ’73 model year car.
JH: How long have you owned it?
CP: Just over two years now. I found the car in Portland back in the spring of 2016.
JH: And have you always been a Volvo fan? What prompted the search?
CP: In a sense, but not really Volvo as much as Saab. That said, when I first saw a Volvo 142, I knew I wanted to own one someday. I guess you could say I have a thing for Swedish stuff rather than a specific brand of it, regardless of the sticker on the rear window!
JH: Does your affinity for the country’s products extend beyond cars? Do you happen to own lots of Ikea furniture?
CP: I would say yes, but no to the Ikea part! In general, I go for minimalism in my car, furniture, and general design choices. I’m guessing it has something to do with my mild OCD and how much I enjoy things to be well organized.
JH: You said the 142 drew you in from the beginning, but what made you want this model in particular?
CP: Well I wanted a car that was simple to work on, and a car would be a good project for someone like me with limited mechanical experience. I had also been looking at Datsun 510s and BMW 2002s for such a purpose, but I wanted something more unique than the typical choices, and since I already owned a Saab it made me think it would be best to keep things Swedish.
JH: And how did you find this one once you knew the project would be based on a 142?
CP: I started with a basic search through the Volvo classifieds. Although I remember the car being on IPD’s classifieds, (a big Volvo performance partner since the early 1960s), the actual listing I responded to was just a simple Craigslist ad in the Portland, Oregon area—when I started searching for a 142, there just weren’t a lot of cars for sale. People just drove these things for the most part, they weren’t often preserved or restored. I found a couple in poor condition, but I knew that I didn’t want to deal with body work and chasing rust, so I was looking to find one with a clean body, and thankfully I did in this one.
JH: Did you know exactly what you wanted, or was it just to find something acceptable and start from there?
CP: My list of must-haves was the taillight style from the 1966-’72 cars, a clean body like I said, and a manual transmission. I found my car almost right away in fact, but the asking price was a bit high compared to the others I was coming across. Also, it wasn’t a manual, so my search continued for the next couple months, but I soon realized how rare these cars were with a clean, rust-free body.
Hemmings was even listing one during the time of my search, but it was a complete restoration and was going for over $14,000. In the end, the price came down a bit on the car that was previously a bit too much, and despite it being an automatic I called to ask about for more information to get a better idea of the kind of shape it was in. It was less than a week later that I’d booked a flight for me and my fiancé to fly up to Oregon to see the car. A pair of one-way tickets.
JH: You said it’s a project for you; do you work on the car yourself?
CP: I certainly do what I can. It’s currently parked in my apartment carport though, so that kind of makes it difficult at times, and certainly not the ideal space to work in.
JH: What’s the most extensive mechanical work you’ve done in said carport?
CP: My biggest project so far has been to fit the car with new shocks and lowering springs. Oh, and when I took an angle grinder to the the wheel flats to get clearance for my new and improved wheel offset.
JH: And remind me, why does it have a grille from a ’73? How did that happen?
CP: That’s due to the fact that there is no perfect 142, in my opinion. There were many things that changed during the run of the 140 series from 1966 to 1974. There were three different grille designs for instance, it gained a passenger mirror along the way, the taillights changed a few times, and the interior was updated, among other, more minor things.
When they did that interior update in 1973 though, they also changed the taillights to a horizontal look that I’m not as fond of. However, that was also the year the car got the grill I like. So my car is just a combination of the best aesthetic parts from each version. The grille that came in my ’68 didn’t even have the iconic diagonal design for the badge, and although the ’73 piece wasn’t the first to use the diagonal, I believe it was the best version of the design used for the 142. It took some light modification and it’s not done yet, but it fits for the most part.
JH: What else has been modified on this car, so far?
CP: When I got the car in 2016, it was basically stock. The previous owner had only done a very minor restoration. Since then, I’ve lowered the car and had some custom widened wheels fitted. I had to make some room in the wheel wells because they’re also a bit larger in diameter, but that’s about it so far.
JH: So what does the future hold for the car?
CP: Time and space permitting, my plan is to fit a Ford 302 V8 in there somehow. And the rest of a Ford drivetrain as well. Its something I’m adamant about doing myself, so it will inevitably take a while!
JH: Apart from giving it a 302, is there any further restoration work you want to do on the car to pick up where the last guy left off?
CP: As for restoration, I like the original look of the car. They definitely were not perfect even when new and I’d rather keep the car’s details true to the time it came from. As for performance, I’d like to modernize as much as I can. When the time comes to swap in the 302, I’d like to do some work on the chassis and suspension to make the car capable of handling the power.
JH: Has it been reliable? Perhaps an obvious question considering what this is…
CP: It’s done really well for having over 200,000 miles on it. I’ve done a few long-distance drives and it hasn’t failed me yet.
JH: What’s the most fun you’ve had with the car?
CP: That would have to be the trip I took with my fiancé to pick it up and bring it home. We flew from Los Angeles to Portland to look at the car, not knowing if I was even going to buy it. Voltech in Portland had looked the car over and fixed a couple issues, and after I bought the Volvo and stopped for a new set of tires, we drove the length of California, mostly along the coast, to bring the car home. It never once broke down, it never even gave me a hard start. It was a great first experience with it, for both me and my fiancé.
JH: And what is your favorite aspect of the car as it sits?
CP: The car was bought new in Long Beach in 1969. The original owner’s granddaughter moved it to Portland over 15 years ago but continued to keep it clean and maintained so it wouldn’t rust away in the dampness of the Pacific Northwest. I bought the car from her, its second owner, and brought it back to Los Angeles for a new life, right back where it came from.
Many Volvos like the 122 and the 240s have held up well, but due to rust problems the 140s tend to be quite rare in good condition. I was fortunate to find one that had been well cared for by a great family.
JH: Well here’s to the V8 to come, and to finding a great base to build your hot rod. Thank you for sharing it with us.
CP: My pleasure!
Keep up with Chris and his ongoing project on Instagram