We all have dream cars growing up. Even if you’re not a gear head, there was likely a car from your childhood that you remember coveting more than anything else. Be it a Lamborghini, ’69 Camaro, or Corvette, we all had one. And, in that regard, Greg Carnforth is no different, except his dream car was a little more…uh, let’s say unconventional.
Greg tells us that he grew up around Volvos. His mother had a few and he even bought several for his own kids when they were old enough to drive. After all, they are economical, affordable, and most importantly, safe. But when you think “hot rod” there isn’t probably a single Volvo that springs to mind. That’s either because you don’t know enough about Volvos or because you haven’t seen Greg’s 1965 Amazon. Either way, you’ll never look at a Volvo the same way again.
“My mother had Volvos from the time I was a kid, she was always a Volvo fan,” Greg said. “In fact, she still drives a Volvo wagon to this day, though it’s a new one. But she’s always driven one since the mid-‘70s.”
And though Greg had grown up with the Swedish marque, he was a racer at heart—and a tinkerer above all else. His repertoire not only includes the immaculate Volvo you see before you, but also an RV7 experimental aircraft and several circle track cars which Greg piloted himself. Needless to say, Greg has a penchant for custom builds and fabrication, so when he decided to build a project, it had to be something unique.
With his love of early Volvos in the back of his mind, Greg began the search for a wagon. He liked the look and thought it would make for the perfect project vehicle. He found just what he was looking for in Texas—though there were a few problems with it, according to Greg.
“I was looking for something neat, car wise, and I ran across the Amazon body, the only problem was it was a four-door wagon,” Greg explained. “I like wagons, but I don’t particularly care for the four doors, so we knew we had to do something about that.”
Luckily for Greg, the car had spent its entire life in Texas and was in pretty good shape. The body was rust free and the drivetrain was still up to the task of making it back to Kentucky under its own steam—albeit at 55 mph the whole way. Greg and his brother, Chris, flew out to Texas to pick the car up and drove it all the way back without a single problem. And though the car would have made a perfect restoration, Greg had different plans for the unique vehicle.
The Build Begins
“I got the car back and I got looking at it, and looking at the coupes, and I realized that the front architecture on the door on a coupe had a longer door but the architecture was the same at the window,” Greg pointed out. “So I found a donor coupe and cut the doors and pillar off it and made this into a two-door wagon. From there the wheels went off the wagon.”
Greg is no stranger to fabrication, and since he had already gone to the effort of splicing in the coupe-style doors, he thought he may as well throw the kitchen sink at it. The first point of business was to cut the majority of the car’s unibody out from under it, replacing it with a custom-built chassis in the process—all of which was designed and built by Greg himself.
And though many aspects of the car escalated over time, it was always the plan to have an LS motivating the Scandinavia-derived ride. Since Greg was an old-school circle track guy, he had been keeping pretty close tabs on the small-block’s evolution as it moved into its Gen III an IV phases.
“When I started looking into the engines, I realized that everything that was wrong with the old small-block had been fixed with the LS platform,” Greg said with a chuckle. “Every problem we had from valve covers leaking, to oil pans leaking, to piston wear and oiling—everything had been addressed. Here was something you could turn seven grand with all day, when to do that with an old small-block, you had to spend some serious money.”
Greg tells us that his initial goal for the engine build was 450 horsepower and it had to be an aluminum block to save weight off the front end. Thus the search for the drivetrain began. Not too long into the search, Greg located a crashed 2004 Pontiac GTO that just so happened to have the T56 six-speed he had been looking for.
Since the car could run, and some what drive, Greg knew it was in good shape and quickly bought it up for donor parts. The initial plan was to simply move the engine and trans over and possibly modify it further down the road, but we all know the best time to mod something is when its out of the car.
The LS1 ended up with a set of PRC Stage II heads from Texas Speed and Performance, accompanied by one of their matching bumpsticks. While Greg was at it, he went ahead and freshened up the motor with new rings and bearings, though he chose to keep the internals of the LS1 stock.
Spent exhaust gases are routed into a set of 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers, designed and built by Greg, and funnel into oval Flowmaster race mufflers. The rest of the system is built with NASCAR-style oval tubing and exits right in front of the rear wheels.
The setup ended up more than meeting Greg’s goal when it laid down 456 rear-wheel horsepower after tuning. Good power for a stock-displacement LS1 and great when you consider the entire Volvo weighs in at a Svelte 2,700 pounds.
To keep the car cool, an off-the-shelf radiator from Speedway was selected but heavily reworked by Greg to fit the application perfectly and help keep the car cool under any situation. A Spal cooling fan keeps air running across the radiator and is run by the GM computer pulled from the GTO, as is the rest of the drivetrain.
To handle the added power emanating from the beefed up LS1, Greg sent the T56 over to the guys at Tick Performance for a refresh and to add one of their Stage II kits to the mix to make sure it was up to the task of handling the extra grunt. All that newly found twist is funneled out back via a custom Speedway driveshaft that feeds into a 9-inch rear end from Rousch Racing, stuff with a Detroit Locker and 4.30 gears.
Getting The Stance Right
To make sure the car sat just right, and that it was up to the task of being flung around a parking lot or road course as Greg had intended, the Volvo was equipped with a set of double-adjustable coilovers at all four corners from QA1.
Greg designed and built the suspension himself, ensuring that every possible measurement had been taken into account in the process. Suspension geometry can be a tricky task, but Greg’s former circle track experience and fabrication allowed him to create a very capable system.
The front setup is based on a Mustang II style suspension, though all of the components where fabricated specifically for the build. Greg tells us he managed to zero the scrub radius with the system—allowing the Volvo to handle like it’s on rails.
At the rear, a trailing arm system of the NASCAR variety uses arms provided by Rousch to keep the rear end in line. A set of Wilwood brakes helps add the whoa to the Volvo’s substantial go and sports six pistons up front and four at the rear.
What’s On The Inside
The interior is one of our favorite parts of this build and reminds us of a classy nordic ski lodge. It is appointed in beautiful brown leather that adorns just about everything in the cockpit. What ever isn’t covered by the luxurious material is painted body color.
You may notice that the tunnel is fairly large, and this was done to allow the engine to sit as far back in the chassis as possible, providing the Volvo with a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution—though it’s hardly noticeable thanks to the expert craftsmanship that went into the interior work.
The gauge panel is simple but provides all the necessary vitals for the LS1. The heater controls are also minimalist and straight forward and everything else in the car is simple yet elegant. The wagon only has two seats making this truly a coupe, and dare we say sports car. It doesn’t get much more awesome than a two-door, two-seat wagon. The body work is also so well done that you would never guess that this Volvo didn’t roll off the production line just like this.
Larry Bell, of LB Custom Interiors, was responsible for the majority of the work on the interior, though Greg built fiberglass molds for the head liner and doors so they could be covered in leather. Bell was responsible for cutting down the original Volvo seats to create awesome leather wrapped buckets that really open up the car’s interior and match the belt line of the Volvo.
The car sits on a set of custom Hot Rod by Boyd 3-piece wheels that were built in a custom offset to get the Volvo sitting just right and to clear the brakes at the front. They are wrapped in Michelin Sport Pilot rubber to help keep the Amazon glued to the pavement.
All of the body and chassis fabrication was handled by Greg but the final paint and body work was done by Danny Taylor, of Danny Taylor Automotive Art and Design. Taylor sprayed the car in a GM Butternut hue, which was vehemently disputed by all those involved at first, but we have to say is the perfect color for the Volvo in our opinion. Greg tells us that the color was selected by his brother Chris, who we’re told was responsible for a lot of the design decision on the build.
And while Greg loves the color, he tells us that his favorite part of the build is the grille. To get it just right, he cut a piece of aluminum to size and used a router bit to custom fabricate the entire piece.
All said and done, Greg estimates that the entire build took him two and a half years—which is not bad if you consider the level of badassery that went into the whole thing—a feat that he tells us would have been impossible if not for the help from his brother and many others.
As with any build, it was a labor of love, and a worthwhile one if you ask us. We’ve never seen a car quite like it and it was easily one of our favorites from this year’s LS Fest. And we’re not the only ones that found it nearly perfect. Greg’s Volvo took home “Best Import” at this year’s Holley LS Fest Bowling Green and went on to win several other awards at car shows across the nation.
Maybe you’re like Greg. Maybe your definition of a dream car doesn’t fit the “norm.” But we’ve got to say, these days, builds off the beaten path are far more interesting. Who knows? If we saw this Vovlo as kids, we’d probably have a poster of it plastered to our pre-pubescent walls and might be dire hard Volvo fans. Well…maybe.