When we found out about the Gambler 500 we were instantly intrigued. A 500 mile off-road rally with a $500 car. Which in itself is the gamble. You are gambling on whether or not your POS will even make it. The rules are simple. The initial car cost should be under $500, but you can put whatever you want into it - And labor is free, so you can't count that, right? However, nobody checks anything receipt wise so there really aren't any rules. There rules of the actual rally are even more vague, but we will save that for another post.
14 weeks ago we set out to get ourselves a contender. A hasty Craigslist search resulted in two 1984 Volvo 240 turbo cars "RAN WHEN PARKED" in the headline. Little did we know what we were really getting ourselves into. The cars were roached to say the least. The last owner was a hack and did a good job at destroying them little by little, and was picking off parts from them left and right. We were left scratching our heads upon getting them back to the warehouse. We would spend the next couple of weeks doing general maintenance and just figuring out what went where and how to put them back together.
Our initial goal was to run two cars, but after we started going through the cars it was evident that they were more than likely destined for the junk yard and probably worth close to nothing. This is the point where we should have cut our losses, but we were stubborn. and it was only "A few extra hours" of extra work to get them running. Our priority's shifted. The initial triage forced us to focus on the best candidate for survival, which was the 240 Wagon. It came equipped with a manual, which would probably be more durable and definitely more fun in the end.
After weeks of trial and error and basic tune up parts we finally got the car running. It ran rough, but we then focused on lifting the car which was also a lot of trial and error. Raceline was kind enough to hook us up with wheels, which turned out to be a bit wide, and limited our tire choices - I think the only option that wasn't a passenger tire was a 27" Super Swamper, which in the end ended up working perfectly. The heavy wheel/tire combo definitely worried us when using 1.25" wheel spacers, but it was necessary.
Then came lifting the rig - It was made easy with 2" stock of UHMW upfront, cut to the shape of strut and simply lifting the rear with coil spring spacers and longer shocks. We added additional bump stops and spring retainers to keep things aligned and to prevent the springs from dropping right out.
Then we had to cut the wheel wells. I had a set of plastic eBay wheel flares that I thought about using on my Trans/AM for a bit that ended up working perfectly. We used those to figure where we wanted our cuts and got to chopping. A few adjustments had to be made here and there, but the fender flares for the most part worked well.
After we had a functional ride, it was on to the "fun" stuff - A fender exit exhaust was made, and then re-made when the clearance wasn't quite enough, proving once again that being lazy just means you have to do twice as much work in the end. The second version came out proper and Heat Shield Products hooked it up with all the necessary wraps and sleeves to keep our fuel / electrical components shielded from the now invasive hot exhaust pipe, which also was wrapped.
Bumpers and whatever Volvo uses to attach them with (a gas shock!?) were removed and replaced with solid tubing which was hole sawed perfectly through the stock bumpers and attached to radius bent tubes to give them a trophy truck style push bar. Subtle, effective and they ended up looking rad.
To keep our steering rack, oil pan and other vital components safe from rocks and other debris a complete skid plate was fabricated in house and made to be easily removed with 6 bolts for serviceability. A 3/16" Aluminum plate was bent up by our neighbors and attached with tabs to do a majority of the shielding.
After than various peripherals were added. KC threw down some of their classic Daylighter lights, which we customized to our liking. Orca coolers made sure we had hydration and various other snacks secure and at proper temperature by giving us one of their proper coolers, which proved to be an absolute necessity.
On Monday the 9th after a mean couple hot laps the main wagon was running funny. We took it to our neighbors Artec Fab and upon further inspection they found it had a blown head gasket - After all the hard work and the event 4 days away the news was devastating. However, Artec handled business and thrashed on the car. Parts had to be next day aired, and in the end the cylinder head even had to be resurfaced. They worked on it until the wee hours of Friday morning and after very little sleep we hit the road and headed north and made it through the Gambler 500 gates right on time.
In the end, the car handled the trails very well - We had very little issues despite hammering down and being on the pipe nearly all day and running well into the night. Stay tuned for a complete video recap with plenty of shots of the car in action.
Here's a verticle video from our IG stories documenting the builds