1959 Volvo PV544

I met Arthur in 1977.

It was on a beautiful day and I was traveling down California's Pacific Coast Highway on my motorcycle headed to Huntington Beach for a bit of body surfing. As I was passing through Surfside/Sunset Beach, there he was, sitting on the shoulder with a "For Sale" sign in the window.

It wasn't like I was looking for a 1959 Volvo PV544. In fact, I'd much rather have found, and been able to afford, my "dream car," a Volvo 1800, just like Roger Moore drove on the TV series "The Saint." But, I was interested in finding an "old Volvo," partially influenced by a reference to them in my reading of "Laurel's Kitchen," or "Laurel's Bread Book." In one of those books, or an article about them, they mentioned their baker friend, Alan Scott, and how they all shared an interest in old Volvos. It was quite a few years later when I read "The Bread Builders" by Alan Scott and Daniel Wing that I found out this was the same Alan and that he used his Volvo 122 to make the deliveries from his bakery. I knew what a 122 looked like but thought that the PV544 was much cooler. I'd also seen a few Volvo Duetts running around and they out-cooled the PVs but were actually pretty rare.

So, there, sitting alongside the highway, was this 1959 PV544, styled after a three-quarter-size 1942 Ford, looking both retro and forlorn, .

I copied down the phone number and later that day, after a fine time in the surf, I drove back down to the car and I met the owner's boyfriend. He said that his girlfriend was getting a differnet car and this one needed to go. She'd been commuting in it and it ran fine. He also said that the cylinder head had been done 10,000 miles previously. We made the deal, about $800.00, and I took Arthur to his new home in Long Beach. I can't rememeber who went with me to double drive back though.

Arthur acquired his name after a few events of bad luck befell him, like the hapless protagonist in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," Arthur Dent. I was driving on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach when a guy turned left in front of me and I slamed on the brakes but we collided anyway. The car he was driving was not his and he had no insurance. I surmised that I wouldn't be getting blood out of this turnip and didn't want to hang around since this wasn't an upscale part of town so I srugged it off. Arthur ended up with a small dent in the front right fender and a dent in the right headlight surround. At some point later I was working on the car in my driveway and it rolled back and the open driver's side door got caught on something and over-extended its opening radius, damaging the sheet metal on the door and the front left fender. Sigh.

It was fun to drive but needed some work, such as a functional choke. To start the car you had to lift the hood, lift the choke levers manually, start it, lower the levers and close the hood. However, it was my daily driver for going to work and to school. On one occassion I actually drove it on the freeways up to Hollywood to go to Freestyles Sales to buy photography supplies. It was great.

The first 3 photos on the page show the car parked in front of my garage behind the apartment building I lived in on Stanley Ave. in Long Beach. Sometimes I would keep him the garage because I also had my 1970 Ford Maverick and my 1976 Honda CB750 motorcycle. Parking on the street was always at a premium so I was fortunate to have a garage and parking spot. It was within the next year that I moved a few miles to the east into a duplex on Bennett Ave. and Arthur moved too. I was looking for a photo of that place with the car also in it and found this one shown on the right. It appears that Arthur needed a tow. That's my company truck leading his way and the place I lived in shown in the background behind the Volvo.

I think it was in 1983 that I moved again, this time just down the street into the first house that my girlfriend, now my wife, and I bought. We were still driving Arthur for work and fun. When her car broke down she drove Arthur to her job in Fullerton every day for while, a 58 mile round trip. We also drove it to the drive-in theater since it was so comfortable. We'd push the front seats all the way forward and sit in the back. It was great fun. That's Arthur parked in the driveway of our house in September 1983 shown on the left. Notice that by this time he'd acquired his personalized license plate, "A DENT."

As we moved farther into the 1980s, life got busy with the house, jobs, a kid, pets, me in school, etc. and Arthur moved into the back yard and very rarely got out on the road. In 1991 we moved to Billings, MT and, since I'd gone there 2 months earlier, my dad brought Arthur up on a trailer when my wife and kids came up in October. Staying true to his name, another nasty event occurred on that trip. It was October 31, 1991 and we were have our first big snow storm of the year. I was waiting for their arrival in Billings and they were crossing the Bozeman Pass in a near white out. Things got messy and the trailer swayed and hit a guard rail causing the car to jump on the trailer but stay on it. As a result, it sustained an bent fended and, worse, a bent axle. Sigh. Stuff happens and when it does it happens to Arthur, just like in the "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy." We unloaded Arthur and rolled him into the garage of the house I had bought on El Dorado Ave. and there he stayed for the next 10 months.

That house was small and once our California house sold we could look for something bigger in Billings. In the summer of 1992 we found a place on Woody Drive that was perfect. Big house, big lot and, as a bonus, a large covered carport in the rear, off the alley. Arthur got towed again, and rolled into the carport and there he spent the next 17 years tucked away, out of sight, but not totally out of mind. In 2008, my younger son got interested and went out to the carpor with the air compressor and pumped up Arthur's long-flat tires. When he discovered they held air, he suggested that we get him running.

Please understand, based on looks, it was a daunting task.

Tires inflated and getting a wash before the move.

The interior looks pretty rough.

Engine compartment.

The trunk.

OK, let's give it a try but I didn't want to work on it in the carport. All my tools were in the garage, plus, if I put him in that garage I'd have to walk past him every day which would remind me to get him running. We pushed the car into the alley, hooked up a tow strap and used my truck to haul him around the corner, unhooked him, and let him roll into the driveway and then the garage.

Over the next 6-weeks we went through the various automotive systems of cooling, fuel, etc., all that related to getting the engine started. We pulled the fuel tank and took it to a shop for cleaning and lining. We changed the oil. We flushed the cooling system, pounded a freeze plug that had fallen out back in, added new coolant, and installed a new 6-volt battery.

I was reluctant to pour much money into the car until we knew what we had so instead of doing a proper rebuild on the carburetors, we disassembled them, cleaned them up, and put them back together. We went over the electrical and ignition systems, cleaning connecttion and making sure it all worked. We flushed the fuel line and reinstalled the now clean gas tank.

It was on April 12, 2008 that the time had come to see if this work had paid off. The video showes the first start up.

Well, it looked like it was time to get serious. As much as I wanted to hop in and take it for a drive, much was left to do before that would happen. The brakes didn't work and there was that issue of the bent axle. I sat down and made a long list of parts we needed, got them ordered, including a replacement axle, and over the next month or so of that summer, work progressed nicely. This is all detailed in photo gallery link at the top or bottom of this page.

As shown above, the interior had disintegrated, so I got on Craigslist and found a nice industrial sewing machine for sale over in Belgrade, MT. We went over and picked that up and I spent quite a bit of time practicing seams before I bought the vinyl and started sewing up a new interior. I did the carpeting as well and, for my first job, I would give myself a B+. Of course, I saved quite a bit of money by doing it myself with the added satification that comes with that.

My son helped with much of the work including rubbing out the long-oxidized paint and cleaning up the fogged windows to a like-new clarity. The work has continued and, like all vintage cars, it will always be an ongoing project. But Arthur can now be considered a daily driver and an active member of the family again.

Click here to view the full photo gallery.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Updated January 2021.