We’re suckers for fast wagons, and a very special one is now up for grabs on Bring A Trailer: Paul Newman’s own Volvo 740 sleeper. The legendary actor, racing driver, and sauce boss had an incredible series of hot-rodded Volvo station wagons built, and this was the jumping-off point for further greatness to come. Commissioned by Newman when new in 1988, this stealthy grey brick gets its engine from ’80s muscle car royalty.
While Newman’s history of hot Volvos spawned V8 scorchers, this 1988 740 features the 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 from a Buick Grand National. Already a formidable powerplant by the standards of the day, it’s been made that much more electrifying with a variety of tweaks including a new exhaust system, an oil cooler, and a revised tune. A for sale ad from around 1997 claims that this thing makes 320 horsepower, so it should still be quick by modern standards.
What’s more, the least-palatable part of the Grand National has been ditched in this Volvo. The problematic 200R-4 four-speed automatic gearbox has been ditched in favor of a T5 five-speed manual gearbox from a Firebird. More gear ratios, more power to the rear wheels, more engagement, more fun. While the T5 isn’t the stoutest gearbox by today’s standards, it was strong for 1988 and shouldn’t have a problem harnessing the power of the Grand National lump.
Of course, Paul Newman was an accomplished driver who won his class at LeMans in 1979, so it shouldn’t be surprising that this Volvo take a holistic view of performance. The stock springs were swapped out with aftermarket units from the Volvo wizards at iPD and paired with Bilstein dampers. The anti-roll-bars were also replaced with beefier iPD items, and the whole car sits on 16-inch Volvo Gemini wheels, fit for then-low-profile 225/50ZR16 tires at all four corners.
Beefing up this hauler’s visual presence is a very rare Volvo OEM aero kit, a period-correct accessory package that’s extremely hard to find. Due to the flexible nature of the parts, some sag is evident in the front and rear valences, but that’s not bad considering the kit’s age. Of course, the grey paint is looking quite oxidized on several surfaces, but that’s typically what happens when you drive a car rather than just let it sit indoors. This hot rod has 76,000 miles on the clock, so it’s seen some proper enjoyment.
Of course, this car has seen some minor updates since Newman owned it. The vast chunk of the exterior lighting has been replaced under current ownership, the car got a proper fuel and ignition tune-up including new injectors, the clutch has been replaced with a Centerforce performance unit to handle the GN V6’s grunt, and there’s a fresh limited-slip diff out back so this thing won’t be caught peg-legged. However, the car isn’t entirely sorted. There’s an oil leak of some sort going on, the tachometer is inoperable, the headliner is sagging, and the dashboard is cracked. Call it a driver-spec piece of history.
While not as ridiculous as the trio of supercharged Ford five-liter V8-powered 900-series wagons built for Newman, David Letterman, and Ian Warburg, the Grand National-powered 740 seems like a gloriously fun way to transport yourself and six passengers. Granted, given the provenance and uniqueness, it’s unlikely to be cheap. This thing’s sitting at a current high bid of $25,000 and still has two days left to go on the auction. What would you pay for what might be the ultimate Volvo 740?
(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer)
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Problematic 200R4? I’ve heard nothing but praise for that transmission.
I like to imagine Paul rolling up to the Pixar sound studio to record Doc Hudson’s lines, in this very car. What a legend.
The T5 trans should be fine as long long as your not redline-dumping the clutch or no-lift shifting. It’s probably the smoothest shifting trans I have experienced…..and I have had my fair share of honda manuals, T56’s and 6060s.
There’s no hot wagon hotter than a Volvo wagon.
I’m sensing that folks aren’t appreciating what an awesome dude he was. Not only was he a race driver, he co-owned a successful CART team for many years. I’ve never heard a bad word about him. And how many Hollywood types stay married like he & Joanne Woodward did, for decades?
Doc Hudson forever.
Met him in the pits at the old CART race in the Astrodome parking lot years ago. He was just hanging out and talking to people.
I raced against PLN back in the 70s when he was just starting up the racing ladder in SCCA. First time I’d ever seen a full size 18 wheeler car transport in the pits at a club race. He didn’t flaunt his wealth, he just had excellent stuff. Bob Sharp prepped Datsun 510, similar to the under 2.5 Trans Am factory cars.
I don’t know what this is worth financially, but it’s definitely worth a look as a fine example of an engine-trans swapped automobile!
GM’s engines have usually been the strength of their autos. Putting one in a Volvo wagon is a really cool idea!
Something to note; Newman bought the car new in 1988, and installed the GN engine in 1988, he either got bored with the stock drivetrain very fast, or bought it with the intention of doing the swap..
There was a rumor back in the day that the CART team started to figure out how to fit a detuned version of the Indycar engine to a Volvo wagon as a gift for Paul. Dunno how far it got, but what a story that would be.
Where the hell are the singing cats?
Paul Newman – 1993
From what I have read he liked being a racing driver not only because he liked to race cars, but because after the races he just got to be a guy out there drinking beer and reliving the day (as long as the people around him let him). I know Steve McQueen is called the king of cool, but in my opinion Newman had better acting and motorsports skills and led a better life as a person, including his charity work and lasting marriage to his wife. Yeah agree 100%. I really like being me, but if I had to be somebody else, the life of P. L Newman wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Is it bad that I’d prefer it not have the aero kit? Kills some of the “sleeper” vibe for me.
Not that I’m any more than a choosy beggar on such things, as it won’t stay on my price range.
Yeah it’s bad! 7/940s came with horrible unpainted, weak chin, under-bite front air damns that look gawky and cheap for what was a fairly expensive car at the time. They should have come like this from the factory.
If you really want to make it a sleeper, loose the Geminis- Those are arguably the nicest wheel Volvo has ever made- they are subtle but have a real presence in person. Definitely up there with some of the nicest OEM wheels of the 1980s.
I am so glad you posted this. I was browsing BaT yesterday, saw this item, and had to do a double take. It almost sounded like an ad-lib. I just off-handedly mentioned to my coworkers that Paul Newman’s modified Volvo wagon was up for sale. I got some scoffs and shrugs until I mentioned the engine was swapped with the Grand National powerhouse. Then I did some research and discovered he has done this with multiple Volvos and various domestic powerplants. Super interesting bit of trivia I didn’t know before.
Also reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George bought John Voight’s LeBaron. I see a not too distant future where some lucky soul is overheard at a meet discussing his recent purchase of Paul Newman’s Volvo
Paul Newman the periodontist?
No, Paul Newman the salad dressing magnate.
Then get ASSMAN plates to complete the Seinfeld vibe.
Kind of a fuzzy memory on this, but I am pretty sure there was a big write up in Car and Driver on one of the Volvo wagons he had built. But pretty sure it was a V8, maybe from a Mustang?
Yes, he and David Letterman used to race each other in their modified Volvo’s!!!
Letterman talked about this car on some program. IIRC he said he would melt his feet off due to the firewall having been modified or the engine simply generating a lot of heat.
Some program is an episode of ‘Comedians in Cars getting Coffee’ where Seinfeld takes Letterman for a drive in his own volvo