The Engine Conversion 

BACKGROUND   I love cars, all types. Over the past 25+ years I have owned 40 varied vehicles, from a 67 Austin Healey, a ’69 GTO, to a Caprice Estate Wagon, and a Mini Cooper, currently my "fun" car is a 1989 Volvo 744TI (turbo intercooled). At least it started out as a 744TI but more accurately it is now a Volvord 784VC, let me explain.

   I enjoy quick cars and my Volvo is no exception, to me the term quick must include not only acceleration but also cornering and braking. When I first got the Volvo back in 1996 the first thing I did was address the handling by installing modified iPd lowered springs, dropping the ride height 2", Bilstein shocks, iPd sway bars, Brembo brakes with Ferodo pads, and replacement of all suspension bushings. The car now handles and stops, the next stage was to tweak the power plant. With the installation of a VX3 cam, adjustable timing gear, increasing the boost to 12 psi, a full 3" exhaust system, and electric cooling fans the car really started coming to life. But good things never last and finally the high mileage and stresses of the extra HP resulted in a major and terminal engine failure.

   A decision had to be made, do I rebuild the B230FT with all the "trick" internals to really get some impressive HP out of this great little engine, but at what cost? Or do I investigate some other alternatives? After a lot of research I finalized my decision and elected for an engine conversion, this would involve installing a 5.0-liter Ford V8 and T5 transmission into the Volvo. I selected the Ford engine for two main reasons; 1) because the distributor on the 5.0-liter is located at the front of the engine I was able to position the engine back further without modifications to the firewall. 2) Weight, I didn’t want to alter the handling by adding excessive weight over the front tires and the Ford drive train only weighs about 100 lbs more than the stock Volvo. In fact the Ford 302 weighs in at 460 pounds (stock) where as the stock Chevy small block weighs 575 pounds (source is Dave Williams Engine weight chart  ( In my mind the best combination was a modified Ford 302.

   ENGINE  Now the search would begin for a suitable engine or donor car. I was not having a lot of luck locating a wrecked late model Mustang, probably because there are two or three local companies that build Cobra kit cars and they quickly latch onto any and all available parts. During one of the numerous phone calls in my search for an engine I found out about a local bracket racer who was selling a sweet 302 to make way for a 351 in his Mustang. This deserved some more investigation, I located the owner, Paul, and quickly found out that indeed he was looking to sell his 302 to make way for a "more powerful" 351 but this was not a stock 302. A year earlier he invested over $4000 with an experienced speed shop to build this 302, the fresh rebuild included 10.5:1 forged pistons with total seal rings, a CompCam, roller rockers, extensive port and combustion chamber work, Edelbrock Performer RPM intake, and the list goes on. Having the right pieces in an engine is one thing but do they work together is another, well these pieces work together, on the dyno the little 302 created 291 rear wheel HP @ 6200 and 301 Ft/lbs. Torque @ 4500. On the drag strip the numbers were equally impressive 12.2 seconds @ 115 mph for the ¼ mile. This would make my little Volvo perk up. As a side note Paul did install the larger 351 and clock a ¼ mile time in the low 10’s @ 135 mph on the first run in his Mustang, just wait till it gets sorted out.

  INSTALLATION  While researching I also located a company that specializes in the Volvo / Ford conversion, Converse Engineering. Although I knew I could easily perform the conversion myself, I though in the interests of saving some time and having access to information and experience would be a benefit so I decided to "bite the bullet" and spend the money for their conversion kit. I have to honestly say I have very mixed feelings about my experiences with Ross at Converse engineering, he was extremely helpful when I first contacted him, providing lots of information, tips, and suggestions, but as I preceded into the conversion I had difficulty reaching Ross and getting timely answers. I must clarify a little, my conversion was not the standard conversion Ross was accustom to, his kit is designed to transplant a late model Mustang 5.0-liter into the Volvo, here I was not using a donor car, the 302 was carbureted, and the list goes on.

   It was decided that I did not require the entire kit, items like the wiring harness to connect the Volvo and Ford fuel injection systems would not be used so a reduced price was negotiated and the kit ordered. I ordered the kit on March 27th, after several calls and some worrying I was informed that on April 23 the kit was finally in the mail, almost a month to ship. When the kit arrived I again had mixed feelings, the small box contained two simple motor mount adapters, an upper and lower rad hose, a high pressure power steering hose with compression fittings that join to the stock ends, a questionable trany mount adapter, a resistor to convert the factory 4 cylinder Volvo tach to read the 8 cylinder impulses, and a variety of nuts, bolts, clamps, wire ties, and an obviously edited instruction sheet with any references to fuel injection and or wiring excluded. Not a lot for $1100+ Canadian but again I told myself I was also investing in technical expertise…

   In the meantime I spent many hours at the local "Pick-a-Part" auto wrecker gathering all the pieces required for the conversion. The accessories and brackets came from a late model Lincoln, a T5 trany from an ‘89 Mustang was located at another auto wrecker, radiator from a Volvo 760 (read on for more information), electric fans from a Chevy Euro Sport, and the list grew. New parts were ordered including an MSD 6AL, Edelbrock Performer carb, motor mounts, clutch, B&M Rapid shifter, air cleaner, and so on. I know many of you are probably asking why go for a carb rather than fuel injection? My rational was simple, the engine was set-up and completely outfitted for a carb, a Holley 600 double pumper was even included with the engine although it was not in great shape and I have not had great luck with Holley’s in the past. To properly install a fuel injection system that would match the engine I would need an aftermarket computer, performance intake, all the sensors, etc and all of a sudden an additional $2000 has been added to the total. I have not ruled out fuel injection, it is something that can be added later and besides I am from the old school and love the sound of a 4-barrel carb singing at full throttle. The engine was repainted from the original red to black, the Volvo drive train was pulled, the engine wiring harness removed and the engine bay cleaned, it was time to start the test fitting.

   After installing the motor mount adapters I was ready for the first test fit of the 302, it easily slipped into the engine compartment, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of room around the engine. The instructions with the motor mount adapters require that the alignment dowels on the motor mount be cut off so that the mounts would sit flush on the adapters, I preferred to drill the appropriate hole in each adapter to align with the dowel, a simple modification, why were these holes not designed into the adapters? After several more test fits and minor modifications on the bare engine I installed the long-branch headers and tried slipping the engine in, my first problem. There was ample clearance for the headers on the right side, but the left side was another story. Instructions with the Converse kit recommend cutting, bending, and re-welding the right frame rail to provide clearance, but this is for the factory "shorty" headers and this was not required with the long-branch type. To make a very long story short I had to bend each primary pipe on the left side header in so the collector was repositioned in about 2.5" to clear the lower rear strut rod, I also slotted the motor mount adapters and relocated the engine about ¾" to the right, this provided the necessary clearance, success at last.

   TRANSMISSION MOUNT The Converse Engineering kit includes instructions and the adapter to mount the rear Volvo cross-member to the T5 transmission mount, but requires the cross-member to be mover forward and reattached by only two of the original four bolts. Yes additional bolts can be added as per the instructions but I questioned why? I fabricated a new adapter from ¼" aluminum plate that would bolt directly to the T5 where the original trany mount was located and connect to the stock Volvo transmission mount and cross-member located in their original position. The result is a superior set-up on both the trany and cross-member. During this time several calls were placed to Ross at Converse Engineering, I left voice messages (when his answering machine did pick-up), I sent e-mail, I did get a couple of my questions answered but I definitely was not receiving the advice, expertise, knowledge, or service I was expecting.

   WIRING The heavy work completed the drive train was now installed and it was time to move onto the next stage, adapting the Volvo wiring and plumbing to the new engine. In general this process was straight forward but somewhat time consuming. The high-pressure fuel pump was removed, the fuel pump relay wired to the ignition rather that the tach and the neutral safety switch jumped, the in-tank fuel pump alone provided a constant 10-psi and a regulator was installed to limit pressure at the carb to 5 psi. The MSD ignition, back-up lights, starter, oil pressure light and AC wiring proceeded without any difficulties. The only problems occurred with the alternator and separate regulator, the wiring appeared to be simple and all connections were made, but later when the engine was running problems arose when initially all the dash warning lights remained on and the alternator would not charge. After many hours of tracing wiring diagrams and testing circuits I located a small note in a reference book at the local library that indicated that Ford used two different regulators, one for use with an ammeter and one for use with a warning light, they appeared identical except for the color of the electrical connector. This ended up being the problem since Volvo uses a warning light and voltmeter (not an ammeter), I initially had the regulator designed for the ammeter, when this was exchanged and wired as I originally intended everything worked as designed.

   EXHAUST SYSTEM  The exhaust system, long dreaded but required. I usually build my own exhaust systems, my experiences at the local muffler shops have been far less that satisfactory, shoddy work, poor design, outrageous prices. Using Dynomax mandrel bent pieces I welded together a dual 2½" system with two Flowmaster mufflers that terminate through a 3" Dynomax Ultraflow. The header collector flanges were cut off to increase ground clearance, O2 fittings installed to facilitate oxygen sensors for set-up and calibrating the carburetor. The resulting system is quiet while cruising but your eyes open wide under full throttle.

   SHIFTER  The shifter was the next challenge, the stock shifter utilizes a bolt on shift handle, the Converse kit includes a simple metal plate with holes at each end to adapt the trany shifter stub to a modified Volvo shift lever into the correct position through the center console. I elected to use a short throw B&M Rapid Shift but the challenge here is that the Rapid Shift uses a one-piece handle that if used as supplied is far too short and will hit the dash. The solution is to re-bend the Rapid Shift handle into a very aggressive "S" this positions the end of the shift handle into the correct location in the console. Then using a shift lever from a Toyota Supra I cut the lever to the appropriate length, removed the rubber isolators leaving only the hollow chrome shift handle with the threaded shift knob end. I then machined a round aluminum insert that I pressed into the shift handle drilled and tapped the insert and threaded it onto the Rapid Shift handle where the "Mustang" shift knob is intended, in essence I fabricated an extension for the shift lever. After installing an impressive looking shift knob the Rapid Shift modification and installation was complete.

   COOLING  To cool the 302 the stock 4-cylinder radiator had to be replaced, Ross at Converse recommends the Volvo Diesel rad but in my travels through the auto wreckers I located a Volvo 760. Initial inspection indicated that the 760 rad was the same size as the diesel rad and would be the perfect fit, even the hose connections are in a better location than the diesel rad in that they align with the inlet and outlet of the 302 engine in the same way as the Mustang rad, but a warning, DO NOT USE A 760 RAD!!! The cooling capacity of this rad is far too low and cannot cool the 302. My final solution was to install a custom built high efficiency 3 row radiator, this solution addresses any cooling problems and retains the best routing for the upper and lower radiator hoses.

   Horsepower creates heat, and lots of it, to pull the cooling air through the new radiator I tested dual 15" fans from a Chevy Euro Sport. The Converse conversion kit recommends using a single 16" GM fan attached to the engine but I did not want to take any chances nor did I particularly like to looks of the single fan installation. The dual electric fans fit perfectly across the rad and nestled in and around the accessories and drive belt beautifully, but the electrical draw from these fans was substantial (close to 30 Amps) and air movement through the radiator was marginal. As a final solution I removed all the electric fans including the original pusher fan and installed a mechanical 16" flex fan with a 2" spacer onto the water pump. This proved to be the best solution as coolant temperatures dropped an additional 15° and eliminated the large electrical draw on the system.

   I was very concerned with the temperature sending unit "adapter" included with the kit. The Volvo temperature-sending unit uses a straight thread and a machined tapered flange type seat seal where as the 302 uses a standard tapered pipe thread. The "adapter" is simply a copper washer that is supposed to seal the top of the Volvo sending unit at the intake. The two threads are very different pitches and diameters and I could foresee that this seal would fail at the most inopportune time, a true problem waiting to happen. The answer is simple with the installation of an aftermarket temperature gauge, and an oil pressure gauge while I was at it.

   Since this is a daily driver and I do like some comforts, especially at my age, so I retained the air conditioning. Again the kit includes splices and instructions to join the Ford AC lines to the Volvo AC lines, although this may be satisfactory I decided to ensure reliability and maintain the under hood appearance by getting custom AC lines built, yes an additional expense but why cut corners now.

  CONCLUSION   There are many more details that I will not bore you with but in total the conversion from start to finish took about 120 hours. Now that I have the car running I can honestly say it was worth all the time, trouble, and expense. Cost wise I believe there would have been very little difference between this conversion and building a moderate performance B230ft, but with this conversion I have something different, and people do notice. I don’t know if I would use the Converse kit next time, I would consider it if I were doing a complete 5.0-liter fuel injected transplant but the difficulties I experienced in shipping, the number of modifications and changes I made, and the difficulties contacting Ross is a definite concern. As a final note I started off by referring to my car as a Volvord 784VC, that is combining Volvo Ford, 700 series, 8 cylinder, 4 door, V type engine, carbureted, imagine what they are thinking in Gothenburg.

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