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Engine Swap: Chesapeake Career Center Students Give Volvo New Life

When a welding technology and automotive technology instructor stumbled on an old broken down Chevy Suburban, they brought three programs together for one big project.

Cars are one of those things where you never really know what you’re going to get. So much is going on under the hood, and modifications can take an everyday driver to the drag race. 

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Chesapeake Career Center students with the Volvo project car. All photos provided by Chesapeake Career Center.

When welding technology instructor John Sommers and automotive technology instructor Chris Freeman stumbled on an old broken down Chevy Suburban, they brought it back to the school for a fun project for their students. Over the next few months the students at Chesapeake Career Center would take it apart as a donor car to breathe life back into an old Volvo station wagon Mr. Freeman had purchased off Craigslist. 

“To take the larger American V8 and to get it to fit into a small Swedish car, the motor came in and out about six times,” says John Sommers. “We would drop the motor in, see how everything was clearing with a crawl under the car.”

Through partnership between the welding and automotive department, the students got the car on the road. Then the auto body class, under instructor Abe Sells, fixed up the exterior and paint job.

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Made of Metal

Sommers’ welding students were in charge of fitting and welding the motor into place, building motor mounts and welding them into place. Often the students would come in early in the morning before school started to work on the project and return after school.

The Craigslist Volvo station wagon before its rehab.

“To have their help and their labor and their motivation to get up at five o’clock in the morning and come to school and then come back after school was phenomenal,” adds Mr. Sommers.

“We had to do new motor mounts for the LS motor and then we also had to do the transmission mounts,” said Dalen Capehart, senior welding student. “With the motor mounts, we had a shift in the hood and had to weld in a really tight space. For the transmission mounts, all we could do was just cut bars and mount plates.”

Under the hood of the Volvo with the Suburban engine.

The motor mounts were completely fabricated and it took a bit of trial and error after installing them too high and bumping their heads before getting them just right. In the end, the motor fit like it was meant to be.

“We had to cut the oil pan too because it was hitting on the crossmember,” added Shane Phelps, senior welding student. “So we cut it, shortened it and made it fit in. And then we had to put in exhaust, so we ran the exhaust straight out from the headers to the front fenders. And then we also had to mount the seats.”

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The students also made a new gas pedal.

“To see something come in that is basically dead and then use all your skills you’ve learned from years of being in a class to put it together, and see it come to life, I think that’s the best part,” says Mason Krawzik, senior welding student. 

Misfit Parts

The automotive students got to work getting the new motor running once the engine, exhaust and transmission were back in place. Parts were all sourced from junk cars around the shop.

“My favorite part was being able to get different parts from different cars and putting it into one main car and getting it right and making it better,” says Devonte Moore, senior automotive student.

The auto body class refinished the Volvo’s exterior.

“We had to cut the stock wiring harness with the LS to make it run stand alone, so it could run without all the other computers that were in a Suburban,” added Travis Waddell, also an automotive senior. 

Following the wiring harness, senior auto student Aldo Ramos took care of the O2 sensors and exhaust issues that needed attention. The car also needed plenty of cleaning.

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“Anything that looks shiny on the car, it was my job to go along with my classmate and clean it up,” says Aldo. “We just made the car look nice and presentable.”

The motor was pretty dirty after being neglected for years, but some dish soap cleaned it right up.  

In addition, the steering system proved to be a little more difficult than expected. The high pressure hose kept blowing off, so a custom hose was made and fit to solve the problem. 

The finished Volvo with fresh paint, new parts and a Suburban engine.

There were also some leaks in the transmission, so seals had to be made. 

“I had to stay back and pull the tamper seal out for the gear slip on one side of the transmission because it kept leaking,” notes Travis.

The electric fan in the Volvo would also shake and rattle. They got a new fan from a Ford Taurus and then ran a ground wire from behind the motor to connect it to the fan and relay. 

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“Actually having a project that’s cool gives me motivation and makes me want to keep learning about building cool stuff like swapping motors from other cars and fabricating. I think it was for everyone overall a fine project,” says Aldo.

Carley Millhone

By Carley Millhone

Carley Millhone was named the editor of Tomorrow’s Tech in 2017 and joined Babcox Media in 2015 as associate editor of Tire Review. Prior to joining Tire Review, Carley interned with the Chautauquan Daily in southwestern New York. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism and a minor in writing from Kent State University.