Inside the ambitious project to turn a 1961 Volvo into a powerful modern hybrid
Sarah “Bogi” Lateiner’s latest creation, “Iron Maven”, made its debut at an automobile trade show last week in all of its purple-hued glory. Starting with a 1961 Volvo PV544, Lateiner’s team retrofitted the build with the powertrain from a 2021 Volvo S60 T8 Recharge Polestar Engineered sedan, along with various parts and components from the newer car.
The result is a vehicle that looks like a 1961 Volvo, but under the vintage hood is a modern Volvo S60. Lateiner and her team have completed the Maven , a feat in mechanical prowess.
“We took the S60 and we cut everything off of the outside of it, keeping the floor, subframes, suspension, and engine,” she said. “Then, we welded them together; it is cut and paste. The big challenge was fitting as much of the electronics and the gadgets and the bells and whistles of the S60 hybrid into the PV544.”
Lateiner stars in MotorTrend‘s show “All Girl Garage,” and launched her own laboratory, the Phoenix-based Girl Gang Garage, for special projects like the Maven. Behind the scenes is the real story: About 150 women put their hands on this project at Lateiner’s hometown facility.
At the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas, the air was electric as at least 50 of those women gathered around the custom vehicle filled with pride. It’s challenging enough to fuse the body of a 60-year-old car onto a new vehicle, let alone build it in bits and pieces. Girl Gang Garage welcomed women from all walks of life to work on the car. Some of them had never worked with any type of vehicle before.
Lateiner was the leader of the team, encouraging each member to add a little work each day towards completion. Everyone was encouraged to look at the problem and solve it. There was no set plan. It was like trying out different authors to write a story line-by-line with different levels of expertise and limited time.
That’s what Lateiner likes. She is trying to start a conversation. She told PopSci “I want to discredit the stereotypes [about female mechanics] violently” with a grin. “That’s why I chose these crazy projects
Iron Maven closeup
Most weird car projects involve endeavors such as swapping out an engine or boosting a 1995 Mustang with eight turbochargers. It’s rare to see modifications on Volvo vehicles. There are not many aftermarket parts for Volvo mods and the average enthusiast probably doesn’t think of tearing apart a Swedish family car to make a hot rod.
Many people don’t know what a Volvo PV544 is to begin with, Lateiner noted. The car has been modified so much that no one will know what it is, according to the Iron Maven. This curiosity leads to an exchange between the car’s owners and the people who made it.
Colorado Springs-based Volvo technician Porsha Konrad (who helped me with the brake lines for Iron Maven
in June) said that repairs to Volvos are usually simple. Although technically this was difficult, they had to fit the hybrid powertrain in a smaller car and electrification was quite intimidating.
To get a picture of the differences between the vintage PV544 and the S60, the older car was 10 inches shorter and 10.6 inches narrower than the S60. The PV544 had a four-cylinder engine making 40-80 horsepower and the S60 brought a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged and supercharged engine to the party.
In 1961, hybrid setups like what’s in the S60 weren’t even a sparkle in Volvo’s eye, and the Swedish automaker has come a long way to arrive at this power combination. Along with its electric motor, Iron Maven boasts a combined output of 415 hp and 472 pound-feet of torque.
In total, the project took 18 months to complete. The Girl Gang started with traditional bodywork and fabrication and then 3D-printed door handles, door lock actuators and door handle handles. Lateiner and his friends had to be willing to do some welding and cutting. They sliced open the floor of the PV544 and slashed out the firewall to essentially “fit 15 pounds into a five-pound bag,” Lateiner said.
After a year and half, they finally did it. BASF Chemical provided the custom Rebelberry paint for the build in preparation for its debut at SEMA. The final build was only seen by a few of the professionals and amateur welders and painters, but it will be there for many years to come. This is more than just a conversation starter.