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April 4, 2010

News & Features

A Ballard garage hopes to take classic Volvos into the 21st century

Special to NWautos

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Matt Pollitz, owner of X-Ray Auto, removes the internal combustion engine from a 1965 Volvo. (Peggy Sturdivant)

Vintage Volvos -- those sturdy Swedish cars that residents of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood still drive in droves -- are getting a 21st-century makeover.

As Ballard's Scandinavian heritage becomes more and more diverse, one thing remains strong -- its residents' love affair with the Volvo. "Best car ever made," is how Ballard resident Regnor Reinholdtsen describes his 1967 122 Volvo wagon. "This is my second one, but it's going to outlive me."

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Matt Pollitz and SEVA volunteer Ingrid Lewis install lithium ion batteries into a custom-designed box during the conversion. (Peggy Sturdivant)

Just as the neighborhood has evolved, so must those classic cars. That's the dream of Matt Pollitz, owner of X-Ray Auto in Ballard. He works exclusively on pre-1975 Volvos and last month, in order to diversify his business, started offering electric conversions.

"It's the perfect wedding of elegant, durable automobiles with the future," Pollitz says. "An electric version is so much cleaner and efficient. The electric Volvo is going to be a magic combination."

Electric conversions have spread in popularity and availability in recent years because it's an economical choice for those wanting a "greener" machine, says Dave Barden of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA). Stripped of the need for gas stations or engine tune-ups, a converted electric vehicle can recoup the costs within years, Barden says.

X-Ray Auto

  • Matt Pollitz's shop is fittingly located on the future site of the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. It's already a bit of a museum itself, filled floor to ceiling with parts for every Volvo model imported to the United States from 1956 to 1974. Pollitz and his associates salvage Volvos from across the state, harvesting each usable part. xrayauto.net


SEVA member Kent Bakke says he was inspired by the added challenge of converting a vintage automobile, giving a well-made car a second life -- without emissions.

Pollitz's move into converting Volvos came after meeting Bakke at Nellie's, a neighborhood coffee shop. Obsessed with electric vehicles since childhood, Bakke was eager to convert an existing car. The 1965 P544 that belonged to Nellie's co-owner Jeanette Meade intrigued both Bakke and Pollitz, as there is no record of anyone converting a pre-1975 Volvo.

Over a long weekend in March, Pollitz and a team of SEVA members completed the conversion from internal combustion to electric propulsion drive. The prototype car lost 30 pounds after being stripped of its engine, starter motor, fuel tank, exhaust pipes, muffler and cooling system; at 2,220 pounds, it now weighs 742 pounds less than a 2010 Toyota Prius.

Local rapper's ode to his Volvo and Ballard neighborhood

  • For local rapper Grynch's ode to his Volvo and Ballard neighborhood, see the Matson On Music blog (warning: includes adult language).


Pollitz is excited about doing more vintage conversions and is confident the process will be smoother each time. He says that the dropping cost of materials, including lithium ion batteries, will lower the cost of conversion, currently estimated at $10,000.

"Converting an older vehicle isn't like building from scratch," Pollitz says. "There's a reason these cars have been running 40 years. With the conversion, there's no reason they won't keep running another 40."

Prototype owner Meade is thrilled about her now-silent 1965 automobile -- and being able to simply plug it in. "This has exceeded my wildest dreams," she says.

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