October 5, 2008

"All I Smell Is Raw Power And Speed"

[via daring fireball] "Where the hell are the singin' cats?" is burned into my brain, but hearing David Letterman story about Paul Newman and their matching Volvo 960 station wagons which Newman's racing goons outfitted with Ford 302 V8 racing engines--with puffers, no less--is awesome.

UPDATE: I found Dave talking about the Volvo with Jon Stewart in 1995. The transcript's after the jump. Good stuff.


UPDATE UPDATE: from the Swedespeed forums, the current [as of 2007, anyway] owner of Newman's Volvo 740 with a Buick Grand National V6 turbo, converted by Hesco in Birmingham, AL. The picture above is of the OG Newman-era kit. I hope the guy saved those 5-spoke wheels. Consensus in the forum is that Converse Engineering in Maine did the V8 conversions. There are photos of a 1995 960 supercharged wagon in suspiciously Connecticutian surroundings.

UPDATE^3: Yep, the burgundy one is Letterman's, according to a detailed 2003 Swedespeed profile of the Newman conversions.


The big news: it turns out there were three Volvos converted at once. Another Newman family friend got a blue one with a third seat. At the time of the profile, the blue one was for sale, having passed through two very conscientious, deep-pocketed owners. Keep your eyes peeled.

Featured Car: Newman's Own Recipe [image: swedespeed.com via autoblog]

[via alt.fan.letterman]

STEWART: ...For you, what do you think, other than Drew Barrymore
obviously taking off her sweater --


STEWART: -- what has been the coolest thing that's happened to you
while you've done your show?

LETTERMAN: Well, you know, you'd think being in show business, or as
close to it as I've come, you ought to have a
lot of cool things happen to you.


LETTERMAN: And I've thought about this and thought about this, and
currently I've distilled it now down to the persona of Paul Newman. I
have been lucky enough to meet Paul Newman, and I just want to tell
you, this guy is the real deal.

STEWART: Really?

LETTERMAN: He is solid gold, he's a great actor, he's a wonderful guy,
and just an interesting fellow. I met him, I don't know, five or six
years ago. Some friends introduced me. It was at a race in Phoenix. It
was Bobby Rahal, who is a race driver, and his wife Debbie, and now,
of course, I sound like Dick Cavett. "Gregory Peck was there as well
and Jimmie Stewart," and on and on.

STEWART: And Groucho and all the rest.

LETTERMAN: Yes, sir. And so they introduced me to Paul Newman, and
you're carrying on a conversation. "How do you do? I enjoy your
popcorn and Cool Hand Luke." That's what you're saying to Paul Newman.


LETTERMAN: In your head all you can hear is this huge voice screaming,
"Oh, my God, it's Paul Newman. Oh, my God, it's Paul Newman." So I've
been lucky enough to kind of have -- I guess it's a friendship. I
won't say we're really good friends, but we have kind of a
relationship, and he's called me from time to time. About six months
ago -- and this is where it starts to get cool --

STEWART: All right.

LETTERMAN: -- Paul Newman calls up and he says, "Dave," he says, "I'm
thinking about getting me a Volvo station wagon, and I'm gonna stuff a
Ford 302 V-8 engine into it."


LETTERMAN: "This engine is about the size of a small piano, so we're
going to have to push back the fire wall. Do you want one?" So, you
know, I'm thinking a Volvo station wagon looks like something you'd
make in metal shop, and if you want something really sporty you get a
bakery truck, and every time you see a Volvo station wagon in the back
it's three kids getting car sick on a golden retriever, and I'm
thinking these cars are so safe because in traffic other motorists
slow down to check out how ugly they are.

STEWART: Right, the tank.

LETTERMAN: So intellectually I don't want a Volvo station wagon, but,
of course, internally it's Paul Newman, I say, "Yes, I'd like one."

STEWART: "Bring it on."

LETTERMAN: "Paul, let me have that Volvo station wagon."

STEWART: Sure. Me too.

LETTERMAN: So I'm aware of the fact in talking to Paul, he's far more
excited about this than I am. He calls up from time to time and he
says, "Have you picked out the interior yet?" And I said, "No, I
haven't." He said, "Well, you better hurry. The dollar's falling." And
I don't know what that means.

STEWART: No, he's very concerned about the world economics.

LETTERMAN: And then he calls up after that and he says, "Good news.
Pirelli's gonna give us free tires." "Wow, that's great, Paul." It's
Paul Newman. We're getting free tires. I don't know. So he calls two
weeks ago, and he says, "Dave, the cars are ready. We got two, one for
me, one for you." He says, "Everything is ready to go. I've got to ask
you a question. Do you want a puffer on yours?" You know, and I'm
thinking, well, is that like a special inflatable seat? I don't know.
Like sails on this Volvo? And I said, "Well, Paul, are you getting a
puffer on yours?" And Paul says, "Yeah, yeah, I'm getting a puffer on
mine." And I said, "You know, I have no idea." And he says, "It's a
supercharger. I said, "A supercharger?" He says, "Now you have
to be very careful, because with this supercharger this thing will
turn about 400 horsepower, so if you pop the clutch you're gonna tear
up the rear end." By comparison, a stock showroom Corvette, 300


LETTERMAN: I say to Paul, "Now wait a minute. Paul, I have a Volvo
station wagon, 400 horsepower?" And he says, "Oh, yeah," he says,
"from 20 to a hundred you can chew anybody's ass." And I'm thinking to
myself, what circumstance would Paul find himself in driving around in
a Volvo station wagon where he feels like he's gotta chew somebody's

(Hoots and applause)

STEWART: I don't know. I can see that's very nice though.

LETTERMAN: A 400 horsepower Volvo station wagon.

STEWART: But when Paul Newman offers you a puffer, I mean, you take
it. You don't turn down Paul Newman.

LETTERMAN: You'd be a fool to pass on the puffer.


We are looking for a new vehicle to replace the '97 F150 w/ a regular cab. It can't fit 2 carseats and still shift. While at the Nissan dealer the salesman and I were talking about our '01 V70. He has an R type V70 and loved it. I would like another Volvo, but we need something bigger and the XC90 is a little spendy for the space gained.

I have always loved the stealthy family car that can beat up on fancy sports cars!!!

Eric J: How about the Forrester?

What a great video, and a great man Paul Newman was. It's really a tragedy when people like this pass on, but his legacy will live forever (you know, on salad dressing bottles and the like).

Wait- is this a turbo or a puffer (supercharged) ?
I don't think you can have both

Absolutely fantastic! This story was the first thing I thought of when I heard Newman passed. I grew up in Birmingham during the time HESCO was modifying his 740. One of my friends in high school was getting his 240DL worked on at HESCO and ended up buying the stock 5 spoke Volvo wheels that came off Paul's car. The endorsed check from Newman was framed when it came back with their statement (back when checks were still returned in your statement).

It's sad that this world can produce over 6 billion people, but only a handful that leave a lump in your throat win they go . . . one every couple of years. What a great man!

Yes, you can have a turbo- and super-charger - Lancia did it with the Delta S4. An awesome and just plain frightening creation (look for it on YouTube).

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