Though he got a late start at age 47, Paul Newman swiftly made his mark in auto racing. Behind the wheel he racked up four SCCA National Championships, along with class wins at Le Mans and Daytona, and he found a wealth of success as a team owner during his more than three decades in the sport. Many of the spoils of Newman’s storied career, including championship rings, medals, art, and memorabilia, are headed to RM Sotheby’s online auction, High Speed: Paul Newman’s Racing Legacy, which opens on May 27. Though we could easily find wall space for some of the racing art in the sale, the lot we’re really watching is more racing adjacent: a 1998 Volvo V90 that received an LS engine swap from his race team.
Paul Newman and the phrase “hot rod Volvo” go together like salad and his famous dressing. Newman enjoyed flying under the radar and couldn’t leave his lead foot at the track, so over the years he commissioned a couple of Swedish sleeper wagons he used to bomb around the New England roads near his Connecticut residence. Perhaps the most well-known of these cars was the second one: a 1995 960 with a supercharged Ford 302-cubic-inch V-8. He suggested pal David Letterman get one, too, and it was the comic’s retelling of the story during an interview with fellow comedian Jon Stewart that let the world in on Newman’s love of swapped Volvos.
Before the Ford-powered car, Newman owned a 1988 740 with a Buick 3.8-liter turbo V-6 under the hood. The car recently sold on Bring a Trailer for $87,777, well above the going rate for 740s without a famous owner in their histories, and also exceeding the premium many other stars add to their former cars.
There’s a third, and final, chapter to this story, however. Probably the least known of Newman’s wagons is this LS-swapped V90 coming to sale with RM. A surprise gift built by his race team and delivered to Newman in 2007, the “Volvette” features a 400-hp 6.0-liter Chevy LS2 engine and four-speed automatic found in sixth-generation Corvettes from 2005 to 2007. Although the car is also reported to have some front suspension modifications, and it rides on Borbet wheels like those on his more notorious Ford-powered 960, the rest of the car remains factory Volvo.
The “Volvette” is a bit more toned down than his 960, for which he requested more aggressive suspension along with a T-5 manual transmission. Still, 400 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at, and though he was 81 when he received the V90 in 2007, Newman could still wheel a car—he finished fourth that year in the final race of his career. Unfortunately, Newman did not get to enjoy this wagon as he did the others—his health declined shortly after receiving it.
As presented, the car is not without cosmetic flaws, but similar issues did not keep Newman’s Buick-powered 740 from its dramatic sale price. The car is offered without reserve and RM estimates bids in the range of $20,000–$25,000. We’ll be watching to see if the Paul Newman premium creates a flurry of bids for this high-powered wagon. Bidding for all lots concludes on June 13.
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