Journal: Nearly Everyone Has A Volvo 240 Story: What’s Yours?

Nearly Everyone Has A Volvo 240 Story: What’s Yours?

By Alex Sobran
March 26, 2018

I drove a 1991 240 wagon in college and for some time afterwards. It had a five speed, four working doors if you included the hatch, an uncountable amount of dents, no hubcaps, unknown mileage on its broken odometer, two snow tires for winters in New England, and enough scratches to look like it was not only street-parked in Brooklyn for its life since new—which was the case—but mated on by every clawed animal in heat in the borough. To most people it was the quintessential piece of shit car. Or at least the guy or gal in my parking garage with a McLaren MP4-12C that I slotted it in next to whenever possible probably thought so.

It’s since been sold to the next long-haired college kid who likely won’t be its last, and I’ve missed it more than I expected even despite how much it made me smile. It was the slowest vehicle I’ve owned, by far the most fuel-efficient, and definitely the most practical, and though it’s down a few hundred horsepower from some of the more traditionally exciting cars I’ve had the privilege of driving, I’ve never had more fun in any of them than I did in my black Volvo 240 wagon.

It seems oxymoronic that a car known as an automotive brick, one of the safest and most staid machines in the history of driving, would be the source of so much indulgent fun; when it snowed I’d wake up earlier than I ever would for class or work just to get some time in the unplowed mess with the tail-happy wagon. Rear-wheel drive and a clutch pedal are really all you need to have a good time on white roads, but doing it in a car worth less than a grand makes it a hell of a lot more fun when you aren’t so worried about clipping a chunk of ice. Even when the conditions were such that its trickle of horsepower couldn’t get the rears loose, the 240 epitomized the charms of driving slow cars fast; its tired and soft-to-begin-with suspension made it a seat-sliding riot to chuck into turns with some extra flourish and angle, and rather than push and plow when you really stepped into it (though there was no noticeable difference in acceleration for the last three inches or so of the gas pedal’s travel), it just made everything feel more exaggerated without letting things get out of hand. Perhaps this is why it’s considered to be so safe.

For me, the 240 regularly hauled kegs, skis, and car parts (typically not for itself), and it could fit eight people if three of them didn’t mind not wearing a seatbelt. When they were new you might see a family of yuppies towing a JY15 behind them with two golden retrievers smudging up the long planes of glass in the back, and today you might see that very same car painted with spray cans and parked in the dust at Burning Man with a bunch of neo-hippies filling it up with bong smoke. They last. As people say, a 200-series Volvo might drive like shit longer than anything else will drive in general, though most who’ve owned them or spent serious time in them don’t have such negative sentiments.

So whether you grew up in the trunk’s jump seats making faces at the drivers behind you, bought one in high school and promptly took it off a jump, swapped a V8 in to create an ultimate sleeper, bought a nice one to keep for the long haul, or simply had a buddy with one a while ago, we want to know: what’s your 240 story?

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

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Matt Leicester
Matt Leicester(@matt_leicester)
2 years ago

I bought my 1982 242 Turbo used in 1996. The lady I bought it from said that the only people who called about it or came to look had all owned 240 Turbos and regretted selling them. I had a friend who replaced his 240 Turbo with an 850 Turbo, he told me to never sell the 240. i haven’t. It remains in my mind the best driving vehicle I have ever owned, it just does everything I want it to do when I want. It is starting to rust a bit and uses far too much oil, but I would much rather spend the money bringing it back up to snuff than trying to find something else I like as much. I do not know that there is another just under 3,000 pound, rear wheel drive, manual transmission, dead nuts reliable car out there. And with good shocks, IPD sway bars and a few other tweaks, the balance is amazing.

2 years ago

Nice article, thanks.
My story with the Volvo 240 starts in 1986 when I spent a journey through France and Switzerland onwith my oncle with its new 240 GLE.
I was 15 and I was excited about the sound of the six-cylinder.
My uncle used the car very much and in 1990 he had the engine overhauled for 500,000 km but then he decided to sell it.
As soon as I found out I phoned him and asked him if he would agree to sell it to me, which he found strange, in his opinion it was certainly not a car for a boy.
But he agreed and practically gave it to me for a symbolic amount.
From that moment the 240 has become part of my life, already in the summer of 1990 I embarked on a long journey along Europe touching West Germany, D.D.R., Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
And there was the second love at first sight: Sweden.
And not only because at that time we can say that 90% of the circulating park was formed by Volvo 240!
The Swedish love for nature has never left me and since then my 240 has traveled to those lands 9 more times.
In the meantime I had other cars and also others 240, but my first 240 GLE is still here.
Of course it now has about 1,300,000 km, the engine has been revised two more times (the last time it was changed to a much more powerful D24TIC), the body would need some care but it is still ok.
My uncle pass away years ago, but I think he would be happy to know that 240 continues to live.
Today even my children love her as a member of the family, these cars are irreplaceble and you can no longer drive anything else.

Mark G
Mark G
3 years ago

I had my 1981 Turbo GLT 2 door for 26 years. It was a love hate relationship with the car so much when the piston shot through the block I thank God it was finally over. It was a hard break up for me in 2008, I burnt all the photos and scrapped all remaining pieces I had. I dreamed of the car still to this day…how strange is that?

3 years ago

Myself and a friend went from rural South Wales to Australia for a year and drove half arounds the coast and through most of the outback in a gold 240 estate.

Four gears with over drive.

We traveled, cooked and slept it in.

It was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned!

3 years ago

My first Volvo was a 1976 sedan, 4 spd with overdrive, Canadian model with a carburetor. In 1986 a friend hit a deer and asked me if I wanted it. Bought it for $50, bolted on a new front clip, cleaned out the trunk from his lawn mower business and away I went. Drove that car for 3 years in college and it went everywhere. It was my launching pad into lifelong Volvo ownership, I have had at least a dozen since then and currently own two 245’s. Both my adult children began driving in them, and they will forever be touched by the Volvo magic. Lovely cars to own .

Robert Schneider
Robert Schneider(@1982twofortyfive)
3 years ago

I work in Volvo service & have owned more than a handful. Crazy thing is you never have to do much mechanically/bulletproof. Also other than a 2002 really poor driver’s seat positioning. Seats themselves as good as a brand new Volvo. Interior quiet as too !

Wes Flack
Wes Flack
3 years ago

My first car was a bulletproof 1971 142S grey with red cloth for $1100. But my wife found a 240 wagon with a stick shift at a garage sale for $600. It ran and ran, but was rusted through the floorpans such that the carpet was the floor. Gave it to some friends for a year or two, then they gave it back, and I gave it to my Volvo mechanic for $500 credit. We had bought a 740 wagon that was a great car, but it was an auto, and our last Volvo. The 240s are iconic, and deservedly so.

Michael Squeo
Michael Squeo(@enzobindo)
3 years ago

We owned two 240’s, as well as a 142 and a 145. What incredible cars! Tough as nails, reliable, and safe beyond compare. They were more than cars; they were members of our family. My wife rear ended a truck while driving with our three young children. The car was a total. All four doors opened easily and everyone walked out without a scrape. p.s. – We also owned a 72 1800ES for fun.

3 years ago

Great piece. Never owned one myself, my father owned a lot. I remember a burgundy, beaten up diesel one. I got to drive it sometimes when I was 12-14 years old. Or just hoon in on the dirt road behind my moms house, with him at the wheel then. Great memories, like no other car.

The Stig
The Stig(@thestig)
3 years ago

I got my first speeding ticket at 6:30 on a sunday morning in my parents 93 wagon. What a great car that was.

Michael Maddalena
Michael Maddalena(@31michaelm)
3 years ago

I worked for Volvo Cars of North America for almost 20 years. I had probably a dozen 240s as company cars during that time. I remember how miffed I was when the 940 came out and I was assigned a 240 GL. What did I do wrong? Fast forward to this year, 2018. My 28-year son (the son I picked up at the hospital in my wife’s 240 wagon) needs a second car for his wife while she attends grad school. A friend and also Volvo Alum, found me a ’93 245 in Tucson with a scant 113000 miles on it. The original owner, at 88, turned in her license and I made the deal. I took delivery here in CT and proceeded to update everything so it would be safe and trouble free for the kids. I kept it a month during the worst part of Connecticut’s enduring winter and fell in love with it. They are picking it up this weekend and heading back to Providence where I am sure it will become their favored ride, relegating their VW Rabbit to the 2nd choice ride. We named her “Dolores” after the original owner and I will miss her terribly.

Harv Falkenstine
Harv Falkenstine(@harv)
3 years ago

I think I have met that Volvo Alum…the conversation must have gone like this, “I found you the perfect car…(when was the last time a Volvo 240 wagon was called the “perfect car”?) That poor Arizona car must be lost in that unidentified white stuff.

Anthony D.
Anthony D.
3 years ago

I’ve always loved the 240, especially the wagon. As a child I drew them, had plastic models of them and was driven around in them. Ultimately I bought two of my neighbor’s 86 240s, fixing up both and selling them on with regret. They are lovely like a dog is…your ever willing companion.

Now I’ve bought an ’85 GLT, same color as my first, just in way nicer condition. And I doubt I’ll sell it. It’s fun to drive, super useful and a pleasure to work on. Oh, and it’s one of the most affordable iconic cars you can buy.

3 years ago

My first Volvo was a 1985 240 GL I bought from a buddy a work in the early 1990’s. He was the original owner, was tired of trying to keep it running and sold it to me for $400. It had a manual transmission with overdrive (that never worked), quad headlights, hand crank sunroof, great cloth seats, a little rust in the rear quarter panels and a wonderful vinyl headliner that never sagged. I learned to heal and toe in that car and after a long day at work I’d thrash it around, it had a huge amount of body roll in the corners but otherwise handled pretty well, but was about as low powered as one might imagine. My wife didn’t care too much for it, especially after the in-tank fuel pump died in the middle of a busy intersection! It was easy to fix and was great fun. I eventually sold it to a neighbor who was desperate for reliable transportation for $600. Wish I still had it.

3 years ago

I drove 240’s a lot during my 2 years military service. Always dark blue. Often with overdrive. Really reliable and surprisibgly good off-road. Fun to drive on the muddy roads behind the tanks. Very enjoyable.

Maxime Veilleux
Maxime Veilleux(@quebecois)
3 years ago

I think this story is gonna be pretty relatable for a lot of Petrolicious reader,

My first experience with a Volvo 240 was 6-7 years ago, My dad brought my uncle old Volvo who had more than 600 000 kilometers on it (Original engine and transmission) and I had the pleasure of driving it for a cross country ski week end with my buddies in St-Jérome.

Its was a blast, I couldn’t believe how well this car was driving even though he had more than half a million kilometers on it, so much room in the back too!

We stuffed our whole cross country equipment, Backpacks and even some grocery and we still had a LOT of room inside.

Only fond memories of such an awesome car.

But then…

1 years ago, I was looking for a replacement for my girlfriend car. We needed room, reliability and a car I wouldn’t mind looking everyday.

I found a Volvo 240 in Ottawa that looked OK for a reasonable price so I went ahead and brought it after test driving it.

Minor problem here and there (Brakes and a faulty fuel pump relay) nothing major. I had to do a mechanical exam to make it ”Road Worthy” in my province so I jumped on that and after a few weeks of waiting for parts and working on it in my spare time it was finally OK to pass the exam. Which it did.

Then, Hell unleashed.

I found out that the intake plastic on the MAF was pierced so, I ordered another new.

Next thing I know the car start going really really poorly. Fortunately I brought a Bentley along with since I planned on keeping the car a long time.

Tried something in the book, Didn’t work, another, another, another…Next thing you know more than 4000$ was spent on the car and I still had problems with the car.

Mind you after a few failed attempts I started to believe that maybe I was in over my head so I went to a few garages, Each had something new to add the non-ending nightmare of parts that needed changing.

Now the car is sitting in my parents driveway waiting for a new exhaust line and soon after to be sold.

Maybe my error was to rely on the exceptional build quality of those car and I got the classic ”Tunnel vision” when I brought it but It really ruined any chance of me buying this car ever again. even though my father had one before me and hardly put any money on it.

I know for a fact that you can get a wildly different experience from the same car I think I just didn’t expect that from such a mythical car.

My father Volvo is below.

I sadly never really got a moment with mine that felt like taking a picture.

3 years ago

A friend of mine recently bought a 1993 240 sedan. It’s in fine shape, well cared for with a clean interior and zero rust. Oh, it also has a 350ci small block Chevy and 700R4 installed, with R wheels and Brembo brakes. It’s an absolute hoot and a fantastic sleeper. It’s a mild 350 with around 250 hp in its current guise (we plan on hot rodding it, as you do with a SBC) but considering that’s more than double what it came from the factory with, and has tire squealing chassis flexing torque, it’s a riot. And it retains the plush, quiet interior and soft suspension of the 240, so it’s a brilliant highway cruiser (atrocious fuel economy aside). I want that car. I want it so much.

3 years ago

The year was 1998. I thought my dad’s 240DL could take a 90-degree turn at the same speed as my Miata. I was incorrect.

3 years ago

Such great memories, I had a 93 (last year) 245 in white with a dark grey/black cloth interior. Bought it as a CPO used from the Volvo dealer with 50K on the clock and traded her with 250k. Only had one issue, the ECU got wet and shorted, easy fix. Very slow but also very sturdy. I took mine on fire roads to trout streams all over Upstate SC and Western NC, used her as a pickup for all those first house project DIY store runs, and drove my wife to the hospital and my wife and daughter back home. think it was also the first car I named. She was called Ingrid and I also regret selling her.