Pop quiz: What is the most boring 2012 model car in existence? The Camry, you say? Well done. Now, what was the most boring, competent and efficient car of the 1980s? For those of you who missed the ’80s or were too young at the time to remember them, may I present the 1982 Volvo 244DL. It’s not a hot rod, not fancy, not exciting. But by God, it was competent, comfortable, and you never had to fret over it breaking down or needing constant mechanical attention! There was good reason why in the ’80s, Volvo was known as “the car for people who think.”
My parents were Volvo people. Starting with the ’73 1800ES and later on with the ’77 245DL, they were a practical choice for a young upper middle-class family with kids in the plan for the near future. Safe, reliable, well-built. European, but not flashy or pretentious.
This was nothing new to Volvo Car Corporation. The Swedish company made its bones in the North American market with sensible, roomy and reliable sedans and wagons, starting with the Amazon/121/122 and making even more inroads with the 1967 140 Series. Despite the no-nonsense design and sensible shoes marketing, Volvos were never cheap.
The 1975 240, itself a redesigned 140 with MacPherson front suspension and crumple zones, was about the same size as a Plymouth Valiant or Dodge Dart, but pricewise was closer to a larger Oldsmobile Cutlass or Eighty Eight. But for “Volvo people” like my folks, the extra money was worth it for the peace of mind such a car afforded.
The 240 itself was treated to a couple of facelifts between 1975 and 1982. In 1978 it received the domed hood and squared-off grille of the flossier 260 Series, albeit with quad round headlights instead of the rectangular units the ’78 and up 260 models had. In 1979 the rear deck was smoothed out and wraparound taillights were added.
Another minor facelift appeared on the 1981 models, which included smoother hubcaps, quad rectangular headlights on DLs, a new grille, and wraparound taillamps on wagons.
For some reason, 1978-80 242s did not receive the domed hood, quad headlights and square grille as the sedans and wagons did, but this was finally rectified in 1981.
1982 models received white reflectors below the headlights, as seen on our featured car – 1981s had black horizontal grille bars in the same space.
As has been documented in my 1984 240GL CC, my folks had several Volvo 240s. Before the GL (seen above) came along, my dad had a 1981 or 1982 242DL coupe, maroon with a beige cloth interior. It had been a demonstrator at Lundahl Volvo in Moline, and he just had to have it. He recalled recently that it was one of the last years you could get a two-door version. I was still quite young when he had this car, but I remember riding in the back and playing with the pop-out rear quarter windows.
This car replaced Dad’s previous brown-over-beige 1979 Bonneville sedan, and it marked the end of his American car ownership, at least until his 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis Edition. When he got that one I remember him saying, “Well, the Grand Cherokee screams Yuppie but I’ve had Volvos for years, so I guess it doesn’t matter!” But that’s a story and CC for another time.
I liked this car, but I associate my most vivid memory of it with pain. When I was three or four years old, Dad and I were coming home from someplace or another. He parked in the driveway, got out, and locked the car just as I slammed my fingers in the door. Naturally, I was yelling to beat the band, and my frantic Dad had to unlock the car so I could extricate my hand–which, amazingly, was OK. There would be no trip to the ER that day! And if you’re wondering about the only pictures I could find of Dad’s 242: he was not sentimental about his earlier company cars, so the only shots of it were these damage photos when somebody bumped into it. I wish there were better pictures; it was a sharp car.
By 1982 the DL was still the value Volvo, but was a bit better equipped than it’s mid-’70s forebears. The tried-and-true B21F four-cylinder remained as standard equipment in DL, GL and non-Turbo GLT models. The overhead cam design featured a cross-flow head with 98 hp @ 5000 rpm, and 112 lb-ft of torque. A 4-speed manual with overdrive was standard, but 3-speed and 4-speed overdrive automatics were available at extra cost.
Inside, central locking was standard on DL models, along with cloth seating, a quartz crystal clock and child-proof locks on the rear doors of sedans and wagons. Plenty of options were available, such as air conditioning, a manual-crank steel sunroof, cruise control and power windows. In addition to the four-cylinder B21F, DLs could be equipped with a 78 hp D24 six-cylinder diesel. Of course, the very comfortable, orthopedically designed seats with adjustable lumbar support remained.
Another major boon was the wonderful glass area. A tall roof and thin pillars were great for passing and merging, and the ample room inside meant the Not-Niedermeyers and their best friends (or the Klockaus and the Josephsons) could drive to dinner in comfort.
As you CC Volvophiles know, Dad’s 242DL was traded for an ’84 244GL, most likely precipitated by my little brother’s arrival in late ’83. As for the two-door 240, it lasted to 1984 in DL and Turbo versions, but disappeared from the 1985 Volvo roster, never to return. I guess all those practical-minded 1980s Volvo buyers thought the sedan and wagon more in line with sensible transportation. Pity; I rather liked the coupe.
Special thanks to Paul for spotting what may be the nicest 240 in Eugene. I know these are all but invisible to you in the Volvo Elysian Fields of Oregon, so thanks for taking the time to get some photos!