Curbside Classic: 1984 Volvo 240GL – Sensible Luxury

The Volvo GL was a stroke of genius for Volvo. Adding a little luxury and exclusivity to its tough-as-nails 240 series gave you the option of a luxury Volvo without the hassle of the 264GLE’s troublesome PRV V6 engine. It was so well received that it lasted all the way through the Eighties, while the 264GLE was gone by ’83. It was nice enough for my Dad. He bought a new one in 1984.

The 264GL replaced the 164E for 1976. In addition to the new nose, instrument panel and suspension upgrades, the 3.0 straight six of the 164 was replaced with the B28 2.8 liter ‘PRV’ V6. PRV stood for Peugeot, Renault and Volvo, who created the engine in a joint venture. The problem was that this new engine was not the most powerful or robust, and sales never really took off. By 1980 it was producing 130 hp and 153 lb ft of torque.

Volvo decided that they would combine the engine of the 240 and features of the 264 to create a new model, the GL. Introduced in 1980, the GL’s exterior was the same as the 264GLE, complete with the extra chrome trim, grille and exterior paint choices. Inside, velour replaced the DL’s cloth, and there was more color coordination of the door panels, hardware and carpet.

Air conditioning was standard, as well as a manual-crank sunroof. Bright trim rings and hubcaps were substituted for the 264GLE’s turbine-spoke alloy wheels. You could even get a 40-channel CB with your AM/FM stereo. Hey, the 70’s had just ended, give Volvo a break!

As with the DL, the 240GL had a 2.1L inline four cylinder engine that produced 107 hp at 5,250 rpm and 114 lb ft of torque. In a road test of the GL, David E. Davis of Car and Driver had much to say:

“(The Volvo GL) is a genuinely amusing car to drive. It’s alert, responsive, and stable. The handling, braking and roadholding that go with that luxury are first-class, and although the ride is European, it would not offend a Pontiac driver. (The 2.1L four) is an infinitely lovable engine…that just seems to beg for abuse”

In 1982, a GL station wagon was added, and the GLE’s turbine spoke alloys were made standard. A six cylinder diesel had become available in 1981 as a standalone model, but for 1982 it was optional on DLs and GLs. Available in both sedan and wagon form, it featured a 2.4L inline six that produced 78hp at 4800 rpm. The 264GLE, simply called ‘GLE’ starting in ’81, was in its last year, replaced in 1983 by the new 760GLE.

Starting in 1983, the 240GL was the nicest 240 you could get. When I was born, my dad had a ’79 Bonneville, but in 1981 or ’82, he got a new 240DL two-door in maroon with tan cloth. My brother was born in late 1983, and at about the same time I remember Mom telling me that Dad was ordering a new car. The car was a silver over tan ’84 GL sedan, shown above when nearly new. Yes, I liked having my picture taken with our cars when I was a kid.

My mom still had her ’77 245DL, but Dad’s new car was much fancier. The leather interior was really nice, and it had power windows instead of windup windows, which I thought a big deal at the time. I really liked those wheels too, but I bet they were a pain in the neck to keep clean!

The manual sunroof was also a lot of fun. I remember playing with it a lot in the driveway. You pushed a button built in to the chrome handle, which unlocked it, then you just spun it until it was open. I believe it also had a tilt open feature – from the closed position, you pressed the button and spun the lever the opposite direction. Simple, and no power assists to break.

The Volvo 240 was arguably the world’s most practical car at the time. These cars were very space efficient, with ample head and leg room for passengers. The trunk was a perfect box shape (like the rest of the car) with 13.9 cubic feet of space.

The wagons were even more practical, with 41.1 cubic feet of space in the cargo area – and that was with the rear seat up. Need more room? No problem, just load up those trunks or traveling shells onto the available roof rack.

Volvos reputation was built on these cars. Not only were they practical, they were assembled and finished with extremely high quality. Instead of electrogalvinizing, used by many manufacturers at the time, Volvo used a hot bath process to galvinize every square inch of the bodyshell. It produced a protective layer of zinc that was three times thicker than possible by using electrogalvinizing.

Front fenders were made of Zinchrometal and used plastic liners in the wheel wells to boot. Door latches had built in drains, all exterior trim was made of stainless steel, and the exhaust system was aluminized. These cars were built to last, and Volvo wasn’t shy about advertising the fact. Their brochures in the ’80s spelled out all of these features, and more.

And how could I not mention Volvo’s safety cage design? Hollow steel A, B and C pillars were encircled on the tops and bottoms by yet more steel reinforcement, and tough tubular steel bars were built into all doors for side crash protection.

Volvo was probably one of the few manufacturers that featured wrecked 240s in their advertising – they were justifiably proud of all the safety built into their vehicles. In crash testing the 240, what you would see was the car totally deformed up to the windshield, with the rest of the car undamaged. The doors would open and close as normal, and oftentimes the windshield would not even be cracked.

I still see 240s on a regular basis, but not too many are of the pre-1986 variety, and even fewer are the tony GL model. I was checking out my friendly Volvo dealer on Sunday, and did a double take when I spotted this super nice GL around back. It was just like Dad’s except for the metallic brown/burgundy color. It was clearly in for service, as there was plastic on the front seat. I have never seen it around town – it is clearly babied and regularly garaged. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an original owner car.

As for Dad’s GL, I have many memories of driving down to the marina with him in the summer, windows down, sunroof open, to go putter around on the boat. It was a cool car, but by 1988 he was ready for a new one, and it was traded in on an ’88 740 Turbo. My Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Ron actually drove in from Champaign and bought the GL from Lundahl Motors, and they had it well into the mid 1990s. Since Champaign-Urbana is a big college town, I would not be surprised if some student is still driving it around today.