The Volvo 240’s U.S. Journey – Chapter One

The venerable Volvo 240-series has been dealt with often here on CC (here, here, and most recently here –among other posts), but I hope readers will permit me to take yet another extended look at Gothenburg’s evergreen family sedans and wagons.

Starring in mid-1976, my own Volvo career encompassed most of the 240’s lifecycle (and then some).  As a close observer, I became fascinated by the 240’s long-lived appeal, and so began to chronicle the model’s development over the years, primarily for my own amusement. Although this isn’t intended to be a down-in-the-weeds technical treatise, I do hope to shed some light on not only the 240’s model year-by-model year changes but also on the larger U.S. auto market environment in which these cars successfully competed, against all odds, for nearly two decades.

The competitive models mentioned, with a few exceptions, are the ones we paid the most attention to in our day-to-day product planning and marketing efforts at Volvo. Sales data is sourced from Volvo records and various issues of the annual Automotive News Data Book.

So let’s buckle up those three-point seat belts and enjoy the ride!

Model Year 1975

Volvo introduces the new 240 series. In two-door, four-door, and station wagon (five-door) body-styles, it replaces the 140 series and features a newly-designed sloping front end reminiscent of the Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC), several of which had been built during 1972 to evaluate future automotive safety features.

An early Swedish-spec Volvo 244 DL. (Source:


The 240 introduces rack-and-pinion steering and MacPherson strut front suspension; its cast-iron B20F four-cylinder engine is carried over from the 140.

In addition to a variety of body-styles, the 240 is available in “DL” and “GL” models.

In 1975, Car and Driver magazine named the Volvo 240 “the best family car in all categories,” after its February road test of a 242 GL referred to the car as “the family sedan of the future- and it works.”

Car and Driver’s test car carried a sticker price of $6,845.

Cadillac introduces the Seville, a smaller “international size” sedan more in tune with the times. Compared to the “standard size” Cadillac, it is still nearly a foot longer and over 750 pounds heavier than a Volvo 244.

The ’76 Seville was Bill Mitchell’s first “sheer look” production car. Many more followed.  (Source:


Fiat sold a record 100,511 cars in the U.S. during calendar year 1975, part of the total of 1,577,000 imported cars that found buyers that year, up 12% from the previous year’s total. In 1975, Toyota became the best-selling imported make in the U.S., overtaking perennial leader Volkswagen.

These early Corolla SR-5 coupes seemed to be everywhere in SoCal during my Art Center days. (Source: Bring a Trailer)


Domestic car sales added up to 7,050,120, a drop of about 5% from the 1974 total.

After several false starts, Volkswagen introduced the car that would ultimately replace its long-lived Beetle, the Giugiaro-designed, front wheel drive Rabbit.

This pre-Westmoreland VW Rabbit was a complete break from its Beetle predecessor.      (Source:


Chrysler Corporation hires former baseball player Joe Garagiola as its television spokesman, and it inaugurates manufacturer-to-customer cash incentives of between $200 and $500 on selected vehicles, as he encouraged viewers to “buy a car- get a check”.

Former major-league catcher turned pitchman Joe Garagiola offers the first modern new-car cash rebate in this TV ad. Dig the straw hat! The rest is history. (Source: Osborn Tramain)


Calendar year 1975 Volvo sales in the U.S. reached 60,336 units, a new record, and 14% over the previous year’s result. Of this total, 43,411 sales are recorded by the new 240 series and leftover 140 series models.

Model Year 1976

The 240 series receives the new B21F engine, a modern SOHC design with an aluminum cylinder head, replacing the B20F.

The bulletproof Volvo “Redblock” four-cylinder engine.(Source:


Non-sunroof 240s are available in two-door, four-door, and station wagon form with four-speed manual transmissions or three-speed automatic gearboxes.

Sunroof-equipped 242s and 244s are available with a choice of a four-speed manual with electric overdrive, effectively a five-speed, or the three-speed automatic. The 245 station wagon is offered with either the four-speed manual with overdrive or the three-speed automatic.

Catalytic converters are now used on 240s destined for sale in California.

240 GL variants are dropped, a consequence of the introduction of the B27F V6-powered 260 series, which replaces the previous 164 sedan. A V6 station wagon, the 265, is added, which has the distinction of being the world’s most expensive series-production station wagon, with its base suggested retail price of $9,495.

The Volvo 265 broke the $10,000 barrier. (Source:


Both 260s are offered in “DL” and “GL” trim levels.

In May 1976, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) called Volvo’s new Lambda-Sond system with its oxygen sensor and three-way catalyst “the most significant breakthrough ever achieved” in progress towards lower exhaust emission levels.

Also in 1976, the safety cage construction of the Volvo 244 was rated best among compact sedans barrier-tested at 45-MPH by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As a result, the Volvo 244 was chosen as the “benchmark” vehicle used by the agency to conduct a series of advanced passive restraint systems tests.

The results of the test program, which were made available in early 1977, would be used by the Federal government to help establish future automotive safety standards.

Road & Track’s April 1976 issue carried a test of that year’s 242 DL (equipped with sunroof, manual overdrive transmission, and accessory “GT” steering wheel and instrument cluster, it listed for $7,770), and indicated that “with the new B21F four, the transformation is now complete.”

It added that “Gothenburg has finally managed to being the Volvos out of the Sixties and the total car is now as advanced and complete as we expect from Volvo. That metamorphosis hasn’t made the cars any cheaper, but it has kept them in the tradition of “The 11-Year Car” and “Drive It Like You Hate It”. That is what the public expects from Volvo and judging by the fact that 1975 was the best year Volvo has had in the U.S., the public is willing to pay for it.”

Chrysler Corporation introduces its “family cars of the future,” the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, which replace the long-running Dart/Valiant models, respectively. A station wagon bodystyle is included, Chrysler’s first compact wagons since 1966.

The title refers to the Aspen’s standard equipment, not to the number of recalls it suffered. (Source: eBay)


Renault introduces its subcompact R5 to the U.S. market. “Le Car” ends the year with 6,189 total stateside sales.

An early Renault R5 press photo noted that the car had been “redesigned for America.” It didn’t help. (Source:


Also, in July 1976, Honda unveiled the Accord, a compact three-door hatchback with a base MSRP of $3,995. The Accord is later named Road Test magazine’s “Car of the Year” in the under-$5,000 price class.

This probably should also have been Motor Trend‘s 1976 Car of the Year, not the Aspen/Volare… (Source:


In 1976, a total of 1,493,000 imported cars are sold in the U.S., down about 5% from 1975 result. However, domestic nameplate sales increased by nearly 1.5 million units over the previous year, to an 8,606,573-unit total.

Calendar year 1976 Volvo sales in the U.S. decline 27% from year-ago levels, to 43,887 units. Of this total, 33,582 are 240s. Several factors contributed to the sales decline, including significant currency-related price increases combined, it must be said, with sporadic quality issues.

What about the rest of the decade? Tune in again next week…