I have always admired the Volvo 240 series of cars but never expected to own one. This one literally fell into my lap and become the favorite of my winter beaters. The fact that it was built in Canada was the icing on cake for me.
My good friend Rod had purchased this Volvo from the local scrapyard a few years previously. It was a low mileage car with a few issues that needed taken care of. He revived to it back to roadworthy status but the car was a bit cursed with constant issues. His well used Volvo 242 seemed to be more reliable. He tried to unload the silver 244 GLE with little success. He was perhaps too honest in his ads and did not want to see the car scrapped. Out of the blue he offered it to me. Even with its chequered reliability record how could I possibly turn it down?
The 244 GLE was a Canadian market car and was the upper end of the 240 range. It is roughly equivalent to the US market GL. The engine is a 113hp 2.3L B23F fuel injected straight four. The more basic DL specification cars were still equipped with carburetors in Canada. My car had a four speed manual gearbox with electric overdrive. When new it would have had alloy wheels instead of the steelies that had been swapped on at some time in the past.
The first Volvo assembly plant built outside of Sweden was the Volvo Halifax Assembly Plant which opened in 1963. Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia the plant was put into service to get around hefty levies on imported cars and took advantage of the Auto Pact which unified the American and Canadian markets. Cars were shipped from Sweden in CKD (Complete Knock Down) kit form and assembled at the plant. Canadian Volvo production ended in 1998 but my Volvo was one of the many built there.
A free car generally comes with a list of things wrong with it. Despite being a low mileage (170K kms) car this Volvo was no exception. It was non-running in need of a timing belt, fuel pump, leaky front brake lines and missing rear quarter window. Although Volvo is famed for its comfortable seats this car proved to be the exception. The front seat had lost a significant amount of foam on one side and was quite uncomfortable after half an hour at the wheel. On the plus side it came with an era-appropriate selection of cassette tapes.
The cam belt change went well and the Volvo brick was soon running again.
Not only was the rear quarter window missing but also the frame as well. At the local junkyard they had some Volvo 240s but they were all of the newer, thinner window style.This one was liberated from a 1991 example but thanks to long use of the same basic body shell it physically fit the 1984. I brought my ice-cream bucket of tools along but only needed that red one – a baseboard pry bar.
Still it looked decent and certainly better than the duct taped garbage bag that was there previously.
Brakes were up next. The car had newer pads and rotors but the front passenger side lines leaked badly. Some new lines were bent up with use of an old Toyota alternator as a curve guide. This had to be done a couple times as some of the parts store fittings still leaked.
Adding to the frustration the front brakes have three bleeders on each caliper on the early 240s. They have to be bleed in the exact order for it to be effective. After a few failed attempts I finally had a car that accelerated and braked.
A few cosmetic but cheap maker over items followed. The cam cover on the 240 was looking a bit stained and sad. With a left over can of BBQ paint I painted the cover black then removed the paint from the raised Volvo letters. It deliberately was not perfect so it did not look out of place with the rest of the engine compartment. The 113hp rating made it the most powerful vehicle we owned at the time (59hp Mercedes-Benz 220D and 100hp Mazda 2).
By this point the 244 was registered, insured and became my new daily driver. To celebrate I wanted up give the appearance a bit of a face lift. While not a set of factory alloy wheels I added a bit of black paint to the center of the factory steel wheels to give them a new look. Of course one of the partial hubcaps fell off soon after.
The side view mirrors were letting the looks of the car down but a coat of black paint came to the rescue again.
I had borrowed the big battery from the diesel Benz and the over-sized battery masked the fact that the alternator was not charging. This left me stranded with a dead battery after work one day. I went to the local scrapyard to source myself a new one. They had a single 240, a pair of 740s and a 940 turbo. The 240 was a wagon that had its engine mostly stripped including the alternator. The 940 was a turbo but well picked over including the whole engine. Only one of the 740s had its alternator intact. Luckily it looked reasonably new and would work in my 244.
The alternator is up nice and high on the Volvo 740. Quick and easy to remove. The internet hadn’t made it totally clear if it would be the same unit as the 240 but they looked the same. Despite the different position all the mounting brackets are the same. I was able to trial fit it to the 245 wagon in the yard before buying. The new one was harder to fit into the 240 due to the low down location on the passenger side. A radiator hose made it a tight fit to squeeze by.
While the charging issue had been solved I needed one further item to attend to. The fuel pump worked well if the gas tank was more than half full but once that threshold passed then it would buck and eventually stall. This particular 244 had two fuel pumps; one external and another in tank one. The external one had been recently replaced appeared to still be working well. The issue had to be with the in tank fuel pump. The replacement pump had been included with the car but it is not a particular pleasant task to replace. The little rubber hose on mine had completely dissolved thus the in-tank pump was completely ineffective when the fuel level dropped too far. Luckily I had a bit of fuel hose the right size in my random parts box.
If there is one job that a Volvo 240 series owner fears the most it is the heater fan replacement. The old joke about the assembly line working starting with a heater fan and building the rest of the car around it cannot be too far off the truth. My fan worked when I received the car but called it quits moments after I got the Volvo its mandatory safety inspection. Given that is was now winter I needed a fix sooner than later. The heater itself worked and windshield would stay clear without the fan but the car’s cabin remained frigidly cold. My kids were less than impressed when after requesting heat hearing that there was none coming.
A break in the winter weather meant another visit to the scrapyard. Luckily the quite stripped the 245 wagon there still had a heater fan to be harvested. The advantage of pulling parts at the scrapyard is you get an idea of the job ahead and can practice on a junked car.
With the fan replaced the Volvo pumped out the hot air in winter. Traction on the rear axle was a bit limited so a cautious application of throttle was needed. Looking back and taking a page from pickup owners and dropping a couple cement blocks in the trunk likely would have improved winter traction. My wife found herself a 2005 Ford Expedition so the Mazda 2 was passed back to me and the Volvo was no longer required for driving duties. Given that it still had the original wiring harness which is well known for disintegrating over time I figured it was time to move on. It all worked but from what I have read they all fail at some point. While I (mostly) enjoyed my time with the Volvo it was time for it to find a new home. It would free up a spot in the garage for something a little less practical.