COAL: 1983 Volvo 240DL Wagon – In Bosch We Trust

I bought this car because one day it took forever to get my hair cut.

In the dark ages before Great Cuts or Super Snips or whatever the strip mall chains that cut hair are called, there were these places called neighborhood barbershops. Lurking in out of the way storefronts, they could be pretty hit-or-miss in terms of service, especially if you weren’t a regular. One Saturday morning in 1987 I made the mistake of wandering into one such establishment, expecting to walk out less than an hour later with newly shortened hair and my whole weekend in front of me.

Hours later, my hair remained uncut as the barber and patrons laughed and shot the breeze and ignored the newcomer customer in the corner. My fresh-bought edition of the newspaper had been thoroughly read through by this time, from the front page to the tiniest print at the back of the classifieds, and bored silly, I was going through it for about the third time when a classified ad for a car caught my eye: A 1983 Volvo DL wagon.

Car enthusiasts on the internet like to tout our bona fides by bemoaning the decline of the manual transmission and bragging about how cool we think station wagons are. Let the normies dismiss wagons as dull mommy taxis; we alone have always known and understood the wagon’s inherent cool factor; we alone intuitively get that a long body with extra doors, if properly designed and/or modified, has the potential to be a sleeper sports sedan or muscle car with room for subwoofers and an extra set of track wheels. Well, I’m calling it now: I knew way back then, pre-worldwide web, that wagons were cool.

My interest in wagons was pragmatic, though: I was still figuring out what my life’s journey was going to be, but I pictured lots of road trips and camping, so a wagon was a no-brainer. Even better if it had the reputation of a Volvo.

My hair finally cut some four hours after entering the barbershop, and with half my day shot, I took my battered Saturday classified page and drove out to the selling dealership. And there she was, the Volvo DL wagon (also known as a 245 – as in 200-series, 4 cylinders, and 5 doors – but I’m using Volvo’s simplified model designation for the 1983s). Resplendent in light blue (“Smurf blue”) with a dark blue vinyl interior, factory A/C, and a 4-speed manual with an electric overdrive button on the shift knob, she stood tall and boxy and sported thick rubber VOLVO mudflaps like a dump truck.

I named her Inga before I ever test drove her. She was only four years old, which compared to all my previous purchases was basically brand new. Best of all, Inga was Bosch fuel injected. Experience with a cavalcade of unreliable old carbureted hoopties had put me off ever again buying anything that didn’t have its gasoline introduced through little electronically-controlled nozzles.

The asking price, $6500, would have seemed as unattainable as a Fabergé egg just a couple of years earlier, but I was determined. I secured financing, and Inga was mine. The LH-Jetronic fuel injection performed flawlessly. Let the old timers have their carbs and their chokes and their heat risers; I remain a devotee of Robert Bosch’s engine management systems to this day.

One day after owning the car for about a year I had the driver’s side inner door panel off for some reason and while poking around in there, I discovered a switch with wires attached to it that had somehow come disconnected from the driver’s door lock. I reattached it and Voila! My Volvo now had 4-door central locking! (Also supplied by Bosch.) I could lock and unlock all doors by operating the driver’s lock. It was like finding a huge secret room in your house.

Less thrilling was having to remove the tailgate to R-and-R all the wires going through the hinges – for lights, wiper motor and door lock – which had begun breaking from years of constant flexing. That was a two-man job.

The Volvo wagon should have been a dream for camping. With the seats folded, there was just over 6 feet of stretch-out space in the back. The rear fenders, dating back to the late 1960s 140 series wagons, were each sufficient to hold a full-sized spare tire, and there was loads of room for gear under the load floor.

Alas, those dreams of heading out to Wyoming and sleeping in the back of my wagon never materialized. But the Volvo’s wagonish ways proved indispensable just the same. I biked a lot then and Inga swallowed my 18-speed with ease. Always on the lookout for better living arrangements or cheaper rent, I moved myself and all my possessions in that car two or three times, and I helped friends move too. Its high – for a car – ground clearance came in handy during a heavy rainstorm when I was able to carefully maneuver up onto curbs to bypass flooded sections of road.

Inga’s original color. Photo credit: Tom Klockau


At some point I decided the light blue paint was not to my liking and had it redone in a Ford truck shade of dark blue. I still love the color. I removed the luggage rack too, for a cleaner look. No longer so interested in camping, I envisioned undertaking a sort of Sportwagon transformation that would culminate in a Ford 5.0L engine swap (and would, I’d like to point out, predate the Audi RS Avant by more than a decade – I was way ahead of that curve).

But that never happened, either. I discovered Nissan’s new Sentra SE-R instead and traded the Volvo in on one, which would ultimately prove to be one of my earliest automotive regrets. After the SE-R, I returned to the Volvo fold in a 1985 740GLE, which, although it had basically the same engine, could not replicate the experience of owning the 240DL.

I’ve never camped out west in the back of a Volvo wagon. But displaying independence and resourcefulness of a different sort, I now avoid barbershops and cut my own hair in the backyard with a mirror and a set of Wahl clippers.


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1978 Volvo 245DL – The Quintessential Volvo

Curbside Classic: 1979 Volvo 244 DL – Swedish Sense And Sensibility

Curbside Classic: 1990 Volvo 240 GL Wagon – Going Meta-CC