COAL: 1994 Volvo 940 Sedan – Swedish Rhapsody, Part 3 (A Love Song in Three Movements)

After I sold my 1996 Volvo 850R wagon in 2014, I decided to swear off Volvos for a while.  Perhaps it was the reliability issues or the expense of getting the wagon repaired, but I felt like I needed to look elsewhere for a daily driver that had some vintage quality.  Fast forward to 2021 and my move to Washington State.  By fall, my wife and I had started to get settled in our new home across the sound from Seattle.  I had sold my last vintage ride (see 1977 Chevrolet Impala) before we left Minnesota and decided I wanted to look for something I could use to drive the backroads of the PNW.  A couple of months of looking and I landed on one of my current vehicles – a white 1994 Volvo 940 sedan.

In many ways, the 940 was the polar opposite of the 850.  While they were contemporaries, the 940 represented Volvo’s accumulated wisdom in engineering RWD cars since the 1920’s.  The 900 series was itself an update of the 700 series that Volvo introduced in 1982 which itself was an effort to modernize the 200 series platform that was starting to get a little long in the tooth, dating from 1975. However, things got a little blurry, when Volvo at one point sold vehicles in all three series in 1990, 1991 and 1992  – something that must have caused confusion in the showroom.  Add in the introduction of the 850 with the final year of production of the 240 in 1993 and you could be forgiven for not really understanding what Volvo was trying to accomplish in the early 90’s.  That said, by 1994, the company was down to just two series in the US – the 850 and 900.

I found my 940 sedan from a local Craigslist post (where I have done most of my buying).  The car was listed by a mechanic who was selling it for his elderly brother in Bellevue.  It was well taken care of by the mechanic who had done most of the regular maintenance over the years and the Volvo was lightly used. Indeed, while the car had 126,000 miles, only about 25,000 had been added since it was purchased from the original owner in 2003.  For a Volvo of this vintage, some would say it was barely broken in.  One mechanic I knew called it the cleanest 940 in the state of Washington. And it, while not perfect, it runs and drives amazingly well for a nearly 30 year old car.

A few things stand out about the car.  First, while it lacks the complete “old school” appeal of the 240, it retains some of the charm – with the same 2.3 “redblock” engine and boxy space.  However, the updates on the car make it more livable – the fuses, for example, are now easily accessible and protected behind the shifter console.  The dashboard and controls are more logical.  There are little touches like the small trays attached to the front seat bottoms where you can leave a wallet or phone. On one Volvo bulletin board, I’ve read someone say the 940 is the 240 with the stupid engineered out and perhaps that is true.

As a driving experience, the 940 is more of a cruiser than sport sedan.  The car rides well and handles sensibly, but with some body lean.  The 116 horsepower engine is no speed demon, but it does the job on back country roads and up hills. The seats are super comfy, even with grippy gray wool-like fabric. And the car has the most extraordinary visibility – you can see everything easily and the boxy ends of the car make it simple to maneuver. You don’t need cameras to safely drive this car.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to me how the 940 and the whole 900 series don’t get a lot of collector love, certainly not compared to the 240. (I recognize that this may be changing, but not quickly.)  There is a lot to like here – for someone who wants to own a vehicle they can use regularly with some vintage vibes.  When one of my sons needed a car earlier this year when he moved to BC, I offered him the Volvo to use.  He enjoys driving the car around the Vancouver area and takes it back and forth to visit us in Washington State.  He’s had it serviced and the shop there also commented on the car’s condition. It isn’t a perfect vehicle, but, as the mechanic said, if you take care of it, it will take care of you.

So, in my case, third time has been the charm.  The 940 may not be the most exciting or innovatively engineered car on the road, but it epitomizes many of the virtues of old-school Volvo – practicality and sensibility with a smattering of quirkiness.  I think there still is a niche for such vehicles today, in a world where manufacturers are starting to converge in terms of engineering and style.  I’m not sure Volvo offers that today anymore – but that’s a subject for a different post.