Curbside Classic: 1978 Volvo 245DL – The Quintessential Volvo

(First posted 5/22/2012) This car, the Volvo 245, is the essence of Volvo. Whenever someone mentions Volvo, whether in mixed company or among fellow gearheads, this is most likely the image floating in everybody’s heads. This is Volvo distilled into its most functional form. Volvo has lost its way a bit in the last fifteen years. If it wants to get its mojo back, it could do worse than using the original 245DL as a template.

Now, the 240 was a boon for Volvo, and was incredibly long-lived, lasting from 1975 to 1993 with relatively minor changes, but it was certainly not an all-new car. The Volvo 140 Series, introduced in 1967 to eventually replace the venerable Amazon/120 Series, was the platform upon which the 240 built. Crumple zones, adapted from the Volvo VESC safety cars, were added to the 140 platform. The 240 Series also received a brand new front end, incorporating a new MacPherson strut suspension. Rack and pinion steering was also new, improving handling. All 1975 240s also received fuel injection, as featured in 1974 US bound 140 models.

Naturally, a five door wagon was available along with the 242 and 244 sedans. Wagons received vinyl upholstery instead of the sedans’ cloth trim for easier cleanup, whether hauling kids or provisions. All 240s were powered by the fuel injected B21F four cylinder engine, producing 104 hp at 5500 rpm and 114 lb ft of torque. A synchronized four speed manual was standard, with a three speed automatic available as an option.

In 1976, a 265DL joined the 245DL in the North American market. While it was not as luxurious as the top of the line 264GL sedan, it did receive the same PRV B27F light alloy V6 and the 264’s unique nose, albeit with a black grille instead of the 264’s chrome version. With its higher price and the PRV’s less than wonderful characteristics, you were better off with a 245.

My Dad apparently thought the same thing. When he started working for my grandfather in 1972 as an insurance investigator, he was told to go on down to Bob Neil Ford in Rock Island and pick out a company car – something practical.

As he had driven a ’65 Mustang convertible, Triumph TR4, ’70 Boss 302 and currently had a ’60 356 Roadster as a weekend car, he was rather restrained in picking out a 1973 Gran Torino sedan in metallic copper. To this day, I just can’t picture him driving a car like that. It is seen above in what is probably the only picture of it.

At any rate, in 1977 he got a 245DL wagon as a company car. My Mom was already driving the ’73 1800ES, so they became a two Volvo household. It was dark blue with a blue vinyl interior, and had optional integrated fog lights built into the grille. Except for the fog lights, it looked just like the one shown above.

His job took him all over the state of Illinois, investigating dram shop insurance claims. Generally that meant investigating bar fights and alcohol related car crashes – not the most fun thing to do. However, the Volvo carried him wherever he needed to go with no fuss or muss.

He didn’t have it long, at least as his car. My Mom was having a hard time driving the 1800ES with no power steering, and when Lundahl Motors was unable to fit a power steering unit onto it (no room in the engine compartment, for starters), he bought the 245 from the insurance company and gave it to Mom. He received a new company car, this time a silver-blue ’77 Monte Carlo. The 245, seen in the background in this photo from about 1986, just kept on running.

The Monte Carlo was driven until 1979, when it was replaced with a 1979 Pontiac Bonneville. My Dad was not sentimental about his company cars back then, so this photo he took for insurance purposes when it got crunched is just about the only picture of it.

The 245 was a very good car, and it was also the one I rode home from the hospital in. It must have made an impression, because in 1981 the Bonneville was replaced with a maroon 242DL, and my Dad never went back to Detroit iron, save for a Grand Cherokee Orvis edition in 1995.

As for the 245 itself, it was still in its early years in the late ’70s. The 265DL was a one-year wonder, replaced with a more luxurious 265GL wagon in 1977. In 1978, the 240’s flat hood, dual headlights and wide grille were replaced with the 260’s quad lights, domed hood and square grille.

Our featured CC, shot in front of an oh-so-Eugene home by Paul a while back, has the restyled front end so it is at least a 1978, but could also be a ’79 or ’80. 1981 DL models received another mild facelift, including rectangular headlights, flush wraparound tail lights and new hubcaps.

It’s funny that this example has sheepskin seat covers, as our ’77 had them too. I’m not sure if the seams started to split or it was just the fact that the dark blue vinyl got really hot in the summer. Our DL lasted all the way to 1986, when the 1800ES was traded in on a new cream yellow ’86 240DL wagon. That color is the hue my Dad picked for the ’51 356 Cabriolet when it was being restored, as can be seen in the photos further up. As for the 245, it was sold to a friend of my Dad’s who was notoriously hard on cars. True to form, that poor wagon got driven into the ground, although I think it took him a little longer than usual to wear it out.

When the 245 came out, I’m sure even Volvo didn’t know just how long it would endure. With the exception of another freshening in 1986 and a driver’s side airbag added in 1990, the 240 carried along all the way to 1993. It was THE Volvo, and whenever someone mentions how tough and reliable a Volvo is, I bet they’re thinking of one of these. So, Volvo, how about a retro 240 for 2012? I would be among the first in line.