Prejudice forms early, and in the case of the 700/900-series wagons, I had a serious bias against them from a young age. The luckiest kids were dropped off at elementary school in 740 turbos and were often rather easily defined characters: they had the most expensive Crayola collections, the most elaborately packed lunches, you get the picture. It was a clear case of sour grapes and while I hated crayons and I didn’t know what an intercooler was, these wagons, with their large side glass, sculpted headrests, chunky door pulls and modern font adorning their tailgates looked slick and I secretly wanted one. Even today, they are easily my favorite Volvos and would be my first choice for restoration and personal use.
That the 240s were built for a full year after the 740 left production and continue to be more sought after today shows everything wrong with Volvo’s image at the time, since the more advanced car represents the pinnacle of the brand’s traditional characteristics. A friend once remarked that the 700/900 series were like the 240 with “all the stupid taken out,” and I have to agree. Not only are they safe, durable, fun to drive and comfortable, they were dynamically compentent, well-packaged and plush in a way the their forebears couldn’t manage.
In fact, one could say the 700 and 900-series cars never got the praise they fully deserved. When they debuted in 1982, journalists were quite open in their disapproval of the newest Volvo’s styling and, to be fair, the car left something to be desired when equipped with the PRV V6. The basic tenor of the 760’s reception was along the lines of, “fifteen years for an all-new platform and this is what you give us?”
When looking at early conceptual sketches of the newest Volvo, let alone the new 760’s contemporaries, it’s easy to understand the disappointment.
Even though the wagon didn’t enter production until 1984 (first as a 760, then as a 740 the following year), the final design chosen was conceived first as a long roof, as reflected by its immeasurably cleaner and leaner look. And when fitted with the boosted B-series four-cylinder, also debuting in 1984, they were much faster than the PRV versions, as well as the 240 Turbo.
So while the sedans were seen as stodgy, and the 240-series, rustic and friendly, at least the 700/900 series wagons, especially in turbo form, fulfilled their objective as both a big seller and a status symbol. With Scandinavian modern interiors and torquey performance, this reputation was well-earned.
As any gearhead worth his or her salt will tell you, however, their appeal was multi-dimensional. Far from being mere cultural icons, these ultimate rear-drive Volvos took to modification very well. At 2.3 liters, the four-cylinders were already large enough to offer good torque on their own and were very mildly turbocharged. With their stout internals, they could take much more boost very easily and weren’t hard to turn into rockets. Gothenburg wouldn’t fully actualize its penchant for turbo madness until the 850 came out, but those cars couldn’t be boosted quite as recklessly.
If the engine block could take aggressive turbocharging well, the chassis was similarly well-suited to stiffening. A well-located, judiciously damped live axle rear suspension is arguably better than more primitive independent rear suspensions, and at a time when stability control didn’t exist, with BMW, Peugeot and Mercedes selling cars with rear semi-trailing arms, Volvo’s “Control Track” axle was a great design, eliminating jacking in corners and track changes throughout the suspension’s travel and saving lots of space.
High unsprung weight and soft suspension meant a lot of heaving over big bumps, as with any relatively light car with a live axle, but these cars are a set of springs and shocks away from genuine precision; no need to upgrade rolling stock. And as those sixteen-inch meat-slicers wheels fill out the fenderwells so nicely, why bother? Even at 24 years of age, a nice set of IPD springs and Bilsteins would make a good investment for this wagon.
If you feel I’m gushing a bit too much, I apologize, but I doubt this car’s owner would be any less effusive in his praise. Turbocharged rear-drive Volvos have a devoted following and by the looks of this scene (captured by Paul, if you couldn’t tell) the owner is a well-informed fanatic, with an early round-headlight 242 Turbo to complement this wagon. It’s an ideal pairing.
The slanted grille, front fog lamps, solid headrests and revised dash mean this wagon is a 1991 or 1992; basically, it’s the pinnacle of the four-cylinder rear-drive Volvo’s evolution in the US. 1991 was unfortunately the last year a manual transmission was available, but boost was turned up for 1990, and reinforced side-impact protection (SIPS) debuted for 1992 (1991 was also the only year of the 940 SE sedan, with its elusive combo of independent rear suspension and red-block turbo four).
By 1994, the 940 would be decontented in preparation for its final year of US sales in 1995 (they lasted until 1998 elsewhere). The 700/900 series lasted in 960 (later S90) form until 1998, with many changes under the conservative skin, but most people will tell you that the ones to own are the live-axle suspended turbo fours.
The 700 and 900 series cars were overall a mixed success. Many were built, and many were loved, but they were seen as unimaginative when introduced and coincided with the company’s flagging image as the ’80s drew to a close. For many who didn’t know much about cars, there was little awareness of the car’s well-hidden dynamic capabilities, and for those who were into the image of Volvos as safe, reliable workhorses, there was always the 240 sitting next to the 740s and 940s in the showroom. And to be fair, despite their comfort, solidity and safety, the 760s and 960s didn’t have the refinement or style to really mix with the German establishment and the Japanese upstarts. The wagons, simultaneously better looking and unburdened by the demands of sex appeal, were well-insulated from these concerns.
In fact, it’s really shocking to realize there’s no real replacement for this car in Volvo’s current line-up. The V60 is more of a compact wagon, and everything else is in the company’s line-up is an SUV or an SUV-pretender. The Volvo wagon made it through most of the 2000s with its dignity and image intact, even as its sedan counterparts struggled to make a good case for themselves against flashier competition. There are too many reasons for the Volvo wagon’s demise to discuss here, but it is sorely missed. And for the Volvo faithful, there’s really no topping the 700/900 turbo wagons–it’s the ultimate brick.
Kiwi Robbie Franecevic raced these turbo Ovlovs while straight line fast the handling was likened to a block of flats or apartment block in US parlance, comfortable sure but wallowy when pushed Ive seen him at full noise around now defunct Amaroo park very entertaining to watch amongst the BMW Holden &; Ford Touring cars of the era.
Gush away, Perry. Always happy to hear people react positively to a car despite what Mr Spock would say about an assembly of metal glass and rubber. So, when do you get one?
Nice article and I wholeheartedly agree – the wagons are the pick of the 700/900/70/90 series.
Unfortunately most overseas manufacturers, with the exception of Subaru and VW, jack up their wagons and and stick on the plastic cladding. Volvo sends us the XC70 but sells the much nicer V70 version in other markets – it really is a follow-on to the large Volvo wagons of yore.
Great piece. I grew up in a 2 Volvo family (145, 240) and when I first saw the 7 series body I couldn’t get my head around it. It seemed like it was in another league; so much more than a 240 replacement. Still love its boxiness.
I could never work up much enthusiasm for Volvos despite them being a very good car.I always asosciate them with Malcolm a 47 year old bachelor train spotter who lived with his Mum and Mrs Martin a maths teacher who bored me rigid.
Seeing thousands of them being driven badly and slowly by pensioners in Aussie had a similar effect on me.
Bloody Volvo driver?
A good article as I didn’t know all the details about these wagons. I would guess a 700/900 series Volvo with a manual transmission is now pretty much a “unicorn”?
Another website currently is running a “profile” of this car’s Japanese contemporary: a Nissan Maxima. Folks derided the Volvo for being boxy, but that Maxima makes the Volvo look like an automotive Venus de Milo.
No I would not consider 700 series with a manual trans a unicorn as a good many of them were made with a manual. A unicorn 700 series would be a diesel powered 740 with a manual transmission(or any diesel powered Volvo 740). I have seen one diesel powered Volvo 740 and that was in the junk yard.
Perry, I echo your feelings towards these wagons as a child. Although I actually didn’t really like them all that much until my teenage years, the Volvo wagon was the car of choice among well-heeled and us regular middle-class folks alike.
Usually the mom’s car, the 740 wagon and its successors were truly the status symbol of Milton, MA. Most people usually kept them for extremely long periods of time, from when the kids were in elementary school to high school, when those kids were driving them as their first cars.
Funny how Volvos attract long-term, committed owners. A Mormon coworker had 2, & was well acquainted with their quirks. He handed down his 740 to his daughter.
We came close to getting the 740 wagon, as for example its body design (visibility, doors open to almost 90º), but potential ownership costs (European parts) worried me at the time. Its design holds up well compared to more modern cars, & is much more rational & pleasant than its predecessor.
Boxinesss didn’t hurt the Scion xB either.
The older I get, the more I like these. I don’t think these could get past their styling. While the 240 was all warm and friendly, these were cold and sterile. The styling still does zero for me, but I am starting to understand the car’s hidden charms.
I will take a 240 Turbo wagon any day over these.
I was just contemplating scooping up a clean ’91 740 wagon off the local craigslist yesterday, a clean seemingly rust free example with 175k miles with recent maintenance records for $1450 (automatic, non turbo). But then I realized I need another car like I need a hole in the head. I am enamored by their very sturdy construction and particularly the fantastic rust proofing, as someone who used to spend spring weekends sanding, bondo-ing, and repainting quarter panels on a 1990 Civic wagon, and later a 1998 Mazda MPV, I can appreciate good quality galvanized metal and paint. The simple and accessible underhood layout is awesome as well.
In England, a motorcyclist’s ultimate enemy. I believe, a number of years ago, it was statistically proven that there were more Volvo/motorcycle crashes than any other single brand. And by a wide margin.
I always enjoyed Ogri’s take on the subject.
I once saw a “short wheel base Honda 550,usual Volvo modifications,spares or repair” for sale in our free newspaper
Major perplexity here. Are British Volvo drivers tuned-out & “off with the pixies”? Are Volvos too well-insulated? I sometimes think modern cars are too quiet, this may be a good excuse for loud Harleys.
No, there is no excuse for loud Harley’s. I’m all for people having the freedom to own and drive what they want, but I can’t say I’d miss them if they and their gawdawful racket all magically disappeared.
Agree, often the noise is way more than enough to make presence known. In America, “freedom,” for “liberals” & “conservatives,” often means shoving one’s opinions & taste into other people’s faces instead of giving them space.
You’ve been repeating what sounded suspiciously to me like an unsourced internet meme for years now, so I decided to do some googling.
Nothing like that was statistically proven, to the best of my knowledge. In 2008, a survey of bikers in the UK voted Volvo the most hated brand (28%), followed closely by BMW (27%) and then Porsche (16%), based on their own PERCEPTIONS, not any actual accident statistics.
It’s clear that in the UK Volvos have the rep and perception of being driven by older drivers, like Buicks in the US. And a study of perceptions is very limited but valid on some level, as long as it is acknowledged as such, given that perceptions have a bad habit of being reinforced within a group, and blown out of actual proportions. Think Prius, and the perceptions it has cultivated.
Here’s an article from 2008 on that study: http://www.bennetts.co.uk/misc/latest-news/2009/bikers-say-no-to-volvo/#.VTe-T133-iw
This is how the internet works: “I read somewhere….”
If I may – the pictured red wagon is a ’92. I can tell (as a lifelong Volvo enthusiast) the difference between ’91 and ’92 cars because of the headrests and wheels used. In ’91, the 740s – like my own car – still used the traditional open headrests with see-through slits, just like on the 240s, and in ’92, they went to the closed padded versions as seen on this car.
In ’91, 740 Turbos used a different style of alloy wheel called “Draco.” This one has the version called “Hydra,” also used on the 940 Turbos. Hydras would be used until ’94.
Also, what do you make of the 960s, with the dual-cam inline-6 engines? I’m going to be getting a ’95 wagon this summer – well, it’s already been guaranteed for me by its owner.
Make sure you change the timing belt on that 1995 as if it breaks, then you will be replacing valves and pistons as they will meet in a violent way if that belt breaks. The 960’s have a interference engine in it where as the old red block 4 cylinder engines had a non interference engine.
The wagons used the 16″ Hydra starting in 1990 (I owned one). I believe you are correct in regard to sedans though.
A couple of years ago and only for a short period of time I owned a 1984 blue metallic 740 GL sedan in pretty mint condition.
It had an carburetted engine which, to my suprise, fired up instantly under all conditions, and was quite spritely.
The thing that suprised me with regards to the considerable size of the car was it´s “light feel”.
It did by no means feel like a solid swedish panzerwagen. Neither when one steered it through traffic, nor when one shut the door. It felt…I dont know…it just didn´t feel “volvo-esque” at all.
I remember when the Volvo 740 series cars first hit North American, and in particular, US roads. I remember thinking “finally! Something to replace the Volvo 240 series,” which was still running strong, but was looking dated. I don’t know whether that was Volvo’s intention, to replace the 240, or simply add a different car to the line-up. But it never did replace the 240 series.
I’ve always had a soft spot for these wagons, and as time has moved on, I like them more and more. It’s to the point that I occasionally contemplate looking for a late 960 or S90 to replace the Crown Vic (though I should probably wait until I actually need the extra space…
The 700/900 wagon may be the ultimate brick, but I think a strong case could be made for the V70R as the ultimate Volvo wagon, brick or no. But we can agree to disagree!
One of my co-workers had a Volvo and every 2 years he had to replace the bellows between the filter and the intake. Due to the design, he also could not run the car as it had a sensor that shut it down if there was too much air. He loved the car so much, he just kept buying the parts.
In the SF Bay Area, the dealers were getting $3000+ over sticker for red, turbo, wagons. Other models it was around sticker, but red turbo wagons all the yuppies were fighting over.
I’ve been street riding motorcycles since ’71; Swedish cars and drivers were the menace thru the ’80s. They bought the SAAB or Volvo because they knew they were piss poor drivers and wanted the best chance of surviving the inevitable crash.
In the ’90s it was Subaru and Saturn clowns, then the Prius clowns after the turn of the century. Not enough EV’s yet, but I suspect they will add to the carnage. Females on the cell phone biggest danger regardless of what they’re in.
I used to drive a non-turbo 740 wagon working as a salesman in Volvo showroom in Poland. It was our workhorse – usually moving body parts from our warehouse to the body shop a few streets further down the road and doing lots of small duties in the company. I took it couple of times for a longer trip and it was very comfortable, but totally unsportsmanlike. Soft, gutless and simply boring.
It was a manual version with 4 speed and overdrive switch located o the top of the gearstick.
But you know what – I’d buy one today and keep it forever as it is a totally different product to modern cars. Built to last, easily repairable, forgiving and somehow friendly. No hassle – just comfort.
Old money loves old Volvo wagons.
This one came mighty close in the late eighties, an Opel Omega A Caravan. With a wagon-compartment as big and square as possible.
I worked with a bloke that had a 760 sedan. Being a previous Volvo mechanic, he got rid of the V6 and put in a N/A 4 cylinder. He was very happy with his brick.
Regarding the 240, I cannot see how anyone would prefer the Volvo Feo ©® over these. I’ve seen both on the streets and I’d pick the square 80’s car over the Lada-like one any day.
Loved, loved, loved our 1990 740T wagon. COAL here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-1990-volvo-740-turbo-wagon-in-sweden-they-spell-panther-without-an-h/
It had a great ride, all day lounge comfort, and an effortless wave of acceleration with that wonderful turbo whistle. It rattled a bit like an old bus, but it was a charming sort of rattle 🙂
Wonderful cars, although the red one as pictured seems to be missing the standard accessory of the day: a Golden Retriever named Bailey hanging out in the back. Maybe Bailey hung on until 2005 or so…
When this style of Volvo arrived, The first thing I thought was they were styled by the same guy that penned the Chevy Celebrity!
Had an ’86 740 turbo sedan which my family bought in ’88. It was the car we kept the longest. With a 50 cent “T” in the wastegate line that thing would scream! I ran it at the drag races in the import class and schooled all kinds of Hondas. This was right after Fast and Furious came out and everyone with a Civic thought they had a race car. I remember hearing “WTF, a Volvo!” when I pulled to the line. It ran a best time of 15.2 if I spun up the turbo at the line. If I just floored it, it would run a 17. Up until ’87 they had a Garret T3 turbo with horrible turbo lag, but lots of boost with the waste gate controller. In ’88 they went to a smaller Mitsubishi turbo that got rid of some of the lag.
I sold that car in 2005 with 200k miles on it. It was pretty beat and you always had to tap on the dash to make the fuel gauge work. Good car, horrible styling.
I would have loved to do the CC on the Volvo 740 but after reading this I’m glad Perry did. Didn’t know anyone at CC liked these as much as I do. Well done!
Been looking over three years for a mint 740 Turbo wagon. They are highly coveted and I can’t image what one with low miles would cost if you could find one. Great point about how the 740’s excellent dynamic capabilities where somewhat hidden at the time. Those in the know knew of course but not everyone.
I prefer the pre-facelift front end with the four square headlamps. I love that look and for me the front needs to be upright like that to work with the rest of the design. Quite a few 90+ models have been for sale but it’s really hard to find an 88-89 especially when you want one without luggage rack. Does anyone know if the 740T wagons came in leather? Seems all of the ones I’ve seen have had cloth.
I like the pre-facelift dash and door panels better too but I hear they squeak like crazy.
CC has had some terrific posts these past two weeks. I’ve been too swamped with work to comment or even read much but had to break away to say great job Perry.
I have a silver 1991 940 Turbo Wagon. Nearly 25 years and 250,000 miles old and it’s still a great car!
I’ve had four Volvo Wagons over 40 years. A ’74 145 (new), an ’82 245 Turbo (used in ’84), a ’90 745 Turbo (new) that was totaled — rear ended a Range Rover on the 101 freeway, and finally the ’91 945 Turbo (used in 2001).
After the 740 was totaled, I spent 2 months looking for something to like. I realized I really liked what I had. I guess I was a stereotypical Volvo guy. My daughter saw the 945 with a for sale sign driving down the street, called me, and I was driving it away 4 hours later.
The best one was the ’82 245 Turbo. Certainly far and a way the sportiest and most comfortable. It had a lot of guts and handled much better than any of the others.
The 940 sits in the driveway and anymore only get used to occasionally cart stuff around…
Great write-up! I hope this article endures the ages. I’m in the process of restoring one of these creations. It only cost $500 from the auction which is the good news. The bad news is even here in the rust-free world of Georgia, these vehicles are getting thrown to the crusher due to their lack of parts demand at the junkyards.
Keep up the great work!
Ahh, this is my 745. I love the car. I have since installed e-code lights and a new heater core.
hi can you tell me about 745 turbo ,I am buying a 1991 and can not seem to find a 745 turbo,pleas explain thank you so much,i,m a older lady ,so I just want a car for around town