(first posted 5/31/2014) “Character. Grounded in substance not rhetoric, character is earned not claimed. As with people, so too with automobiles, character reveals itself, slowly, over time through a demonstrated commitment to a defining set of ideals. Gustaf Larson and Assar Gabrielsson founded Volvo on the core values of quality, durability and reliability. The harsh Scandinavian environment demanded it. Our Volvos delivered it.” So began the 1993 Volvo Sedans brochure, the very last brochure in which a good, old reliable friend, the 240 Series, would make its last stand.
Yes, the end of the era of the rear-wheel drive, boxy Volvo was just starting its several-year process, and the 240 sedan and wagon, the mainstays of safe, level-headed folks in Göteborg, Toledo or Vancouver were ending production. If you wanted solid mechanicals, comfortable seats and a lot of usable space, this was your last chance to hurry on down to the local Volvo dealer and snap one up.
It really is remarkable how long the 240 lasted. The very first one came out of the factory gates in mid-1974 as a ’75 model, and even that car was a refresh of the 140 Series which dated to 1966. Despite having its roots in the late-’60s and mid-’70s, the 240 remained a very safe car, and these final 240s also had anti-lock brakes and a driver-side airbag in addition to its many other safety features.
Even in its final iteration, the 240 was a rather simple machine compared to some of its contemporaries, but still quite comfortable, with those famous orthopedically-designed bucket seats! They could be fitted with seat heaters as an optional extra, but final 240s were well equipped compared to just a few years earlier, with CFC-free air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with 4 x 20W amplifier and four coaxial speakers, power antenna, power windows, central locking, heated power mirrors, and a rear window defroster all fitted as standard. A tool kit was also included! A normally-aspirated, 114-hp 2.3L inline four provided motorvation, as had been the case in all 240s since the discontinuation of the 240 Turbo after the 1985 model year.
The luxury GL had been discontinued after 1989, with only the 240DL appearing for ’90. Then, in 1991, the 240 became just “240,” with no DL or GL suffix. But then the GL surprisingly reappeared alongside the plain old “240” for the 1992 model year, complete with power windows and leather upholstery. To say that this jumbling of models and equipment from year to year was totally confusing would be an understatement! I’ve no idea why this hither-and-yon was undertaken, unless someone in Volvo marketing had gotten a little too far into the Akvavit supply…
Confused yet? Good! Me too! But by 1993, all the craziness had died down, and you had your choice of the 240 sedan or 240 wagon. Of course, dealer-installed accessories were still available, which included things like rubber floor mats, CD changers, and fog lamps. The lacy-spoke wheels seen on our featured CC were just one of several factory accessory alloys available–and much more attractive than the standard full wheel covers.
Inside, the 1993 cabin was much like the 1983 cabin, and not too drastically different from the 1973 144. But the chair-height seats and ample glass area were welcome. And space around you too–no gigantic console to make you look like you’re sitting alongside a kayak, for instance.
Did I mention glass area? Well, I’m going to again. Attention car makers. I do not want loophole-style windows on my 2014 automobile. I want lots of glass, so I can SEE! If I can see, you will not need to put a bunch of stupid, temperamental cameras all over the car like chicken pox, because, ya know, there will be GLASS! GLASS, to SEE out of! Get it, idiots?! Good. Now where was I?
Ah yes, the 240. So, why was such a tried-and-true workhorse like this being put out to pasture? Well, it was getting a little long in the tooth, and upcoming crash standards as well as soon-to-be mandatory passenger-side airbags were going to not be the easiest things to add to the venerable Volvo, and in addition, it had a replacement waiting in the wings: the front-wheel drive 850GLT. While the 850 was larger and more expensive than the never-available-in-the-U.S 400 Series, a lot of the FWD engineering–going all the way back to the Daf acquisition–from it was utilized. It essentially replaced the 240 in the North American lineup. Though the 850 was a bit more upmarket car in the States, detrimmed 940s took up the slack between a loaded 850GLT and the outgoing 200 series.
While perhaps not as common as they are in Oregon, there are still many 240s in the Quad Cities, but a fair number of them are worn-out kidmobiles, given to Junior when he goes off to college. But I was struck by the excellent condition of this emerald-green one downtown in May of 2013, and had to stop. It is not perfect (note the missing trim below the grille and headlights), but it is very, very nice, and probably in the top 10% of QC 240s condition-wise.
Plus, I love the wheels, though they may not be the easiest to keep clean, with all those little recesses. I recently saw the car in traffic, and a man in his 60’s was driving it. I am sure he bought it new, just as I am sure the car will be there for him as long as he needs it!
As I walked back to my own V50 wagon, I was struck by how much Volvo changed between 1993 and 2003. No more RWD, no more boxy shapes and staid styling. Now it’s all about styling, and dash, and turbo everything. I like my wagon very much, but I will tell you this: I’d like it a lot more if it looked more like one of these 240s.