(first posted 8/18/2016) Although I virtually exhausted myself of everything I could possibly say regarding the Volvo 900 Series earlier this year, this 1993 Volvo 940 sitting all alone on the outskirts of one of the South Shore Plaza’s parking lot presented the ideal photo op, as if it were posing for a CC photo shoot. The car along with the location also brought a wave of nostalgia over me, as these Volvos were seemingly the quintessential vehicle of my hometown, and the South Shore Plaza was my local indoor shopping mall, and someplace I rarely visit in this day and age.
Produced for nine models years (1990-1998), the Volvo 900 Series was essentially a re-engineered and mildly restyled version of its predecessor, the 700 Series, which first went on sale in 1982. 900 Series cars featured more aerodynamic sheetmetal that included rounder quarter panels and bumpers, a higher deck lid, and a new roofline for an ever-so less boxy look. It could just be this car’s color combination and wheels, but there is something highly classy and dignified about the 940’s clean lines and overall simplicity.
Perhaps those very qualities are indicative of why Volvo was the default choice in vehicle for so many residents of my childhood hometown. Elegant and luxurious, yet understated and unpretentious, owning a Volvo was a sign that one was comfortably middle-class or even wealthier, but didn’t need a three-pointed star or wreath-and-crest to display their wealth. Of course in doing this, Volvos themselves became somewhat of their own status symbol among the Milton elite, and for this reason alone, my own mom never warmed up to Volvo during the time that we lived there. But I digress.
Much like the 740 and 760 before, Volvo’s largest car was divided into two model ranges, the 940 and 960. The higher-end 960 received a few more upgrades over the years, including a new modular 2.9L inline-6, redesigned interior, and revised exterior styling, while the 940 made greater use of existing 740 engines and other components throughout its tenure. Wagons further made use of 700 Series parts, staying mostly true to original form through the 900 Series’ end.
All 940s were powered by one of three versions of Volvo’s 2.3L “Red Block” inline-4. In base form, this engine was a single overhead camshaft design, producing 114 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque. Available for 1991-only was a dual overhead cam, 16-valve version, making 153 horsepower and 150 lb-ft torque. 940 Turbos added a turbocharger to the former, bringing output to 162 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.
The turbo was clearly the choice for those who wanted a bit more pep in their unassuming Swedish box, bringing zero-to-sixty time down to 8.8 seconds, tying it with the 960 as Volvo’s quickest large car. Although other European cars of similar size offered greater performance (in both raw power and handling characteristics), Volvo has rightfully never marketed itself as a performance brand, even in more recent years with its R-Design and Polestar-tuned models.
As with the later-year 740 and 760 models, respectively, some North American-spec 940s featured a blunter, more vertical nose, while the 960 used a slightly more backswept nose, with the headlights extended inward to meet the grille, resulting in the main visual difference between 940 and 960 models. Of course, Volvo made things a bit confusing for 1993 and 1994, when 940 Turbo models used the 960’s front end design, while regular 940 used the blunter design after 1992, bringing it more in line with the new 850.
Despite this, differences between the 940 and 960 were marginal, and 940s could be equipped to the same levels of luxury as the 960, although this wasn’t usually the case. As the “entry-level” big Volvo, 940s were much more commonly found with cloth seats and black interior trim (like this previously featured 940 wagon), and not leather and wood trim.
However, this car doesn’t just feature woodgrain trim on the dash, but wood veneer door inserts in the place of the usual cloth — something I’ve never seen on a U.S.-spec 940 before, and only in pictures of European-spec 900 Series. Note the screw holes and indentation left by the now removed cellular “car phone” – #throwbackthursday.
Rear seat passengers were treated to similar levels of comfort as up front, although leg room does look a little tight from this angle. The sheer amount of glass, a result of the low beltlines and upright greenhouse, dates this design back to the 1980s as much as the car’s boxy shape does. Seriously, those beltlines are so low that it almost (almost) makes a case for rear opera windows for a bit more privacy.
The 940 was quietly dropped from Volvo’s U.S. lineup after 1995, now that the smaller 850 had comfortably settled in. Along with the 960, which was facelifted for 1995 and remained being sold in the U.S., 940 and 960 production continued through the 1998 model year (being renamed “S90” in its final year). By this point, over 1.5 million 900 Series cars had been produced since 1990, adding to the 700 Series cars’ production of over 1.4 million, for total production of just under 3 million cars between 1982-1998. With its discontinuation, the 900 Series officially marked the end of over 70 years of rear-wheel drive passenger cars for Volvo.
As a result of their sheer omnipresence, staid styling, and the fact that no one under the age of 40 seemed to own one, I never had much appreciation for these cars as a kid. But in more recent years I’ve grown to develop a certain fondness for these simple Swedish boxes, and finding a true gem like this one gives me some greater insight as to why these were such an “it car” with upper-middle class Bostonian suburbia in the 1990s.