Our Ex-Curbside Classic: 1989 Volvo 740GL Station Wagon – Mom’s Jinx

As anyone who regularly reads CC knows, I have a serious thing for Volvo 240s and 740s of the ’80s, perhaps because I grew up with them. My folks really got into the Swedish cars a few years prior to my arrival, starting with a ’73 1800ES (CC here). I fondly remember riding in the cargo area of Mom’s wagons, well before such a thing was considered unsafe, and I drive a Volvo wagon today for that very reason. And all of the Klockaus’ Scandihoovian family vehicles were reliable to a fault. Except for one.

image: productioncars.com

The 740GL, a lower-cost alternative to the GLE and Turbo, was a new arrival in 1989. Identified primarily by its 114-hp version of the classic “red block” 2.3-liter inline four, it was the entry-level 740, sporting plastic wheel covers in place of the other models’ alloys. Nonetheless, it was quite well equipped with power windows, power brakes, power steering, A/C, manual tilt/slide steel sunroof, heated seats and an AM/FM ETR stereo cassette system with 20-watt amplifier.

One day, Mom picked us up from school in a brand new wagon. I was shocked, because in the Klockau household a new car purchase was generally planned well in advance, and usually our cars were ordered, not selected from Lundahl Volvo’s inventory. But Mom had taken her cream yellow ’86 240DL wagon in for service, and while killing time, had seen this 740GL wagon in the showroom. It was wine red with a tan leather interior and a roof rack, and she just had to have it. In short order, the 240 was traded in and the GL delivered.

One thing Mom didn’t like about her new wagon was its rather plain, silver-plastic wheel covers. Once a set of lacy-spoke BBS-type alloy wheels, as shown on this ’90 780, had been dealer-installed, the wagon was ready for years of service–or so we thought.

The wagon was purchased shortly before Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t long before we started having issues with it. My most vivid memory is of Mom driving the new car to the day-after-Thanksgiving sales just one or two days after it had been delivered. About halfway to her destination, the car just quit, and Mom could not get it started. This was before cell phones, so she simply walked back home and informed my father that he needed to go retrieve it. Keep in mind that this was a brand-new car, with maybe about 50 miles on it. To say that Mom was ticked at that car would be a major understatement.

I believe that wasn’t the only time it decided to take a non-authorized coffee break, but it certainly was the most memorable, and it set the tone for the rest of its time in our driveway. Our house had a meandering flagstone walkway to the front door. Towards the street, two small trees flanked the walk, then a couple of steps, and then the final few feet of walkway. Surrounding the curbside and going around the corner was a bed of decorative stones and small shrubs that ran about 25 feet, with perhaps three, four or five large lava rocks situated along its length. Somehow, Mom managed to hit one of those big-ass lava rocks with the GL the following year. I still remember the scrape along the side of the front spoiler,  but it actually didn’t hurt the car too badly. Good thing lava rocks are light!

One morning, as we were backing out of the garage, Mom scraped the side of the bumper. Then, as she pulled forward again, she bumped into the rear bumper of Dad’s 740 Turbo. Dad saw it happen, and we all got out to look at his newly pushed-in bumper. He stared at it a minute and kicked it, and it popped back into shape with no damage. Being nine years old at the time, I thought it was hilarious. Mom didn’t.

Another time, Mom and I were backing out of a parking lot in that car when she hit a telephone pole dead-center. It should be noted that my mother was a good driver, and usually not given to clumsiness when behind the wheel. This car changed all that. Was this particular car, or simply Mom’s frustration with it, responsible for the sudden mishaps?

Whatever was going on, Mom took to calling it her jinx. It wasn’t the Volvo, the 740, or even the wagon; it was “The Jinx.” Once she’d finally had enough of that car, she complained to Dad, Dad complained to Mike Lundahl, and Mike Lundahl realized he was going to have to do something about it. The Lundahls were not just the Volvo dealer, you see. They were also close friends with my folks (Mike and Dad graduated from high school together), and they all had many friends in common. He knew he was going to do something about it!

I don’t know whether Volvo bought back that car or Mike just gave Dad a really good deal on its replacement, but the Friday before Easter of 1990, Dad picked us up from school in a beautiful navy blue 740GL wagon with a saddle tan interior. It was a surprise for Mom, and us kids thought it was pretty cool. All of Mom’s previous Volvo wagons had been as reliable as the sun, and the 740 Jinx had been a real thorn in her side. As you can see in the photo above, the nice alloys from the ’89 made it to the 1990. She kept that one until we kids got too big for a wagon, when it was traded in on a 1992 Grand Caravan ES. And once “The Jinx” had departed, Mom’s driving went back to normal too. There were no further motoring mishaps.

I was reminded of all this a few months ago when I spotted this ’89 GL, in Moline. At first I thought it could have been our car. The front seats were cloth, but the back seat was leather, suggesting the original leather buckets were swapped at some point. After showing her these photos, Mom reminded me that hers had the roof rack, meaning that this car isn’t “the one.”

Considering the trouble she had with that car, I would guess it’s no longer on the road, but who knows? This one was quite solid. The Torrance, CA front license plate frame suggests it was originally a California car, which would account for the solid sheet metal. Volvos were (and are) rustproofed really well, but after 23 Midwestern winters, even a Volvo would show some oxidation–unless it had a borderline OCD owner like me!

Over the years, my immediate family has owned about 14 Volvos (and counting). That ’89 was the only trouble-prone one. Why, I have no idea.