Volvo 240

BUYER’S GUIDE

Volvo 240 Review

Once derided as dull and a bit worthy, the Volvo 240’s unmistakeable looks and distinctive Swedish character are once again being celebrated…

What Is It?

Whether or not virtue signalling was a thing back then, if you wanted to broadcast your right-on credentials in the ‘70s and ‘80s a Volvo 240 estate was the vehicle of choice, preferably with a back window decorated with Greenpeace and ‘Nuclear power? No thanks!’ stickers. Bolstered by Volvo’s dedication to safety, the 240 offered bombproof build quality and understated luxury with a Scandinavian twist, and with it a clear statement you were opting out of the hierarchical, status driven mindset of other premium brands. Something Volvo has successfully reimagined for the modern day, as it happens.

BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar buyers may have sniggered at the blocky, anti-fashion looks and decidedly non-sporting character of the 240 but owners loved it, and it thrived for nearly two decades in fundamentally the same form. For all its supposed fuddy-duddy image the 240 also had its more glamorous derivatives, including a two-door, six-cylinder 260 models, a stylish Bertone-styled coupe and, in some markets, turbocharged performance models inspired by Volvo’s dalliances in touring car racing and rallying.

Corrosive Areas

Front wings, inner and outer

Sills and floorpan

Boot floor and spare wheel well

Checklist

  • To the uninitiated, Volvo’s model nomenclature seems somewhat bewildering, though there is logic to it – based around the 200-series the second digit signifies cylinder count and the third the number of doors, so 242, 244 and 245 would, respectively, be four-cylinder coupe, saloon and estate while 260s are the six-cylinder versions
  • Trim levels are then signified by the letters that follow, generally progressing through DL, GL, GLE and GLT for most of the car’s life
  • Naming was simplified towards the end, when all were simply called 240s – this has since been informally adopted as a catch-all designation for all the 200-series
  • Apart from the earliest cars most 200-series cars use Volvo’s ‘red block’ overhead cam four-cylinder engine in either 2.1 or 2.3-litre form, with fuelling by carburettor or fuel injection according to the trim line; turbocharged cars were available in some markets and provided the basis for racing and rallying versions
  • All versions of this engine are considered tough and long-lasting when cared for properly, though the usual checks for contaminated oil or coolant should be performed and any top-end rattles should be investigated
  • The ‘PRV’ V6 was offered as the more premium choice in the 260 range and uprated to 2.8 litres in 1980 – these later engines are somewhat prone to top-end oil starvation and premature cam wear
  • The 260 was phased out as a standalone model in the early ‘80s, though V6 six-cylinder versions were still offered within the range after this
  • A VW-supplied six-cylinder diesel engine was offered in some markets and considered refined for its type, if not especially fast
  • Transmissions ranged from four-speed manuals with overdrive (later updated to a five-speed) or three-speed automatics, replaced later by a four-speed unit
  • All transmissions are generally tough, though manuals can leak from the rear seal and can be damaged if the oil level drops; if testing an automatic make sure it shifts smoothly and doesn’t slip out of gear or hunt for ratios; 240s are – or were – popular tow cars as well so if fitted with a towbar pay extra attention to the transmission and rear suspension for additional wear
  • Early 200-series cars had round headlights recessed into square housings either side of the grille and reminiscent of the somewhat ungainly Volvo Experimental Safety Car that inspired it; these were replaced in a 1978 facelift with the flush-fitting square lights most now associate with the model
  • Volvo applied constant detail updates to the range over the course of its life, with bigger rear lights, revised trim line-ups and, in 1981, a new dash design with larger instrument binnacle
  • Rear-facing, boot-mounted additional seats were a popular option for the estate, Volvo reinforcing the floor area where equipped to protect occupants from rear-end collisions
  • While better protected from rust than many contemporaries (post-1988 cars gained more galvanised panels) the 200-series has known weak-spots, including the front wings, inner and outer arches, lower windscreen surround and scuttle and the three-part sills; spare wheel wells can also retain water and rot out

How does it drive?

If you crave excitement at the wheel it’s probably safe to say you won’t find it in a Volvo of this vintage. Which isn’t to say it’s without charm, the proven combination of rack and pinion steering, independent McPherson strut front suspension and a live axle at the back all built with simplicity, longevity and toughness in mind.

As proven in the day, with the right tweaks the 200-series could even cut it as a competition car and there’s a small but passionate modding scene based around crazy turbo upgrades, engine swaps and drift car conversions if that’s your bag. Back in the real world a 240 is probably best enjoyed at a more relaxed pace, where the understressed engines, reassuringly substantial construction and thoughtful ergonomics make it a lovely place to spend time.

Where sold, the GT models (later sold as GLTs) did make a tacit nod to more spirited drivers, with beefed up suspension and other handling upgrades.

 What’s good?

Well, if the idea of driving an older car appeals but the lack of safety relative to the more modern ones around you doesn’t the 240 is still a sensible bet on that score! Joking aside, this car was built at the height of Volvo’s powers as a safety pioneer and that single-minded focus has the added benefit of ensuring the 200-series was built to last.

The years have been kind to the styling as well, and what once looked heavy-handed and wilfully eccentric now has functional as well as aesthetic appeal. Dare we say it, the Volvo finally got cool! It is, of course, a very practical classic as well, with tons of space for carrying family and kit while also being relatively simple and easy to work on if you fancy getting busy with the spanners yourself.

What’s bad?

While Volvo did a better job than most of its contemporaries in terms of build quality and rust proofing there’s no escaping corrosion is going to be the biggest potential expense. Common spots to take particular care over include the lower edges of the doors, which can retain water and rot from the inside if the internal drains aren’t kept clear.

This will be obvious enough, likewise bubbles round the tailgate and on the front wings. Of perhaps more concern are areas like the three-piece sills where corrosion can lurk unseen before it gets too late and the front scuttle if there’s any leakage around the lower windscreen surround. Sorting these if it’s been left too long will end up costing a lot.

Which model to choose?

Once you’ve got your head around Volvo’s somewhat confusing naming conventions (see ‘Checklist’ for more) you’ll realise the choice is less baffling than it might first appear, and most of the cars you’ll be looking at will in fact be powered by either the 2.1-litre petrol or the slightly more powerful 2.3 with the differences between them probably not significant enough to lose sleep over. True, late fuel-injected 2.3s have a little more urge and the GLT’s slightly more focused set-up may appeal but, in truth, there are better choices if that’s your priority.

Coupes and saloons have curiosity value of their own but, inevitably, most will consider the estate the definitive body style, even if by the end they only accounted for about a third of production. Given the modernised lines suit the square shape a bit better, you should get the five-speed manual (or four-speed auto) and a few other creature comforts we’d probably err to a car from the mid-‘80s onwards, though really it’s down to personal taste and choosing the best one you can afford.

Specifications – Volvo 240GL Estate (1986)

 

Engine

2.3-litre four-cylinder, petrol (carburettor fuelled)

Power

110PS (81kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque

187Nm (139lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual/four-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,300kg

0-62mph

13 seconds

Top speed

106mph

Production dates

1976-1993 (total production)

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