Psychologists probably have many fancy terms for a person who has an obsessive aversion to buying new cars on a regular basis, while others may refer to such people as traditionalists, diehards, or just plain old fashioned. Here in the automotive milieu, we call them Volvo 240 owners. Between 1974 and 1993, Volvo made over 2.6 million 240s, many of which, thanks to their reliability and owner loyalty, are still traveling roads all over the world. High mileage doesn’t deter 240 drivers and there are documented 240s that have traveled over one million miles – the equivalent of forty times around the Earth.
Volvo drives safety to the forefront
Beginning in the mid-1960s, safety moved to the forefront of automotive design, particularly in the United States, where the government began drawing up comprehensive standards for automobile safety. While many auto manufacturers struggled to comply with the proposed government mandates, Volvo stepped forward as the safety leader with the introduction of the 144 model in 1966. With a comprehensive list of safety features, such as disc brakes all around, three-point safety belts, and dual braking circuits, the 144 complied with U.S. safety regulations even before they were made public.
Not a company to rest on its laurels, Volvo introduced the Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC) at the Geneva Motor Show of 1972. A concept car with ideas Volvo believed were necessary to meet the next generation of safety standards, the VESC had a structurally reinforced body, airbags for front and rear passengers, headlamp washers and wipers, anti-locking brakes, and semi-passive safety belts. The VESC was visually characterized by the pronounced protruding front and rear bumpers, and the rearwardly tilted front grille.
VESC influences Volvo’s longest-lasting model
When it came time to design Volvo’s replacement for the 140 Series and the 160 Series, the design team looked directly to the VESC for inspiration. Not all of the VESC’s features were ready for production, but the new 200 Series, including the 240 and the 260, took advantage of Volvo’s advanced thinking to keep them at the forefront of automotive safety. Introduced in the fall of 1974 as a 1975 model, the new 240 was characterized by a visual resemblance to the VESC, particularly the front fascia. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the VESC carefully and purchased several new 240s to use as guides for refining U.S. safety regulations.
The 240, Volvo’s longest-lasting production model ever, was originally available in the United States in three different models, the 242, 244 and the 245, each with a variety of trim options. In Volvo’s product code, the first number represented the series, in our case the 200 Series, the second number represented the number of cylinders in the engine, and the third digit was the number of doors, a two-door, four-door, or the station wagon with five doors. Volvo kept this identification system until the early ‘80s, when the numerical designations were dropped. In 1986, the numbers reappeared, but all models from 1986 on were identified only as 240s regardless of the engine type and the number of doors.
What’s it like to drive a Volvo 240?
Volvo 240 drivers never have to worry about responding to comments such as, “Wow, what a cool car!” Despite their most expensive aviator sunglasses and their best Steve McQueen imitation, 240 drivers will never be thought of as “cool.” Volvo 240 drivers have adopted a sense of humor about their chosen vehicle and don’t take it, or themselves, too seriously. The square, boxy look of the 240 seems to inspire failed attempts at humorous comments from friends and strangers alike. Owners of that “other” Swedish car can be particularly irritating when they comment about your 240, “That looks like the box my Saab came in.” Volvo owners have learned that it’s best to give the commentators their best Alfred E. Neuman “What, me worry?” grin and drive off.
Road & Track tested a 1975 Volvo 242GL back in the day and found it to be a very comfortable long-distance cruiser, but its sluggish performance detracted from the enjoyment of city driving. Weighing in at 3,090 pounds and with the four-cylinder engine producing 94 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, the 242 “hustled,” or more appropriately “sauntered,” from 0 to 60 mph in 14.2 seconds and covered the quarter mile in 20 seconds with a terminal speed of 70 mph. Certainly not earth-shaking performance, but the 242 offered legendary solidity, ample interior room for five adults, and a cavernous trunk. The ride is a little “floaty” compared to other European cars, but the handling is crisp and the steering is very responsive, according to the website Ran When Parked. Surprisingly, Ian Rothwell of Ran When Parked commented after driving a 240, “What is most unexpected is how much you can actually find yourself enjoying driving the car.”
Popular Mechanics chooses Volvo 240 ahead of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz
That’s right, Popular Mechanics (PM) magazine selected the 1975-1993 Volvo 240 as the all-time best on its recent list, ahead of such cars as the 1991 BMW M3, the 1983-1984 Audi Quattro, and the 1991-1994 Mercedes-Benz 500E. It was a list that the 240 was uniquely equipped to win – The 25 Greatest Boxy Cars of All Time. Other cars that succumbed to Volvo’s squareness were the 1985-1987 Bentley Turbo R and the 1993-1997 Land Rover Defender.
It was also Popular Mechanics, in celebrating road vehicles that have traveled a million miles or more, that honored well-known Volvo owner Irv Gordon and his 1966 Volvo P1800 that have, so far, racked up over three million miles. Driving a million miles is difficult to relate to, since so few of us have ever accomplished it. To put it in perspective, PM calculated that it was equivalent to driving forty times around the Earth, which at a speed of 60 mph would take two years.
Should you wish to try and make the trip, be aware that PM’s time estimate probably didn’t include time for paying tolls or bathroom breaks. Good luck!
Volvo Owners Club – https://www.volvoclub.org.uk/history/history_70s.shtml
Ran When Parked – https://ranwhenparked.net/2009/07/08/road-test-1981-volvo-dl/
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_200_Series
SwedeCar – http://www.swedecar.com/volvo_history.htm