By on April 14, 2009

I hate the word fetish. It beckons the thoughts of neurotic foot lickers and perverts the world over. I always believed the word “aficionado” was more apt for my liking of old Volvos. It’s true that a lot of normal folks idolize the Porsches and Ferarris that embody the “speed” of the automotive experience. Some of us love the luxuruies of Rolls Royces and Bentleys . . . hell some idolize the Toyonda clones for their high quality and simplicity. In times past I’ve been ‘all’ there. I love the contributions all these manufacturers have given to our culture and our garages.  But these days, I really appreciate longevity . . . and frugality . . . and functionality . . . which is why I absolutely love old Volvos.

An enclosed pickup, hauler of seven, leather, sunroof, seats that you can sit in for hours on end. Throw in a powertrain you can’t kill with live ammunition and lines that exude function and strength, and you’ve got the classic Volvo wagon. When you turn the key the red brick engine gives forth this declaration of, “Vroom!!! I’m there! Let’s go!” That 4-cylinder engine will often be attached to a wagon body that still offers better fuel economy and towing capability than many of today’s substitutes.

Servicing is grade school easy. Most everything except the heater core is in arms reach. And the prior owners? Old Volvos tend to be the most conservatively driven, well loved and well maintained vehicles out there. I can literally count on both hands the number of hour plus conversations I’ve had with prior owners after buying their Volvos at the auctions.

As for the rest of it? Well, I’ll put it this way. Volvo’s of the late 1980s and early 1990s were made to last 18 years on average . . . in Scandinavia. With Georgia having the smoothest of roads and a blissfully rust-free climate, I can probably drive one until the steel wheels finally turn as square as the rest of the vehicle. But as fate has it, I recently needed to use one to return an old favor given to me years ago. This past week I had a grandma trade in her 1992 740 wagon for a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan. It was love. But as with that old Camry I wrote about a week ago, I knew it was time to take the good fortunes of my past and “Pass it Forward.”

Since a good friend of mine knew of a young couple starting out, I decided to sell it to them for $1000 after performing a 200-mile test drive around metro-Atlanta. High quality parts, a gentle hand, and diligent maintenance will hopefully continue to make this old Volvo a keeper car, and deservedly so.

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69 Comments on “Hammer Time: Old Volvos...”


  • avatar
    NN

    I love the simplicity and durability of the old Volvo’s as well. However, I also love the Scandinavian style of the S60’s that have been out for the past 8 years or so. It comes across to me as a beautiful, timeless design. Unfortunately I know they have seemingly lost their durability. What is the rule of thumb when looking into buying used Volvo’s? At what point in time did they decide to put rubber band tranny’s in them? A guide to smartly buying Volvo’s used would be really sweet.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Doing a quick check on ebay just now, for late 80s early 90s Volvos, I see that most have more than 150K on the clock. Some more than 200K.

    Granted they have longevity, but how much? Does it really make any sense to buy a car with nearly 200k on it?

    IOW, what’s the chances of getting one not already used up (the early 90s was a while ago) at a fair price?

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Neighbor’s 3 year-old Volvo appliance has logged more miles on a RORO (Roll On-Roll Off) flatbed then on the ground. POS to be avoided.

  • avatar
    Bocatrip

    My trusty 88 240 wagon had 209,000 miles when I finally threw in the towel. I did so reluctantly, as I loved the supportive seats and the secure feel I had behind the wheel. The engine and borg warner trans were beyond bulletproof. The body was solid enough, but this car was definitely in the category of high maintenance for just about everything else. The heater blower motor was in an impossible location to remove, and they got very noisy as well as losing a speed here or there. The plastics inside would crack like eggshells, and if the flametrap was not clean the rear mains leaked everywhere. Getting on highways or passing was quite frightening with more than 2 passengers in the car. I still miss that Volvo and it never did leave me stranded.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Come on man, don’t be putting these sensible practical choices in front of me while I’m dreaming about S4 Avants…Although if I get a cheap Volvo wagon maybe I can have a Ferrari F355 too!

  • avatar
    davey49

    A 3 year old Volvo is much too plush to be an appliance.
    There’s a 1989 240 sitting in my backyard waiting to be fixed. Won’t start at all now and when it stopped in 2003 it was running rough and would stall out often. I haven’t had enough energy the past few years to try any mechanic work plus I’d rather it was a Ford Ranger so that after I was done working on it I’d have a truck.

    “IOW, what’s the chances of getting one not already used up (the early 90s was a while ago) at a fair price?”
    Probably no chance, just buy a Subaru Forester. The spiritual successor to the 265 wagon pictured above.
    Late 90s to 2006 Camry for a sedan.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    A friend of mine had a 240…was involved in a 3 car accident where the only person who didn’t leave in an ambulance was my friend, who was sitting there smoking a cigarette. The paramedics didn’t know he was involved in the accident until he pointed at his car. He replaced it with a 740 Turbo. Told me not to turn on the seat heaters, lest they catch on fire.

    Is the fuel economy actually good? I got the impression they were about average, 20/25ish.

    Dynamic88 : 200k seems to be average for older volvos nowadays. If leakdown/compression checks out and it doesn’t have a blown headgasket or other obvious problems and the transmission shifts, the car is fine. It’s true–You can’t kill one with live ammunition.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    You are just an afficianado if you have warm feeling in your heart for these cars. If you have warm feelings somewhat south, or combine climax with something volvo related, then you have probably crossed the fetish threshold…

    Just remember, memory tends to overlook certain shortcomings of the past … Case in point: Watch the 5th Gear video on youtube showing an old volvo crashing against a new renault modus, and watch how the old volvo collapses and fails to protect the passengers …

    this is a very good demonstration that fond as we are of old swedish steel, probably none of it is of Boron-alloy high-strength variety.

    if you buy the old car, just remember, it may have been safer than those of its contemporaries, but by today’s standards, it would compare to the Brilliance BS1 or Landwind… (also very interesting cars to see crash on youtube.)

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Why is Sajeev pretending to be Lang?

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I have an `89 240 Wagon with 271k. I live in the snow belt but even that does nothing to stop the car, although some rust is forming on the hatch. I’ve owned it for about three years and it has never left me stranded or stuck in the 20k I’ve put on it. It has its share of niggles though, especially in the hatch wiring, but other than that it’s a keeper, hopefully. Not sure what to do with it while I’m in Germany.

  • avatar
    Jason L

    I’m new to Volvo and I’m really hoping to get at least 100k+ out of the ’09 C30 I just bought for my wife. I loved the styling and so far its been surprisingly functional. At least they did that car right, so far anyway…

    I’ve been a Subaru fan for years and my ’02 WRX has been rock solid since I bought it new. If any Manufacturer was a spiritual successor to the reliable old Volvo’s of the past it’d have to be Subaru.

  • avatar

    So a 740 qualifies as part of the old school? 900s as well?

    I suspect the dividing line is RWD vs. FWD.

    Do the old turbos also hold up well? Drove one a long time ago with a genuine manual+overdrive transmission…

  • avatar
    ReGZ_93

    That looks an awful lot like the 245 my grandfather had. It was the car I learned to drive in. Those cars were so good, my family had four of them at one time. You couldn’t kill them, as long as they had the diesel or the four cylinder. Those 265’s, they were bad news.

    My cousin borrowed my grandpa’s 245 for a semester at college, and got t-boned by a salt truck on the highway. the car was totaled, but everybody walked away from the crash. No bruises found on anyone.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Colin Powell is a huge fan of old Volvos. When he retired they gave him an old 240 as a retirement present.

  • avatar
    ReGZ_93

    Michael,

    In high school my friend had 242 turbo with about 180,000 miles on it. (we weren’t quite sure since the odometer worked sporadically.) The turbo was still strong. He did have a problem with the cat. But we took it off one day and punched it clean.

    His was a manual with over drive as well. Pretty rare for a volvo indeed.

  • avatar
    mgrabo

    I’ve had a few Volvos (90 740GL, 99 870, 2000 XC70) and loved the 740 most of all. I whole heartedly agree that FWD/RWD is the cut-off – Volvo’s character changed completely when the drivetrain layout changed.

    Believe it or not if I were to win the lotto tomorrow, I’d get a relatively clean 240 or 740 (preferrably a brown wagon) and have a 302 Ford V8 dropped in it. The late 80s/early 90s Volvo automatic transmissions were grossly overspec’d for their 115hp iron block mills & the engine mounts were coincidentally spaced identically to those on thee 302 engine block. All one needs is a custom drive shaft fabbed to adjust for the shortened distance between the transmission/differential

    I’ve seen one example at a car show in person – it’s the perfect sleeper with dog dish “V” hubcaps. Allegedly, Paul Newman used to have a wagon rigged this way as his grocery getter to keep a low profile in his cop saturated CT town.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    1984 245 Diesel here. 245,000 on the clock. Seats seven, tows 3300 lbs (albiet slowly), 76 cubic feet of cargo room. 35mpg around town, pushing 40 on the highway.

    Seats designed by an Orthopaedic surgeon, not a seat designer. No finer seat has ever been installed in a car.

    When there are no more 240s, I will quit driving one.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Old Volvos tend to be the most conservatively driven, well loved and well maintained vehicles out there.

    Unless that Volvo was owned by someone living in Princeton NJ.

    I worked on tons of old volvos during college, and every one that would come into our shop would have an engine bay full of leaves, and an interior full of dirt and garbage.

    It seems all the “granola” Princetonite types drove these types of Volvos – but they never cleaned them.

    -ted

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I once had a dream about having a, umm, fetish event with a car.

    It was inconclusive. I remember saying to myself in dream “yes I love it but that is only an exhaust pipe, not a —” and waking up wondering what the hell, why do I love nice cars so much.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Half of the cars in Santa Cruz, CA (the ultimate convergence of college town, hippie town and surfer town) are VW vans. Half of the OTHER cars in Santa Cruz are Volvo 240 wagons. My daughter had one when she was a student at UCSC (this was just a couple of years ago). It came from a friend of a friend and was a damn good $1500 car. We had no idea what the mileage was since the odometer quit at 230K before she bought it. The A/C was AWOL but that is not a big issue in the Santa Cruz climate. It’s amazing what you can stuff in one of them. She was very popular around moving time :-)

  • avatar
    John Horner

    For those keeping old Volvos going, there are several good resources on the net. My favorite is http://www.brickboard.com. Volvos changed at such a slow rate in the 80s and 90s that most parts are still plentiful and relatively cheap. Sites like eeuroparts.com and fcpgroton.com help many DIY types keep rolling.

    The ’93 245 in our family has about 160k miles on it now. The prior owner, contrary to this article’s view, had left a lot of repair and maintenance go unattended to. When we got it a few years ago I spent quite a lot of time getting the suspension, exhaust, A/C and misc. electricals back up to snuff. There are a number of known weak spots which show up in extended running, like the automatic transmission cooler lines which wear through at the aluminum clamp block. But, all can be fixed.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Sajeev you would love to live where I do. Less than a mile from me is an old Volvo scrap yard. This guy has parts going back to the late 60’s and lots of later model stuff two. It would be two acres or so of heaven for a guy like you. My son’s brother in law travels miles every year or so to get his parts fix. Its an old fashioned affair, none of this on line stuff for him. I was told, not by him that some of his largest customers are Volvo dealers all over Canada.

  • avatar

    Sajeev,

    I love old Volvos too, for exactly the reasons you give. They are completely without pretense–rare in the world of automobiles. But I love especially the ones that predated the box style–the Amazon, the P544, and the P1800. Of the boxes, I prefer the 940 and 740, because they have by far the cleanest lines.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I’m a former Volvo 240 owner, two times over. I bought both used, and looked at a lot of specimens before I’d selected the two I had. One was a 1986 240DL sedan, the other a 1988 240DL wagon. Both cars were bought in Florida.

    In the Sunshine State, Volvo 240s will rust from the inside out. Look in the backseat driver’s side footwell. You’ll find these rust out. The condensation drain tube will plug, and the water travels under the carpet, and pools there. It’ll rust through. I’ve seen it happen, oh, 30 or more times. And I’ve not seen it happen, oh, five or six times. That includes my old fastidious friends in VCOA chapters who looked long and hard as well. Mind you, from 1986 on, the 240 series Volvos were all hot-dipped galvanized and, theoretically, rust proof.

    Then there’s the wiring harness. I’ve seen that burn through at the intake manifold, oh, about 100 percent of the time, usually in the 100k to 120k time. That’s also about when the Aisin-Warner four-speed automatic transmission dies. And don’t be surprised if that’s when your “squirrel cage” bearings go south, and your HVAC system also becomes your LOUD system.

    If you could get through all that, and the suspension bushing replacement at about 90k, along with the wear-and-tear items like shocks and brakes, and intermittent speedometer failure, then you’d have a car that lasts. The engines on both of our 240s only needed routine maintenance. One needed new rear main seal, and I believe I had the rear main seal replaced on the other when the transmission was rebuilt. Figure water pump replacement every 40k, and the original plastic radiators only last about 80k.

    But the seats are amazing, the fuel economy is reasonable, and if you were fortunate enough to find sway bars from a turbocharged model at the U-pull-it lot, along with some low-profile rims from a turbo (either a 200, 700 or 900) and a new pair of shocks, you’d have an amazing handling car.

    These days though, that’s a lot of ifs, and all that was about 10 years ago when 240s were as plentiful in the salvage yards as I’m sure Accords are today.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    I owned a 240 I bought new, and it was the biggest piece of junk I ever owned. Left me stranded more than any other car I’ve ever had despite regular maintenance, thorough inspections, and just about every bit of TLC I could ever instill on it. The transmission developed numerous problems from minor (a loose wire leaving me stranded) to severe (had two full replacements.) Lots of wiring and electrical issues- I’m talking total trash here, a vehicle that made old British roadsters look like Honda Accords.

    Also, it handled horribly in the snow. Trading it for my Explorer was the best decision I ever made.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I have a ’92 740 wagon that doesn’t run (I think it needs a new alternator and a general engine overhaul). We put 182K miles on it, and the body and interior are cherry except for a ding on one of the back doors, and a missing trim piece on the back window.

    Currently it’s gracing my garage, where it makes a splendid storage container (that boxy shape really works well in its new role). I’m thinking of dropping a couple of grand into it, bringing it up to spec, and keeping it for my 12-year-old daughter when she starts driving in a couple of years. I don’t think there’s much trouble she can get into with all of 115 horsepower…

    Or maybe I’ll stuff the 302 into it and make it into FrankenVolvo. There is actually an outfit that will do the work and ship it back to you.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @ Rod Panhard…

    In colder climates, the rust hits the floorboards. My father in law lives in Milwaukee, and he had an old 240 that he had to give up for safety’s sake – the floorboards rusted out totally, to the point that if he banged on them hard enough, he could have been driving Fred Flintstone-style…

    Of course, this is the same guy who owned a Jag XJ12 whose throttle used to freeze in the wide-open position when the temp went below 20 degrees. Now THAT’S driving excitement.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    Rod, I believe that the wiring harness issue was resolved by `88. I don’t hear much about people having issues with the automatic, either. Mine has gone the full 271k without needing a rebuild. It shifts fine, I might add. I’m not sure however I know what you mean by the squirrel-cage bearings. Care to elaborate?

  • avatar
    KixStart

    It’s rare for the engine or transmission to fail but, aside from those two components, the rest of the vehicle is of average reliability.

    We loved our 240s and our 940 but the Toyotas have been more reliable and in addition to the engines and transmissions being equal, almost all of the rest of the Toyotas is superior in reliability and longevity.

    If I could find a nice 960 or 940 at the right price, I’d buy it as a keeper but one of the Toyotas would be my daily driver.

  • avatar
    BDB

    Granted they have longevity, but how much? Does it really make any sense to buy a car with nearly 200k on it?

    Old Volvos are ridiculously common in my neighborhood for some odd reason, and I’ve seen several with a bumpersticker that says VOLVO 200k CLUB. So it seems like they last forever and ever.

  • avatar
    AndrewDederer

    Actually you should use fetish, just use it right. A “fetish” is an idol. So Volvos ARE your fetish (whatever verb you want to use).

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Oh! Yeah! Yeah!

    The ones in the mid 1970’s (1-Series, actually) were made by work forces who had 60% absenteeism – and still got paid. Like a harbinger of the GM work farms. Door handles fell off. Mufflers fell off. Oh! They were real pieces of work. But they were dependable and had the best darn front seats on the planet. I drove a 145, then a 245 (4-cyl., 5-doors) in high school and college.

    Fargin indestructible!

    Except for the McNaughton timing gear on the B21F engine (pushrod) that had to be replaced every 30K…until I found the aluminum one @ ipd.

    Then there was the fuel pump positioned so water would collect in the contact well as soon as the rubber boot was shot.

    Good first cars to own, though. Easy to fix. Tough. Well engineered (structurally) even if not well assembled.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    To all those who think that old Volvos aren’t sexy…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fihFOZbwAmc

    The best of the breed from an overall quality standpoint was the 1995 Volvo 940. If you go to the old brickboard, there are enough people who can give you an encyclopedic breakdown as to why this is so.

    I would say that only about a half dozen vehicles from that time period offer comparable longevity.

    1) Lexus LS 400 / SC 400 (nothing tops them)
    2) Toyota Camry / Lexus ES300 (except these)
    3) Mercedes E-Class (W124) (and a few of these)
    4) Toyota Pickup / Hilux (can’t forget those)
    5) Honda Accord (4-cylinders great… motor mounts and V6’s suck)
    6) Whatever Grandma drives…long live the Buick Century!

    I would say that the 240 was very much a bosom buddy of the first two generations of the Toyota Camry (1983 – 1986 and 1987 – 1991). Dynamically it wasn’t the greatest vehicle to drive at the time. But they can literally endure as well as an old Benz gasser if they’re kept in good working order. The Camry was less costly to own but the 240 offered a far more interesting driving experience.

    The 850 was also a great model. If you’re willing to turn your own wrench or know a very good mechanic, they’re actually far better than their RWD brethren.

    All things being equal, my top pick for the ultimate Volvo driver would be a 1995 – 1997 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon. Either that or a Volvo 850R. You get all the space, comfort, and power you need along with 30+ mpg on the highway… thanks to the brilliant trip computers which gave you instant MPG’s.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Had a number of friends who owned the more recent Volvos. All had multitudes of troubles. Volvo was indeed a harbinger of GM.

    Meanwhile, I’ll keep my Japanese cars.

  • avatar
    grog

    Aren’t all Volvos old?

    I say this cuz back in 1983-85 when I was in grad school, I worked at Puddle Car Wash in Boulder CO. *Every* Volvo that came thru always had at least 150K miles on it. It became a running joke over the years. You’d see one spit out of the tunnel and everybody would guess how many miles would be on it. Only the new employees ever guessed under 150K.

    Some things never change.

  • avatar
    AG

    When you start it does it go “vroom vroom the party starter!”

  • avatar

    One of my friends has a ’68 that her parents bought new when she was 8 years old. She and her husband recently got the thing totally refurbished.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Granted they have longevity, but how much? Does it really make any sense to buy a car with nearly 200k on it?

    Two in my household. Got them for the kids when they were in high school.

    1. 1985 245 NA. Bought in 2000 with 210K miles on it. Now has 287K miles on it. Gets 27mpg highway on 87 octane. Registration and license $44/year. Cruises steadily at 70mph. Always starts. Burns no oil. Original drive-train. Can throw anything in it. I could go on and on.

    2. 1993 945T. Bought in 2002 with 130K miles. Now has 220K miles on it. Somewhat of a gas hog (turbo) at 20mpg. Needs 93 octane. Leather etc so can’t throw everything into it. Handles great and quite fast with the turbo. Original drive train. Starts and runs dependably.

    If I needed a cheap dependable car I would look for a normally aspirated 940 (unfortunately they all had autos) or better yet a 90-93 240 with a stick. IMO the red block 4 cylinder Volvos are just getting broken in at 200K. The prices asked for these models reflect that dependability.

    At one time or another I have had American metal, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Datsun. Nothing matches the RWD Volvo for basic functionality and ease of diy repair.

  • avatar
    dejalma

    mgrabo:
    “I’ve seen one example at a car show in person – it’s the perfect sleeper with dog dish “V” hubcaps. Allegedly, Paul Newman used to have a wagon rigged this way as his grocery getter to keep a low profile in his cop saturated CT town.”

    I was at an event at Lime Rock that he was at and there was a V8 wagon in the paddock with the hood up with a 8 in it and a discrete logo change. Everyone thought it was his. This was years ago. I think it was red and the logo was changed to say it was a Volvo 285 (notice the 8).

    My neighbor had a early 80s 242. Biggest POS (next to my 77 Saab) ever built. You could track the car by the dripping oil. I believe he had big electrical issues because the wiring harness insulation dried out and had shorts. He loved the car anyways. His 2 previous cars to that one were a Volvo P1800 which he wrapped around a telephone pole and a 1st year Datsun 240Z. He then moved on the Rabbits and Golfs. The flatbed hauler was a regular visitor to his driveway.

  • avatar
    Garak

    …but by today’s standards, it would compare to the Brilliance BS1 or Landwind…

    I doubt it. As the Modus test was done at twice the speed of an EuroNCAP crash, the Volvo performed actually incredibly well (for its age.) I’d love to see a 240 or a 940 in a standard 64 km/h crash test made by professionals to see how it really fares against modern cars.

    However, here is a video of a modern Yaris vs an old 900-series:

    http://www.folksam.se/testergodarad/bilen/krocktest/krockfilmer

  • avatar

    I’ve got two: a 1982 240 sedan and 1981 240 wagon.

    Sedan has 240K or so miles, excellent compression, burns no oil to speak of, always starts, 30 to 35 MPG highway, 24 city.

    Wagon is being rehabbed, so no history yet but I expect similar… actually, if it burned a little oil it wouldn’t bother me too much.

    The core of a 240 (engine, transmission, body structure) is exceedingly durable. The electrical system is often not, but if you are handy with wiring and electronics, you can get around that.

    The only persistent bugaboo for me so far was a problem with the fuel pumps which stranded me a couple of times. The fix: all new fuel pump wiring (both power and ground) along with an aftermarket 30 amp relay to take the load off of the notoriously flaky stock fuel pump relay: now the stock relay triggers the aftermarket relay instead of the pumps, the new relay powers the pumps and is connected directly to battery power. Ever since then, the car has been dead dog reliable.

    The seats are the best of any car I’ve owned, bar none. I’m tempted to find a boneyard pair for my Econoline.

    Bottom line: if you are handy or have a good mechanic, old Volvos are excellent… if not, you’d probably be happier with a Toyondissan.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I suspect the dividing line is RWD vs. FWD.

    Indeed. Our S70 was a money-draining POS. Sadly, we could have gotten one the last of the S90’s for roughly the same price, but my wife liked the smaller size of the 70.

    I do find it fascinating that to market a sexy car back in those days Volvo had Bertone hack the roof and two doors off their cars. Cool.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    I hate the word fetish. It beckons the thoughts of neurotic foot lickers and perverts the world over.

    Don’t judge me.

  • avatar
    findude

    I’ve had a 240 wagon, a 740 Turbo wagon, an 850 NA Sedan, and an S60 AWD.

    The 850 is the one I like the most and still drive. It also has a manual transmission and the factory sport suspension. The S60 was by far the worst. While the 240 started the fetish, it’s the 740 Turbo I miss the most and the S60 that ended the relationship. I’ll keep my 850 indefinitely, but I’ll never buy a newer Volvo.

  • avatar
    AKM

    If you like the 4-cyl, just try the 5-cyl diesel. My parents have an ’89 740 diesel, and that thing is not only invincible, but has some real pull.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    1) Lexus LS 400 / SC 400 (nothing tops them)
    2) Toyota Camry / Lexus ES300 (except these)
    3) Mercedes E-Class (W124) (and a few of these)
    4) Toyota Pickup / Hilux (can’t forget those)
    5) Honda Accord (4-cylinders great… motor mounts and V6’s suck)
    6) Whatever Grandma drives…long live the Buick Century!

    I fully understand why it is always ignored in these discussions, but my pre-OBD-II ’94 Miata is an uncomplicated, overbuilt little pug. It has never let me down, electrically or mechanically. I finally broke the e-brake cable, but that was my fault for overtaxing it and I fixed it myself. It’s hard to imagine the day when parts will be an issue. I have more faith in the car’s reliability ten years from now than I do in anything new I could buy. The car’s durability and lack of complexity can’t be purchased new at any price. I’m just lucky that my needs haven’t forced me to give her up yet. Growing up is overrated.

  • avatar
    handplane

    Although my two early-nineties Volvos may be been built to last 18 years…in Scandinavia, they actually were assembled in Ghent, of all places. Since I’m in the paradise of Michigan I enjoy a good heater. So I’m happy my first brick was a 740 and not a 240. Replacing the blower motor takes all of about 20 minutes.

    Driving the ratty 740 makes me feel like Elwood Blues, but our 94 850 is a much better car. Leadfoot daughter gets low-thirties on the interstate with it. Yes, it is NA.

  • avatar
    vvk

    240 is absolutely my favorite car of all times. I love the way it looks (yes, really), I love the way it feels, I love the way it drives. Handling is exceptional, brakes are outstanding, clutch is perfect, gearshift is smooth and slick… and durability is second to none. I drove one of these from Philly to Alaska in 2004 and it was PERFECT. They are also extremely easy to work on.

    I own some fairly expensive machinery as daily drivers but dream of a $500 240 wagon with 5-speed and 3rd seat. I wish I could have kept the one I drove to Alaska…

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Damn,

    I was hoping that this article wouldn’t show up until after I found the volvo I am currently shopping for. It is amazing how well these cars have held up compared to other cars their age. Now, if a manual turbo wagon from the early 90’s would just show up near me on CL. The 850’s are nicer cars and possibly some of the the best looking Volvos made, but seem to have more problems and pricier fixes.

    Funny, I have also been looking at the Lexus SC models and the old Merc 190e models. But, I can’t just drop in a bigger intercooler and exhaust to turn up the boost like I can on the Volvo.

    As for Paul Newman, He owned a 740 wagon with a Buick GNX turbo 6 and then a 960 wagon (of which 3 were made) with a 5.0 liter v8 that was supercharged. Of the other two cars, one went to David Letterman and the other to a company in Manhattan.There is an article about this car on swedespeed.com.

    I’ve seen pics of the 740 wagon from a newer owner. That car is badass!

  • avatar
    stevejac

    We had a ’90 740 Turbo wagon whose reliability was so poor that only our ’74 Fiat 128 was worse.

    The car came from the factory with defective brakes. When the computer died the car was totally inoperative, and it died twice. Pieces fell off– I could go on and on. We had bought an extended warranty and in our five years of ownership we figured out that it had saved us almost $11,000.

    I did learn the basis of Volvo’s reputation for safety: It’s hard to get killed in a car that won’t run.

  • avatar
    salhany

    My ’04 S60 is extremely well-built. I’ve put 50K+ on it in just over two years with nary a problem. This is my first Volvo, and I’m exceptionally pleased with the experience so far.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    This sure makes me want to hold onto my 84 760 a while longer…what with it’s turbo and oil pump issue. Still cheaper than a new car, and more thrills when the turbo kicks in…yet no better fuel economy than a modern SUV.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Freedmike, you’re correct about rust and floorboards of Volvos, especially the pre-1986 bodies that were not hot-dipped galvanized. But I’m telling the truth, by the power of Thor’s hammer, in the South, Volvos rust from the inside out and your passengers will go into Flintstone mode in panic stops if you ask them too. Beleive me, I looked at a LOT of cars before I bought my two Volvos, and subsequently, looked at a LOT of Volvos in the U-pull-it lots in Florida and metro-Atlanta.

    Jordan Tenenbaum, perhaps your luck with the wiring harness and Aisin-Warner transmission is different than other folks. So let’s start with the wiring harness.

    The weak point is where the harness connects to the engine. It snakes through the firewall, and attaches to electrical components located above the intake manifold, and below the various items on top of the engine. It gets very hot here, and the insulation on the wiring harness breaks down over the years and miles. Unless the wiring harness was wrapped in some sort of super-duper heat insulating material, then it’s going to break down. But on the other hand, if it’s wrapped in some super-duper heat insulating material, that’s going to be stiff and as we all know, wiring harnesses require a certain amount of flexibility. And in the case of a wiring harness that connects to a four-cylinder engine, it needs a lot of flexibility. To my knowledge, Volvo never addressed the situation through either redesign or warranty. What they did do was make the wiring harness readily available, and obviously reduced the price, and the repair bill got cheaper from costing $700-800 down to $400-600. I had mine professionally repaired for $400, but I know a lot of people who had their post 1988 240 wiring harnesses repaired for nearly twice the price, at nearly the same time. My mechanic in Florida was a “fixer” rather than a “parts swapper” and had done a lot of these. But he also had two “parts cars” that his customers had abandoned over the wiring harness.

    The Aisin-Warner transmission. What can I say, other than I knew a lot of people who bit the bullet and said, “Well, I’ve replaced everything else, what else can go wrong?” and they wrote the $1200 check for that. And you know what? They were correct. Nothing else did go wrong, but only because they’d written about $2000 in checks and there is nothing else comparable to the 240.

    “Squirrel Cage,” a reference to the HVAC fan that looks like a hamster wheel with fins, but cranks with more power than a hamster. A larger, yet friendly in appearance rodent would be a squirrel. I know there was one guy who figured out a bearing replacement for this task. But man, that was a beast of a job to fix, sort of another form of the Sword of Damocles.

    Mrs. Panhard pretty much cried the day we sold our last Volvo. With 1/4 of a million miles on it, her sedan had never left her stranded. We brought our boys home from the hospital in it. She took the proceeds from the sale and bought two very nice lamps.

  • avatar
    paanta

    Old Volvos don’t last forever, but they sure do make it _feel_ like you’ll be stuck with them forever.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    We loved our 240s and our 940 but the Toyotas have been more reliable and in addition to the engines and transmissions being equal, almost all of the rest of the Toyotas is superior in reliability and longevity.

    I’m glad you mentioned this. Enthusiasts have a problem distinguishing theoretical or engineering reliability from holistic reliability, the latter of which being what most people care about.

    Yes, the rear-drive Volvos (and the W123/124 Benzes, and the Panthers, diesel Volkswagens) had a solid drivetrain and stout structure. But the little stuff would still break, and if you’re not mechanically inclined, it would be expensive. Meanwhile, Corollas and Camrys might not be as absolutely or theoretically reliable, but they’re not eating pumps, brakes, window regulators and the like. And they’re costing their owners less, overall.

    The average buyer doesn’t care that the powertrain can last half a million kilometers with regular maintenance, not when a Toyota can do the same at a lower cost, and in the hands of a luddite.

    Still, the older Volvos were pretty nifty.

  • avatar
    Fritz

    If you take reasonable care of your 240 it will last until some idiot takes it out. Then you walk away. None of my 3 240s have had a hint of rust. Perhaps I live right?

    Two of my engines have been CIS based B21FT-ICSs. The 84-1/2 242 was particularly fun to drive. It only got 24mpg on the highway at around 70mph. You need the M46 or you won’t even get that. Our 88 DL with a B230F and M47 is just a jewel. Engine as reliable as a clock with well over 200k miles on it. Heck, everything about that car is reliable. A 5 speed M47 isn’t nearly as strong as the M46 but if you overfill it with oil and shift sanely it will be fine. The car’s previous owner had taken care of it like an adult and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it reach 350K miles. The 88 DL averages 30+mpg city/highway so I hope it does!

    As they are rear drive cars they park well. I always back into parking slots so I can pull away with less risk of hitting someone. A front drive car has a much poorer turn radius. Got a complement about my parking yesterday from a lady in a new Jap. car and I modestly explained that I had an advantage over her.

    If Volvo were to make 240s again, people would line up to buy them.

    They would improve it with a rear suspension redesign and a serviceable blower motor. Hint, read the driver’s manual and you will learn that recirculate is to be used only with the AC on.

    I roll.

  • avatar
    esager

    Anyone have any opinions on the other Swedish icon, the SAAB 900 from the 80s?

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    Grog:

    Right on!

    I went to high school in Boulder in the ’80s, and many of my friends ended up inheriting old Volvos from their parents. I had hoped to inherit a 1977 Volvo 240 sedan from my aunt, but she kept it until the late 1980s and gave it to my grandparents, who drove it into the late 1990s

    Until it was edged out by Subaru, the 240 Wagon was the official car of the People’s Republic of Boulder. I’m almost dead-certain it’s what Alan Ginsberg drove, and I can’t even remember how many of them I helped push out of snowed-in parking places on University Hill.

    They weren’t that good in the snow, apparently.

    # grog :
    April 14th, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Aren’t all Volvos old?

    I say this cuz back in 1983-85 when I was in grad school, I worked at Puddle Car Wash in Boulder CO. *Every* Volvo that came thru always had at least 150K miles on it. It became a running joke over the years. You’d see one spit out of the tunnel and everybody would guess how many miles would be on it. Only the new employees ever guessed under 150K.

    Some things never change.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    At the end of the day, there is only one old Volvo worth discussing:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Volvo_P1800.jpg

    Ok! Maybe two:

    http://bringatrailer.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/1973_Volvo_P1800ES_Wagon_Rear_1.jpg

  • avatar
    Trip

    Steven Lang wrote:
    The 850 was also a great model. If you’re willing to turn your own wrench or know a very good mechanic, they’re actually far better than their RWD brethren.

    All things being equal, my top pick for the ultimate Volvo driver would be a 1995 – 1997 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon. Either that or a Volvo 850R. You get all the space, comfort, and power you need along with 30+ mpg on the highway… thanks to the brilliant trip computers which gave you instant MPG’s.

    Well, after an article and a comment like this, now seems as good a time as ever to make my first ever post on TTAC! :)

    A 1996 850 Turbo Wagon was my first ride, received as a hand-me-down from my family in 2000. Not a day goes by that I don’t realize how unbelievable lucky I got in receiving the MOST solid vehicle I have ever driven or ridden in (BMWs, Mercedes and 90s Toyotas included) purely out my parents’ want for me to be “safe” while traveling. I got it at about 72K miles; now at 145K and still going strong. I don’t see why I couldn’t get another 150K miles out of it. I have an excellent mechanic and my cost of ownership seems to be lowering as the years go by (knock on wood, of course!). I trust the mechanic to do what is necessary and precautionary, and he and the car have proven themselves well worth the investment over time.

    Trouble free transportation in a rock-solid tank of a car; and I have no one else but my parents to thank for it, not having a clue about how invaluable it would become at the time of inheritance. For the hypocrites, you can call it the classic “rich kid” scenario if you must, but I’d like to think if you met me you’d never get the impression, especially after taking a ride with me up into mountains of Wyoming! :)

    I dread the time where I may have to let it go (hopefully never, as buying a new/newer car to get into monthly car payments is about the stupidest thing anyone can do if maintaining their current wheels makes better fiscal sense). It appears that auto design has been on a steady decline across the board for the last 15 years (probably longer) in terms of build quality, practicality and usability, so if it ever comes time to give ‘er up, I’ll have to ready myself for the ownership of something probably a lot less robust.

    Oh well, while it lasts, I know I have one hell of a car.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Anyone have any opinions on the other Swedish icon, the SAAB 900 from the 80s?

    Crap, but well-packaged, comfortable, sporty and really, really fast.

  • avatar
    per

    Owned a Volvo 240 estate since 1984, 200,000 miles later still running fine. Two complaints, bad heater and rear window shatters in very cold temperatures (took four windows before I stopped slamming). As I live half the year in Finnish Lapland these can be major irritants.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Early in 1975, we bought a used 1974 145 wagon. It stranded us four time in the year we had it. Its successor was a BMW 2002. It also had its problems, but it only stranded us once in three years.

    The P1800s still look good. Since they were simpler cars from an earlier time, I suspect they were much more reliable.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Weren’t the P1800’s the ones with the famous fiberboard timing gears or something?

  • avatar
    MSil34

    My first car was a silver ’92 Volvo 740 Wagon with black leather seats. I remember my dad getting it after the Taurus broke down for the umpteenth time. We had to get rid of the year old Acura Integra since we couldn’t afford two car payments at the same time, something my dad (understandably) hated. We apparently got a great deal on it as we actually got the thing in spring of 93, was the last one on the lot of that type. Survived the move from Fayetteville, NC to Fairfax, VA, numerous road trips, and three teenagers destroying the heck out of it. The thing was a tank, the seats were great, even were heated. Despite absolutely no driving dynamics to speak of and a front speaker that would randomly go in and out, I loved that car. Was a great first car to learn how to drive.

  • avatar
    alfabert

    Throughout their RWD development, Volvo learned from their mistakes, frequently overcompensating for the deficiency.

    Early 144’s didn’t crumple enough in collisions to absorb the impact before transferring it to the driver and passengers – all later Volvos had designed-in crumple zones, front and rear.

    240’s rusted faster in most environments than other major components deteriorated – but the 740’s and later cars were designed with far less moisture accumulation and far higher rust resistance.

    745 and 945 wagons had small taillights set too close to the ground. Results included the three rear-end collisions our former 945 absorbed, courtesy of the blind nun (really), the near-blind old lady, and lastly the blind drunk in a Volvo XC90 who destroyed the 945. The drunk, staggering off handcuffed and supported by a policeman on each side, was uninjured, and – gallingly – his XC90 repaired. Too bad he wasn’t in a Ford F150… Thus 850 and later wagons got high and long taillights; later, the CHMSL moved to the tops of the rear windows in the S/V70’s and S80’s, where even a Norm might see them.

    We justly point to the steady Japanese development of a model and a brand – but Volvo did this over time, across all models.

    The FWD Volvo’s are far more “modern” in both good and bad senses -almost enough so to compete in the “near-luxury” market – which now proves to be the market of the undead, and Volvo’s undoing. Would Volvo sell enough reincarnated 240’s and/or 7/940’s to stay afloat? Some SwedishBricksters and a few of the B&B might buy new retro machines at $30K – but only after the existing population of 240’s and 7/940’s is more completely depleted and worn out beyond repair, than it is now.

    I’ll miss Volvo; one of these days I’ll miss my last (real) Volvo even more.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    I owned two Volvos and nursed friends through their ownership experiences of the brand.

    After adding these comments to my experience I think that Volvos real world positioning is:

    Volvo – a POS that you’ll love because you know there is no better car for your kids to learn to drive in – and our seats are great!

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Anyone have any opinions on the other Swedish icon, the SAAB 900 from the 80s?

    All the same virtues (and vices) as the Volvo’s of that era. Indestructable engines, solid construction, confidence-inpiring handling, tons of cargo room (especially in the hatchbacks), but shaky ancillary components. Transmissions are a weak point in the fundamentals, though, especially on the turbos; type-a owners will use a synthetic like Reddline MTL on manuals. Automatics are to be avoided at all costs.

    The other issue with 900’s is to avoid the n/a 2.1l engines (found on post 1990 models); bad head gaskets mostly. Pre 1988 900’s had the e-brake on the front calipers; the complexity of that, combined with road dirt and gunk, would cause calipers to freeze and ruin rotors (happend to me 3 times in 10 years of ownership).

    I find them preferable because of their funkiness, winter handling (unstoppable with a set of snows), sporty demeanor and uniqueness.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    Newer ones are decidedly worse in this respect. Got a very carefully maintained 850T-5R from 1995, with 220k miles and a 2000 S80T-6 with 105k.

    The 850 was bulletproof till around 125k, when the first small niggles stated appearing. It took ten or so visits over 3 years, till they could replace every single AC component to get it fixed, for instance. The first major mechanical niggle was a gearbox sensor for the autobox at 130k. Then more serious stuff happened at around 140k – the engine practically went – the conrod broke on the third cylinder and then most of the rest went rather quickly – i.e. over the next minute, while I was trying to get off the highway and stop. In any case it turned out a new engine was cheaper than fixing it. It has simply lost its reliability since – it’s still fine for short trips but I got stranded several times on longer journeys in spite of immaculate maintenance. A bit sad but it seems about 8 years is the duration that one was really built for.

    The S-80 seems not to have been built for leaving the factory in the first place. I guess the average time between failures was perhaps 5k miles, if that. And some of the ‘failures’ were dramatically dangerous – like the plastic undercladding on the engine (for better aero) detaching itself at around 130mph on the highway (in Germany, where such speeds are legal – to prevent debate on that point). It was in a curve and I can only call myself and the car behind me lucky that it did not hit the rear wheels or the car following, as it would likely have been fatal. Simply lost all trust in the brand since, and all the friends with Volvos have similar horror stories to report. Quite sad how the brand slipped…

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