By on February 3, 2012

Today, the Volvo 760 celebrates 30 years on this planet. Concieved in an uncertain time in the auto industry and launched in 1982, the 760’s various incarnations lasted until the S90 and V90 were laid to rest in 1998.

Like so many great cars, the 760 was built with whatever happened to be laying around at the time.  Cost-effective was the operative word, and the 240’s basic architecture was lengthened slightly, while losing 220 lbs in the process. A 2.8L V6 (the famous PRV motor) was available, as well as a diesel, but the 760 Turbo would live on in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts.

My friend Chris, who took the above photograph, grudgingly gave up his own pristine 700-Series Turbo this summer, for a Lexus IS250. I only got the chance to drive it once, but reveled in the massive turbo lag and equally entertaining turbo boost and the utilitarian nature of the cabin. The 760 Turbo was arguably the last idiosyncratic Volvo (though the 740 and 900 Series carried on its lineage despite re-skins and name changes), with a host off oddities like the self-leveling Nivomat suspension, a turbo boost gauge without any calibration, and the “4-Speed plus Overdrive” manual gearbox.

The introduction of the 850 range in the early 1990s marked the end of an era, as front-wheel drive and transverse engines asserted their dominance in the Volvo lineup. While I’m a fan of the current cars (the S60, XC90 and XC90 are solid vehicles), the old, boxy rear-drivers are iconic vehicles and arguably the heart and soul of the marque.

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39 Comments on “Happy 30th Birthday, Volvo 760!...”

  • avatar

    Having owned many examples of this line, they really are fantastic cars. Sturdy, cheap to run, and very comfortable. Not remotely sporting at all, even the turbos. These days insanely cheap to buy compared to 240s, while being several cuts above in every possible way but ‘cool factor’. I like to think of them as 240s with the stupid evolved out.

    One quibble, while the 7/9XX wheelbase may be slightly longer than a 240, the cars are actually shorter in overall length.

    • 0 avatar

      I adore these cars. I would have bought a turbo WAGON (yes, I said it! A wagon!), but couldn’t find a manual example. I also really wanted my first car to be a manual. Last June, my parents bought an XC60 T6, which couldn’t be more different from the 700 or 900 cars but is wonderful nonetheless.

      • 0 avatar

        Even as a dyed-in-wool hater of automatics, I prefer the autobox with the turbo in the 7X0s. The manual is just all wrong for the car – first gear is low enough to chase squirrels up trees, and the whole arrangement is trucklike and clunky. The AW automatics are really good and suit the car much better.

        To me, the ultimate example of this line is the ’92-94 965. Same tough as nails live-axle underpinnings, but with a modern 201hp engine and one of the best autoboxes ever. Will blow the doors off any of the turbos. Plus a lashing of last century luxobarge interior fittings. I have a very nice ’93 965 as my second car/wintah beatah, 235K and still going strong.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. Chris had an automatic. It was great. I just wanted a manual transmission in general. I have plenty of time to drive an auto.

      • 0 avatar

        Shame you’re not Vancouver side of the country, there is a rather nice looking example here… although looking at the mileage and the price, maybe not.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        The concept of the 960 was appealing, but the repair issues that I heard about on the Brickboard and other Volvo sites scared me away from ever owning one. Seems like an Audi would be a much more sane choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Wider, though. It’s far easier to wedge my 244 between the edge of a parking space and the door of a dimwitted motorist’s poorly-parked car.

  • avatar

    You forgot to mention the best part of those cars – the seats!

  • avatar

    In 1996, I clearly remember sitting in a V90/960 at the DC Auto Show and thinking “ahh, one day”.

    That summer, I used all of my summer busboy earnings to purchase a 14 year old 245 Turbo with 140k on it. I initially thought I wanted a 760 (thinking it was newer and more powerful), but reading more on the poor PRV made me happy I went with the 245. My friends never knew what to make of it, and their parents always wanted me to drive everyone everywhere, not knowing how quick that car really was. An RWD, turbo, stickshift wagon is valhalla.

    In college, after 50k or so, the turbo gave out and some electrical gremlins crept in. I didn’t really have the means to give it due attention. Sold it for what I paid to someone who flew in and drove it off to Florida. After another 100k, he said he still hadn’t fixed the turbo.

    A few other quirky but very fun rides followed (Swift GTi, NX2000, Impreza), but the big RWD wagon desire never left. Moving to Seattle in 2007, they were everywhere. Found a kindly old couple on Mercer Island selling their low-mile black V90 for peanuts. Tan leather, sunroof, headlight wipers… everything worked perfectly. Nothing compares to red block reliability, but the idea of a straight 6 wagon was hard to pass up, even if it was auto-only.

    What. A. Car. It reminded me of my dad’s Panther. Powerful, but glass smooth. Big, but a joy to drive. Incredibly comfortable, classy interior without gimmicks. That may well have been the best car Gotenborg ever cranked out.

    A few persistent gremlins and an increasingly leaky rear main combined with the frequency of mountain trips left me wanting something with AWD again. Wound up selling it to a wide-eyed young Volvo enthusiast for cheap – he reminded me of me way back – and picked up my current Element (boxy, kind of ugly, super utilitarian, reliable, stick… it’s got some Volvo spirit to it!)

    Rose colored glasses are always a part of Volvo ownership… small annoyances here and there that randomly turn into big ones, occasionally expensive parts, and even though they’re DIY-friendly, they’re not necessarily easy. But I’ll always remember those cars quite fondly, despite the headaches. In the end, I think that’s the mark of a great car : not one that just quietly does its job without fail, but one that routinely makes you look past any problems because on the whole, it is just so good.

    • 0 avatar

      speaking of fake luxury… (despite the cheap fake wood, I still think this was a great interior)

    • 0 avatar

      I have a friend who I carpooled with for a semester who drove a 960 sedan at the time, and at least riding shotgun, I was rather taken with the thing. It was a fantastic place to be at 7am in the middle of January. Granted, I was driving a Cavalier at the time, so my standards may be slightly skewed.

  • avatar

    Who would have thought 30 years ago that Volvo would become a Chinese company? I wonder how long it will take for production to be moved from Sweden to China – it’s bound to happen eventually.

  • avatar

    I had a friend with one of these, it was awsome. I was fortunate to own a coveted ’85 240 turbo wagon with the intercooler & 5spd (4spd w OD), great car.

  • avatar

    Weren’t all the 4+OD transmissions replaced with 5-speed for 1987? I’ve been looking at older Volvos for some time and while they seem to be everywhere in Chicago nice ones (let alone manuals) aren’t easy to find.

    • 0 avatar

      Turbo cars continued to use the M46 (4+OD), as it was stronger than the M47 five-speed. Sadly, here in the States, anything from ’90 or ’91 on is automatic (AW70/71) by default.

  • avatar

    I love the 700/900 series. My family had a ’85 760 Turbo, ’85 740 GLE and a ’91 960 wagon.

    The Turbo was a lot of fun – the handling could be a little unpredictable, especially when the boost started kicking in. Turbo lag was pretty big but the thrill when it did come on the boost was fabulous.

    The DOHC straight six in the 960 was marvelous – silky smooth and pulled effortlessly up to 7K.

    The 2.3L n/a four banger in the 740 was a dog in comparison but it soldiered on for well over 200K as you’d expect from a redblock.

    The autobox in the 760T was fantastic, it downshifted almost telepathically. The one in the 960 was even better in “sport” mode. The one in the 740 was pretty sluggish about up-shifting or down-shifting.

    All three were very comfortable and rode well – very nice driving cars, although they were prone to do bad things if you pushed them too hard around a corner. The 740 and 960 had leather and the 760T was velour. The 760T had premium audio and was outstanding for the day. Ergonomics were very good and head and leg room were excellent for a family of tall folks.

    Solid, well built cars that felt better than the Detroit or Japanese offerings of the day. They cost a bit more but you felt like you were getting quality and value in return for it.

  • avatar

    First: Congrats to Derek! His first post with no insults or snark! ;)

    Second: Great topic. Grew up around one of these. Dark gray with burgundy leather, turbo diesel, 4 speed + OD. Those OD switches failed like clockwork.

    Good times, even if I wasn’t old enough to drive.

  • avatar

    I have had many of the Volvo line over the years…544 / 122 / 123gt / 142e / 240 glt and gt
    and now have a basic 1991 740 8 valve non-turbo . It is a great car. Comfortable is the best way to describe it. As krhodes1 states – the 740 is better in every way compared with the 240.

    I wish I migrated to the 740 line much sooner. The trouble is what to replace it with.
    I have test driven everything from Honda CRV, Subarus Legacy, Lexus GS300, RX300 and Volvo V70
    and am unable to find a reasonably priced car with the quiet , comfortable and relaxed ride. Might have to eventually risk a fwd Volvo V70 if for no other reason than maintaining comfortable seats.

    The only trouble with the 740 is justifying some repair expenditures knowing they might be
    more costly than the resale value of the car. But then again , many car owners are faced with
    approximately $3000 / year depreciation , so as long as I spend half that every year on the 740, I am still ahead of the game.

  • avatar

    We got a used ’84 760 for one of our sons. It was very comfortable, and we fortunately popped for the (usually bad idea) extended warranty. Therefore, we could be philosophical about the V6’s appetite for head gaskets. That car undoubtedly contributed to the demise of American Warranty, Inc. The car was traded in for a Dodge Stealth (another V6, non-leaky).

  • avatar

    I bought a 1990 780 coupe that was traded in at my dealership in the fall. It was traded in by a 78 yr old man who bought it new from the local dealer. It was well maintained up until a little while before he traded in with Volvo replacement parts everywhere. Even with the broken Nivos, leaky water pump, and turbo lag man I love that thing.

  • avatar

    I’ve never owned a Volvo but while I was car shopping I had a look at two of them, a 740 Turbo and a 240.

    Both were absolute junk, neither could run very well (the 740 had a bad tranny, the 240 leaked gas very badly), nothing in the interiors worked, and replacement parts are not cheap.

    I’ve found that Toyotas of the 80’s provide around the same durability but with simpler engines, cheaper parts, better gas mileage, more room under the hood, and better build quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      The only 1980’s Toyota sedan/wagon that comes close to a 1980’s Volvo is the Cressida, and those had their share of issues. Do a Google search for Cressida head gasket problems.

  • avatar

    I have a definite soft spot for these old Bricks. My father had a succession of Volvo’s from the 80’s onwards as company cars (don’t ask me why, but he loved Volvo’s until his last V70). From the ‘wonder’ that was heated front seats (hey, this was the UK, not many cars in the early 90’s had that sort of thing), to the feeling of utter indestructibility from riding around in a car which just ‘felt’ like is was carved out of solid steel.
    Out of all of them, the dark blue 740 my dad ran from 90′ until 95′ was the best. It was involved in no end of big bumps and scrapes which would have totaled many other cars (in fact out of the 3 other cars it got into scrapes with, 2 were written off), but the big ole’ Volvo just pushed them all aside. After being returned to the lease company I remember seeing it locally where it is still serving as a paint splattered builders runabout with nearly 300k miles on the clock. Long live the Brick!

  • avatar

    A manual-shift 850 wagon has recently supplanted my ’92 740T wagon as my daily driver after the latter proved too… troublesome… for my daily commute, but by no means do I blame the car – it sat for a few years yet served perfectly well (by and large) with new tires and front brakes, after all.

    I don’t know if I can bear to part with it, though. It really does combine some of the best qualities of the 240 and 850 (having owned both)… the seats, while torn, are the most comfortable I’ve ever encountered, and the driving position and visibility are sublime. If it goes, I’m finding another – sooner rather than later.

  • avatar

    I had a ’93 940T wagon. I’m glad my kids got to experience riding in a wagon with rear facing seats. It was utterly reliable, and a joy to drive.

  • avatar

    Not sure that I would call the 760 Turbo “the last idiosyncratic Volvo,” since the 740 that followed had all of the same quirks, with the exception of the Nivomats. I would say that the 940/960/S90/V90s that followed became progressively more “normal.”

    As a longtime owner of various 240s, I finally (and with some trepidation) picked up a 740 Turbo wagon. For whatever reason, the 7XX models always struck me as being a little less tank-like than the 2XXs, but the fact that this particular wagon was a stick was enough to convince me to give it a whirl. I have to say that it’s a great driver, probably a little better on the highway than the 240 wagon (normally aspirated/slushbox) that it replaced. It still doesn’t feel quite as solid as the 240s I’ve owned, but still a great car and certainly better, from a durability standpoint, than the FWD Volvos.

    What these cars (and the other RWD Volvos) teach their owners is the difference between durability and reliability. No, they’re not as reliable as Toyotas used to be, but they’ll last a hell of a lot longer if you’re willing to deal with the little, niggling faults.

  • avatar

    The little diagonal chrome strip behind the d pillar always bothered me, even as a child. It just looked like the builders were lazy and didn’t feel like doing a proper weld. It seemed to cheapen what was an expensive and well-designed car.

  • avatar

    I always wanted a 760 Turbo wagon. I still remember, probably 20 years ago now, asking my dad what “Intercooler” meant.

    Always loved the first 850 wagons with the taillights that stretched from the bumper to the roof, too. And I was quite envious of a high school buddy’s meticulously-maintained ’85 240 DL sedan, even though the Accord I had at the time was almost a decade newer and a much, much better car on paper.

    I think Volvo really lost the plot when they tried to become more stylish starting with the S80 in the late ’90s. The Ford era did the brand few favors and under Chinese ownership, Volvo is dead to me. What a shame.

  • avatar

    That 4-speed plus overdrive doesn’t take too long to turn into a much more entertaining 4-speed plus or minus overdrive. Engine revs go up and down like the ocean swells. We had a great time in the ’82 245 that had that feature. It got amazing mileage, regardless, and hauled everything like it was a truck. Volvos are some of my favourite cars, until the end of the 850 series, and then they just lose something important. I like the Amazon, PV444, even their earliest cars, like the PV4 fabric-bodied Weymann sedan. What a bad idea, in rainy Sweden. Heeheehee. But these are unstoppable cars, and we won’t see their like from Volvo again.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Always a fan of these especially the 780 Bertone coupe. Offered with the turbo 4 and the PRV V6.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    That was my view throughout much of college. ’87 740 Turbo with the AW71 autobox with overdrive.

    That Volvo was pretty good. I drove it for 40k miles and got rid of it at 180k. It ate a couple overdrive relays that made for noisy cruising until I got a new relay – 3300 rpm on a B230FT at 60 mph is not the epitome of quiet.

    One of the better cars I’ve spent time with. Apart from the relay issues, that car was Toyota like in reliability. All power accessories worked and never gave problems. It never ever failed to start or stranded me anywhere.

  • avatar

    Our family’s fleet has included a series of Volvos (122-S, 2×244, 142, 760, 850-T5 wagon, S60R). The 244’s lasted an aggregate of 13+14=27 years before developing a few relationship-ending faults. The 122 (1966) developed too much rust after 8 years, the ’83 244 had a deteriorating wiring harness; the ’84 244 (inter cooled turbo with OD 4sp) was ready for major suspension and other work, and a 4th turbocharger. The British Laycock electric OverDrive was also a pain — not for actual malfunctioning, but because the pushbutton on the shift knob repeatedly came unplugged. I had past experiences with the same OD unit on my father’s 3.4 and 3.8-MKII Jaguar sedans, which had a toggle switch on the fascia. Less convenient, but foolproof. The 850 wagon suffered a premature demise after 7 years at the hands of an idiot (uninsured, skipped town afterward) in a BMW 740iL who rear-ended it at 30 mph. The S60R is still going strong after 8 years.

  • avatar

    I helped my ex-girlfriend purchase a used 1992 740 turbo wagon (last year of the 740) a few years ago, and without a doubt, the Mitsubishi turbo spools up immediately off of the line. It provides a night and day difference in comparison to the old Garrett T-3 turbo installed during the mid to late 80s.

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