By on May 17, 2014


I love old rear wheel drive Volvos.

The way they all start up with that trademark two to three cranks right before the engine begins the never-ending combustion dance. The smell and feel of that interior. Filled with every noxious petrochemical substance known to man between 1986 and 1995.

I even love the fact that they seem to be hopelessly underpowered in the eyes of some. Fools that they are!

Yet us brick enthusiasts, the enlightened ones, know damn well that they will endure in the only race that really matters. Time… and they’re damn good at towing too. And hauling. And seating the family, And sleeping in. And razing from the near-death of abusive prior owners.

To be blunt, I bid on nearly every one that I find at the auctions. Except these days I can’t seem to find them. The youngest of ye olde progeny is now a 1995 Volvo 940 which, at 17 years old, is legally able to drive itself.

The 960/S90/V90 comes with a white block engine that isn’t quite as authentic in the classic Volvo driving sense as the red block 240/740/940.  Yet when I see one come across the block, if it’s good, I’ll usually bid on it too.

It’s hard for me to say goodbye to an old Volvo. How about you? Is there an old model out there that makes you rubberneck a good ninety degrees or so if you see it for sale on the road somewhere? A W124 wagon perhaps? An old Celica?

What model tickles the nostalgia bone and tries to find any way into your wallet?

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62 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Weakness...”

  • avatar

    Our local independent SAAB/Volvo shop has a small fleet of these as loaner cars. Recently my daughter had her 9-3 in for service & came home in a 240. “I really want one of these” was her comment.

    • 0 avatar

      My local Volvo indie does the same thing (shout out to Voltech) and I always hope to get a nice 240/960 but I usually wind up in a clapped-out first gen S60.

      It’s fine though, I’m happy to have something to drive for the day.

    • 0 avatar

      Friends had one of these. Slow (and I had a diesel Mk1 rabbit). Still, as close to a permanent car as you will ever find. The front driver’s seat wore out. They could not find one anywhere else…every car in the junkyard had a blown out front seat.

  • avatar

    S197, or 2005-2009 Mustangs do it for me. Especially if I see one in what was called “Redfire Metallic”, I get a little misty-eyed for my 2006 Mustang.

    I also do that for almost every Nissan/Datsun Z that I pass on the road. There have been many of them in my family.

    • 0 avatar

      I am one of the Z watchers, too. Even the unloved ones, which were much better cars than the cognoscenti would have you believe. The first and last editions (240-300) are classics by any definition. Add the rear drive sedans from Datsun and Toyota like the 510, 810-Maxima and Cressida. They are rare sightings, but usually going strng at 200k miles plus. The original Celica must be extinct. I haven’t seen a GT or ST for years.

  • avatar

    E46 wagons (at least I think that’s the code). The perfection of the 3-series, except for BMW’s unwillingness to offer the three liter engine with the wagon.

    I had a 2004 with a stick. If BMW still made that car, I’d probably own a new one by now, but the replacement just did not do it for me from a size and engine standpoint.

  • avatar

    Volvo 850 Turbo (i’m on my second 850, neither have been a turbo sadly)
    Saab C900 and 9000 Aero
    Merkur XR4Ti
    V6 Alfa’s
    I6 Toyota cars

  • avatar

    My parents had a 1995 960 (first year of the “refreshed” model which was slightly more rounded). I loved that car. The inline six was powerful, it was smooth and quiet, and it had a nice RWD feel. The S80 Volvo replaced it with just doesn’t feel the same.

    • 0 avatar

      My late father’s last car was a ’95 940, slushbox. The 4 cyl was not at all powerful, but you could really flog it and it wouldn’t complain. I was surprised when I first drove that car that I liked it so much. My nephew still has it, and it has close to 200k.

  • avatar

    And so you should [ love those RWD Volvo wagons ] Do a Paul Newman /David Letterman … stuffing a Turbo V8 in its snout and you’ll love it even more

  • avatar

    Pre-2000 H/C bodies, good condition A-bodies, and larger K-car derivatives.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    For me, it’s the 1995-99 Buick Riviera…especially if the paint and clear-coat aren’t peeling.

  • avatar

    For me personally, it’s the 1994-1999 Cadillac Deville. The ride and seats are so smooth and comfortable, it’s amazing. I am sure the peanut gallery has some comment on the Northstar V8, but I think the engine is much better in real life than the Internet. The whole car is about smoothness with V8 power and the slickest 4speed auto ever made.

    I will say that quite a lot of older Volvos were underpowered. I test drove some in the mid 90s in CO and I was not impressed with their performance at altitude.

  • avatar

    That 740 looks exactly like mine! Except I have the plastic wheel covers over steel wheels.

    Mine is a 1991. Great car, tough yet extremely comfortable. I have the 5 speed M47 so the power deficit is not as painful as with an auto. I’m closing in on 234,000 miles. The engine consumes zero oil even at this mileage.

    It’s funny this was posted today. These past couple weeks I have been considering selling it to purchase a new Tacoma. I am having a tough time with the decision process. I think that alone says something. A car from 1991 is still holds a lot of advantages over a new 2014 truck.

    Sometimes the small things wear on me. The peeling weatherstripping in the back windows, the aluminum rain gutter oxidizing (Even though I think its just pop riveted in 3 spots. A cordless drill and an hour at the junk yard could yield a replacement.) and the dead passenger seat heater make me just want to sell it. I am pretty mechanically inclined but these repairs are far more obsolete to research a fix and I hate seeing such a nice car degrade right in front of me. This is what leads to the want for a new vehicle… But then again it is such a quiet, comfortable and cheap car to own.

    Maybe ill give it a good wash and wax today and see how I feel after.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Must you sell it? I don’t know how much these Volvos fetch, but if you wouldn’t get very much for it and you’ve got the space, why not keep the brick *and* purchase the Tacoma? It seems like such a nice car, and it’s doesn’t seem to be disintegrating before your eyes like most almost-twenty-year-old European cars (my 1997 Jetta VR6 included).

  • avatar

    Mark IV Golfs… First car I ever paid off, first car I truly fell in love with. I always feel a pang of longing when I see one.

    And yet I’m too terrified to ever buy another VW, even though that one lasted 9 years before death by Bambi.

    • 0 avatar

      My weakness is all GTIs, regardless of generation. I started with a MK I and drove it for 10 years. Seriously considered a Mk IV R32 but got an Evo instead. Returned to the fold with a Mk V GTI (flawless), Mk V R32 (loved that car, but had problems with a chronic Check Engine Light that VW couldn’t fix), and now drive a Mk VI GTI (one minor issue in four years — a broken lock switch replaced under warranty). I’m looking forward to the Mk VII, particularly the R version.

      The point is, don’t be scared off by the “all VWs are maintenance nightmares” crowd. In my decades of experience with the VW brand, only the R32 was troublesome and even then it had no effect on the I operation of the car (just an annoying light). The GTIs have all had rock-solid reliability, were fun to drive, and provided all the performance I can legally enjoy.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        My MK3 Jetta *is* troublesome, but because all of the small Volkswagens use common components and are enthusiast cars, there’s tons of online support for how to do things…and that makes me feel a lot better about owning one. I’m going to pull the trigger on a newer VW this summer.

  • avatar

    Here in Sweden they are still so very common. But sometimes you see one in like new condition, I saw one for some months ago a 144 from 1973, 1973 is also considered to be the best year ever. Not the big uglier bumpers (came -74), flush door handles and the bigger rear lights, short stick. Beautiful!

    But you have the American equivalent, 1977 and on Chevvy Caprice. That is my favourite (I’ve had two)!

  • avatar

    For me it’s the RWD Volvo as well. I admire all of them but what really gets my full attention wherever I see one are the early 740s, especially base models with those tiny 14-inch wheels that the Euro models were rocking. Unfortunately I never had the chance of driving, let alone owning one, but I see them as relics of a bygone age. They are everything that most modern cars are not. Traditional, durable, understyled, unpretentious, yet easily distinguishable – I could go on. They sure don’t make them like they used to.
    I can fully understand why Volvo chose to gradually distance itself from its tradition, and I know that had they kept on producing the bricks against market trends, we would probably be now talking about Volvo in the same vein as we talk about Saab, Oldsmobile or – soon – Lancia. Even though, it makes me sad that Volvo seems to be constantly trading more and more pieces of their identity for what I would call “German-ness” in order to fight against the big, Teutonic three. It’s highly unlikely that they would ever beat the Germans at their own game.

  • avatar

    E30 BMWs, in particular the 325i. The first car I ever bought was an ’89 in 2002 from my aunt after my old hand-me-down Maxima was totaled when a kid ran a stop sign. To this day they are my favorite car to drive, just hard to live with as little things are always breaking on them.

    • 0 avatar

      I went from a Maxima to a E39, at the time it seemed like the only place to go from Maxima was BMW. The E39 was by far the finest car I ever owned

      • 0 avatar

        +1 on E39s. I miss my 540 and sometimes find myself on craigslist looking for another (530 would work too). It’s getting really hard to find a manual in good shape though.

        • 0 avatar

          A friend of mine used to drive his sister’s red 540 all the time until it fell prey to some fatal ailment. He used to rave about how fast it was and how smooth it was…gotta admit, I’m envious.

          • 0 avatar

            “He used to rave about how fast it was and how smooth it was”

            Like a hot knife through butter, smooth, fast and sweet

        • 0 avatar

          I almost bought an E39 and always wanted one. But I’m afraid of the maintenance as I’m not much of a diyer. I do think it is the nicest looking sedan BMW or maybe even any manufacturer has ever made. Maybe one day I will buy an e39 M5 or at least a 530i lol.
          I went with a Lexus is300 sportcross. I love it!
          It has a smooth inline 6 and rwd but the reliability of a Toyota. It handles pretty well and I enjoy driving it as much as an e46 330i I test drove.

  • avatar

    I agree with your whole post, just that I’ve stopped bidding. #1 marriage preservation tactic.

    Volvo’s philosophy and soberness was attractive to me already when I was 13 years old. Never doubted my first car needed to be a 240, an orange ’77 242. Wonderful piece of machinery that never complained. Just once, smoke stopped me after driving at least 800km without oil. Learned that day that an oil-ish stick is not how you check for motor oil.

    My best car overall was a ’71 145. Not pretty, bought for sofa change, but incredibly reliable. Awesome space inside, the only car ever for me stretch out my feet up front. Proper choice of materials everywhere.

    Right now I own two sensible Japanese people movers. But I have to get a 145 again at one point in time, preferably an Express. Could justify the expense on the firewood-production-budget…these things haul well!

  • avatar

    I had a 700 turbo (I want to say it was a 760 but I think it was a loaded 740 Turbo w/ intercooler) that was a great car. Comfortable both in ride and nice heated leather seats, quick when the turbo was on boost and predictable RWD Volvo handling. A very nice highway car too. Unfortunately it dropped a valve at 220K miles, but it only cost me $1,100 and I drove it for at least a couple of years.

    I’ve owned a bunch of 140 models and worked at a Volvo dealership when the 240 was their only model but if I bought another brick it’d be a 700 or 900.

  • avatar

    There was a time on Cape Cod when many a permanent resident and/or shopkeeper hated to see a Volvo coming. It wasn’t the car, but the people who drove them, the typical example being the community college teacher who aspired to be treated like a Harvard professor with tenure, AKA high status.

    They were hard bargainers, compared to the two million tourists who swarmed the Cape on a Summer weekend, demanding freebies, throw ins and discounts. In other words, cheap. A cousin who still lives on Cape Cod noted that after “serving” them, the shopkeeper lament she heard several times was, “Lord, save us from the Volvo people.”

    There were/are plenty of people of that type in New England, but in the ’80s-’90s they were especially fond of Volvos. As a result, a great many people who didn’t wish to be part of that group of “Volvo People” shunned the cars.

    • 0 avatar

      My prof father had a red 140 sedan in the ’70s. How he hated that car, while I still want it back. I can still hear it reversing, ‘yoiyoiyoiyoi,’ etc.He went Bimmer.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked as a parking attendant/bus boy/luggage schlepper at a family run hotel on the coast of Maine. The owner told us to tell “all those pipe smoking Volvo drivers” that there was no rooms available. I will to never be that type of Volvo driver.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a bunch of 7/9s, with examples of all four US gas engines. 8V, 16V, turbo, 6-cyl. And a roommate had a turbo-diesel. Wonderful cars, every single one of them. The 8V 4s are among the most rugged vehicles ever built. They are what a Panther wishes it were. You may not be able to hop as many curbs, but a far superior vehicle in every other way.

  • avatar

    I have never understood Volvo love.

  • avatar

    E39 wagons. I’m going on 8 years daily driving one. Timeless good looks, build quality, performance, comfort, practicality: it checks all the boxes.

    I don’t know how they could have made it any better and judging from my experiences with the E60, neither did BMW.

  • avatar

    As a kid Volvos, Mercedes, and Town Cars were all “Neat classy cars that I’d never be able to afford”, this is before I knew that Town Cars were just slightly fancier Vics.

    The styling on Volvos always stood out to me with how clean and non-soap bar looking they were, akin to the older cars that would draw me in.

  • avatar

    For me that would be the Rover SD1. Specifically the 2600 SE. This was not my car (Boy! am I happy about that) but I drove it quite a bit. The straight 6 motor was smooth and relatively powerful in a cruising kinda way. The car felt heavy (it was) and as such felt well planted on the road. The rear drive dynamics were great in the corners delivering a solid predictable and surprisingly comfortable ride. I though, at the time, the car was very modern. The fast back shape was unusual and created a huge amount of cargo space. Inside felt a bit space ship like with wrap around dash and cool steering wheel design.
    Sadly, like many Leyland products at the time, the build quality was hopeless. The design was good and the body was strong but nothing else was. The car was constantly breaking down and as it got older that space ship interior fell apart. Gas struts on the rear hatch never worked, gauges popped on and off randomly, the ceiling cover separated and hung down on your head and that wonderful 6 motor routinely failed or overheated taking turns with the automatic transmission.
    I see this car was sold in the US with the even MORE unreliable V8 (Buick derived, I believe) and it’s looks destroyed by hideous (US safety laws) lights and over sized bumpers. Sad really.
    Anyways I remember the car fondly, it was good to drive.

  • avatar

    I kinda miss my first car, a 1987 Chevrolet Nova.

    It was a bit hard to deal with (it seemed to never want to start a lot of the time, ESPECIALLY in the summer), it was slow, and it was small, but it had a certain earnestness that I kinda miss…

  • avatar

    64 – 72 Valiants and Darts, twice if it’s a slant six. I tell myself I like the chal/cuda or charge/runner but it’s the damn grocery getter that I twist my head off for. I’d love to do a version of Mopar Magazines Lap of America Brick one day. A ’15 stang is better in any measurable way than even a severely restomodded dart can ever be, but the heart wants what it wants.

  • avatar

    Last year a female co-worker bought a new Lexus and offered to give me her 1995 940 for free.

    The 940 had 127k miles The clear-coat on the roof, hood and deck lid were fried. AC compressor leaked. Exhaust leak. Gas filler door was broken off. The interior was a bio-hazard. She bumped someone from behind hard enough to fire the airbags and pre-tensioner belts, but not hard enough to cause any body damage. Despite being free, I passed.

  • avatar

    I have poor impulse control and the same taste in cars. Which means I have 3 90’s era volvos in my driveway. A ’91 740 sedan, a ’93 940 turbo wagon, and a ’90 760 turbo-intercooled wagon. The 760 goes like stink.
    3 cars, no car payment, roughly $1800/year maintenance for all three.
    I’ve learned to do semi-major repairs on all three. When I first got the 940, I knew nothing about repairing or maintaining cars. I didn’t even have the right tools. Six years later and I have the self-confidence to tackle stuff in my driveway and a thorough understanding of my limits. I was really pleased with myself that I diagnosed a borked crank position sensor, replaced it, and brought the 740 back from a no start condition. I’ve also replaced a busted radiator hose on the street, and swapped out the passenger side doors for undented ones.
    Old cars are a process.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, the ease of good design and engineering, Volvo knew that there were practical merits to boxy designs, you don’t ship ebay contents in a football.

  • avatar
    volvo driver

    My daily drivers are a 1994 960 wagon (last year of the live axle 960) and a 1987 W124 300D turbo 5spd. Living the dream

  • avatar

    Not a day goes by when I wish I hadn’t traded my 2001 530 for a Z4. I’m not sure which I miss more, the 530, or my Cayman. Both are the perfect forms of their type.

  • avatar

    Subaru SVXs (I’ve had 6 or 7– I’ve lost count.)
    Rover Sterling 825/827s (but they’re all gone now.)
    AMC Pacers (now “collectible”– thanks Wayne and Garth!)

    Looks like I’m a sucker for cars that were great designs poorly executed.

  • avatar
    Calico Jack

    No need to look farther than a 1993 Classic Edition 240 wagon, as far as I’m concerned. Keep your Porsches and Ferraris, it’s the only car in the world I’d sell my w123 to buy.

  • avatar

    Both generations of Acura Legend and any generation, but especially the second, of Lexus LS. Those are cars that were engineered when the Japanese makers were at the peak of their games and that understand that luxury is about quality materials and refinement as much as it’s about toys.

    I can’t go randomly bidding on cars because I have no place to put them, though…

  • avatar

    My bad idea of the week involves a 740 Turbo wagon and an 850 Turbo engine turned the proper direction. Rear drive turbo with that Audi 5-cylinder type sound…

    But I’m a sucker for an XR4Ti.

  • avatar

    I worked in the parts dept. of a Volvo store for several years. I had a 122S (1966) which unfortunately had the Borg Warner two speed slush box transmission, but I loved that thing. My girlfriend and her son survived being T-boned on a snowy highway, and walked away. I even had it fixed after that. I used to enjoy spending an afternoon with a beer or two adjusting the valves, dwell, and carbs. I bought a Unisyn carb balancer and still have it. There was a certain feeling of accomplishment that came from the way it ran afterwards.
    The best handling car I had, but not sturdy enough to last, was an Austin America. That hydrolastic suspension was a masterpiece of engineering. Mine never leaked, but the car rusted away to oblivion.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    We all have a soft spot for our first car, our first interesting car, etc. I see this as asking about the car we admired then that we still admire.

    For me, I’d say a 1984 Toyota Celica Supra. About 150 hp. That was a lot in those days. The list price was the equivalent of about $34K in today’s money, and you would pay every bit of it and possibly a premium in those days. It seemed very capable, and aggressive, yet reliable at a time when that was at a premium.

    You almost never see them today. This was before they had a lot of electronics. My guess it was one of those deals where some super crucial expensive part breaks at almost exactly the same time on all similar models and the car disappears from the road in the space of a couple of years.

    A 240Z Datsun was the aspirational car of every high school kid back then. It has proven that it deserved our attention.

  • avatar

    I grew up in a 1980 chocolate brown 245 DL. That machine was slow, but it was also unstoppable. I bought it from my folks when I turned 16. There was a time when I could fit everything I owned inside it. In 2004 I sold it with 230,000 on the clock, running strong. Friends still text me pictures of it when they see it on the street.

    I still feel like I betrayed an old friend when I sold it.

    Cash-for-clunkers must have taken a lot of the 240s off the road, I used to see them everywhere. Now even in Berkeley or Santa Cruz they are a rarity.

  • avatar

    2 door full-size SUVs like the Bronco, Blazer, Ramcharger do it for me. Clean lines, perfect proportions, heaps of practicality, and cheap parts are their strong points.

    These vehicles are easier to maneuver and park than modern pickups and go places crossovers can only dream of. It is a shame they are no longer being made.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I’m with you. I love e late 80’s K5’s. Perfect size, can tow etc. They look great with a modest 3 inch lift.

      I periodically muse that maybe I should find one that is not too ratted out and restore to daily driver material. I guess if you do the math it could be done for the same cost as a new pick up in a lot of cases.

      • 0 avatar

        Go for it! I have just under $10k in my ’96 Bronco and after 2 years of catching up on maintenance and a few modifications I sold my car and made the Bronco my daily driver. As long as you don’t mind turning a wrench occasionally (I just came in from replacing a leaky wheel cylinder) these old trucks can be reliable and relatively economical daily drivers.

  • avatar

    Mine would be the original Toronado 66-67, and the Bentley Arnage. The first GM FWD, and the last Ye Olde World Bentley.

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