By on March 26, 2018

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Volvo 900 Series replaced the 700 Series, which replaced the 200 Series, but — in true Volvo fashion — there was sufficient production overlap between these related models that all three were available at the same time for a couple of years in the early 1990s. The 940 sold well in the United States, but you’ll see more 240s and 740s today, perhaps due to the great affection held by Volvo fanatics for the “real” rear-wheel-drive Swedes.

I went into a Northern California wrecking yard determined to shoot the first 940 or 960 I saw, and that car turned out to be this 940 Turbo station wagon.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese cars were heavier and more complex than their predecessors, but the increased costs of maintenance and repair didn’t stop their owners from keeping them on the road for many years. This one made it to Toyota Camry territory on the odometer.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, front seat - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe paint is faded and the seats are upholstered in blue tape, signs that we’re not looking at a car owned by a fastidious garage-it-always type with a whisk broom in the glovebox.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBack in the early 2000s, I ferried a 940 Turbo Wagon across the country for my sister (later adding a pair of GMC van horns), and I was very impressed with the power out of the heavily-boosted 2.3-liter four-cylinder.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, turbocharger - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars162 horses out of an engine this size was serious stuff in the 1990s. It’s easy to find turbochargers in California wrecking yards these days, unlike a few years ago, because every “tuner” kid who wants a bunch of turbos already has 19 of them in the garage.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon in California wrecking yard, gearshift - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn theory, a five-speed manual transmission was available in these cars. I have yet to see one.

Think of it as a limousine… for your luggage.

Back in the 940 Wagon’s homeland, it was all about the safety for pregnant women, ja.

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22 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1994 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon...”

  • avatar

    There’s a “Send Help” sign on the floor. Sadly, for this car, that help never arrived.

  • avatar

    You could still get the 4sp+OD with the 740 turbo until a few years before this car was built, but I think that option had faded away by 1994. There was also a 5sp manual transmission but this was for the non-turbo cars only.

    These 940 turbos (along with the 6 cylinder 960, which was briefly renamed the S90 for its last year or two of production in the late 1990s) were the last of the old rear wheel drive Volvos- great seats, great brakes, very tight turn radius. This was the Volvo that devised the three-point seatbelt at a time other carmakers were fuddling around with “padded dashboards,” who had standard four wheel disc brakes when such engineering was only available in Corvettes and Imperials, who sent teams of company engineers to highway crash scenes to learn how to improve their product, while across the pond the Big Four had teams of bean counters, teams of lawyers, and marketing teams. These were much different cars sold to a much different, iconoclastic kind of customer, and they cost a lot more money.

    The front wheel drive 850 that came along in the early 1990s was a completely different car underneath, more mainstream, many different design philosophies, and most importantly it cost a lot less to produce.

    • 0 avatar
      volvo driver

      The 850 was a far better handling car with better ergonomics and a bigger interior despite it’s smaller exterior. It was also far more fuel efficient and that 5cyl engine sounds amazing. Not only that but 5spd manuals are common.

      • 0 avatar

        The 940 suspension, like nearly all 240 and later RWD Volvos, MacPherson struts on the front and a solid axle on the rear, with front and rear sway bars and a Panhard rod on the rear axle. So conventional yet advanced and quite good for a 1970s/80s/90s family hauler- you’ll find a very similar design on the Fox body Mustangs. It’s another example of the subtle, under the skin, detail work that went into these cars. The FWD cars starting with the 850 were much different, with an even more sophisticated semi-independent rear suspension with obvious familial influence from Renault.

        Look at the intake manifold on the under the hood shot. Again, refinement.

        The RWD cars had a few easy, very elegant maintenance features. Look on the timing cover, on the front of the engine, most of the way down, where there is a plastic boss. The rubber plug in that boss is access to the timing belt tensioner. After installing a new timing belt, you set the tensioner by loosening the jam nut (engine is not running) and the tensioner spring simply sets the tension. Then you retighten the nut. One minute job. After the new timing belt has broken in (takes about a week and some miles), you set the tensioner in the same way once again and then you leave it until it’s time for a new belt, 60,000 miles later. The first few years of the 5 cylinder engines there was an elaborate, Rube Goldberg hydraulic tensioner that you could damage if you compressed it too quickly… and a 70,000 mile life timing belt. Later versions went to a simpler spring, a bit like the one in the old red blocks, and a 100,000 mile belt interval, but the tensioner was still not as elegant as the old red block.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I had a 1973 142 that had 3-point belts and 4 wheel discs with 2 brake circuits that both applied pressure to the front brakes and 1 rear brake each; that way if you lost one circuit you still had both front brakes and at least one rear brake.

      • 0 avatar

        Jeff, that dual triangular brake circuit plumbing was a great example of the “obsessed with safety but very expensive” kind of culture that Volvo used to have. The 850 was a much better handling, efficient, and modern car (@volvo driver is right) but it had conventional, less expensive dual diagonal brake plumbing. I’m not sure which design the 940 used. The S70 cheaped out a bit more and its dual brake circuits were split as front and rear- the very thing which old Volvo had used as an example of how Volvos had superior safety engineering.

        • 0 avatar

          Most of the changes to the braking systems were due to the introduction of ABS. Nobody made an ABS system compatible with the dual-diagonal setup, and it is not like Volvo was going to roll their own.

          • 0 avatar

            Good point about ABS system compatibility- but did you mean to say dual-diagonal or dual-triangular?

            In the “good old days” Volvo would have tried to roll their own and might have spent a lot of money doing that; by 1990 their engineering decisions were more pragmatic.

            Keep in mind they worked with Saab and Bosch to bring oxygen sensors, closed loop feedback fuel injection, and three-way catalytic converters to market at a time when other large, more financially resourceful carmakers were still in the dark ages of oxidation catalytic converters, thermal reactors (HA!), and struggling to make carburetors pass emissions tests. Honda’s CVCC was another small company engineering can-do. (Small company engineering can-do aka big company don’t-want-to-bother.)

    • 0 avatar

      Correct. 1991 was the last year for the manual transmission in the 740/940 platform in the US. It was never offered on a 940-badged car in the US, although the difference between a ’91 740 wagon and a ’92 940 wagon is very minimal.

      There are ’92-’94 940 wagons – and even 960/V90 wagons – in the UK with manual transmissions, even with a real 5-speed. Every so often I fantasize about bringing an MOT-failed one over and swapping the driveline parts in to a good US 940 Turbo.

  • avatar

    My current DD is a 1992 940 Turbo wagon similar to the one shown. Approaching 300K miles it isn’t pretty but starts every time and gets me where I need to go. Comfortable seats, cold AC and volcano heat available in the winter.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      The heat in my ’93 940 wagon has never been eclipsed by another car. No other car has ever produced the buried-in-a-warm-blanket feeling that old brick can.

  • avatar

    I believe the manual transmission option was not available in the States, at least not officially. A friend who had one of these was working on a manual conversion based on internationally-sourced parts.

    That said, even the autos in these were not too tragic. I have a 1990 240 wagon with the N/A 2.3 and the slushbox, and it moves out just fine with it’s 115 horsepower. Even towed home another Volvo with it (overdrive locked out).

    Sturdy, simple cars, albeit not terribly fuel efficient. The Swedish electrics are their biggest problem. My 240 is currently in the shop for an as-yet undetermined no-spark problem. Meantime I’m driving my “other” 240- a 240D, by Mercedes. Which, Ironically, uses no spark.

  • avatar

    So did this have one of your favorite Volvo clocks, and if so, did you snag it?

  • avatar

    I owned a 1993 945T for about 15 years. Bought it when it was 7 years old. Was the car for my son while in high school, college and early work life.

    The example I had was rather high maintenance. I realize that the 240, 740 and 940 Ts probably represented a rather poor execution of slapping a turbo on an otherwise bulletproof red block engine. My experience has prejudiced me against small displacement turbos ever since. If a turbo can mess up a red block engine I always have wondered what a turbo would do to a less overbuilt engine.

    The lower part of the engine never gave any problems, the rest of the car never gave any problem but the head, manifolds, turbo and cooling system were all expensive problems.

    The independent shop I had do some of the work also sold clean used Volvos and at least in our area the price of an equivalent non turbo 940 was about 3 times that of the turbo model.

    IMO the 940 series was the peak of Volvo build but I wouldn’t want the turbo variant. You probably would have trouble finding a junkyard non turbo 945 since anyone who has one doesn’t want to give it up.

    US models only came with autos, full leather, all the bells and whistles.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I had a naturally aspirated 940 with cloth, but it had a sunroof (no heated seats, though, as that would have been the holy grail).

      The cloth wore like iron and – in another display of foresight – could be unzipped from the cushions, washed, and reinstalled.

      I’d kill to be able to do that on my family vehicle today.

      • 0 avatar

        Weird, I have never seen a 940 without heated seats – what year was it? Very curious. Even my ultra-base no options at all ’95 945 had them.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick 2012

          1993 940. I looked for an order guide, but couldn’t find one. When I got it, the carfax said it lived a southern life – maybe Volvo didn’t spec warmer-climate cars with them.

          • 0 avatar

            I think you are spot on – oddly enough there is a REALLY nice ’94 944 on eBay here in FL that I stumbled on tonight that doesn’t have them either. Sadly a sedan and the price is a bit dear – not that it would stop me for the just right car.

            I’m casually looking for a nice one, preferably a non-turbo wagon for FL second car duty. My 9-5 Aero continues to be fine, but it just isn’t what I want. I want a tractor, not a racecar.

  • avatar

    You see 240s more than these partly because they sold better, and partly because they have a bigger following.

    I couldn’t really get into these like I could the 240. The light lenses, seatbelt buttons, headliner, seats, hatch panel, door panels, all of these things were prone to cracking, not that 240s had great interiors but at least the headliners held up.

    Safely wasn’t bad, but in offset collision tests at the time these cars kinda sucked (The VW Vanagon eats through these).

    I do recall that US turbo tranmsissions didn’t get the lock up torque converter, it was too weak for our driving.

    Volvo did cheapen out the suspension on this model, something to do with the back links I think? Made them more prone to throwing their take out in spritied driving.

    My 91 740 at 197k was having issues going into reverse, piston slap, tea kettle noises, shot suspension everywhere, rattles galore, no AC, but the turbo still worked. Had terrible power around town (less than my NA 240s) but above 40mph and it’d start moving.

    Around here they’re scarce, by ’94 Volvo people had moved on to rust bucket Subarus, while the loyal held on to their discontinued 240s.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a baker’s dozen RWD Volvos over the years. The 940 is a 240 with most of the stupid evolved out of it, and 240s have PLENTY of stupid baked into them. Courtesy of being an early ’60s design that was never intended to have the sorts of even minimal creature comforts they acquired by end of production. There is simply no universe in which it is cheaper to run a 240 than a 940, it’s just a better engineered car all around with a lot fewer built-in dilemmas.

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