By on March 11, 2019

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile I live in Denver, my family and work ties in the San Francisco Bay Area make me a regular visitor at the incredibly well-stocked self-service wrecking yards of the region between San Jose and Richmond. These yards don’t have quite the selection of Subarus and IHC Scouts that I see in the yards around Denver, but they make up for that shortage by stocking plenty of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Volvos.

Just last week, I found a half-dozen 240s, a 780 Bertone Coupe, and a pair of 960 sedans… in a single yard. Here’s the better-preserved of the two 960s.

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, decklid badge - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI think the 960 is important because it was the very last model in the evolutionary line of sturdy, box-shaped, rear-wheel-drive Göteborg safetymobiles that began with the 140 in 1966 and continued through the 200, 700, and 900 series cars. The final 960 rolled off the assembly line in 1998, so that’s better than three decades of squared-off, sensible Volvos.

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 960 sedan came with a 2.9-liter straight-six engine rated at 201 horsepower, which was 39 more than the turbocharged four-banger in the 940 Turbo that year.

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, shifter - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEuropean 960 buyers could get five-speed manual transmissions in the 960, but North American-market 960s all had Aisin four-speed automatics.

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, interior - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe MSRP on this car was $28,950 (about $50,000 in 2019 dollars), which compared favorably to the $38,425 price tag on the 1994 BMW 525i sedan. The BMW had just 189 horses, but could be had with a manual transmission (and I’m guessing maybe 5 percent of American 5 Series buyers went for three pedals that year, so Volvo didn’t lose many sales by ditching the manual 960 over here). Of course, the 1994 Mazda 929 was bigger and swankier and cost only $30,500 in 1994, with nearly as much power as the 960, but few even knew that car existed by 1994.

1994 Volvo 960 in California wrecking yard, instrument cluster - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBay Area Volvo owners love their cars, and this one was nicely maintained until — most likely — it got traded in and the dealership couldn’t find a buyer that offered more than Schnitzer Steel.


Ah, the joys of a long road trip in Sweden with a new Volvo. Nice Tony Linfjärd soundtrack.


Here’s a US-market dealership video, showing the same 960 (or at least the same Sweden-influenced license plate).

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44 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1994 Volvo 960 Sedan...”


  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “speed-speed” manual transmission?

    Personally, I’ve never been fond of these boxy Swedes. It probably didn’t help that most of them were driven in a most somnolent fashion. No matter, I haven’t seen one in many years.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Speaking to the newer FWD 200 cars that followed, I haven’t held the P2 platform cars in particularly high regard (my wife’s 125k mile ’04 S60 had an inordinate amount of interior wear, suspension wear, electronic glitchiness from failed cold solder joints) but they have pretty solid underpinnings in terms of how rust resistant the body is, and post ’03(?) the engines and transmissions are rock solid. My brother just had a friend flat-tow his V70 up from Virginia for a no-start issue that the dealer was prepared to “fix” by just throwing all sorts of expensive parts at to the tune of $2k (fixed with a good used $60 fuel pump module). It’s back on the road and driving great at 210k miles, plenty of life left in it. I guess the takeaway is, with a competent independent mechanic, they can run a long long time and are especially relevant in the salt belt where asian and domestic competitors start to rot out subframes and such. But dealer-only “servicing” makes long term ownership a pricey endeavor.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Should say FWD MY 2001+

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      A follow up: the total estimate they gave him for the no-start ($2k), lower control arms ($1500), oil trap ($1700) and some other odds and ends that added up to an eye watering $6k bill. It’s quite obvious the dealer was just pushing him into a new car.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam Vimes

        Hey! I too have an 04 S60 with 125k and every one of the problems you listed! I live in the west so no salt/rust issues, but I did not put a dime into the car for about 7 years (had another DD) other than oil changes and a series of burned out headlights. My rationale for investing a few grand into it is 1) I have a good independent mechanic who I trust and 2) if I am avoiding a $500/mo. payment inc. insurance, all I need to do is baby it for a few months and I’m in the black.

    • 0 avatar
      Lightspeed

      Agree, I had an 850GLE and never saw a car where every single system had systemic failure built into it. Everything PCV, HVAC, cluster, lighting, seats was junk. The car had the most perfect brake-pedal feel though, but that was it’s only redeeming value. No idea why people like Volvo.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    227,000 miles is a respectable total for a car whose engine wasn’t associated with longevity. It may have just been a smog-check victim. How much does a Geely S90 cost today? I can’t help but to find this car more desirable than what passes for a Volvo today.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Agreed. How many of the new Volvos with twincharging and HVAC/etc controlled through a touch screen will live to see 227k miles? I’d imagine a DIYer could have kept this 960 on the road for years to come. Not so with the new ones.

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      Smog check not usually a problem. If you can prove that the repairs exceed a certain dollar limit (??$300) you can apply for a pass. Also this car is just about at the 25 years and older are exempt limit.
      This Volvo looks great. However, even if I got it for free, I suspect the cost of engine or engine/transmission work would make it unrealistic. I do admire the 227K miles and the look of the paint job.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        This is a rear drive Volvo right?

        V8 Swap? ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        CA Smog Inspection exemptions were, long ago, pegged at 25 years. Now, however, the year is fixed at 1975. All vehicles manufactured after 1975 must pass smog inspection to renew registration. Yes, there are “referee stations” that will become involved with cars that can’t pass, or with cars that have been modified. I also know however that few owners are willing to get bogged down in that bureaucratic nightmare, especially when the vehicle in question is a fully depreciated, and mostly worn out car.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Depends, at this age and miles would you rather spend $500 to fix a smog fail or take the $1k offer to sell it for crushing? I’d sure as heck take the $1k.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I wonder what they were thinking with the crap-tastic bristle liner for the gearshift. That’s the sorta thing that makes you sigh and shake your head when you see it on a base-trim penalty box.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Reminds me of the brushes on a UPS trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I’m trying to remember who else used the bristle liner… 1990s Cavaliers I think?

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        You’re both guilty of reminding us how gross automatic shifters are– and you both need to stay after class to write sentences on the board.

        Maybe cleaning food out of automatic shifters is what made me need a manual with a nice leather/ette boot.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        1980s BMW automatics made widespread use of bristles. See: http://www.ebay.com/itm/1983-1988-BMW-E28-5-Series-Factory-Front-Center-Console-SHIFTER-BEZEL-BLUE-/292236441034

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      It’s the same part the 140 shifters had in the 1970s. Why change what works? Volvos used to be about practical luxury and the 900 series was the last of a long line in that kind of thinking.

      The famously supportive and comfortable seats were of the same philosophy. You could get leather seats that weren’t the softest to the touch leather on the market, but they were unbeatably comfortable on long drives (or you could get cloth seats that were equally comfortable).

  • avatar
    jatz

    Why oh why did Volvo abandon the demographic that made them successful enough to throw away money chasing Performance?

    Growing Japanese superiority in everything else?

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Volvo’s demographic abandoned Volvo for a superior virtue signaling opportunity at the Prius dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Subaru grabbed the “I’m a smart pragmatist” crowd, and yes Prii, from what I’ve seen in Ithaca NY.

        The ultimate irony was seeing filthy, neglected (ie anti-materialism) Volvo 850s covered in granola-hippy type stickers spewing clouds of blue smoke into the atmosphere. Oops.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I was thinking that Subaru has picked up a lot of the old-school Volvo demo. Although I’m sure that there’s still a fair number of college professors and the like that might still be in the market for Volvo’s offerings.

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        “abandoned Volvo for a superior virtue signaling opportunity”

        I got my Volvo when I was doing commercial HVAC. Maybe I signaled the virtue of timely PM for all building mechanicals.

        I can only so hope.

      • 0 avatar

        Isn’t it evident? Too expensive. Ford pushed it as a (quasi) “luxury” brand.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, once safety stuff that was unique to Volvo became standard universally, there wasn’t much reason to buy one anymore. That happened in the mid-2000s.

      Plus, there was the whole Ford-subsidiary thing.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      The RWD cars were expensive to build… Volvo’s demographic gradually abandoned Volvo with their wallets.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        What did make them expensive to make exactly? The safety? The auto transmissions and rear axles werent anything too pricey iirc. Just a Dana and an old Toyota transmission.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          With a FWD car, you just pop in the subframe that’s carrying the engine+Transmission+front suspension up from the bottom, no connection to the rear axle to worry about aside from a 4 wheel alignment. With RWD, you’re connecting an axle (with all the machining that goes into precision cut gears, shimming) and balancing that whole assembly, I think that’s why it’s considered less cost-effective overall from the mass production and assembly standpoint than a typical unibody FWD car.

        • 0 avatar
          PandaBear

          You have to route everything to the rear, additional space you take away that could have make your vehicle roomy, the differential, the labor to install them, the weight penalty, the fuel economy, all for nothing unless you can justify it (above 300hp and a track car).

          Seriously, in 2019 RWD is no longer more reliable than FWD, so why bother?

  • avatar
    volvo

    As per my screen name had lots of experience with the red block series.

    I knew several people who had 960s and the drivetrain gave them nothing but trouble.

    The red block turbos usually didn’t make it to 300K while the NA red blocks would easily see 500K with minimal care.

    One significant change was the materials used on the interior of the 7 and 9 series were inferior to the 2 series and in the sun baked SW usually fell apart at about 7-10 years. Maybe the plastics available and approved for environmental purposes changed in the late 1980s. All auto paint certainly went through a rough patch during that time.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      A friend had the 960(the very last of the nice ones) and borrowed my 245 while he was waiting for a front wheel hub to come-in at parts– think it took 3 weeks.

      That 9-series car was as plush as any, but it was nightmarish and already wilting. Ugly radio font.

      I learned to like a lower trim-line because of that experience. A 240/neon may not be as nice as a 960/300m– but they always last longer, and they give less trouble.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I had some experience with one of these as a kid, it was 10 years old at most at the time (probably newer), virtually every interior feature was broken and the car was stuck in a limp home mode. It was only $400 iirc for a car that was nearly $50,000 a few years back.

    Really, Im always shocked at how much Volvo charged for both these and the 850 at the time given how cheap the interiors were and the common quality issues with the cars (weak door stoppers, electric issues, delicate CELs, delicate WHEELS, napkin headliners).

    Steve Lang has an older article about money pits, and a 960 was the star. Even among Volvo buffs they’re not too desirable.

    If anything surprises me about this one its the seats, Volvo was still trying to figure out how to make leather at the time and most examples rip easily.

    Slightly OT:
    Any idea whats killing those 240s? Ive been looking for another and they rarely show up anywhere near me.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I think what hurt Volvo , and I have had 3 xc wagons, on bought new 2 used was Volvo. They took forever to bring out new models, maybe it is a swede thing as Saab was like this, you could buy a volvo wagon and 6 years later buy another and not much had changed. They did the same thing with the SUV, the xc90 was out forever. They are still popular in metro NY and I would want my kids driving them for safety alone.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      If you’re truly interested in checking the objective safety performance of different autos, then investigate The AutoProfessor website.

      Thanks to Lorraine Sommerfeld in the National Post for publicizing the site and explaining its research.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Hats off to Volvo for their pioneering safety advances (back when they were an independent company).

    I have never owned a Volvo, but my family and I are better off because of Volvo – cool how that works.

  • avatar
    millmech

    Guessing Bob Bosch Magic Motronic took a #2.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    One of the last proper Volvos. Big greenhouse, unbreakable engine, comfortable seats, a back seat with enough headroom for hat-wearing adults, much less expensive than the German luxury brands but expensive enough to be well built.

    We picked up a 2012 XC60 with crazy-low miles intending to keep it forever. But I’m not sure it’s that kind of Volvo. Everything in the interior makes a little noise over bumps: the door panels, the cargo cover, the dash. You can feel a little chassis flex when you pull into a raised driveway. There are intermittent noises from the blower motor and from something underhood (alternator?). Some details seem uncharacteristically overlooked, like how your hand feels sharp plastic edges instead of padding in the door panel pulls. On the other hand, the interior is beautiful, the stereo is great, the ride quality is a lot better than you’d expect for a faux-truck on 18-inch rims, and the 6-cylinder engine has the torque delivery of a Kenworth. So I guess we’ll see…

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    The most likely reason for this car to be in the junkyard is a broken timing belt, and thus mangled valves. VERY expensive to fix at this point. ’92-’94 had a timing belt about the width of a shoelace, with a 30K change interval. And woe-betide you if it isn’t changed RIGHT on time. On the plus side, it is probably the easiest timing belt in the world to change – my Volvo mechanic buddy did mine in 30 minutes. I had a ’93 965 for a while, one of my baker’s dozen of 7/9’s. Later cars got a wider belt and a 70K change interval.


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