By on February 10, 2020

1990 Volvo 740 Turbo wagon in California junkyard, RH side view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsOne of the frustrating things about my job looking for interesting discarded vehicles is the fact that most cars and light trucks didn’t start getting six-digit odometers until the 1980s or even the 1990s. I find vehicles that I know must have racked up incredible total mileage figures, but their odometers all turned over (once? ten times?) when they got past 99,999 miles.

Fortunately, Volvo felt sufficiently optimistic to adopt the six-digit odometer way back in the 1960s, so I was able to read a very impressive figure on the one in this 740 wagon: 493,549 miles.

24 - 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo in California junkyard, speedometer - Photo by Murilee MartinYes, that’s close to 16,500 miles every year for its three-decade lifespan. I’ve found a Mercedes-Benz W201 with better than 600,000 miles and a Volkswagen Rabbit Cabrio showing a not-sure-I-believe-it 930,013 miles, plus lots and lots of junked Hondas and Toyotas (and one Oldsmobile) with readings of close to 400,000 miles, but this Volvo in the San Francisco Bay Area ranks near the top of the longevity sweepstakes.

24 - 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo in California junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsOne thing I’ve found with extreme-high-mile junkyard cars is that most of them were in decent cosmetic shape when they finally wore out (or, more likely, were traded in and then proved radioactively unsaleable at auction). That makes sense, because the kind of vehicle owner who takes care of all the maintenance over multiple decades also takes good care of the body and interior. A nasty hooptie with a shredded interior tends to get thrown out when something mechanical costing more than a couple of hundred bucks fails. Looking at this car, I’d have guessed it had perhaps 150,000 miles, not three times that. I see this phenomenon often with high-mile junkyard (rear-wheel-drive) Volvos.

24 - 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo in California junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe turbocharged engine is a bit of a surprise, though, because cars with forced induction run hotter, blow head gaskets more readily, and generally get hooned on harder than their naturally-aspirated counterparts.

24 - 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo in California junkyard, boost gauge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPerhaps the automatic transmission served to keep the drivers of this car from getting too lead-footed with that 162-horse turbo motor.

To a radar gun, it looked exactly like a Porsche 944… though I’ll bet the brick shape of the Volvo made it detectable at a longer range.

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16 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo With Nearly 500,000 Miles...”

  • avatar

    Wow, 500K miles! Just think how far it could have gone with wheels ;-)

  • avatar

    Nooooooooo it has an automatic!!

    The manuals on these, and all RWD Volvos, were really sweet shifting gearboxes (as long as you changed the fluid more than once every hundred thousand miles).

  • avatar

    The cloth seats from this era of Volvos are some of the best in business. The seat honestly looks pretty darn good for this type of mileage, maybe it was replaced more than once.

  • avatar

    Know what you mean about the 5 digit odometers, Murilee. The 84 Shelby Charger I had left my possession with 406K+ miles. Unfortunately, the 5 digit odo could not verify those miles. I can remember 2 of the 4 places where the turn over occurred. A friend of mine used to carry a bottle of Testors model paint – red I think – in his car. Wherever the odo turned over 100K, he would pull onto the shoulder and dump the entire bottle on the pavement’s edge. He figured that way he had a “record” of the event should anyone question his mileage claim. I was always going to do that, but failed in that endeavor. It would be interesting to discover why this Volvo ended it’s service when it did.

    • 0 avatar

      I also had the dreaded five digit odometer in my K car. I bought a speedo out of a K variant that had the six digit odometer and disassembled it to use to convert my five digits to six. I used a dremel tool to enlarge the digit window to fit the extra digit. Worked like a Charm. I had time in my life back then to do stuff like that. And yes people who keep cars for this kind of life also keep them looking good. I always made sure everything worked and looked good.

  • avatar

    Part of the vaunted reliability of the 240/740 that was one of the reasons I bought two (!) used Volvo 850s. One a base, non-turbo car that my wife drove, and a few months later a GLT for myself.

    Things started out good – I liked the handling and the tank-like feeling of solidity. And then the problems started…

  • avatar

    I drove my 91 Caprice to 490,000 miles. and then sold it to a friend. Last I heard, it was still in use. Who knows how many miles on it now.

  • avatar

    Another nice old brick hits the skids .


  • avatar

    At this point you’re doing it to say you did. Why wouldn’t you drive it the last 6451 miles?

  • avatar
    Steve Jacobs

    Wow, almost 500k miles. We had the same car, same year. Since we even live in the fringes of the Bay Area, that could actually be our old car. But probably not, given ours was a lemon. For example, it came with defective brakes and they failed again later, this time at Lake Tahoe.

    It racked up about $11k in repairs in the 5 years we had it.

    It did teach me the origins of the reputation for safety of Volvos. It’s hard to be killed in a car that won’t run.

  • avatar

    On the other hand my 91 turbo was basically done at 197k, as long as you keep pouring money and patience into a car you can make it last for a long time.

    I never did like these, too low and too cheap inside. They came with an assortment of engines but only the basic redblock and the turbo were any good (the others were more grenade like).

    Kids on reddit like to drift these since the back ends break loose easily.

  • avatar

    These went from essentially everywhere in the early 2010s to non existent in the late 2010s

  • avatar

    The overall shape of this vehicle appeals to me very much.

    Minor issues:
    – The tailpipe is way wrong.
    – The clock does not deserve equal billing with the speedometer and tachometer.

    [This vehicle burned something like $50,000 worth of gasoline over its lifetime.]

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