By on April 2, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is from a time when a few of the sensible people at the Volvo Boxy Car Company created a special, sporty version of their mainstream model. From long ago and now largely forgotten, it’s the 1979 Volvo 242 GT.

The 200 Series was an immensely important one for Volvo as a small and independent car manufacturer. A new, modern entry into the midsize market, the 200 entered production in 1974. It was popular enough to stay in production longer than Volvo planned, and continued on through 1993. Volvo needed many production facilities for the popular 200, so in addition to two factories in Sweden, the 200 Series was also built in Belgium, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Canada.

All versions of the 200 were rear-wheel drive, and were sedan-shaped with two or four doors, or with five doors as a wagon. Many engines were used throughout its long run: The smallest was a 1.7-liter inline-four, and the largest a 2.8-liter PRV V6. Transmissions used had three or four speeds for automatics, and four or five speed as manuals.

One short-lived version of the 200 was the 242 GT, today’s subject. It was first made available in 1978 and 1979 globally, with an extended run into 1980 solely for North America. Aiming to draw customers who weren’t frumpy types with tweed jackets, Volvo pulled out several stops for the GT. A sports suspension was the most important change over standard 200s, which added stronger sway bars, and springs which were 30 percent firmer than on standard cars. The suspension changes were enough to make the GT oversteer where normal 200s understeered.

The initial engine was the same 2.1-liter inline-four as found in standard DL trims of the 242. It was the high compression version with mechanical fuel injection, and managed 123 horsepower. For 1979 and 1980 Volvo fitted a new 2.3-liter engine that produced a more respectable 140 horsepower.

Visible changes included a Mystic Silver paint scheme for all U.S.-bound cars, which featured red and black tape stripes developed by 3M. Canadian customers were also offered the 242 GT in black. All GTs had minimal exterior bright work, and additional black trim. The grille used integrated fog lamps for a more distinctive look, and the front end carried a chin spoiler.

Inside, all GTs had a black corduroy interior with vertical red stripes across the seats. Above passengers, Volvo installed a black headliner for the first time. Other interior changes were limited, but included a tachometer in the center of the gauges and a revised steering wheel cover. An aggressive red trim strip across the dash and doors replaced the black found in other models.

Volvo replaced the GT with the GLT Turbo models in 1981 as it upped its sporty sedan game with turbochargers (and never looked back). Today’s high-mileage 1979 example was located in Florida, posted on one of those sites which indexes old eBay ads.

[Images: Volvo, seller]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1979 Volvo 242 GT, Ready for Sports Driving...”

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I loved the old Volvo 240 series. With the exception of the C30, nothing much from the brand has interested me since.

    I guess a kind of-sort of equivalent today might be a base Subaru Legacy. But it’s not close enough. Two doors and a manual transmission would help. But that’s just daydreaming.

    Meanwhile, Corey, how about a feature on the AMC Gremlin? I’m not kidding. The car was introduced 50 years ago yesterday.

  • avatar

    The horsepower numbers sound like the world-market B21E and B23E, which were high compression, longer duration cam, fuel injected, and no catalytic converter.

    The U.S. market 242 GT got a 50-state (California for everyone) B21F with I think 98hp. It was high compression (a little over 9:1, high~ish for U.S. cars of that era), I think it had the regular cam, fuel injection, and it did have a catalytic converter.

    Something else it had was the first oxygen sensor feedback of any mass market car. That’s something really special in automotive history. Volvo and Bosch beat *everybody* to market with that (and I think Saabs got the same system at the same time or immediately after). The telltale “Lamda-Sond” badge is on the grille, it’s the little blueish thing in the top left, right next to the driving light. Probably most people hadn’t the foggiest notion what it meant or what its significance was.

    That system met U.S. emissions standards well into the 1980s. These cars came out when Volvo had really great engineering- back when Volvo was the company that invented the combined lap belt and shoulder belt, when they made the best seats because they believed driver fatigue meant safety, when they made the outflow vents at the bottom of the back window to ensure positive ventilation through the car, when all of their cars had four wheel disc brakes, when they sent accident investigation teams to crash scenes all over Sweden so they could learn how to make their cars more crashworthy in the real world…

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      Not only were they 4-wheel disc brakes, their 2 brake circuits each went to 3 wheels – both to both fronts and one rear wheel each. If you lost a circuit, you still had ~75-80% braking available.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, correct on all points, Jim and Jeff. The GT in the US had the same B21F engine as all other 4-cylinder Volvos in 1978-80, except my recollection is that it had 107 thundering horses, at least in 1980. I had a 1980 base DL 2-door variant, with the 4-speed manual (no electrically operated overdrive) and no power steering. It had that same Lambda-Sond badge on the grille.

      I bought it used in 1982 with about 31,000 miles and kept it for nearly 21 years. It had an estimated 245,000 miles when it was sold (estimated because the odometer became intermittent toward the end). The color was that ever-popular wedgwood blue with a dark blue cloth interior.

      The Volvo was initially our only car, which we used for ourselves and two young sons. It remained our primary car for family transport until we bought a new 1990 Mercury Sable. But we sold the Sable in 2000 (by which time we had 2 newer vehicles), because it had become less reliable than the trusty old Volvo.

      • 0 avatar

        @210delray, I think the 107hp B21F was the 49 state version, but I don’t remember what years it was available before being superseded by the California version or later then 50-state B23F (which was one of the finest versions of the red block, second only to the Canadian and British market B23E).

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, mine was definitely the 49-state version, originally purchased in PA and then by me in VA. IIRC, it wasn’t until the 1983 model year when the B23F became the sole 4-cylinder engine (turbocharged in GLT models).

    • 0 avatar

      JimC2: your mention of the outflow vents reminded my of the 67 Sport Fury I drove while in my very late high school years. It had a “rear vent” that did the same thing. I really liked that feature as I felt like I was getting fresh air in even when it was raining outside. A very cool idea. Thanks for the memory jog.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes indeed- back then Volvos weren’t the only cars with good, passive ventilation. The idea has gone away with nearly universal car air conditioning and with them HVAC systems that are based on the fan always running.

        Volvo did make a very deliberate effort to design these cars with good ventilation, explicitly to improve driver alertness, and including that rear vent was part of that. They were very obsessive about total safety then (a few other carmakers also came close but they weren’t obsessed with it the way Volvo was). There are probably other details, anecdotes, and fun facts that I’m forgetting.

        Oh, other random fun fact- the reason these cars had so much space under the hood was because they were conceived before the fuel crisis. Volvo wanted to build a bigger stretch 140/160 (the first year 240 and the final year 140 were almost identical from the firewall back, but forward of that the car was longer) and they wanted to fit a V8 under the hood (the improved OHC version of the red block was always going to be an option). The PRV V6, as @karonetwentyc mentioned yesterday, was originally intended to be that V8. Buuuut world events happened and long story short that’s why it was a 90° V6. And for the next few decades, Volvo 240 owners (240 = 4 cylinder, 260 = 6 cylinder) enjoyed all that extra space when doing maintenance under the hood. The only difficult item to reach was that flame trap under the intake manifold on the left side of the engine, but even that wasn’t too bad if you knew what to feel for.

  • avatar

    If my memory is still intact, I believe the Diesel engine was sourced from Volkswagen.

    • 0 avatar

      Your memory is still intact. I had a brown, manual, Diesel wagon. So there.

  • avatar

    Given username I guess I need to just chime in.

    When I got my well seasoned stick 1985 245 in 2001 the first (and only thing I did) was go to local pick and pull got the whole suspension and tach from a 242T and installed it. For handling feel it made all the difference in the world. Did the reduction in body sway make a real difference? I don’t know.

    I was a bit worried it would reduce the inherent understeer to much but I could not notice a difference. Probably since I was using 240T components and I never drove it too hard.

  • avatar

    “Volvo, boxy, but nice”

    Although their ads never actually said that, their ads were known to be witty and self-deprecating. Every time I see one of these old 240s I think of those :)

  • avatar

    “Many engines were used throughout its long run: The smallest was a 1.7-liter inline-four, and the largest a 2.4-liter inline-six diesel.”

    IIRC, the largest engine fitted to a 200-series Volvo from the factory was a 2.8-litre version of the PRV V6.

  • avatar

    My first car when I was 16 was a 1982 Volvo 240 Turbo GLT Wagon with a 4 speed manual (5 if you count the push-button overdrive on top of the stick). Was a high mileage used car, but what a fantastic car for a 16 year old.

    I love seeing these pics as my wagon was very similar. Also silver with the exact same rims as I recall but dual square headlights. They really did make something special with 200’s/240.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    How about a 262c, the infamous Bertone ‘styled’, assembled in Italy 200 Series?

    With low production numbers that should qualify as a ‘rare ride’.

  • avatar

    I had this exact car with different wheels and a sun roof and very much missing A/C. Drove this car mostly when I lived in Sacramento with 115 degree summers. The thing was a rolling greenhouse. Gutless as all hell even with the 4+1 speed manual. There were many times I thought I was gonna die trying to merge onto the freeway in CA traffic. Brakes would lock up at the drop of a hat. The ride was like sitting on top of an old wicker chair. But it was bulletproof, despite my desire for it to die. Absolutely hated this car. No nostalgia here.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    If ever there was a car that begged for a crate LS swap, this would be it.

  • avatar

    Most powerful and fastest Volvo was 1984 yearmodel 242 Turbo. Engine was still B19ET, but now with intecooler (engine model was B19ETIC). 170hv/250Nm. Volvo’s main competitor in Scandinavia was Saab and Saab was years ahead in Turbo technic. Saab 99/900 Turbo’s both sold very well, Volvo Turbos weren’t success story.

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