THINK Volvo, think square estates, think 240. The maker is still intent on changing this – senior managers have stated their determination to do so to Car Dealer Magazine – but, for now, the image remains.
Thing is, though, the 240 may be square, but that sure doesn’t make it bad.
It was launched in 1974 and would continue, pretty much unchanged, until 1992. Given how every other large Volvo in the 1970s and 1980s was inspired by it – even the 1990s ‘new generation’ 850 was basically a slightly smoother 240 – it is no wonder the reputation for the angle has stuck. Volvo had its reasons for keeping it on sale, though.
The 240 range was originally designed to keep Volvo in the large family car range. It was no revelation even at launch: much of the body was the same as the outgoing 140 and 164 range, while the suspension was decidedly tried and tested.
Engines sprang no great surprises either, with a go-on-forever series of four-cylinder motors. A V6 also shared with Peugeot and Renault was a nice addition at the top of the range though, particularly in plush GLT trim models.
Unsurprisingly, safety was a major factor in design. Big rubber bumpers, massive glowing seatbelt-fasten tell-tales and a rubbery dashboard designed to cushion most things hard and fragile were all standard features. Oh, and while it wasn’t all that economical, it was at least eco-friendly: the 240 was one of the first cars to start offering exhaust-cleaning catalytic convertors.
Believe it or not, the vast majority of 240s sold were not estates, but saloons. The estate was way more practical, and could even have those famed rear-facing child seats in the boot. But while the profile was iconic Volvo, buyers still snared the saloon twice as much.
There was even a bonkers two-door coupe. The styling hardly led itself to slinky sporty idol worship, but Volvo still went ahead and produced a two-door version, mainly for sale in the US. Crazily, it didn’t bomb, and remained on sale for a good few years.
It clearly lit a fuse in someone. For Volvo also decided to take it saloon car racing. The firm competed in the European Touring Car championship – yes, the same series that Britain’s Rover SD1 famously raced in. Volvo didn’t do bad, either… it even won one year.
Hundreds of Car Dealer Magazine’s new banger-racing friends are so inspired today: the rear-drive 240 is a bit of a fave in the banger circles. Not least because it is virtually indestructible.
The thickness of the steel is measured in inches, the engines may not be fast but they’re virtually unbreakable – the engineering was well proven in the 1970s, so it carries not a single weakness that someone hasn’t figured out how to fix today.
That’s why it stuck around for so damn long. It wasn’t exciting, but in terms of reassurance, it was exactly what customers wanted, time after time. Volvo car dealers may prefer to forget it, but the 240 is absolutely an icon for the brand. By the 1990s, it had sold over 2.8m units, an exceptional figure for a firm the size of Volvo.
The end of production was even celebrated with a special edition totally befitting of the 240 tradition. The Torslanda was no kitted-out special, but a proper tough winter-spec model, priced low and shorn of the electrical fripperies that can break and get in the way.
This was a model for the long run, even lacking exterior chromework which, in the long run, could rust or tarnish. Age shall never weary them, demanded Volvo. They’re proving right, too.
So, actually, the 240 established two reputations for Volvo. That of the square. And that of right-on, customer-focused reassurance and trust. Design may be slowly altering the former, but Volvo is determined to keep hold of the latter, for the massive help it is to dealers in squaring the circle of car buying… [RA]