The cars we loved.

1974-1993 Volvo 200 Series: The Thinking Man’s Car

1991 Volvo 240 GLT

1991 Volvo 240 GLT

Long before socially conscious cars like the Prius became a badge of honor for armchair environmentalist, or the Outback the champion for the rugged adventure set, there was the boxy tank like Volvo 240.  For most of the 70’s and the early 80’s the rugged 240 exemplified safety and efficiency in the minds and wallets of the Utne Reader type on both coasts. So vast was its appeal that it covered the whole spectrum of alternative thinking individuals from college professors , peace and environmental activists, to the counter cultural and slightly drug induced crowd.  If the Ivy Leagued themed show “The Paper Chase” ever had a car chase scene in it, it might have featured a Volvo 240.

When introduced in 1973, the 200 series was a evolution of the 164 it replaced. A full sized car by European standards, it was considered mid-sized in the US, where it more than complied with new safety and emissions regulations. The 200 series was conceived from the Volvo VESCESV concept car of the 70s, designed to highlight Volvo’s safety innovations.  From the point of launch on, the 240 helped established Volvo as a leader in safety with its advanced crumple zones, passive seatbelts and strong frame. The interior was very modern and laid out in a simple ergonomically friendly manner. The rear wheel drive 200 series was produced in five different factories across the world, with small differences in power train and appearance between markets.

1986 Volvo 240 GL

1986 Volvo 240 GL

There was a wide range of models available in the US (no less 6 trim levels) including a 2 door coupe, sedan and station wagon. On top of that there were special editions through the years, mostly leaning towards the sporting side. Mechanically the 240 was straight forward, with a modern MacPherson strut front suspension and rack-and –pinion steering. Transmissions were 3 and 4 speed auto and manuals that eventually became 4 and 5 speeds respectively. New fuel injection improved response on US models, while in Europe carbureted 4 and 6 cylinder cars were still available that could not meet US emissions standards. Eventually electronic fuel injection would be added to all cars in the early 80’s.

Engines were available in gas or the popular diesel versions. Except for initial Volvo designed 4s, nearly all the later engines were some sort of collaboration, with VW contributing to the diesel, while the “PRV” V6 came from a consortium that included Peugeot and Renault. Not know for being a performance car, the 240 did get good reviews for

1978 Volvo 242 GT

1978 Volvo 242 GT

its predictable handling. On occasion Volvo would cater to the performance set with low volume special edition models using enhanced and turbo versions of the 4 cylinder and PRV V6. The most interesting of these might be the 242 GT/GTX and GLT-Turbo cars from the 80’s. Although they may be rare, many of the turbo and appearance upgrades such as black trim, 15 inch wheels and up rated interiors were later added to the standard GLT/GT/Turbo models.

These cars were very popular with the wagon accounting for nearly a third of all sales. With over a million units sold worldwide, used examples are plentiful. You might well find a GT Turbo in either coupe, sedan or wagon form. Be warned, these are not Lexus like cars at all. They were not always reliable and can require expensive maintaince if neglected. Typical late period V6 turbo cars produced around 130 hp and could muster a 0-60 time of around 9 seconds. The appeal of a Volvo of this era isn’t purely based on speed or looks for that matter. The practicality and durability were the main reasons it lasted for so long with so few external changes. Even today the 240 is still associated with the academic/college/intellectual car crowd. The 240 was replaced by the considerably more modern 850 in 1993 and Volvo gradually moved away from the safe thinking person’s car image of the 240.

1983 Volvo 240 GL

1983 Volvo 240 GL


4 comments on “1974-1993 Volvo 200 Series: The Thinking Man’s Car

  1. Tiga Bu
    November 28, 2010

    I think you will find that the Volvo 200 series is in fact RWD – rear wheel drive. Just saying. Last sentence, second paragraph (O:

    • autopolis
      November 28, 2010

      You’re right they were all rear wheel drive I think. Big typo on my part. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Aaron
    February 23, 2011

    I drove two of these bad boys in high-school (1999-2002). I was the coolest pretend-hippy in a ten mile radius. One was a 1990 240 DL, maroon. Had some sweet (after-market of course) Phish and Grateful Dead bumper stickers. Walked out of a head-on collision unscathed. Followed that one up with a 1993 240, fire-engine red just like the picture above. Slipped 2 12s in the trunk for street credit. Limo tint all-around. I love this car and miss it dearly. Those two vehicles might be the only things in life I’ve liked almost as much as myself. What this car lacked in performance, it made up for in swag.

  3. Tiga Bu
    April 10, 2011

    Mine is a 1988 245 (wagon/estate) and I love it… I am having a career change, becoming a teacher, so I guess I inadvertently ‘bought’ in to the thinking man’s ideology haha

    We use it for camping, long trips and lugging, which is saying something, as our other car is more ‘modern’, being only 6 years old and full of all kinds of hi-tech what’have’ye…

    To me the design is simple and elegant, and to others, boxy and ugly, but since when have ‘they’ ever known anything about anything (O:

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2010 by in 70's Cars, 80's Cars, Volvo and tagged , , , .
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