The 240 was the car that encapsulated the Volvo brand more than any other before or since. The boxy styling, ultra safe cabin and dependable running gear offered a product that has since been copied but never bettered. There are certain brands that are defined by one segment of the market. If you want a sports car you go to Porsche, if you're after something small you buy a Mini and if you want the ultimate family estate then Volvo is the company to talk to all thanks to the 240. Whether you want to own a piece of Volvo history or are just after an affordable classic to ferry your dog around in, the 240 is close to a no-brainer.
Volvo hit gold with the 240 when it was introduced in 1974, and the company knew it. It was an unpretentious utilitarian vehicle that quickly gained cult status and an image of classlessness. Many bought the 240 because of what it didn’t say about them - anyone from a student to a duchess could own the boxy Volvo and no one would bat an eyelid. The 200-series remained in production for a whopping nineteen years. When it was eventually phased out in 1993, the car's DNA was still very much alive in the subsequent 850 and V70 models. A long shelf life is unusual for any product, let alone a car competing in such a fierce sector. That the 240 received little in the way of facelifts or tweaks along the way made it all the more remarkable. The early UK range included the 244DL and higher-specced GL, as well as the 245E and DL estates, with a 245 GL arriving later. As you’d expect of a car with such a long production run, there were all sorts of engine, trim and body combinations, and it really comes down to personal preference as to which variant is best.
While the 240 was far more reliable than its contemporaries, it was still built majoritively in the Seventies and Eighties so you need to check for rust. Particular problem areas include the front wings on early cars, which rotted badly due to a lack of plastic inner-wing liners. This was rectified in 1977 but it’s still worth checking the bodywork around the indicators and between the wheel arches and the door, which remained a trouble spot. As on many classics, the sills can rot badly. This issue is exacerbated on the 240 because the sills were made up of three parts. There’s the outer and inner sills, with a central sill sitting between them. If the outer sill has begun to bubble and corrode then it’s likely spread to the other sections too. While you’re checking the sills have a look at the door bottoms, which tend to rust due to drain hole blockages. Ensure you inspect the underside of the car thoroughly, looking for signs of dodgy welding repairs and rust. Have a look at the boot floor and the bottom of the boot lid too, as well as the spare wheel well and the rear wheel arches. The engine bay should be inspected closely, particularly the front cross-member that supports the radiator, as well as the bulkhead, the battery tray, the front chassis legs and around the bottom of the windscreen, where rust is common.
The 240 became a paragon of reliability for a reason. Its engines were bulletproof. However this has become something of a double-edged sword as many owners presume the car will go on forever and don’t bother looking after it. Unsurprisingly this can lead to problems. The head gaskets have been known to fail, so check the coolant in the oil. If the oil is unusually dark it could mean an oil change is necessary or something more serious is afoot. Inspecting the condition of the air filter and the general state of the engine bay will give you a clue about when the car was last serviced. Switch the engine on and listen out for any knocking noises and a lumpy idle. The latter could be caused by a worn carburettor if the revs are too low or a problem with the automatic choke if the revs are too high. Most 240s on the market are fitted with the B19 and B21 four-cylinders. These are solid engines and can easily rack up a lot of miles without any issues. The 2.7-litre PRV engine found in the 260 model have been known to need a new camshaft at around 100,000-miles. It can also suffer from overheating, so bring the engine up to normal operating temperature and ensure there are no problems.
The rear oil seal is partial to leaking on manual cars, resulting in a broken gearbox if it’s left unattended and the oil level drops. Make sure you can get every gear easily as high miler 240s can suffer from a weak synchromesh, especially on early cars. There should be no issues with the clutch but if it feels overly heavy then it could point towards a stretched cable, which will eventually snap. There are no outstanding problems with the autos but watch out for any juddering gear changes.
Although the 240s running gear is tough, problems can still crop up with age. Inspect the tie rods, rear axle support arms and steering rods and bushes. The steering rack is also prone to wear and leakage on high milers.
Early cars can suffer from electrical issues, with the wiring harness under the bonnet sometimes perishing due to heat soak. Make sure you check all the electrics thoroughly, making sure the car is glitch-free. Check for any rusty plugs or cracked connections. Turn the lights on and see if each bulb has a matching light output. If they don’t it could point towards an earthing problem or rust in the light clusters. Make sure the car turns over quickly. If it takes too long the car likely has a weak battery.
The 240 has the hard-wearing interior materials you’d expect of a car built in a land of snow and forests, with seat and carpet upholstery of a high standard. Nevertheless, check for worn seat bolsters and any carpet wear. If there is evidence of damp in the foot well it could mean the windscreen is leaking or the a-pillar is rotten.
The 240 drives exactly how it looks. It’s comfortable and relaxing without setting the back roads alight. Those used to earlier Volvo’s - such as the Amazon - will be surprised to find that the early 240s feel pretty similar in terms of speed. This is due to its heft, especially in estate form. Make sure to check for play in the steering rack, any knocks from the suspension and rear-end sag (often the legacy of a hard life as a tow car).
Due to its nineteen year production run there is no shortage of models and trim levels to choose from. While each combination of engine and trim specification can throw up marginally different values, the general rule of thumb is that the estate will set you back more than the saloon. While you can still pick up a rough and ready project car for around £1,000, a working runner will cost around the £3,000 - £4,000, with examples in good condition and sensible mileage hovering at around the £4,000 - £5,000 mark. While some 200-series cars are sold for more than this, it’s usually a more prestigious model - such as the GLT or the rare and much-sought after 262C, which can fetch up to £10,000.
The 240 should be a low-maintenance classic to own and run. Unless rust has taken hold within the three-part sills, you shouldn't have to shell out much on the hardy Volvo. Like most classics, watch out for project cars and their temptingly low prices. They can easily become financial black holes and cost you more than the price of a working example.
While the 240 might look like the last car to take to the racetrack, the boxy Swede was a successful touring car in the 1980s. Volvo made 505 evolution versions of the 240 Turbo, fitting a larger turbocharger and shedding as much weight as possible. They were then exported to the US and raced at iconic tracks such as Long Beach in the Group A category. It was also raced successfully in Europe and Australia, where it was particularly rapid at Bathhurst due, weirdly, to its straight line speed. The 240 also became a Group A rally car, although without works support it never achieved meaningful success. Despite this it became a popular rally car for young drivers breaking into the sport, with countless Scandinavian aces cutting their teeth in a 240. It was even entered in banger races, the tank-like design proving highly effective and durable.
The Volvo 240 was unquestionably one of the best family cars ever made, and has become the bedrock of the Volvo brand. Reliable, safe and with a timeless design, the 240 is one of the most usable classic cars money can buy. Whether you’re looking for a rugged family car, something to put the dog in or just love the Volvo’s boxy minimalism, there’s no shortage of reasons why the 240 is the ideal everyday classic.
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