On May 5 2013, it is 20 years since Volvo’s single best-selling model, the 240 series, went out of production. Almost 2.9 million cars were made during the 19 years the 240 was produced; the car that first was criticized for its boring and boxy appearance, but during its lifetime managed to set the international standard for both safety and environment , win the European Touring Car Championship and achieve the status of yuppie cult car before it was discontinued in May 1993.
Volvo 240 has maybe more than any other Volvo model in recent time been the symbol for the Volvo trade mark, sometimes positive and sometimes not. It was introduced in August 1974 as a logical continuation and development of the popular 140 series of cars, featuring a number of new and innovative technical solutions in many areas. Especially the very high level of safety characterized the car which bore a strong visual resemblance to the VESC safety concept car that Volvo had showed two years earlier. This, among many other details, meant very large bumpers which gave the 240 its characteristic protruding jaw up front. The 240 was well received with regard to its dynamic and safety properties but less so in terms of aesthetic values. The design was considered boring and perpendicular. It never won any prizes for beauty – but it was one of the best cars of its time and definitely the safest and most environmentally advanced car on the market for several years. This is what the Volvo 244 looked like when introduced in the late summer of 1974 as model year 1975.
Like the 140 series some years before, the 240 was also marketed in a more luxurious version with a six-cylinder engine, the 260, and as an estate; Volvo’s pièce de resistance. The Volvo 245 almost became synonymous with the very concept of estate cars or station wagons in general. A truly versatile car that swallowed everything imaginable while at the same time was both fun to drive and comfortable, and featuring the highest safety level on the automotive market at the time. Set the standards for safety and environment
After a long series of crash tests carried out by the US traffic safety authority NHTSA, using 240 and its competitors, it became clear that the Volvo 244 by far provided the best occupant protection. The results were therefore used to form the basis for the future US safety legislation for all cars that were going to be sold on the American market. At about the same time, Volvo also worked intensively on emission control, trying to control the unregulated oxidizing catalyst that was going to be introduced within short and to make it – under certain conditions – reduce the three harmful substances hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitric oxides (NOX) to levels unheard of before. In 1976, Volvo became the first car manufacture to serve the solution: The Lambda sensor. This genial little piece of engineering enabled the catalyst to cut more than 90 per cent of the harmful hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and nitric oxide levels that are the result of the combustion of the fuel/air mixture.It looked like a versatile family estate car – which it indeed was – but the Turbo version was also the fastest estate car on the market in 1980. The grilled chicken that was bought in the food department of Harrods could easily be served at the dining table in Surrey while still hot.
The world’s fastest wagon
Volvo 240 was a step, or more, ahead of the business in terms of safety and environmental care and was a model that was continuously developed and updated during its existence. The cars were refined and revitalized over the years. New technical solutions were added; turbo-charged and diesel engines were introduced at an early stage. The reputation for being a boring car was efficiently erased when the Volvo 240 showed itself to be the world’s quickest estate car and when the “Flying brick” swept the competition off the racing circuits of Europe on its way to become the Group A champion. Many Group A drivers first laughed at the clumsy Volvo but soon quietened when they realised that the ‘Flying Brick’ had entered the series to win, which it also did in 1985, in the hands of Thomas Lindström and Gianfranco Brancatelli who won half of the races during the season.
During the final stages of its life, the 240 was only offered as five-door estate car and experienced a real renaissance when it suddenly became the car to have among many European so-called yuppies. This was particularly the case in Italy where the 240 Polar, as it was called then, was the most trendy car among young conscious people and achieved a cult status. The 240 family was by then handled both product and production wise by a separate company within the company, the 240-bolaget; a separate but integrated unit. However, on May 5th 1993 it was all over. After 19 very successful years and 2.862.573 cars, of which 177.402 were 260s, the 240 took its final bow, almost at the same time as the chairman of AB Volvo, Pehr G Gyllenhammar did. He had been one of the biggest fans of the 240 over the years and had used many different versions. Several of them were real ’specials’.
The very last 240 to be built was also a special, a shortened version made just for fun by the project. This short 240 was a thank you for the efforts done by the entire 240 crew and symbolized shortened leadtimes. The last 245 to reach a customer went to a Swedish lady who were handed her keys by P G Gyllenhammar at a small ceremony beside Line 2:4-2 under the motto “The last 240 and the best”.Having built all the customer cars ordered, the final 240 to come off the line was this short-wheelbase version which symbolised short leadtimes. This was the 240 company’s way of saying thank you and farewell.
There are still plenty of Volvo 240 cars on the road all around the world. At least 20 years old and still used as faithful everyday cars. There are even dedicated clubs that work actively to preserve the 240 and to secure its future, just like the 240 for many years worked to secure the future of Volvo Cars. The very symbol of the safe, practical and lasting family estate car, the Volvo 240. Imagine the number of grocery bags that have travelled in the boot of these cars over the years and all over the world.