Few things in life are as magnificently robust as these definitive old Swedes
Classic cars are generally seen as rather fragile and in need of constant attention. But that’s certainly not true of every model, and one type in particular has forged itself a solid reputation for toughness – the Volvo 240. This was the vehicle that helped the Swedish marque to become such a fixture of middle class Britain and established the legend that Volvos were about as indestructible as Keith Richards, setting the company template for years to come. They were incredibly practical in estate form, too, with enormous load-lugging capability. There’s a reason antique dealers loved them so much – it’s amazing just how much you can fit into the five-door version. They’ll take care of a Chippendale more effectively than a Blackpool hen party. There’s also something timeless about them. The basic shape dates back to 1966, when the 140 series was launched. This metamorphosed into the 240 in 1974 with a new front end, engines and MacPherson strut suspension. The range continued until 1993, actually outliving its 740 replacement.
However, many aspects of the 240’s rear-wheel drive engineering, plus its general breezeblock-like persona (especially in estate form) lived on in the 940 until 1998, after which Volvo embraced curves and front-wheel drive. That’s 32 years of bulletproof Flying Bricks, 19 of which were dominated by the 240.
Despite their inherent engineering quality, these Volvos aren’t completely immune from corrosion, time and high mileage, so you still need to check them carefully. Indeed, their status as motoring survivors, plus their lack of glamour, often means that due care and attention gets skipped. So find one that has been properly looked after and you’ll have an appreciating classic that will probably last for centuries, not just years or decades.
tOugh POWEr The engines are practically indestructible – assuming they’ve had proper oil changes, mileages well in excess of 200,000 are easily attainable, often without the need for significant attention. If there’s evidence of genuine Volvo oil filters being used, so much the better, as they have a non-return valve. When engines do wear, it’s usually the rocker shafts; a rattle on start-up should clear quickly. Rough idles could signal a worn camshaft – listen for clicking. Do the usual checks for oil and water mixing, which will probably mean the head gasket has failed. intO gEar The gearboxes are just as rugged as the engines, but problems can occur at higher mileages. There should be little or no noise, and changes should be smooth – this applies to both manual and automatic versions. Check that overdrive – if fitted – functions properly, although if it doesn’t, it’s probably just an electrical issue. The Borg-Warner three-speed automatics are reliable as long as they haven’t overheated. The fluid should be a cherry red. Brown or black, and smelling burnt, suggests all is not well. The back axles should outlast this millennium. rOt WatCh The biggest cause for concern is the windscreen aperture. Floorpans and inner sills can also go, likewise the front lower corner of the doors and estate tailgates. Other areas to investigate are the wheelarches, battery tray, around the bonnet hinges and the base of the B-posts. triM tiME Lower-spec cars had cloth upholstery, with leather on more luxurious variants. The buttons on the earlier hide seats can work loose and disappear. The multitude of cloth colours and patterns can make like-for-like replacement tricky, so avoid cars with damaged seats. Door pockets often suffer from shoe damage. ELECtriCKEry The fusebox on the nearside A-post suffers water ingress and the fuse holder terminals become bent, creating poor connections. A failing fuel gauge signals its intent by behaving erratically. On estates, check that the heated rear window, wiper and numberplate light work – the loom can break where it passes through the hinge.