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The Volvo 240 – Five Things You Need to Know

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By Dale Vinten

Practical, safe and affordable, the Volvo 240 is a tempting choice when it comes to classic car ownership. Generally thought of as a little boring, the 240 is beginning to eschew that somewhat unfair stigma as we plough headlong into 2020 and people are starting to revere this (dare we say it) iconic motor – tweed jackets with elbow pads no longer required. Launched in 1974 and enjoying an almost two decade production run, it was a popular car and there are still plenty left on the roads which is a testament to their build quality. From two-doors to estate cars, all with various trim levels, and with engines ranging from 2.0-litre four-pots, through forced induction, to 2.9-litre V6 lumps, there’s plenty of choice for the discerning buyer.

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The Volvo “Redblock” engines are renowned for their reliability. The term ‘bomb-proof’ is often thrown around when these motors are being discussed and you’ll regularly see 240s with hundreds of thousands of miles under their belts with seemingly no ill effects. Turbocharged cars and V6 variants will obviously be more thirsty but the power gains they provide cannot be ignored and the scope for modification is also considerable. Coupled with how easy these cars are to work on, the 240 is an attractive choice for home mechanics and garage tinkerers who like to get their hands dirty. Gearboxes come in four or five-speed manual and three or four-speed automatic flavours but our choice would be a stick-shift mated to a turbo motor as this provides the most bang for your buck. All cars are rear-wheel-drive too, so there is potential for sideways fun and 240s are a sought-after weapon amongst the drift crowd. There were many cosmetic and interior tweaks over the years to keep the car fresh and the higher spec models, such as the GT and GLT, are obviously more desirable but deep down it’s all about finding the balance that’s right for you between power, drive-ability and practicality. On to our list then – here are five things you need to know about the Volvo 240.

1) Body and Chassis

240s are robust. They were way less susceptible to rot than their competitors of the time, but that’s not to say rust isn’t an issue nowadays. These are old cars and as well-built as they are, corrosion can still take hold, especially on pre-1988 cars before Volvo started using galvanised body parts. The main areas of concern are the front wings, (although not so much on cars built after 1978 when inner wing protectors were fitted), the wheel arches and around the front lights. Door bottoms and the area around the windscreen can also be affected so check for any paint bubbling here. It’s worth having a look at the spare wheel well too as water can collect here and corrode the boot floor. Lift up the carpets in the cabin as well and look for signs of any water ingress which can cause issues. The front cross member underneath the radiator, along with the sills, can also rust so check these areas thoroughly as repairs can be expensive. Be wary of cars where any welding has been carried out and steer clear if the frame rails are corroded. Generally speaking it’s better to opt for a later model but always remain diligent when inspecting any vehicle. Parts availability is generally good and due to the sheer volume of cars made the second-hand market is healthy. New front wings are still available and can be easily replaced as they are bolt-on affairs. There is great club support too so sourcing bits and pieces, as well as information and advice, shouldn’t be difficult.

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2) Trim

The level and condition of the interior will depend on the age and specification of the car in question but generally speaking all interiors are well made, using good quality materials. Leather seats are plush and even lower-spec cloth interiors are hard-wearing, with high-mileage examples doing a good job of retaining their lustre. Having said that, the front seats should still be inspected for wear on the bolsters and the foam padding can deteriorate but this is an easy fix if you can find replacement second-hand or scrap seats and simply swap the foam over. The driver’s side carpet, although better than most cars at the time, can be prone to abrasion and as mentioned earlier, check for soggy floors to make sure water isn’t getting into the cabin. A lot of estate cars will have been used and abused as load-luggers so check the boot area and side panels for damage and wear and tear. Not an issue in and of itself but something to consider depending on how fussy you are about overall condition. Some interior parts are becoming hard to find now in good second-hand condition so bear this in mind when choosing your 240. 

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3) Engine

You’ll most likely encounter the B21 and B23/B230 four-cylinder engines on your quest for a 240 and with regular servicing and maintenance these engines can rack up serious mileage before any rebuild is necessary. It’s important to check the flame trap as these can get blocked causing unwanted sump pressure which can blow seals. It’s a cheap and easy part to replace so there’s no excuse for it not to be done other than carelessness and neglect, which will speak volumes. Timing belts should be replaced regularly so scrutinise any service history for evidence of work carried out. It’s rare but head gaskets can fail so perform the usual checks for coolant in the oil. Another sign of poor maintenance will be the condition of the oil – if it’s overly dark then it’s due a change. Genuine Volvo oil filters should be used too as other makes can cause problems with engine lubrication if they do not have an anti-return valve. On turbocharged cars check the exhaust for blue/grey smoke which will indicate a failing turbo and listen out for any whining noises. Earlier cars are prone to suffering with electrical gremlins thanks to the wiring harness under the bonnet degrading due to heat soak, so make sure there is nothing untoward as far as electrics are concerned. Both manual and automatic transmissions are tough units but auto boxes are typically less stressed than their manual counterparts.

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4) Suspension and steering

Not renowned for having the most impressive handling and it can feel a little boat-like, but with a well-maintained suspension and steering setup any 240 should provide a smooth and comfortable ride. Fitted with MacPherson front struts and a solid rear axle it’s not an overly complicated affair but with any car of this vintage it’s always pertinent to inspect the suspension bushes and this will help to give an indication of whether or not the car has been looked after. It can be expensive if you need to replace the whole lot and it’s well worth upgrading to polyurethane items if you do, as this will tighten everything up and improve the handling and feel of the car. Check the steering rack for leaks, especially on high mileage cars and ensure that the power assistance works – there shouldn’t be any play or notchiness in the steering. The rear axle and differential are practically indestructible but do inspect them for any oil leaks as low oil levels will cause premature wear. A lot of 240s, especially the estates, were used as tow cars so if that’s your poison do make sure the rear suspension hasn’t sagged. Rear springs are cheap and easy to replace but if you find a car that needs a lot of fettling then the garage bills can soon pile up.

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5) Brakes

All 240s came with disc brakes on every corner and they work well, providing plenty of stopping power. There’s not a lot to worry about as far as the brake setup is concerned but brake pipes can corrode and check the flexible hoses for any bulges or deterioration. Inspect the discs for any scoring or lipped edges and make sure the pads have plenty of meat left on them. Both are easy to replace and inexpensive but again, neglected brakes could point to the car being generally unloved overall, so heed the warning signs and factor in any additional costs when agreeing a price.

If you new feel inspired to buy one of these trusty Swedes, how about the one pictured here? It’s available from Stone Cold Classics, and could easily be one of the best out there. It could be yours for just £5,990.

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