If you were to describe the Volvo 240 in a vacuum you'd get a car that sounds rather drab and boring, the kind of vehicle easily forgotten by history. Yet, 40 years after its introduction, gearheads and laypeople alike still love the 240.
Aesthetically, the 240 looks like what you'd get if you told a budget coffin-maker to design a car: boxy, comfortable, plain, with minimal ornamentation.
Performance-wise, the car doesn't have any. Though it's RWD, none of the stock engines offered were particularly quick. Even the "TURBO" coupes are, by any standard other than farm equipment, capable of nothing more than a leisurely pace.
So how is it the car has become so beloved?
As a former owner of a Volvo 240 I felt I'd be best to tackle the strange allure of this uniquely plain car, although I was far from the only person on staff with a 240 history and I think that's perhaps the first reason why people love the car.
With more than 2.8 million vehicles build, there's a certain ubiquity to the 240 that few other European cars (at least those sold in the United States) can match. Not only that, the car was so popular they built it for nearly 20 years, thus assuring a new crop of cars of various vintages.
And because it's a Volvo 240 — essentially the most reliable cars ever built — a ridiculous portion of those 2.8 million cars are still on the road. There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that a Volvo exec tried to explain away poor sales by pointing out that their buyers weren't done with their 240s yet.
I don't know if that's true, but I do know that many 240s seems to have 200K on the clock while still running much of the original drivetrain. This isn't to say the car is perfect — a busted flametrap and old school electronics can cause problems — but they're so easy to work on just about any minor problem can be addressed.
Part of this is because the cars are built with safety in mind (another popular 240 story is of an accident that looked gnarly but cost no one more than a scratch) and safety meant "Crumple Zones" and "Crumple Zones" meant an a space under the hood so large you could practically work on the car while standing in the engine bay... while hula-hooping.
That engine bay also means you can put whatever engine in it you'd like, from Ford 302 V8 to a BMW V10 and everything in between. Thus, being both cheap and plentiful, the car has become a workhorse for tuners.
The Volvo 240 was so popular it's one of the few cars in history to outlive its successor, the Volvo 740, which ended production in 1992 (a year before the 240 was finished).
So what then, ultimately, is the appeal? I've given a lot of reasons for different people to like the car, but gearheads and backyard mechanics can't account for the kind of cultural recognition of the 240.
Honesty can, though. The Volvo 240, like the Volkswagen Beetle and Ford Model T, is an honest car. It promises to be a good car, and it is. It promises to be safe, and it is. It promises to be a good value and, history has proven, it's maybe over-delivered there.
People have terrible experiences with great cars, but the only bad experience most Volvo 240 owners seem to share is the day they got rid of it. I know I miss my old 240 wagon.
Do you have a 240 story? Share it below.