A Photo For Sunday: 1988 Volvo 240 GL Estate

The ever-popular PFS returns with a perennial favourite of DTW, the 240 GL, as seen yesterday.

There’s a potentially vivid discussion waiting to be kicked off with this image. Or two. Without any shadow of a doubt one can have a controlled argument as to whether this car is better than the corresponding Saab 900.

1987 Volvo 240 GL estate seen in Aarhus, Denmark

The second discussion is broader. It’s about the Best Car In The World. Here the debate hinges really on a definition of best and only thereafter can one get to a short list of the BCITW.

For the record, my definition of BCITW means the best compromise of price, space, quality and durability. Only then does driving quality come into it. The moment one includes driving quality in the list almost every other parameter suffers.

Values emobodied: source

You won’t be surprised to find Peugeot make the car that satisfies all five parameters. Ferrari doesn’t make the cut. I’d be interested to hear of the few others that are not too dear, not too small, not too cheaply made, not too flimsy and not too ghastly to conduct. Most French cars fail to make the cut on these terms and yet they are often beautiful and beautiful to drive (DS, Renault 16, Peugeot 205 et cetera).

Most Italian cars get by on their looks and driver appeal too but which Italian car is BCITW material. Is it Lancia Thema? Lancia Kappa? Are there any Fords or Opels on the list? If not, why not? What about the Vectra C or one of the Astras?  The Focus Mk1 gets into the list now I come to think of it. But does the Mk2 get there too?

A final argument is small and easily managed: is it true the 240 must have been sold eventually in one trim level and with three colours: red, white and this grey colour? I never see late models in anything else. Is there a name for this phenomenon of paring a range back to the basics?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

50 thoughts on “A Photo For Sunday: 1988 Volvo 240 GL Estate”

  1. I have fond memories of my adolescence, the mother of a friend used to bring him to school every moring in a beautiful blue Volvo 240. Living in South of France it was a kind of extraordinary car to me and my parents probably remember how much I talked about it then.
    Time went by and, as much as I still appreciate it, I must admit a detail bother me each time I look at one : The slight slope on the top of the rear doors. Those doors appear to be the same as the sedan but as the wagon roof is straight they seem out of place here. Something we wouldn’t see on a w124.
    Hope my english is not too bad, I wanted to write something and tell you I love DTW work.

    1. Good morning Camille. Welcome to DTW and thank you for your kind words. Thank you also for your reminiscences on the 240. That jarring detail on the estate has been the subject of comment before. It was indeed strange that Volvo didn’t adjust the rear door window frame on the estate version to avoid that unfortunate fillet. It was less apparent on the later versions with the blacked out window frames, as shown in Richard’s photos above.

    2. Salut Camille,

      Your English is as good as mine and that didn’t stop me flooding the site with my all-important views so go ahead and write to us as often you like. Welcome to the site. I like that you’re into details and the fact that you mentioned ‘a slight slope on top of the rear doors’ shows we’re dealing with a real connoisseur here.

      NRJ- DrivenToWrite’s self-appointed director of public relation.

  2. Good morning, Richard. The spiritual successor to the Volvo 240 is, I would volunteer, the Skoda Superb estate or, if that is too large, the Octavia. Back in the late 90’s there was a story that Skoda was to be positioned by VW Group as the “new Volvo” after the Swedish marque begsn to develop “premium” pretensions and vacated its traditional position as a practical workhorse. It’s job done, I would suggest.

    As to BCITW, based on your criteria, I would nominate the W124 estate.

    1. Daniel, a good car, true, but better than a W123 estate? I am not sure, especially not the facelifted version with the self destructing engine bay wiring loom.

    2. Hi Peter. That’s a fair point you make. I chose the W124 over the W123 for its better anti-corrosion measures and consequent longevity. The 123 was a fine car for its time, but did succumb to rust, like most of its contemporaries.

    1. Careful now, NRJ. You don’t want to appear to be, as Lord Darlington said “A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” 😁

    2. Before anyone makes up their mind about the Lybra (“the Lybra ??!!”) being a contender for BCITW, I thought people should know this.

      From a random Lybra web page:

      “The materials of the glove compartment door and the seats are the biggest minus. The plastics are melting on a hot summer days, and start sticking. Awful experience. If some one knows how to remove this stickiness, please share. Thanks.”

      And here is someone’s answer:

      “I come from Ghana (West Africa). I owe a Lancia Lybra and had the same sticky problem. I used turpentine, and afterwards sprayed it with dashboard spray. Since then, I have never experienced it again.”

  3. If we must talk about the Volvo 240 estate then I would say that its alarmingly long 3rd window made me uncomfortable back then. There was a hearse quality to it.
    Combined with the tiny rear passenger-window it made for odd proportions. I do appreciate better the idiosyncratic design now.

    1. There is in fact some imbalance between the short doors and the long rear of this car. Courtesy of the ridiculously short wheelbase, I’d say. There was plenty of length for transporting long objects, but I remember the rear bench as a bit cramped with the intrusive rear wheelarches on the sides. And the boot floor was quite high, so not much useful height in the back.

      My brother hat a 1978 245 estate as his first car, and I actually quite liked to drive it, although it was a bit sluggish und thirsty with its prehistoric 3-speed automatic transmission. But it was fairly comfortable and not too much impressed by road conditions.

      The last 240 series I remember mainly in red. And I’m not sure if it was still sold as a saloon or only estate. Saloon 240s were quite rare in Switzerland almost from the beginning.

    2. Hi Simon, I hadn’t noticed before but, you’re right, the wheelbase is definitely a bit short:

      Even retaining that wheelbase, there was still room for the rear door to be a couple of inches longer and encroach further into the rear wheel arch. The applied equally to the saloon version:

    3. I see you’ve straightened the C-pillar too. It loses a lot of its character without this little imperfection I must admit.

    4. Yes, surprising, isn’t it? I also lengthened the front door by moving the B-pillar rearwards, to stop the rear door looking too long in proportion to the front, the problem you often find with LWB derivatives. Objectively, it’s better balanced but, subjectively, is it now slightly bland?

  4. Yes, there has been a last series in basic attire: in Italy it was called Polar.
    According to the Volvo Italia site, it was an initiative starting from them, so that Volvo agreed in producing this special series for Italy which had later an European success.
    I do not know whether this is the real course of the events, as it would mean that two improbable events happened together, i.e. a really good knowledge of its market on the part of Volvo Italia and a particular trust in their idea on the part of Volvo Sweden. However, according to their site, it really happened like this

    https://www.media.volvocars.com/it/it-it/media/pressreleases/138327/polar-una-storia-di-successo-tutta-italiana-che-ha-costruito-la-fama-di-volvo-nel-nostro-paese

    The colours were four, as also silver was available.

    It happens that I drove one of them for about ten years and 100.000 km, so I can confirm without any doubt that it won hands down the categories price, space, quality and durability; moreover the fifth element requested by Richard, driving quality, was also massively present.
    RWD, strong brakes, a beautiful gearbox, nice steering, excellent roadholding qualities at every speed: I only have a fond memory of that car.

    1. Hello Vic: So, a Lybra is BCITW material? I suggested the Lancia Kappa so the Lybra is also plausible. It is robust, usefully balanced in performance, comfort and economy, too to expensive and is even a decent car to drive. Point taken and now we have the Golf, 240, 406 and Lybra playing on the same pitch. Interesting.

      The grey 240 saloon posted on March 29th is, to my eyes, a remarkably handsome machine. The alloys look superb. Has anyone seen one of these in black with a light tan or cream leather interior? These are regal without being excessive.

      I agree the “corrected” estate has lost something. However, it is far from clear that we´d think that if were given a choice like this in the design studio in 1970-something. We´ve grown to like the actual car; the corrected version is what objectively most of us would choose.

    2. Don’t forget my BCITW nomination, the W124, ideally in estate form and pre the E-Class facelift:

    3. Daniel: if you look in the very fine print (the text in 2 pt Times Roman under the asterisk in the footnote on p. 291) of the rules of BTCIW, you will see that “if a car is a bit too expensive it is deemed to be inelligible for contention.”

      The W-124 is, on the face of it durable, well-made, reliable, comfortable, acceptable to drive and attractive to behold which makes it regrettable that due to it being just a bit too expensive it can´t be included in this discussion.

      If only Mercedes had used a slightly thinner fabric for the seats, a few fewer welds, slightly less robust fixing solutions,no Zebrano wood, less UV resistant plastic trim, had reduced the testing programme by a few months, thinned the paint by a few microns, used existing technology instread of newer technology, made it a bit slower and slightly less good at road-holding then that coveted BCITW status could be its to have. But they didn´t. Thousands of estate agents, GPs, succesful screenwriters, architects, civil engineers and vice-deans of provincial universities are, however, thankful for M-B´s expenditure.

    4. I told him already that his Merc is not eligible but he keeps hawking it. I’am sure the BCITW awards are rigged anyway, I bet it’s an Opel Kadett or Astra that will win it.

    5. My stalwart W124 will still be going strong long after your crummy old Duster has (re)turned to, er, dust.

    6. I´d like to weigh in here in an impartial manner. The Duster is not eligible because it´s way too cheap. It works and is spacious and efficient but it´s too compromised by price, pretty much the mirror oppposite of Daniel´s forlorn entrant which is compromised by price as well but in the other direction.
      The Lancia Lybra is looking like a surprise contended becuase it does all the things I expect of BCITW and is interesting. The Volvo and 406 are contenders with their market success being an additional factor (one the Lybra lacks, alas).
      What about all those C-class cars which sell well as a matter of coure and last, and last and last? Hmmm. Maybe they are a bit too small but very probably (objectively) might be BCITW material, as a matter of course. So, maybe the winner is the Astra F saloon? Never mind that it´s only mediocre to drive – that´s not a factor in this adjudication.

      We are at least heading towards a shortlist. We must be careful and not mix up the ideeas of “the car best suited to the biggest chunk of the market” and something loftier, a car which everyone would want if they wanted the best overall compromise (which is one size up from the C-class in my view), the Mondeo/Vectra/Passat class.

    7. Hmm….

      NRJ, I think Richard is stitching both of us up with his arbitrary rules! The shortlist now consists of the Astra F, a Lancia and some random also-rans. Now, why doesn’t that surprise me? 😁

    8. Readers might like to assess Daniel´s scurrilous allegations in the light of these fine articles from DTW´s catalogue (what kind of catalogue is that? The back catalogue, of course. It is an essential tool for anyone doing forward planning).
      These are two instalments from the DTW´s Top 50 Cars Ever series from (oh, God) five years ago…
      https://driventowrite.com/2015/10/20/1983-toyota-crown-1986-fiat-croma/
      https://driventowrite.com/2015/10/24/driven-to-writes-top-fifty-best-cars-ever-29-20/

      If I was being serious I´d have to accept the W-124 as a reasonable attempt at BTCIW and then vehicles like the Duster creep in as corollaries. Is anyone willing to provide an argument to defeat the Duster and its workaday ilk?

    9. Yes Daniel, I think it’s suspicious too. Notice how a car’s road-handling is not really taken into consideration. How convenient for an Opel don’t you think ?

    10. …..To be honest I don’t know if the Duster is BCITW material. I’ve never even driven one !
      I just nominated it in the heat of the moment because it was cheap (too cheap apparently), seems durable and a lot of owners seem happy with it. I do acknowledge that the fact that it’s an SUV makes it automatically persona non grata around here.

  5. The BCITW is whatever you can afford to buy (and run) at any particular point in time. Which is why I, as a penniless student in the late ’60s, would have nominated my Heinkel (made in Dundalk) “bubble-car” or its Reliant Regal successor. Later, and before the invention of V.A.T., vans in the UK were not subject to Purchase Tax and therefore much cheaper to buy than cars. Ideal, too, for carrying materials needed for renovating old houses; our first vehicle bought new was a Moskvitch 434, then the cheapest and by far the best-equipped van available.

    Time passes and circumstances change; looking for a second-hand van for yet another house renovation I bought instead an elderly Volvo 145. Absolutely brilliant! With full-length ladder-rack I could transport 4.5-metre lengths of timber with ease and that upright rear meant a fully usable interior space. BCITW for sure – and such a pity that the understated elegance (that door-top slope apart) became so tank-like with the 245. But factor in driving quality and the contemporary Saab 99 and 900 win hands down. Over the years we had two 99s and five 900s, all bought at around two years old (and thus avoiding their initial massive depreciation) and traded up after another three years or so. A relationship ended by the intervention of General Motors.

    Current BCITW is without doubt my wife’s Fiat Panda, closely followed by my Jowett Javelin. Other opinions are, of course, equally valid!

    1. I can see your point. That said, I was hoping for a bit of objectivity. As the Duke of Richborough I could say the Aston Martin Lagonda is the best car in the world or perhaps call some fragile 1960s Italian racer the BTCIW because I have the money to pay for the spares and petrol and support car.
      The BTCIW is very probably somewhere in the middle of the ranges (size, speed, cost, abilitity). My daughter asked me if the XM was a BTCIW and the answer´s no. It´s a *nice* car and an a beautiful one but too fragile and uneven to claim BTCIW status.

  6. BCITW? Can nominate Astra F and G, Golf Mk2 and Mk4, Breadvan Polo? These are all great cars in their own right but none of them can beat my favourite Peugeot 406 surely?

  7. BCITW… I’ve always thought that the best car in the world is the one best fit for purpose. That makes it satisfying every time you use it. Have owned quite a few that have felt just-right in that way: Renault 5; Peugeot 107; VW Passat estate; Mondeo Mark 1; Volvos 240; 850 and our current pair, Volvo V70 and VW e-Up! Perhaps we should accept a correction, allowing for perspective – “Best Car in My World”. That allows for our different worlds, how our world changes with time and circumstance. That much is personal. But within the parameters of an individual life, one can happily argue for the objective qualities that make a car “Best”. The Volvo’s versatility, robustness; attention to piratical detail and safety. The 107’s minimalism, smallness, liveliness and build integrity – no squeaks after over 12 years. The Mondeo Mk 1 was just the right size for a family and soothing in that every control from door handle to indicator was a tactile pleasure and felt nicely oiled and weighted (a quality carried through to the related V70). I love, really love, this smoothness in a mechanical construction. In a family car, that envelopes all manner of everyday tensions, it is even more welcome.

  8. Two arguments to address here, first Volvo 240 v Saab 900. I’m biased here having owned a 99 Combi Coupé followed by a 900. I think the Saabs were certainly more attractively and thoughtfully styled externally and internally, had more sophisticated engineering and were more involving to drive. However I don’t think they were as rugged as the Volvos; my local independent garage sometimes struggled with ours and they weren’t immune to niggling faults. I’d call it a draw.
    BCITW? Well here’s a vote for one of Adrian’s suggestions, the Mk2 Golf. Certainly not as attractive as a Mk1 but much more rust resistant and the brakes worked! Simple, sturdy, spacious (for its sector) and relatively modestly priced. Our 1984 diesel averaged 10,000 miles/year, was so simple to work one even I could service it and it lasted till 1999. Still see some of them around in Ireland. It was similar in dimensions to Mrs M’s 2017 Polo but much more capacious.

    1. Golf Mk2 – yes Barry, agreed! We had two of those when we lived in Jerusalem – a 1986 1300GL and 1988 GTI. The 1300 was chocked-down like a Beetle – single-point injection that required/invited you to drive foot-to-the -floor with the engine never feeling strained and the car never going very fast. The GTI had no power steering but was fast, solid (to begin with) and had the best A/C of any car I have owned. Our first baby was a summer birth and my partner would take the car out to cool down from the Middle East heat. When the baby became overdue, there was an added motivation – the bumpy suspension (on urban potholes) might, we thought, help induce the baby!
      When said baby (having arrived safely) was a few months old and in the GTI, the car got rammed by an inattentive Beetle. It squashed at it should do – the front crumple zone did just that – but all occupants were fine. The repair took months – parts had to arrive from Germany and they never managed to source the black VW badge… had to buy one on a trip to England to replace the chrome one. Calm was restored – almost. After the crash the car developed a squeak and really was never the same again. Still, a great experience to have owned it for a few years.

    2. The 264 GLE image is mouth-watering. What a handsome car. It´s the headrestraints that really are the icing on the cake. Very probably it was through noticing these in Volvos that I developed an idea for a proper car interior. Around the late 80s I noticed Fords, Renaults and Opels didn´t bother with these and they looked bare without them. That and the missing rear-centre armrest of low-end cars. Aargh.

  9. Looking at pics of the 240, some U.S versions had the Volvo logo in the grille slightly offset and placed on the upper right-hand side while the European ones had it right in the middle of the grille.

    1. Hi NRJ. Warning, anorak alert!

      I think that offset badge was an affectation on the grille of the earlier 264/5 models on both sides of the Atlantic:

  10. As the owner of a Golf Mk4 TDI (pump jet) 130 hp 5dr highline I support this view.
    This is to a large part due to how this car drives, even if road manners are excluded as criteria (probably because if they were no Opel would make it under the top hundred).
    Durability, quality and price might be sufficient when I look at furniture but as a car is bought to drive around in it the way it behaves on the road must be included in the consideration for BCITW.

    1. Hi Dave, 130 even better than 110, please correct me if i am wrong, TDI DI for the 130hp in red.

    2. Yes, indeed it has the red DI.
      It is tremendous fun to drive in its own peculiar way. The engine has stomp pulling torque which makes you forgive it its gruff running characteristics, it is very frugal (trundling through Switzerland and then down the autostrada from Como to Firenze it did nearly 30 kms to the litre) and nineteen years of ownership the severest defects were a snapped window winder (common on early Mk4s) and a temperature sensor for the ECU.

  11. I am aware of the Lybra´s sticky glovebox. That is not a sufficient demerit to push it out of the playing field. The reason handling/ride is not a *high* priority in the BTCIW is because many of these compromise cars are not about handling other than acceptable comfort and acceptable ride. The 406 does well to over-achieve in those stakes as does the Lancia. I doubt the Dacia rides any better than an Opel and the same goes for the Mercedes. The minute you prioritise ride and handling as determining criteria you end up with a whole other bunch of cars, fine cars, but not everyday day cars like the Volvo 240, W-124, 406 and, say, Mk2 Mondeo (which ought to be a contender). You get a lot of frail French cars like the CX and XM and R16 plus performance orientated hangar queens from Alfa Romeo or expensive “prestige” cars from BMW and Mercedes.
    Thinks: maybe the last EuroCamries from Toyoto or some versions of the Avensis have been overlooked in this very Eurocentric discussion. Is a single possible US car that might be a BCITW. Our American readers might like to disabuse me of my prejudices. It won´t be a Chrysler for sure.

    1. I don’t think they are prejudices, Richard. You’re just sticking to the brief.
      The 406 v Mondeo I seem the best pair.
      I threw in the Lybra because most wouldn’t think of it, as it was so under-marketed.

      True that we’ve been eurocentric; I’ve driven few Eastern cars; the Carina was in its day the world’s best-seller. Maybe the Avensis is its worthy successor.
      Anyone knw these cars well?

  12. Am I allowed a late entry? What about the Subaru Legacy (BL) Sport Tourer (aka Estate), or Outback? H6 engined version of course? If not, the Forrester of the same era?

    1. Why not, SV?
      I’ve always liked horizontally opposed engines (well, we Flavia owners got used to them.)
      I don’t know how an H6 is balanced, but the Subarus all seem to work superbly.
      A friend has a Forester — and he could afford a Cayenne with all the bells and whistles, tax-deductible too, but doesn’t bother.

    2. I can´t think of a good reason why the Subaru can´t be included. I feel the Forester is a nose ahead of the Legacy (I am thinking Mk1 Forester and the contemporary Legacy). You don´t hear much about Subaru these days, do you?

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