Swedish Iron (Part Three)

Concluding the story of Volvo’s long-running and successful 100/200 series.

Image: media.volvocars.com

After eight years and 1.25 million sales, the Volvo 100 series was heavily re-engineered and restyled to produce its successor. The budget for the research, development and updated production facilities for the new model was a relatively modest £60 million. The 200 series was launched in the autumn of 1974.

It retained the body of the 100 series from the A-pillar rearwards but was given a completely new front-end, inspired by the 1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car. This was designed to improve passenger safety in a frontal collision and added a substantial 172mm (6¾”) to the overall length(1), which was now 4,823mm (189¾”) for the saloon and 4,844 mm (190¾”) for the estate. Unfortunately, the ‘shovel-nosed’ new front-end, again designed by Jan Wilsgaard, looked rather ungainly, and it unbalanced the proportions of the saloon(2) somewhat.

As before, there were 242 and 244 two and four-door saloons and a 245 five-door estate, fitted with four-cylinder engines, and a 264 four-door saloon fitted with a six-cylinder power unit. New engines were introduced; a Volvo-designed OHC inline-four, and a V6 for the 264 in place of the 164’s inline-six. The 2,127cc inline-four featured a cast-iron block, crossflow alloy cylinder head and chain-driven overhead camshaft. It produced maximum power of 97bhp (72kW) in carburettor form, or 123bhp (92kW) with fuel-injection.

The V6 was the all-alloy, fuel-injected 2,664cc PRV unit developed in conjunction with Peugeot and Renault and built in France at a new facility jointly owned by the three automakers. Volvo was the first of the partners to utilise this engine. Its all-alloy construction meant that it was actually around 5kg lighter than the new inline-four at around 150kg. That was just as well, because its maximum power output was a disappointing 140bhp (104kW) which was 20bhp (15kW) down on the old 3-litre inline-six.

The engines were mated to a standard four-speed manual gearbox, an optional five-speed manual, or a Borg Warner three-speed automatic transmission. New rack and pinion steering and MacPherson strut front suspension, intended to improve the car’s handling characteristics, were fitted, while the brakes and rear suspension were carried over from the 100 series, albeit with some modifications, including the addition of an anti-roll bar.

Image: media.volvocars.com

The front-end of the four-cylinder models featured a deep, wide grille containing two recessed 7” circular headlamps, which seemed rather lost in the huge expanse of black plastic. The grille was bookended by combined indicator and sidelamp units inset into the leading edges of the front wings.

The 164 utilised the same indicator and sidelamp units but instead featured a central chrome grille between two large rectangular headlamps. The grille required a different bonnet with a raised central section to accommodate it. Inside, the dashboard was an updated version of the last 100 series design, now with rectangular rather than circular eyeball ventilation outlets, and a square rather than round centrally placed clock to match

Car Magazine road-tested the new models in Sweden and reported its findings in its October 1974 issue. In an unflattering comment on the new front-end, the piece was titled “Volvo’s £5000 Bulldozer.” The reviewer did, however, acknowledge that the new models “have few if any rivals, outside the Mercedes S-Class, for crash survivability.” He explained that they met the 30mph (50km/h) barrier crash test requirements even at 40mph (65km/h), when almost twice as much energy has to be absorbed.

The review began with a brief drive in a 264 automatic. The V6 engine seemed smooth and quiet, and well suited to the smooth-shifting transmission. Held in the intermediate ratio, it was happy to rev freely to 6,000rpm. Even at an indicated 160km/h (99mph), the 264 “seemed quiet and relaxed with a bit more to come.” The steering “felt light for parking, but more feedback would have been appreciated” through corners. It was adjudged, rather superciliously, to be “a traditionally strong and rather stolid motor car: an unexceptionable motorway cruiser for the law-abiding and unambitious.”

There followed a much more extensive 250-mile drive in a 244 on a variety of road surfaces, including gravel forest tracks where a British road-tester from another publication misjudged a sharp bend and rolled his 244 down a 15ft (4.6m) bank where it lay on its roof. The driver and passenger emerged “unmarked and unruffled”, inadvertently demonstrating the safety credentials of the 200 series.

Image: koskinimport.com

The reviewer found the carburettor-fed 2.1-litre engine to be “very flexible. It pulled hard from under 15mph (24km/h) in third, and from just over 20mph (32km/h) in top.” The maximum speed was an indicated 93mph (150km/h). This was not exceptional, but Volvo had instead “plumped for flexibility and refinement. Both are much better than the old 144, and the 244 is a smooth, quiet car by current two-litre standards.”

The ride was “fairly soft and comfortable” with “an almost Peugeot-like lack of tyre thump or harshness which adds to the general refinement.” Steering response was “quite sharp” and body-roll was “considerably reduced” over the 100 series. Seats were very comfortable and “the driving position seemed to suit everyone who tried the cars” with their adjustable fore and aft, height and lumbar support.

Finally, on the subjective matter of aesthetics, the 200 series models were adjudged “no things of beauty with their bulldozer-blade frontal styling and bumpers like rubber- covered rolled steel joists. But they are as safe as they look – and safety is now starting to sell.”

In the autumn of 1975, an estate version of the 265 finally became available. A year later, a stretched seven-seat limousine version of the 264, designated ‘TE’ was introduced. This featured a substantial 781mm (30¾”) stretch in the wheelbase and overall length to 3,430mm (135”) and 5,604mm (220½”). Production of the limousine was outsourced to Bertone in Italy.

The Italian carrozzeria was also responsible for the design and production of perhaps the most distinctive of all 200 series variants, the 262C coupé(3), introduced in 1978. Based on the 242 the two-door saloon bodyshell and identical below the waistline, the 262 featured a shallow turret-like glasshouse with broad C-pillars that reduced the overall height by around 100mm (4”). Luxuriously trimmed, it was aimed primarily at the American market for ‘personal’ coupés(4).

Image: autoblog.nl

1979 brought a minor change to the front end of the four-cylinder models and a revised rear end to all saloon versions. The recessed circular headlamps were replaced by larger, flush square-shaped units. At the rear, the saloons received a smoother tail with rounded corners and wraparound rear light units. The engine range was augmented with a turbocharged version of Volvo’s 2,315cc inline-four, a 2,383cc inline-six diesel engine, sourced from Volkswagen, while the PRV V6 was enlarged to 2,849cc.

The turbocharged model, badged 244GLT, was a rather unlikely sporting ‘halo’ model for the 200 series range. The engine produced maximum power of 138bhp (103kW) and torque of 140 lb ft (190Nm). It accelerated to 100km/h (62mph) in 10.0 seconds and had a top speed of 181km/h (112mph).

In 1981, the 200 series received a major facelift. A new, smoother front end was introduced for all models, with wider but shallower headlamps and indicator / sidelamp units that stretched further back into the front wings. The new lighting arrangement was now common to all models. The four-cylinder variants received a narrower and shallower black plastic front grille, while the six-cylinder models received a slightly taller chrome item that still required a different bonnet to accommodate it.

The estate variants also received new wraparound vertical tail lights, while all models benefited from new tidier looking bumpers front and rear that protruded less far from the bodywork. Inside, a new and wider instrument binnacle incorporating the clock and radio was the most obvious change.

Image: beaconcarsales.co.uk

The 1981 facelift was the last major change to the 200 series, but it continued to receive incremental improvements as it remained in production for a further twelve years. These included larger and smaller capacity versions of the Volvo inline-four petrol engine, a five-cylinder 1,986cc diesel, again supplied by Volkswagen, and five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission options.

In 1983, Volvo altered its model nomenclature, replacing with a zero the final digit that had indicated the number of doors. Hence, all became either 240 or 260, irrespective of body style. Production of the 240 two-door saloon ceased in 1984.

The Volvo 200 series was a remarkably durable design, in both senses of that word: individual examples could outlast almost anything else on the road, while the design itself remained in production for almost two decades. The 260 was replaced by the new Volvo 700 series in 1983, but the 240 continued for another decade before being replaced by the FWD 800 series. Production finally ended in May 1993. Over its nineteen-year lifespan, a total of 2,874,206(5) were produced, of which roughly half were four-door saloons and one-third were estates. The breakdown was as follows:

Model: No. Produced:
244 1,490,102
242 245,257
245 962,264
264 131,500
265 35,132
262 / 262C 9,951
Total: 2,874,206

The total production of the 100/200 series over twenty-seven years was 4,125,325 vehicles, making it the most successful model in Volvo’s history.

(1) Compared with the four-cylinder variants of the 100 Series.

(2) But not the estate, where the longer front end seemed to look better balanced, at least in the eyes of this author.

(3) DTW authors have written at length about the Volvo 262 C here and here.

(4) Prior to the launch of the 262C, Volvo offered the regular two-door saloon body with the V6 engine in the US market, badged simply 262.

(5) Source: volvoclub.org.uk

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

33 thoughts on “Swedish Iron (Part Three)”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. Despite this car’s obvious virtues, great seats, passive safety and durability, I never liked these. The front design of both the 244 and 264 looks weird. They resolved the issue with the 1981 facelift, one of those rare cases where the facelift is better than the original.

    For a native Dutch speaker it’s nice to see the word ‘combinatiewagen’ on the second photo of the article. It’s been ages since I last saw that.

  2. Good morning Daniel, and thanks for this interesting article of a car I always liked. Although fine design was not its strongest point, it impressed me. Still, lacking any refinement, I think the bulldozer design is much more elegant than that of American pick-ups and SUV’s, which are really boxes on wheels.

    There also was a lengthened station wagon, the 245 T. An artist in my city drives one, so I see it occasionally. It is very basic and spartan.

    1. Here’s a 245 T(ransfer), a full 73 centimetres longer than the standard estate

      In our family we once had 245 turbo. It was one of the most inconspicuous fast cars and the only detail of bad taste was the black paint on the doors’ shoulders and the silly black stripe along the lateral chrome strip

      If I remember correctly the camshaft of the OHC four was driven by a belt, not by chain.

    2. Boxes on wheels? Not knowing their name my six year old recently described the various Land Rover offerings as “the ones that look like boxes with bonnets”.

      Some styles never go out of fashion.

  3. Good morning Freerk and Zacharias. Yes, the facelift was sorely needed to stop the 200 Series looking so blunt and it was a highly successful facelift. The 245T /240T had escaped my attention. Here it is:

    It somehow manages not to look weird!

    1. I suspect that is not an “original” Transfer but coachbuilt by somebody unknown. Production of the Transfer was outsourced to Volvos subsidiary in Kalmar and ended in 1982. While that looks like a later model, the rear door looks different, and it lacks the metal “band” going over the roof to cover the seams. Though it is an extremely well executed conversion. It could also be an earlier model that is updated with later model trim, which is not unheard of amongst amateur builders in Sweden.

  4. Good morning. I never really liked these “old school” Volvos (200/700/900 series) but somehow they were mildy interesting to me, as they refused to follow contemporary trends. Then my father bought a brand new 940 and the interest disappeared.

    In Spain when the 240 sold best was at the end of its career, with the introduction in 1990 of the “Polar” SW edition: a 2.0 with a nice set of alloys and standard a/c, very competitively priced. It sold well in Italy, too.

    It´s curious that you could arrive at a Volvo dealership in 1993 and find three different but more or less similarly sized models: the 240 SW, 940 and 850.

    1. That the 200 series survived its successor surely was largely due to the excessively US oriented looks of the later car which alienated many potential customers. Therefore the 200 had to stay in production until an acceptable successor for both was available in form of the 850.

    2. Dave, at least in Spain the 700 was notably more expensive that the 200 series and, with the tooling having paid for itself long ago, it made sense to keep the 200 as an entry level. Later, as mentioned by b234r, by 1993 only the state was available in Spain as Polar with all extras at a very competitive price. The 850 was also quite expensive when launched here

    3. Regarding special “run out” editions, it seems early ´90s was a very creative period for Volvo in Spain. Besides the 240 Polar SW they sold the 740 “Master” saloon and SW, same 2.0 engine and standard a/c, not much more expensive than a Sierra or Vectra 2.0, and it was a success. I would have preferred one of these instead of a Swedish cart, but the idea of owning a Volvo was very appealing for a lot of people.

  5. We had two 240s at home; a metallic blue four door sedan which lasted less than one year and a metallic green Diesel which was sold with eight years and 300.000km and lasted for quite a long time after being sold.

    The first one was totalled in a weird accident in a mountain road when a small van fell from a section of the road higher up over my dad’s car roof. It took some time to extract him mostly in one piece after removing the van (all survived). This was 1983 and he had chosen a lighty used 240 over a brand new Sierra and, while he waited to be extracted, the firefighter chief told him that, has he bought the Sierra, probably they would have been extracting him in pieces! After that, my dad only bought Volvos.

    The car was totaled but the very expensive A/C unit was fitted to the new one and never worked too well.
    The Diesel 240 was very reliable and utterly confortable but very slow. It had a dour speed box with overdrive, commanded by a small buttom on top, and when we wanted to overtake in a conventional road the drill was: turn A/C off, overdrive off, floor the accelerator pedal and, once adequate speed was obtained, overtake the truck, get back to the right lane, overdrive and A/C. It was also very economical at a time Diesel fuel in Spain was dirt cheap.

  6. “an unexceptionable(sic) motorway cruiser for the law-abiding and unambitious”.
    Unexceptionable means not open to objection or criticism. “Car” then says it´s a car for boring people. This kind of thing was typical of Car.

    1. Good morning, Richard and thank you for providing me with a new word to add to my vocabulary! ‘(sic)’ duly exorcised.

    2. There´s a neat book by Bill Bryson called Troublesome Words. I read that sometime around 2005 or so. I don´t recall all the nuances and special cases he listed but it alerted me to being alert. You don´t hear the word “unexceptionable” very much as it is hard to enunciate clearly and the meaning is not clear. “Enormity” pops into mind. It doesn´t mean big but dreadful. I also look out for “distinerested” versus “uninterested.”
      I had a look out for 240s for sale around here. In the event the 406 fails due to rust or some other issue, that would be a chance to replace it with a 240. But would I really like the 240s virtues more the the 406´s?

    3. I too grate my teeth whenever I read ‘enormity’ used to describe something large, but clearly not morally reprehensible.

      Another hate is “incredibly” used as a synonym for “very”, as a modifier for some thing or feat which may be impressive, but is entirely believable.

      Trouble is that customary misuse is now being condoned and accepted in dictionaries and usage guides.  Woe betide those who point out the linguistic subtleties, they’ll just be accused of intellectual snobbery.

    4. How about fulsome praise used as synonym for a lot of praise?
      This one is really getting hard to justify though. Nobody uses fulsome to mean nauseating or excessive amounts of praise. That battle might be lost.

  7. Dave: our 1981 245 GLE, which we ran for 15 years, certainly had a cambelt. It’s a non-interference engine, of course.

    1. And they still haven’t paid! As goes with these kind of deals, Volvo the company could not underwrite such a risk, so the state of Sweden took the bill. I think the deal was to sell a thousand cars to North Korea and the cars were promtly exported, and the North Koreans promtly thanked them for the delivery. However, the bill was never paid and it is still outstanding to the tune of about a hundred million dollars or so. For many years, starting with this deal, Sweden was the only country in the world with their own embassy inside North Korea, and I think the reason was they would eventually pay and the deal would be one of many, but no luck so far.

  8. Beginning with the 240 it was the time when Volvo really ruled supreme in Sweden with close to and sometimes over fifty percent of the domestic market, virtually every other car sold in Sweden was a Volvo, and close to fifty percent of them was a station wagon. Sweden was really in the forefront concerning the use of station wagons, and I’d imagine therefore the ratio of station wagons per sedans was the highest in the world. And it remained so well into the mid nineties. Because of the sheer over abundance of 240’s in that era, it was also the cheapest car to have in Sweden when it came to service ability and parts and cost of repair, the service cost for a 240 was about half to that of any other car, which made the 240 a very cheap car to have in Sweden in spite of the size and fuel economy.

    If you look closely on the 264TE you will notice both doors are extended to make for a more harmonious result, thus a quite extensive and expensive proposition. I can not swear on it, but it looks like the longer front door is taken outright from the 242 two-door, while the rear door is completely fabricated. On the 245 Transfer they retained the shorter front door of the 244/245, mated to the “new” rear door from the TE. And that’s why the Transfer looks rather weird in proportion. Look closely and you’ll see there’s a longer distance to the rear wheel on the Transfer compared to the TE. The roof extension is also made differently with a bespoke section on the TE while the Transfer is clearly made by mating to different sections together with a band going over the roof to cover the welds, probably because of different curvature on the roof sections.

  9. My recollection is that not all GLTs were Turbos, and the Turbos were all 2.1 litres.

    The UK never got turbocharged 200s – possibly the steering column got in the way – but the GLT was a very popular version, with chunky alloy wheels and lots of black trim to signify sportiness.

    240 specifications were a moveable feast, varying between model years and territories. Volvo were very good at adapting to local conditions, with specially concocted tax break specials.  In Italy in the mid-80s the 240 was the darling of the middle classes, far outnumbering big Alfas, Lancias, and Fiats.

  10. I really like this series of Volvos and a friend still has one – it’s an estate. The other car in the household is a Mazda 2, from the early 2000’s.

    Here’s the experimental safety vehicle which provided inspiration for the 200 series.

    On a less happy note, it seems that S60 production has been halted, although the V60 estate continues. The S60 was launched in 2019 – it seems less recent than that, for some reason.

  11. Apropos Bill Bryson’s ‘Troublesome Words’, may I commend his book ‘Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors’. It’s an excellent resource and an interesting read.

    1. I’ll add ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss and ‘The King’s English’ by Kingsley Amis as suggestions. Both make some good points and are reasonably amusing, if you’re in the right mood.

  12. A most enjoyable series Daniel, for which many thanks – and chapeau to Messrs Herriott & Parazitas for the interpolation of a little semasiology…..

    1. Regarding this Volvo, always 2 thoughts are coming in my mind.
      – a german test of the first turbo version, a car that still was not as fast as the rivals with 6 cylinders, but as thirsty as an american car with 8 cylinders….

      The safety reputation, that was half a result of real improvements compared to the Volvo 166 etc. and of marketing for the other half.
      The bumpers were necessary to fulfill american laws, some others as the Citroen GS did not need such ugly bumpers – and have side impact protection too. But no one regards a Citroen GS as an extremely safe car.

  13. Thank you all for your entertaining comments, both on the cars and matters of grammar and semasiology. Particular thanks to John for adding another word to my vocabulary!

  14. My favorite Volvo is actually the “shovel-nose” original 244, with the early, small rear lights, in bright 1970s orange or red. In fact, it would be a very realistic choice for me if I ever take the plunge into vintage car ownership.

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