Penned by Jan Wilsgaard, the boxy 200-Series was a distant evolution of the 140 it was tasked with replacing but it wore a more modern front end with a slanted plastic radiator grille and prominent bumpers on both ends, features borrowed from the experimental VESC safety car that was presented in 1972. The 200-Series was over five inches (13 centimeters) longer than the 140, and the extra sheet metal allowed designers to free up more space in the passenger compartment.
Early on, the 200-Series was available in several body styles including a coupe badged 242, a sedan called 244 and a station wagon christened 245. Base 240-Series were initially powered by Volvo’s time-tested B20 pushrod four-cylinder engine, while more expensive variants benefited from a new 2.1-liter B21 mill with an overhead cam that made 97 horsepower when fitted with a carburetor or 123 horsepower when equipped with fuel injection. The B20 was phased out in 1976.
The 260-Series flagship was introduced in October of 1974. It stood out from the less expensive 240 models thanks to a 2.7-liter Peugeot Renault Volvo (PRV) V6 engine that made 140 horsepower and 150 lb-ft. of torque. Shared with a long list of models including the Peugeot 604 and the Renault 30, the PRV V6 was initially only fitted to the 264 sedan but the lineup was expanded with the addition of the 265 station wagon in 1975 (Volvo’s first-ever six-cylinder-powered wagon), the 262C coupe and the sleek Bertone-built 262C in 1978.
Additional engines joined the lineup over the 200-Series’ production run. Some of more notable units included a straight-six diesel developed jointly by Volvo and Volkswagen and a turbo four. Volvo also introduced more variants of the 200 such as long-wheelbase version of the wagon designed to be used as a shuttle by schools, hotels and airports, and a 264-based limousine with three rows of seats.
The 240 proved remarkably popular in North America, helping Volvo boost its presence in what was at the time the world’s largest and most lucrative new car market. Interestingly, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) named the 240 the cleanest car in America in 1978 on account that it was equipped with a Lambda sensor and a three-way catalytic converter.
When Volvo introduced the all-new 700-Series in 1982, many thought it would gradually replace the aging 200-Series because it was considerably more modern inside and out. The 260 was largely overshadowed by the 760 and it was axed in 1985, but strong sales all around the world allowed the 240 to outlive the 740.
The last 240 rolled off of Volvo’s Torslanda, Sweden, plant on May 5th, 1993. All told, Volvo built 2,862,573 200-Series cars over a 19-year period. The 240 was facelifted on several occasions but its basic design remained essentially unchanged over the course of its illustrious production run.
Happy 40th, Volvo 240!
Photos courtesy of Volvo’s archives department.