On 21 August 1974, the Volvo 240 was shown to the media for the very first time. The 200 series would become an unprecedented success for Volvo and around 2.8 million of these iconic cars would be produced over the course of 19 years.
1974 was a big year for Sweden: ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, an 18 year old Björn Borg trounced the tennis elite, and Volvo presented one of its most important models ever – the beautiful Volvo 240.
On 21 August 1974 the media got to see and drive the new car for the first time. The journalists were flown by chartered plane from Volvo’s head office at Torslanda to the little town of Borlänge, where a row of Volvo 244 GL’s was waiting for them – all painted in a shade of orange that was extremely fashionable at the time. The interiors were all an equally trendy shade of orange.
The Volvo 240 evolved from the Volvo 140 series, but with significant changes. The innovations were primarily at the front; the Volvo 240’s appearance was greatly inspired by the VESC safety car concept that was presented two years earlier. Most prominent of all were the large bumpers – the Volvo 240 was a full 13 cm longer than the 140 series. The characteristic lattice headrests were among the new additions to the interior.
The iconic Volvo 240 was introduced with the newly-developed B21 engine as either a 97 hp carburettor version, or a 123 hp fuel injection version. The front of the car was an all-new design incorporating MacPherson struts as well as rack-and-pinion steering.
In October 1974 production of the more exclusive Volvo 260 series, which originally came in two versions, DL and GL began. The Volvo 264 had a new 2.7 litre, 140 hp V6 engine. The engine was produced in Douvrin in northern France and was the result of a partnership between Volvo, Renault, and Peugeot.
During its production period, the Volvo 240 was made available with a variety of engine options, such as the 1979 version that was introduced with a six-cylinder diesel engine developed in partnership with Volkswagen. The diesel engine was also available as a five-cylinder derivative in certain markets. In 1981 the company launched the Volvo 244 turbo that produced and impressive 155 hp.
But the biggest sensation in the Volvo 200 range, however, came a bit later in the form of the Volvo 245 turbo wagon – the first series production estate car with a turbo-charged petrol engine.
Through the years, the Volvo 240 was produced in a variety of configurations. In addition to two, four, and five door versions, there was also an exclusive coupé version, the Volvo 262C. The Volvo 262C was built by Italian firm Bertone, and a total of 6622 were produced between 1977 and 1981.
At the other end of the size scale was the Volvo 264TE and the Volvo 245T, both of which were extended by 70 cm in comparison to the original Volvo 240. The Volvo 264 Top Executive was a luxurious limousine edition, and the Volvo 245 Transfer was an extra-large estate that was, among other things, used for school transportation in rural areas.
A world first on the environmental front came in the autumn of 1976 when Volvo delivered the first cars in this series featuring three-way catalytic converters and Lambda sensors to California. The Lambda sensor (a Volvo invention) meant that 90 per cent of the harmful gases such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides disappeared in the catalytic converter.As a result, the Volvo 240 won the American National Environmental Industry Award in 1977 and in 1978 was named the USA’s cleanest car by the California Air Resources Board.
In addition, the Volvo 240 Turbo would go on to become a successful race car. The biggest title was secured in 1985 when Thomas Lindström and Gianfranco Brancatelli won the European Touring Car Championship, ETC.
The Volvo 240/260 also received a number of awards for its level of safety. In the UK Volvo was awarded the Don Safety Trophy for its traffic safety promotion initiatives and designs that went above and beyond legal requirements.
In 1976 the Volvo 240 was chosen as the benchmark for continued safety work by the USA’s Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA. For four years during the 1980s, the Volvo 240 estate was voted the safest car of its size in the USA by the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The Volvo 240 has since become a collector’s car, with the turbo being in particular demand among enthusiasts. But more commonplace models in the Volvo 200 range are also increasing in value. The availability of spare parts is good, and it is still possible to buy many parts through Volvo, with the range of newly produced components steadily increasing.
The iconic Volvo 240 was mainly produced at Kalmar and in the Belgian city of Ghent, but the last car in this range rolled off the line at the Torslanda plant in Gothenburg on 5 May 1993. The Volvo 240’s production spanned nearly 20 years – testimony to the success and lasting popularity of this beautiful car.
Volvo CEO Pehr G Gyllenhammar handed over the keys to the last Volvo 240 to its owner during a special ceremony. Pehr G Gyllenhammar actually had several custom-built Volvo 240s as company cars, and at the ceremony he said: “We have had the world’s safest car, one of the most worthwhile cars to buy, and a car that is already living legend and will be even more of one in the years to come.”
The Volvo 200 series is to date the company’s most-produced model: 2,685,171 of the Volvo 240s were built, while 177,402 of the 260 derivatives were produced. In total, 2,862,573 Volvo 200 series rolled off the production line between 1974 and 1993.