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Volvo 240 Wagon vs The New York International Auto Show

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Last month the annual international auto show invaded the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, displaying the worlds newest vehicles and concept cars. The Big Apple doesn’t get quite the cool debuts that Detroit or Geneva does, (No Volvo Concept Estate for this station wagon lover) but it’s still fun to see so much glitz and sparkle in one place.

I’m not in the market to buy a new car, nor do I ever see myself being so. I’m just too frugal to put that much money down on an asset that will depreciate so quickly, and I’ve got enough loans with Sallie Mae to last my lifetime. I’ll just keep tinkering with my old Volvo and do the best I can to keep it on the road in good shape.

In the spirit of making the best of what you’ve got, I present a competition: my 1992 Volvo 240 wagon versus all of the cars at the NY Auto Show. The competitive criteria will be based on the classic characteristics of the 240 series of Volvos. Boxiness. Cargo room. Slowness. Safety. Longevity. How does the cavalcade of new passenger vehicles stack up against my trusty black brick? Let’s find out.

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Round 1: Boxiness

The 240 is the gold standard of boxy vehicle design, with a steep windshield and more right angles than a box of t-squares. Over the years the term of derision “boxy” has morphed into a badge of honor. Designers and marketers realize that not every car has to be shaped like a suppository and that it’s hip to be square. Nissan even named their cube-shaped subcompact the… Cube. What was once outré is now in.

There were quite a few boxy cars at the NY show, including the Scion xB and the Kia Soul. But these rectangular cars look sleek and aerodynamic when put up against to the box-on-box design of the 240.

Winner: Volvo 240

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Round 2: Cargo room

Unlike car buyers in European countries, US consumers have a slim selection of station wagons to choose from. Manufacturers assume that if an American wants more cargo room they’ll just buy an SUV rather than a passenger car with a long roof line. The selection at the auto show reflected this assumption. Even car makers that offer wagons, like BMW and Mercedes Benz, didn’t have any on display on the show floor.

A notable exception was the NY debut of the VW Golf SportWagen Concept. It’s a sleek update to the Jetta SportWagen and Volkswagen claims it has 10 percent more cargo room than the outgoing model. According to my calculations, this puts its rear space, with seats folded down, at 73.5 cubic feet, just shy of the 76 cubic feet of the Volvo 240 wagon.

However, while wandering into the territory of Volvo’s former step-parents I discovered the Ford Flex. While the Flex is termed a crossover utility vehicle, I find it to be the closest thing to a classic station wagon as you can find. With a max cargo room of 83.2 cubic feet it trumps the Volvo and even has slightly more space with the rear seats up: 43.2 vs 41.1 cubic feet.

Winner: NY International Auto Show

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Round 3: Slowness

I had a difficult time finding a car that had less power than the 114hp rated standard red block 240. Even the hamster-powered Kia Soul puts out 164 horses. To find a vehicle that had less power than my lumbering brick I had to travel to the far reaches of the GM annex of the Javits Center, all the way to the back, where I was introduced to the Chevy Spark.

With a 1.2 liter engine, the 84hp Chevrolet Spark had the lowest horsepower rating of any of the cars I saw at the auto show (For the record, I don’t think the 70hp Smart fortwo counts as a car. Street legal golf cart, yes; car, not so much). With a five-speed manual transmission the Spark can accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 12 seconds. You can rest assured that a Volvo 240 will accelerate to 60mph also, if you have enough time in the day.

While the Spark has less power than the 240 it also has considerably less weight. At 2269 pounds the Spark’s power to weight ratio comes in at .037 hp per 1lb. A Volvo 240 wagon weighing 3200 pounds has a power to weight ratio of .036 hp, thus giving the Volvo a .001 hp ratio disadvantage over the the Spark.

Winner for losing: Volvo 240

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Round 4: Safety

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Volvo 240 wagon was the safest car on the road in 1994, with no deaths reported in any late model 240s from 1989-1993. While that is an impressive feat, car safety has come a long way in the past 20 years.

My 1992 brick has a driver side air bag and ABS. According to the Volvo US website, the new 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon offers the following safety features: Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake; Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection; City Safety; Blind Spot Information System; Cross Traffic Alert; Driver Alert Control; Lane Departure Warning; Road Sign Information; Side Impact Protection System; Whiplash Protection System; Tunnel Detection; Pyrotechnical pretensioners; etc.

Winner: NY International Auto Show

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Round 5: Longevity

Our last category is longevity. We can’t really predict how long any of these new vehicles will last. Volkswagen’s latest ad campaign claims that there are more VW cars on the road with over 100k miles than any other brand. That sets the bar pretty low since the current crop of automobiles are more dependable that ever before and can be expected to last over 250k miles. While that kind of durability may be impressive, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of Volvo 240s hitting one MILLION miles. And while I’m sure there are plenty of Hondas and Toyotas also reaching one million miles, the current world record for most miles driven by one person in one vehicle is THREE million miles, by Irv Gordon and his 1966 Volvo P1800S. Volvo FTW.

Winner by family association: Volvo 240

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And the champion is: Volvo 240 Wagon

This totally unbiased competition puts my 1992 Volvo 240 above the entire inventory of new cars at the New York International Auto Show. Considering I bought it for 10% of the price of even the cheapest new car, it’s a bargain too!

 

 

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About the author: Jay Boucher

Jay Boucher is a weekend DIY mechanic who loves station wagons and redblock Volvos. When he’s not scraping his knuckles under his 1992 Volvo 245, he’s working as a freelance illustrator and interactive designer in northern NJ. Jay’s portfolio is at jayboucher.com and he blogs at myblackbrick.com.

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Jay Boucher View All

Illustration and interactive design, with a side of auto repair and scraped knuckles.

23 thoughts on “Volvo 240 Wagon vs The New York International Auto Show Leave a comment

  1. Nice article that I almost totally agree with. Regarding power – I have toys to go fast with. Our 245’s will merge at the end of the on-ramp at 75 mph – towing a trailer. That’s good enough for a daily driver.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Had a 122S amazon saloon 1967 model, a 1977 245, ’84 760 + SAAB 95, 99’s, 900,s (Classic) & 9000. All of them well designed for longevity (i.e.=/>20 yrs) , ease of maintenance, innovation. The amazon, 760 & SAABs being more of a driver’s car. Has no one today figured to make such designs? Tell us the price and the ecological advantage? …Or are we left to buy a jeep or a pickup?

  3. If the opportunity presents itself I may grab a 240 wagon. I loved my ’88 240GL sedan, but it will be a while since I am still in love with my 05′ XC70.

  4. I enjoyed this article, but esp. the introduction line: “…Designers and marketers realize that not every car has to be shaped like a suppository…” Sooo funny, since mpg ratings are still poor when looking at the hp we “need” to move the SUVs and PUs around, etc. Yes, the 240 is an admirable car and one should find itselft in the Smithsonian!

  5. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhello jb- an interesting article. years ago i wrote an article like this about the chrysler slantsix stationwagons volare and aspen models. the big negative of these was their ability to rust. most everything else was like the 240s. while not bad the 240s were more difficult and expensive to repair. slantsix wagons are even more difficult to find than late model 240 wagons. much of the 240s value was in the fact that they were rwd and a tried and true design. i have a 92 240 wagon with a 5 speed which is also a preferred item to seek. if you dont think so price out a rebuild on a 240 automatic trans. most backyard mechanics can handle a rwd clutch job but not a auto trans rebuild. looking at 3k vs. 300 for the stick. be careful, sticker shock can put you in the er. some other 240 repair jobs are nightmares too. taste a blower motor r and r or tracking down an electrical gremlin with all these unnecessary relays in the 240. the slowness of the 240 is almost laughable. you dont want to know the words i have been called or sign language given when i take off from a light. the 92 is even slow when i let the clutch out fast. some pass me and seem to say things about the volvos mother(mutha). only ones who would get more lip would be those brickers with an automatic. heres the bottom line- fear that there is nothing out there to replace my 240 when it rusts to hell or gets smashed up by a errant texter in a bulgemobile. been looking in anticipation . maybe a stickshift kia soul, but have to investigate them more ie price of parts, repairability, longevity, usefullness. havent noticed them being cussed at lights. real dirty trick in most of these new cars is the designed in inability to repair things yourself ie- vw passat headlight bulb r and r= $800 at dealer. is there anything out there in the new or late model crop that would replace the 240. seriously doubt it. looks like irv g was right – pick a good model with the right equipment, maintain it, repair it and keep it. look forward to your comments, thanks tons paladin

    • paladin,
      I wasn’t able to find a manual version so I’ve got an automatic. It’s nice ans smooth though so I’ve got no complaints.

      I find that it’s better to keep my speed than try to accelerate after braking. I’ve got IPD anti sways and sport springs so I’m able to keep off the brake in turns and maintain speed. I take any advantage I can.

  6. I love my 300C hemi but the most fun car I ever owned, and I’ve had a bunch,was my 78 Volvo 240 GT with a 5L mustang V8 conversion with a 5 speed and a limited slip diff. I could blow away any Mustang on the road at that time, mostly due to the fact that I always caught em sleepin!

  7. My 1974 142 has been converted into an autocross car. It currently weighs 2270 lbs. I upgraded to a Borg-Warner T-5 from a 5.0 Mustang. Next stage is a 350 HP crate 5.0 motor. An 11 second (1/4 mile) street legal Volvo might catch few folks by surprise…..

  8. A 245 with a V8 is the way to go. Any Ford 302 will do the trick once the oil pick up
    and sump have been relocated to the rear of the crossmember. A number of V6s can do the trick also. Of course the CX is horrible. A 164 transmission with the 164 clutch and pressure plate will transfer all the power to the rear wheels and last years. Unless going over 60MPH all the time fuel consumption is not horrible.

  9. Hey Jay I guess you dont know much about the all the “other” safety features in your 240? You think your safe with air bags and antilock brakes in these new plastic tin cans? How about the steal beams in the doors”SIPP” and re-inforced pillars. Brake away steering column so your not impaled going so slow when you crash. Or the rubber motor mounts so the engine doesnt land in your lap when your going so slow and crash. How about the padded dashboard so your face doesnt get broken when your not wearing your 3-point saftey belt. Need I go on? Do your homework before the next spewing of useless information.

    • I agree with you, Jack. My 240 has 500,000 miles on it, and yet I feel safer in it than in any of my friends’ plastic cars. A friend of mine who used to be an EMT says the only cars he ever pulled people out of alive were the pre-1999 Volvos. Period. He says he even rescued people out of a Volvo when they were smashed head on by a dump truck! People are dying out on the freeways these days in the newer cars — haven’t you noticed Jay? But if you search around a little for Volvo success stories, you’ll read about a lot of peeps who survived major accidents in their old school Volvo. Three cheers for Volvo safety!!!

  10. I too had a brick (just sold it at 260,000 Kms because kids now gone and I no longer had a need for it) Most reliable and flexible vehicle in so many ways. I have a C-70 which is a great car but if I ever replace it, then it will be back to a brick.

  11. Hi Jay,

    Loved your article and also a big fan of the 240, having had 2 in the past, but a ’93 960 wagon for the last 16 years. Its a beautiful but someone beastly thing with a straight six engine I had to replace because Volvo were best at 4 cylinder engines as you would know. Many of their sixes had a porosity problem and the casting cracked around the side. I managed to get a clean Volvo engine from Japan due to their tough design rules and now the car is in great condition, gleaming arctic white exterior, grey leather interior.

    The ’93 960 wagon is almost unique in Australia now. There were only 42 imported here originally, most dropping off the perch over the years for the above reasons. While suffering some ridicule for my “Swedish Fleet” (I also have a SAAB 900), there is nothing like the Volvo for those times you need to pick up something bulky.

    Cheers – Simon – Australia

  12. Thanks Jay ,I have had many cars ,I will tell you I got a 90 244 3 years ago ,handed down too me and I think I will keep her forever,Great article.

  13. Hi Jay,
    Over the years my wife has tried to get me to sell my 1988 240 sedan with 5 speed. It’s only got 240K on it so I keep telling her it’s only halfway used up. I wish I had the time to keep it nicer looking but I do keep the mechanicals up. Funny though, her 1997 V90 (which does look nice) has got 290K and is using a quart every 900 miles, and when I told her it was time to replace it with a new Subaru Outback, she said “I’d rather you find a low mileage engine for my car.” Could it get any better?

  14. Jay, I couldn’t agree more, I started buying redblocks when my Son was 5 years old, he is now 32 and i have lost count of the redblocks ive owned after about 100… Have had MANY 2.7 and 940’s, n/a and turbos, sedans and preferably wagons, and even 2 780 Bertone coupes, both redblocks also.. Currently driving a 94 944 ti w/195k on it and just broken in… Long as the reds are available out there i’ll be driving one, love those red blocks……..

  15. unlike one of the other posters above, I enjoyed your article (and you are a much better speller). Regarding the safety features of the Volvo 240 series cars, I’d take my chances inside my ’93 240 in almost any crash scenario versus any vehicle of similar weight, regardless of whether it is much newer and has ‘modern’ high tech safety features added. Some years ago I requested from the NHTSA the crash test data they compiled for all cars they had tested; it was useful because rather than simply assigning a ‘star’ rating for the various test results, it showed the actual numerical values for things like ‘head injury criteria’, chest values, etc. The numbers posted by the 240 were I believe the lowest (lower is better) of any of the cars that had been crash tested. P.S., you have the love the low operational costs of the 240, parts new and used are readily available (and cheap), and I pay less than $20/month for my auto insurance for 100/300/100 coverage limits (w/o collision coverage). In my mind the only negative is that in 30 years of driving 140/240/740/940 series Volvos, I’ve yet to average more than mid-twenties miles per gallon – rather than the V-8 engine conversions people geek out about, I’d like to hear about someone doing a 4 cylinder VW tdi engine swap with manual trans into a 240- that would provide years of smiles; more than an occasional 7 second 0-60 mph blast.

  16. Blog entry strikes me as written by a not-so-committed 240 owner — keeping his 240 because he’s got student loans, calls it a loser on safety, loser on looks, loser on speed, loser on everything else, but loves the class iconic image. Get with the program, Jay — long time 240 owners are head over heels in love with their babies and don’t want to read stuff by dudes who only wish they had a better car but do a write up for a few extra bucks!! Funny? A good read? Those comments must be by late model owners, because no true 240 fan would think so! If you don’t like your car, Jay, either get the one you really want and go blog somewhere else, or suck up your gripes and write what we want to hear — how GREAT the 240 is!!!

    • Well said, Sheila.

      By the way, I see your 240 has over 500,000 miles on it. If or when you want to sell it may I have the first right of refusal? I started collecting redblock Volvos not too long ago and would love to add your car to my collection.

      I currently have a 1991 740 with a mere 165k on it and will soon acquire a 1982 244 with 245k. I have another Volvo as well but it is a 1996 850 with just 94k. Despite the low mileage it is not as reliable as my RWD Volvos have been.

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