Home » Battle Of The Beat-Up Bricks: 1979 Volvo 242 vs 1985 Volvo 240 Wagon

Battle Of The Beat-Up Bricks: 1979 Volvo 242 vs 1985 Volvo 240 Wagon

Sbsd 8 29 2023
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Welcome back! Today we’re looking at two examples of a car that is just turning the corner from old beater to up-and-coming classic – Volvo’s boxy-but-good 240 series. but first, let’s see who won yesterday’s cheaper-than-a-toy-car battle:

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Well, that Saturn just ran rings around every other choice, didn’t it? (Sorry, had to.) And twice as many people want a re-issue of a 1980s model car as want a real 1980s Chrysler. Ouch.

The Volvo 240 is one of those cars I’ve almost bought a few times, but never actually got around to owning. I’ve worked on a bunch of them, and driven a few, and had friends who owned them, but every time I looked at one for myself, I ended buying something else. And I might have missed my chance. They’ve been cheap forever, but now the prices are starting to creep up on nicer examples. But a rising tide lifts all boats, as they say, and like the BMW E30s before them, as prices on the nice cars go up, so do prices on the shitboxes. These cars are both a lot more expensive than they would have been even five years ago. Are they worth it? Let’s check them out and see.

1979 Volvo 242 DL – $2,950

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.1 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual with overdrive, RWD

Location: Coppell, TX

Odometer reading: 454,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep, but not sure how well

First – this is not a coupe, despite appearances. This is an extinct bodystyle known as a two-door sedan. There was a Volvo 240 coupe – the 262C, styled by Bertone, with a love-it-or-hate-it chopped and vinyl-covered roof (personally, I hate it), but this one has the exact same interior dimensions and roofline as the four-door sedan. There was a sportier version of this car as well, known as the 242 GT, but this isn’t one of those either. It’s just a lowly DL model. The nomenclature is important when talking about these cars, because while they all look alike, there are differences under the skin.

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What most of them do have in common is Volvo’s “Redblock” engine, a sturdy unit that isn’t known for massive power (though the turbo versions are all right), but it has a reputation for piling on the miles. This car has almost half a million of them, mostly from its first owner. The current owner claims to not drive it much, “because of the Bosch fuel injection.” I don’t know if that means it runs poorly, or the seller just has something against fuel injection, but they do say it runs and drives.

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It has held up pretty well, it looks like – the seller notes some rust repair, and one door doesn’t match, but it’s straight and intact. I like the wheels on it, too; I don’t know enough about the minutiae of Volvo variants to know if they’re original, or aftermarket, or from some other Volvo model, but they look sharp on there.

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Inside, it looks clean, but these 240s tend to be such ships of Theseus after a while that it’s hard to know how much in there is original. As a side note, I’ve never known quite what to make of the dashboard in these cars. It’s such a big industrial-looking slab of plastic, at odds with the pseudo-luxury image that these cars got in the US in the 1980s. And I hear it’s a nightmare to work on anything behind there.

1985 Volvo 240 DL wagon – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual with overdrive, RWD

Location: Santa Cruz, CA

Odometer reading: 268,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yes, but has some issues

If you’re looking for a little more practicality and cargo capacity with your redblock engine, here we have a 240 DL wagon. By this time, the 240 had received a facelift, with a raised center section in the hood, and four rectangular headlights on US models.  It also got a bump in engine displacement to 2.3 liters, but retained the four-speed stick with a push-button electric overdrive; I think by this point only the Volvo 240 and the Chevy Corvette still had this anachronism.

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This car is by no means stock; it has been lowered, but it sounds like it was done the proper way by replacing parts, not by torching the springs like so many shadetree hacks have done. Less impressive is the probably-way-too-loud aftermarket exhaust. Seriously – why install a cutout on a four-cylinder Volvo? It has had a bunch of electrical work done as well, but apparently not enough; the seller says it occasionally stalls, especially under load. More troubleshooting is warranted, I think.

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Inside, this one is a little scruffier than the 242, but still not bad. The seller does note some troubles with the front window regulators, and some other electrical issues inside. It sounds like the overdrive button might be non-functional, and the reverse lockout is “broken.” I don’t know if that means you can’t shift to reverse, or if the safety lockout just isn’t there anymore. Normally you lift the ring under the shift knob to access reverse on these.

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Outside, how it looks depends on what angle you see it from. The left front fender and door don’t match the rest of the car, and the left rear door handle is absent (the seller says he has it). In this rear three-quarter view, however, it looks pretty good. I guess I have to give the seller kudos for not trying to hide the flaws.

Both of these cars are going to need some tinkering, but that’s true of almost every inexpensive 240 I’ve seen for sale. The trouble is that, personally, I think these should be less expensive than they even are. But I guess that’s what happens when a car gets “discovered” and makes that turn from old to classic. These are the two desirable body styles, and they’re both manuals, which command higher prices than automatics. But three grand and mismatched body panels? I don’t know; is either of them worth it to you?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Jbavi
Jbavi
8 months ago

242 please, mostly because this was our car growing up. Ours started green but was painted blue before my sister started driving it to school. We held onto it with the faint hope of getting it going again, but that vaporized. We had a wagon before that I barely remember and a ’88 240 after that was constantly having issues with a million-part exhaust system that didn’t like upstate NY’s salty roads

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
8 months ago

Having owned a Volvo wagon, I had to vote wagon, but honestly I never want to own another Volvo. Parts and service in my experience came with a cost premium I never thought the marque really deserved. They are built like tanks, FWIW.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
8 months ago
Reply to  Here4thecars

One of our family friends got a brand-new 1993 240DL from her husband as a wedding gift. For the next two years, her hypochondriac 240DL insisted on spending more time at the medical office service centre for various unexplainable ailments mechanical issues than on the road. They finally invoked the lemon law as to force Volvo to buy it back and to reimburse for the car rental cost (since Volvo didn’t offer the loan cars back then). How much the problem with 240DL contributed to the rocky start of their marriage or not, I don’t know: they divorced shortly thereafter.

That sort of coloured our perspectives toward Volvo to this day…

Unclesam
Unclesam
8 months ago

I voted wagon, because I couldn’t not vote for the wagon, but I voted wrong. The round headlights and earlier grille are far superior and silver is the second worst car color after the looks-dirty-when-clean metallic beige (“gold”) that every early 00s camry seemed to come in

Jason Masters
Jason Masters
8 months ago

the 245 probably still has its biodegradable wiring harness, its certainly a year that was affected. eventually you just have to replace the whole thing. while the wagon is more useful, its also lived a more neglected life… so the high-ish mile 242 for me.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Ill take the wagon it cost less per door.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
8 months ago

The wagon is always the right answer. Especially if RWD and manual transmission (taking a few points off because it isn’t brown).

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
8 months ago

Either would be new-yet-familiar territory – I’ve had a few 240s, mostly sedans, all ’89 and newer with LH-Jet 2.4/3.1… so it’s earlier LH-Jet versus K-Jet, and ordinarily I’d let someone else fight with a K-Jet car, but…

If that’s a $3500 245, I’ve been undervaluing my for-sale parked-for-several-years manual ’92.

The 242 seems like a solid deal, though, and it’s just the right amount of scruffy. Easy choice.

Edit: Worst case, those Coronas are worth a nickel apiece. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlxmKsTvcLg

Last edited 8 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
John Crouch
John Crouch
8 months ago

2 Door all the way as we’ve never owned one. We’ve had a 78 244 GL, 90 245 GL, present car is a 245 GL, all 5 speeds-the 78 had the push button. Flat hood round lights, this would look great next to our 1987. The Bosch problem is probably just a crappy wire from the battery to the fuse for the computer. And yes working on the instrument panel is awful, I ought to know I’ve got 3 blower motors under my belt. The 87 has the Corona wheels and they do look great.

Autonerdery
Autonerdery
8 months ago

Those alloys on the 242 are called “Corona,” and originally came on 260 and some 240 GL models. Not original to a DL, but they look great.

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