It was rear drive, 140bhp and manual – and within a week or two it had given me my first wet-road ‘moment’, the rear end fish-tailing around as I somehow managed to avoid hitting any parked cars.
Dad never found out and, subsequently, had a much bigger moment in the thing when he managed to understeer off a roundabout into the scenery, sustaining minor damage to the nearside front wing.
It was silver with full leather throughout, with four electric windows and all the usual seatbelt buzzers and daytime running lights that added to its reputation for safety. I didn’t love it, but I respected it for its build quality, solidity and reliability.
I have bought, and even been given, 240 Series Volvos subsequently, and while they have never excited me I do see them in a more interesting light now.
For one, this was a car that stayed true to its values and came to signify middle-class respectability in a much less offensive way than the current rash of jacked-up, blob-like SUVs.
Think Margo and Jerry in The Good Life if you want to get a feel for the demographic of the 140 and 240 wagons in particular: in the ’70s and ’80s they were a sort of default choice ‘good car’ for the sort of people that didn’t know (or care) much about cars in an era when buyers were just starting to think about ‘going foreign’ but didn’t want to risk their hard-earned on something ‘exotic’.
Volvos were dependable, perhaps uniquely rust resistant and a success despite the indifference (or sometimes open disdain) of the enthusiast press, who equated the purchase of a ‘Swedish safety tank’ as the ultimate sell-out if you called yourself a car enthusiast.
In North America, clever marketing, somewhat akin to what had been achieved with the Beetle, sold the cars to buyers who wanted a dependable and famously safe vehicle that was not locked into the annual styling changes of the domestic barges; a Volvo looked the same year after year, so you didn’t feel the need to keep up with the neighbours.
The survival rate can be judged from the numbers you still see on the road, although this perhaps also has something to do with the long production run.
The original 140 Series supplemented the Amazon types in the mid 1960s and replaced them in the early ’70s, although much of the running gear was related; the first tank-like slant-nose 240s appeared in the mid ’70s and ran through to 1993, by which time the styling had been softened but little else had changed.
The Lego Brick-shape 700 Series cars had been around for years themselves by this time, basically updating the big Volvo formula for the ’80s with an upright rear window on the saloon that looks almost shocking today when you have not seen one for a while.
By contrast, the 140s and 240s look almost handsome to modern eyes, but rather narrow and nothing like as imposing as they seemed 30 years ago.
I’m glad Volvo is still alive, and still producing big estates; the current V90 is, for me, easily the best looking of its type around and one of the few new cars that doesn’t make me either recoil in horror, lose the will to live, or look like half-a-dozen other things.
As nice as they are, though, I’d probably still take an original 1974 Volvo 245 over a V90 – if only because it would bring back those memories of my first (legal) forays on to the road all those years ago.