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Volvo 140 / 160

Published: 4th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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You didn’t have to be a saint to own this Volvo – quite the opposite! We look at what made this staid Swede so popular in the UK

The 262C looked like a tank. So one car mag drew a gun on it!

Volvo’s replacement for the Amazon was aimed at the bloke who really wanted to be the saintly Simon Templar in his P1800, but instead ended up being more like the dull but dependable Jerry Ledbetter of The Good Life. But if any car cemented the company’s virtues in the UK it was these sober suited Swedes, and for a staggering 20 years, too.

The 140 and 160 (which changed to 240 and 260 in 1974) series of family cars were personifi ed by middle England. Loved for their tank-like build, rugged nature, advanced safety features and more than a touch of self-righteousness, they shouted family values, albeit at a price.

Like most foreign cars during the 1960s-70s, import duties made the Volvos an expensive purchase brand new and you had to be doing well to be able to afford one. A mid-range, Cortinasized 144S was much dearer than a Ford Zodiac and nothing like as luxurious. You could even have a MK2 240 Jag for the same outlay! What you got instead with the Volvo was a sense of smugness. Back in the 1960s, carmakers weren’t afraid to pin their colours to the masts and Volvo put safety above all else. After pioneering the seat belt in 1959, it added twin-circuit triangular (three-wheel) backup braking system and crumple zones by 1966. Seat belts in the rear (1967), front head restraints (1968), and three-point inertia-reel safety belts in the front and back all came on stream by 1972. By the end of the decade the fi rm had devised the booster seat cushion, too.

The Volvo 144 saloon, and the 145 estate, was one of the safest models of its time and, thanks to seats designed by the medical profession, it was also one of the most comfortable.

Great estates

Arguably no other car did as much to make the estate more acceptable than the classical Volvo 145.

This box on wheels became the darling of antique dealers and suburban housewives after they dropped hubby off at the train station. It was so right for the Margo and Jerry’s of this world, and naturally the company milked this for all it was worth. As roomy as it was rugged, the 145 stayed in production as the 245 until the early 1990s and it’s still loved by many for its pragmatism and work rate. As one pundit remarked at the time: “If you live in Surrey, have Labradors and a country cottage you can’t afford to be without one!”. To prove its robust nature, Autocar ran a 145E for 100,000 miles to see if Volvo’s reputation was just hype. It wasn’t.

It wasn’t a cheap exercise either, which is why the average family had to wait until one came on the used car forecourts to afford it. The good news was that the mechanicals were very much Amazon-based, and pretty DIY friendly as a result.

By 1974, Volvo had upped the ante with the 240/260 ranges, now equipped with ohc engines, MacPherson strut front suspension and even more safety kit including massive rubber bumpers. Turbocharged petrol and diesel engines also came on stream for the 1980s, but even so, the Swede was built for more for comfort than speed.

By now the Volvo was woven into the British way of life, but the press were becoming weary of the sober Swedes, labelling them tanks. But for the typical used car buyer who paid for their own petrol and repairs, that sounded just fine.

Owning a Volvo during the 1970s and 80s put you in the same class as a Jaguar or BMW buyer, but one that wasn’t interested in being fl ashy or badge appeal. Instead, a Volvo buyer was more interested in the longevity and security of their purchase. They probably weren’t even car enthusiasts – or if they were, then they kept it to themselves.

Volvo needed something to boost its image though, and in 1992 it launched the 850, to appeal to a new buying base – BMW boomers.

The 850 changed the face of Volvo like no other car. It had engines co-developed by Porsche including the hot turbcharged T5, which has culminated into today’s Ford-based models.

And that’s just it – Volvos of today simply don’t have identities of their own. Say what you like about the 140 and 240 models – they may have looked like a tank and driven like a truck, but that was – and still is – their appeal.

You can pick up a good, late 240 for £1000 or less if you look hard enough. Many are owned by mature folk who have had them for years. Were well over four million owners wrong for wanting a taste of The Good Life? Of course not!

When The Car Was The Star

The epitome of the 140/160 on screen had to be the 1972 145 De Luxe as driven by both the insecurely middle-class Margo Ledbetter in The Good Life and the post apocalyptic Survivors Fans of cult American TV might just recall a fleet of (US-spec) 144S saloons appearing in a 1969 episode of Mission Impossible – after all to the average US viewer of the time foreign car = sinister/un-American/Communist. As for the 164, does anyone remember an episode of The A-Team set in a part of Italy that looked just like California where the villains used a US spec model and, to continue with our television du fromage theme, the silver-blue example in The Protectors – a fine show in which most foreign locations happened to look just like the Elstree Studio car park!



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