Remember when Volvos were boxy? It wasn’t so long ago, though if you were born after, say, 1995, you might not remember. The Volvo 140, introduced in 1966 as a ’67 model, was the first boxy Volvo, a square-rigged lineage that lasted all the way through the 2000-model Volvo S70 and V70.
Prior to the 140, Volvos were actually round. Curvy, anyway. Starting with the PV444, the first Volvo imported to the US in the mid-’50s, it was known for its quality and fun-to-drive factor.
UPDATE: I have been reminded that the 445 “Duett,” though it did only have two doors, was definitely a wagon. It completely slipped my mind. Oops! And thanks for reminding me Craig Fitzgerald! So yes, there were Volvo wagons available in the Fifties. It actually reminds me a little of the 1951-52 all-steel Plymouth Suburbans.
A true four-door family hauler was finally included with the Amazon, officially designated the 121/122 in the U.S. market. It looked a fair bit like the “Million Dollar Look” ’55 Chryslers in 3/4-scale, but it was nonetheless attractive, with the same high quality and durability.
Initially available as two- and four-door sedans, the wagon came along several years later, introduced at the 1962 Stockholm auto show.
But by the early Sixties, the ’50s design of the Amazon was getting a little passe, especially in the U.S. where sharp-edged, sleek lines were becoming the watchword. So it was decided a more modern family car was due.
Volvo was always cautious with new models, and never dived into a new style all-in. For instance, the 444, slightly updated with more glass area and a bigger engine, lasted all the way to 1965 as the 544. And in the same spirit, the Amazon would continue to be available with the all-new 140 for several years, finally being discontinued after 1970.
But let’s talk about the new car, shall we? The 140 was thoroughly modern for the late Sixties, with plenty of glass area, good room inside, and eminent practicality, especially with the attractive station wagon. In addition to being the first boxy Volvo, it also started a model designation system that lasted for decades. The first digit was the series number, the second digit was the number of cylinders, and the third digit was the number of doors. Thus, a 145 was a four-cylinder wagon, the 164 was a six-cylinder sedan, and so on.
By 1973 the 140 Series was the mainstay of the lineup, with the Amazon long gone by now. Also available in ’73 was, for the last time, the most excellent 1800ES sport wagon. Pending U.S. bumper laws for ’74 meant that the sleek little longroof would have to have humongous rubber baby buggy bumpers installed, as on the ’74 140s and 164E, and the model was long in the tooth by this time anyway, so Volvo decided to discontinue it.
If I may digress for a moment, my parents owned a 1973 Volvo 1800ES from 1974 to 1986, and I loved riding in it as a kid. The brochure scan above was the original one my dad got from Lundahl Volvo in ’74 when they bought the nearly-new car.Here is a picture of it in my parents’ driveway in 1976.
It is my favorite Volvo of all time. It was red with black leather and red carpets. This picture is circa 1985, sitting in front of Lundahl Volvo at the time they traded it in on a new 240DL wagon. I still miss it, even though it’s been gone for thirty years!
My parents have owned Volvos since the ’70s, and I drove them myself for nearly 20 years, but we never had a 140. However, friends of my parents, Dee Dee and Ward, had a 1972 144 in the very same sea foam green as this ’73 142 I spotted at a car show in Bettendorf a few years back, when the Power Tour stopped here for the night. I always liked that color, and remember checking it out in the garage when my parents would visit.
Even circa 1985, that car was in great condition, a testament to Volvo’s robustness. And keep in mind we lived in the Midwest and the car had certainly seen plenty of salty winters by that time. They just held up. As one of the period ads said, “Drive it like you hate it!”
And it didn’t look drastically different than the then-new 240s, because they were more or less the same body, with updated interior and more modern nose and tail with wraparound taillights and such. By the way, the wheels on this 142 are from a 1970-71 1800E, these came with the slotted steel wheels and hubcaps when new. But it looks good on this car!
I don’t remember what interior color Ward’s was, but I think it was black. They traded it in on a gunmetal gray Renault Alliance in about ’85. I was five then, so my memory wasn’t quite as up to snuff as it is these days! But I was particularly taken with the green interior on this one. Remember interior colors?
You know, colors other than gray or beige? I miss that. Even now, if a red or blue interior is available on 2017 models, they still cheap out and have black dash, black door panels, headliner, etc, with maybe a teeny square of the seat color on the door panel or center armrest. But back in 1973 you could get your “Ovlov” with brown, green, red, black and blue interiors.
True, the seatbelts and dash were black, but this was a European car, not a Buick Electra, where everything down to the cigarette lighter was color-keyed. But it still looked good. And you had choices! The green had to have been uncommon, but I love it! This one also has the mini-tachometer, which I believe was an option.
This was the next-to-the-last year for the 140. Updates for the year included the giant front turn signal lenses, new grille and bigger bumpers.
The instrument panel was new too, replacing the previous woodgrained version, which was rather Detroit-like. This is a press photo for a 1970 164, but except for the leather seats the 140 unit was the same.
Out back larger taillamps rounded out the changes, replacing the narrow, vertical taillights seen since ’67.
The ’73 bumpers were a one-year-only design, as the ’74 5-mph U.S. bumper standard led Volvo to put giant bumpers on all their offerings, even home-market versions. Other than that the cars were vitually identical to the 1973 models.
As always, the wagon was very popular. Most of the 140s were gone by the time I started noticing cars-other than my parents’ friends’ car-but judging from all the 240 wagons I remember seeing, they were probably the most popular Volvo body style.
We had one-well, a slightly newer version. The 1977 Volvo 245DL my parents owned when I was growing up was dark blue with blue interior. It’s the one I came home from the hospital in, and my folks kept it well into the ’80s. Bought new at Lundahl Volvo as my dad’s company car, by the time I came along he’d bought it for my mom and gotten a new car for himself, a 1979 Bonneville. It wasn’t too much different from the 145s it replaced, except for the front end and a mildly revised dash. Ours had fog lights built in to the grille, but was otherwise identical to this one from the ’76 brochure.
The success of the 140 and later 240 pretty much made Volvo a household name. They were very successful, with the 240 alone lasting way, way, wayyy up to 1993, with 2.8 million sold. But it took the right buyer, as these cars, basically Valiant-sized in the ’70s, cost about the same as a nicely optioned Oldsmobile.
But for those who appreciated them, like my parents and myself, they were worth it, and great to drive. I no longer have a Volvo, but my final one, a 2006 V50, was a great car. Over the years my folks had several 240s and 740s and a V70R, and still have an XC90 V8 today. Oh, and remember Ward’s sea foam green 144? The Alliance that replaced it didn’t last long, and they traded it in on a new 1987 Volvo 240DL. They kept that car at least into the late 1990s, again, a testament to Volvo’s quality.
One final note. I decided to write this car up after learning yesterday that Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car is being killed off by its publisher. A really stupid decision. I loved that magazine, and how it showed quirky, interesting old European cars like Simcas, Borgwards and yes, Volvos, rather than the usual late-model Lamborghinis and Ferraris. They were different. They were special. At least two people I know and respect, Craig Fitzgerald and David Traver Adolphus, wrote for it at one time. And now it’s gone. A shame. So expect a few more posts by me on cool old oddball European cars in the months ahead!