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Posts filed under ‘Volvo’

Mystery Brick:
Volvo 242 Group A Turbo “Flathood”

September 24, 2012 by Matt

1983 83 Volvo 242 200 Coupe Group A Turbo Flathood Flat Hood Silver

Volvo “Bricks” (the 200 and 700/900 series) generally aren’t worth very much. Their average market value belies the fact that underneath the frumpy sheetmetal, they’re actually very good cars—reliable, robust and safe. Many worthwhile cars from the ’80s and ’90s, the era in which the Bricks were produced, have since hit the nadir of their depreciation curve and started to come up in value, but given the Volvos’ stylistic debits, I really don’t any of them gaining significant traction in the marketplace—ever, really.

Except, that is, for the car featured in this post. Under consideration today is the 1983-only Volvo 242 Group A Turbo “Flathood.” A specialty version of the standard 242 Turbo coupe, the Flathood (so-called for the straight front edge of its hood, a feature which had, by 1983, been superseded on American 200-series Volvos) was produced solely for homologation purposes, allowing Volvo to run a racing variant of the car in the European Touring Car Championships, a.k.a. Group A. To compete in the series, the Swedish automaker was required to construct 500 copies of the roadgoing version, and they produced exactly that number. They then shipped all 500 across the Atlantic, returned 30 back to Europe to race, and stripped the remaining 470 down to regular 242 Turbo specification and sold them through their regular dealer network.

1983 83 Volvo 242 200 Coupe Group A Turbo Flathood Flat Hood Engine Motor B21FT

However, not all the racing-specific gear was removed. Various theories exist as to just how similar the US-spec car is to its track-ready doppelganger, but what’s known for certain is that the Flathood retains its stiffer springs, intercooler and Euro-style nose. Sadly, the racer’s water injection system, Getrag 5-speed, limited slip differential and bigger brakes were all removed, but most folks who have driven both say that the Flathood feels much faster than a contemporary “regular” 242 Turbo, so it’s suspected the 2.1l, SOHC 4-cylinder B21FT engine produces more than its rated 157 hp, perhaps from an uprated turbo.

1983 83 Volvo 242 200 Coupe Group A Turbo Flathood Flat Hood Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

I would love to own one. The Flathood has a sort of classic Volvo dorky style about it, emphasized by the distinctive fascia. It’s rare as well, and its official name—242 Group A Turbo—draws a direct connection with that golden age of fire-breathing turbocharged racing machines. Also, the Flathood’s inherent mechanical attributes—RWD, manual transmission, upgradeable turbo’d engine, rack-and-pinion—generate appeal all on their own. But the mystique of the car, the fact there’s a story arc to its creation and the uncertainty surrounding its exact specifications, these things give the Flathood almost irresistible appeal to Volvo Brick lovers. Count me among them.

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Volvo 242 Group A Turbo “Flathood”

Volvo 240 Wagon: My Kids’ First Car

April 8, 2012 by Matt

Volvo 240DL 240 Wagon 245 Blue Redblock Brick

This is it. This will be their conveyance when they first take the wheel and start driving to school and back.

Granted, I do have eight (short) years before my oldest reaches that point, but what’s the harm in thinking ahead, right? Before I launch into my justifications for the Volvo 240 Wagon, I think it’s worthwhile to point out that they’ll be purchasing fully half the car; this won’t be a case of me just handing them the keys without them having a stake in whether the vehicle lives or dies. And of course they’ll perform all their own maintenance on it, under my watchful (and helpful) eye.

Volvo 240DL 240 Wagon 245 Blue Redblock Brick

So why the dorky Volvo? Well, it’s dorky, for one. It’s my opinion a kid’s first car should be as humbling as possible. I learned on my mom’s minivan, transitioning to a cheap Toyota Tercel once I had learned the rudiments of rowing my own gears. Neither car had any flash or dash whatsoever, and the lack thereof kept me focused on establishing a “baseline” driving-wise, a threshold difficult to deviate from even as I moved up the ladder into more capable cars.

The 240 Wagon is undeniably practical as well, with its capacious cargo area, no-nonsense interior and sturdy roof rack. If I’m going to help my kids buy a car, I’d like it to have some utility vis-a-vis the rest of the family as well; in other words, if I have to buy some lumber, it’d be nice to take the Volvo to the store instead of always opting for the minivan. The car will earn its keep, so to speak.

Volvo 240DL 240 Station Wagon 245 Redblock Brick Interior Inside Cockpit Console Stickshift Manual Dash Dashboard

The Swedish automaker is well known for its safety-first focus, a concern at the forefront of every parent’s mind when their babies close the door and motor away. The 240 is built like a tank, thoroughly crash-tested and was available with airbags in later years.

Another boon is the car’s mechanic-friendly nature. We used to own a later (and even boxier) Volvo 940, and I can attest to the fact that everything under the hood and under the car is well made, fastened together with gusto at the factory, and easy to access and repair. Lesson time may challenge the kids, but success won’t be unobtainable like it would be with many other cars.

And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Volvo 240 Wagon: It’s cheap. I mean dirt cheap. A fully-loaded example with typical mileage can be had for a little north of $2K. Reasons for its value? Charitably-speaking, it’s not the sexiest car on the road, it was produced in decent numbers and projects an utterly frumpy image. On paper, though, it’s a lot of car for the money. A winner on all counts; perfect when it comes time for my offspring to start driving.

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FWD Champions: The Volvo 850 T-5R

September 1, 2011 by Matt

Volvo 850 T-5R T5R

Once upon a time, Volvo got wacky. It’s never really happened before or since; in spite of a number of well-received sporty models, by and large, the company’s staid, conservative reputation is deserved.

But for one year, in 1995, the automaker went a little nuts with the release of a special edition of its midsize 850 family hauler: The T-5R. Despite Porsche’s hand in its development, the engine output wasn’t much to write home about: 240 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque from the transverse, turbo’d 5-cylinder driving the front wheels, producing a 7-second 0-60 time. And sadly, a manual transmission option was never offered in the US, but only in the Swedish automaker’s home market as well as Canada (?). In any case, what makes the car special isn’t really the performance, straight-line or lateral; it’s the context.

Volvo 850 T-5R T5R Engine

Most significantly, there was the image. As stated above, Volvo projects itself, for better or worse, as a safe, secure car company that makes safe, secure, somewhat joy-less cars. The introduction of the T-5R—only available in banana yellow, olive green or black, by the way—was a delightful jolt to the enthusiast community’s perception of the automaker. It’s like a boring friend that never takes a dare, and then suddenly completely breaks character and goes skydiving, as you smile through your mild shock. I felt like giving Volvo’s upper management a collective high five for approving the car for production. It was boxy and dorky, but unbelievably cool, and still is—a collection of adjectives that neatly sums up the output of the aftermarket Volvo tuner scene. I give Volvo major props for recognizing what performance-oriented owners were doing to their Volvos, and packaging the car accordingly. If only more automakers would cater to their enthusiast customers so effectively.

There’s one more piece of the puzzle: What the car emerged from. Up until the release of the 850 (on which the T-5R was based) in ’93, Volvo had never sold a FWD car on our shores. Presumably in search of greater packaging efficiency, the automaker switched its whole line to FWD, and hasn’t made a proper rear-driver since. Enthusiasts greatly lamented the abandonment of the RWD platform, and just as we were surrendering ourselves to the possibility that Volvo had firmly decided to become a creator of genuinely boring FWD appliances, out popped the T-5R, cluing us into the fact they actually had a sense of humor and fun. What took them so long?

For what the car did for Volvo in the midst of the company’s FWD transition, in spite of its one-year model run and inherent FWD limitations, the T-5R deserves recognition and acclaim.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part IV

July 30, 2011 by Matt

1991 Volvo 780 Rear

This one was a part of my emergence from a self-imposed three-year “car interest hibernation.” Our family had been going through a transitional period, and as part of my effort to put the family first, emotionally and financially, I had resigned myself to letting my wife drive my ’93 Volvo 940 Turbo, while I commuted to work in her old ’97 Saturn station wagon. Between the Saturn’s blob-like styling, asthmatic engine and pregnant-looking center console, it was a humbling, but necessary experience.

Emerging from that period as a family, our horizons widened in many ways. We sold the Saturn and purchased a minivan for our growing kids. I returned the Volvo to DD duty, and it did wonders for my automotive self-image, being the big, black, Swedish executive sedan that it was. It was rock-solid on the highway, and although the Redblock 4-cylinder lacked the ability to overwhelm with acceleration, it could at least get out of its own way. The handling was floaty but secure; the live rear axle was unsettled at times by mid-corner bumps, but the rack-and-pinion steering was slop-free and direct. Best of all was the car’s tank-like feeling, familiar to anyone who’s owned a 200- or 7/900-series Volvo. Put all those factors together, and the car definitely endeared me to Volvos of that era.

Fast forward to a few months after our minivan purchase, and catalyzed by the acquisition, my car interests were awakening from their 3-year slumber. Our family budget crystallized, and previously-unassigned resources appeared. In other words, with a bit of financial discipline, we found money we didn’t know we had, and that discovery set the gears turning in my head, ramping up for a possible car trade or purchase.

I went through my mental checklist: It still had to be inexpensive, obviously; the budget was still tight, but I was determined to see what interesting cars I could find. As part of my “return to the automotive world,” I had recently begun to be active on the Volvo forums, an environment I had previously shunned for fear that all the talk there of modifications and repairs would make it more difficult for me to resist doing something impulsive. It’s easier to overcome an itchy trigger finger when it comes to car purchases if the cars I would consider weren’t dangled in front of me on a daily basis.

1991 Volvo 780 front

All that said, I was on the Volvo forums, and I did like my 940. Add those two givens to the fact that I’ve always had a weakness for interesting, non-conformist cars, and the ’87-’91 Volvo 780 coupe naturally rose to the top. If there was one styling element I really hated about my 940, it was the sloped grille, a feature the 780 lacked, and besides, I loved the proportions of the coupe, feeling that Bertone, the styling house responsible, got them exactly right.

It was rear-wheel-drive, had the very familiar Volvo Redblock engine, and on a sentimental note, the interior reminded me of our honeymoon, since the 940 had been our vehicle during that adventure. And I loved the “academic” feel of the 780; it seemed like the sort of car a slightly dorky family-man designer like myself would drive. A manual transmission option was sadly never available, but a bolt-in swap from a 740 was possible. Also, everything save the interior and bodywork was shared with the much more common 7/900 series cars, a boon for mechanical repairs.

1991 Volvo 780 Interior

I was sold on the car; the only challenge remained to find a decent example for a good price in the area, something not easy given its rarity. After watching the Volvo forum “For Sale” boards like a hawk for a few weeks, the 780 shown in this post appeared in upstate New York. From the pictures and description disclosed by the seller, it seemed to be in excellent condition, but the best part was the price: Less than $2,000. Unfortunately, not having even that amount saved up, I tripped all over myself trying to find a buyer for the 940 so I could commit to the 780 and make the ol’ one-way plane flight to pick it up. But… I couldn’t move the 940. At its asking price, the 780’s seller didn’t have long to wait, and he found a buyer in a grocery store parking lot a week or two after he put it up for sale. I was disappointed, but moved on to BMWs. So I suppose there is a bit of a silver lining.

1991 Volvo 780 side

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

4 Comments on The Ones That Got Away, Part IV