Volvo 140 Series | What you need to know before you buy

Photograph Courtesy Volvo

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

Looking for a boxy sedan that captures that funky ’70s vibe, but don’t want to go with the usual suspects? How about a Volvo 140? Call it the tanklike alternative to a BMW 2002, Datsun 510 or even Alfa Romeo GTV. “Crazy People,” the 1990 Hollywood blockbuster starring Dudley Moore and Daryl Hanna, verbalized what many of us had already been thinking for years: “Volvos: They’re boxy but they’re good.” Through the 1950s and ’60s, though, Volvos featured swooping bodywork that seemed more appropriate for a 1940s-era Detroit sedan. 

The Volvo 140 series arrived for the 1967 model year and led the way for the company’s modern, chiseled look. And we say “series” because Volvo offered more than one body: Consumers could choose from both two- and four-door sedans as well as a practical five-door wagon. (The final digit in the model number represents the number of doors present.)

That fancy new sheet metal covered Volvo’s tried-and-true, overbuilt B-series engine: 1.8 liters at first, then 2.0 liters starting with the 1969 cars. Sure, its camshaft sat in the block and not above the combustion chamber, but the B-series is known for being strong like ox. 

Old school doesn’t mean old tech, either, as the engine received Bosch D-Jetronic electronic fuel injection starting in 1971. Volvo also increased the compression that year before decreasing it the next, meaning the 1971 cars are the hotrods–well, you know what we mean. 

The next big upgrade came for 1973, when the 140 got a new tail and blacked-out grille. Remember, pretty much every factory had to deal with new crash requirements around that time. 

After churning out more than 1.2 million units, Volvo ended 140 production after the 1974 model year. However, they kept the 140’s spirit alive for quite some time. The 240, its replacement, was basically an updated 140. Yes, the 240 got a new nose, and front struts replaced the A-arms found on the 140, but the basic design was a carryover. Volvo kept the 240 around through 1993, adding another 2.8 million cars to the tally. Finding parts will generally not be an issue. 

Shopping Advice

IPD has been serving the Volvo community since 1963. Their own Bryan Cottrell owns multiple 140s and graciously offered some shopping tips.

The 140-series Volvo continued a tried-and-true tradition of using the extremely simple but reliable motors from its early ’60s predecessors, including the famed 1800 and 122 models. Depending on the year, the 140 used the B18 or B20 powerplant. These cast-iron workhorses were resilient and weren’t prone to any notable catastrophic failures.

There were reasons behind IPD founder Richard Gordon using a B18/B20-based Volvo when he began racing in the early ’60s. In fact, while driving his beloved 1974 142, he was the first person to win a professional road race for Volvo in North America in 1982.

The 140 isn’t perfect, but in a lot of ways it’s close. These were the first Volvo models to offer four-wheel disc brakes and a collapsible steering column. Back in the 1960s, this was some fairly groundbreaking safety equipment. Add that to the reasons to love the Volvo 140. 

It’s common for steering boxes to be loose and have a lot of slop after years of use. These boxes fall under the category of “unobtainium” nowadays, so finding a good one is almost a must.

Windshield leaks are a common issue. To investigate, you’ll need to pull up the carpet and inspect the floorboards for holes and rot under the front and rear floor pans. The front windshield wasn’t the only guilty party for allowing unwanted water: The rear window and trunk gasket tended to allow water to gather in the spare tire tub. The rear quarter panels behind the mud flaps are also a common rust area and should be inspected. Repairs in this part of the body are a tedious endeavor.

Volvo offered some really cool options for these cars, and if you happen upon them, they net some serious bragging rights. Rally dash clusters are probably one of the rarest, sexiest factory upgrades. These came in both a four- and five-gauge option and certainly add a sporty feel to the car, even if they add absolutely nothing to the performance. 

Finding one with a usable overdrive unit installed is definitely something to be excited about. Smaller aftermarket steering wheels add a nice touch as opposed to the stock bus driver-style wheel. Additional aftermarket bonuses are IPD anti-roll bars, upgraded shocks and lowering springs. This setup is oftentimes the first upgrade people make to improve handling, as the stock setup is not too dissimilar from driving a marshmallow.

The 140 gets overlooked because it was sandwiched between the round-fendered early models and the extremely successful 240 brick. But diehard loyalists will say that the success of the 240 was primed with the 140 and all its sharp corners.

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Tom1200 HalfDork
6/26/18 10:56 p.m.

Definetly an overlooked car. I miss my 142E, it had both A/C and overdrive. 

bodega New Reader
9/1/22 1:52 p.m.

No mention of the flat cams.

MGWrench New Reader
9/1/22 4:45 p.m.

I miss my '69 145.  Once I swapped the Stromberg carbs for SUs it got really reliable and was one of the best tow cars I've ever owned.

shootingfiend New Reader
11/30/22 11:43 a.m.

I had a 1973 145e and it was a great wagon except for it's propensity to break clutch cables about every 10000 miles...I got to always keeping a spare and they were easy to change... 

bodega New Reader
2/19/23 12:51 p.m.

Did not mention the flat cams, timing gears, carburation, smog equipment, and of course the water pump. 

These cars had a false reputation for being reliable.  When they went to Fuel Injection it added more unreliability with the fuel pumps.

Not only did I own a flat cam one (49K) I also was in the imported parts business from 1972 until 2011.

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