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Junkyard Gem: 1981 Volvo 242

Murilee Martin

Volvo sold the legendary 240 in the United States from the 1975 through 1993 model years, an amazingly long production run. I see plenty of these cars in the California and Colorado wrecking yards that I visit, but two-doors are very rare. Here's one spotted recently in Denver.

If we're going to get nit-picky about model names, this car was sold as, simply, a 1981 Volvo DL, not a 242 or a 240 DL. However, everyone who talks about Volvo 240s today will call a two-door/four-cylinder 240 a 242, a four-door/four-cylinder 240 a 244, and a four-cylinder 240 wagon a 245. Just to confuse matters, there were six-cylinder 260s as well.

Later in the 1980s, most of these cars were sold in the United States with automatics. Most of the 1975-1985 240s I see have manual transmissions, though, making this slushbox car even rarer than an ordinary 242.

Electronic fuel injection was becoming more commonplace around this time, though plenty of carbureted cars were still being sold new in 1981. This 2.1-liter SOHC four-cylinder engine made 107 horsepower, not bad for a 2,901 pound car in 1981 (especially when you consider that the base 4.3-liter V8 in the big 1981 Pontiac Bonneville generated a mere 120 horsepower).

"Libby Light" center brake lights weren't mandated in the United States until 1986, but this car's owner added an aftermarket light with 2x4 spacer.

Speaking of safety, check out that rear-seat shoulder belt! Very, very few US-market cars had such belts for the rear passengers in 1981; they weren't required by law until the 1990 model year.

It has the usual complement of old-Volvo-owner bumper stickers on the decklid.

"The Volvo isn't for people who are running around looking for status. Volvo is a car for people who already have it."