Street-Spotted: Volvo 144
The Volvo 140 is one of the oldest cars on the road today that may pass as modern to the casual observer. The reason for this, we’d argue, is pretty simple: The 240 that succeeded it (and was really just a facelift) was produced all the way through 1993, and remains a common sight on the roads today. Car enthusiasts would certainly know the difference between a 140 and a 240, but most would simply see the brick-like shape and say “Volvo,” not appreciating the 140 as a 55-year-old design.
Only 55 is exactly how old the 140 will be later this summer—at the end of August, to be exact—and spotting this one still doesn’t quite drive home the point that it really is over the half-century mark.
The summer of 1966 is when production of the 140 began, with Volvo trading the softer lines of the Amazon for something that felt more modern and businesslike. Volvo kept some of the hardware from the Amazon, but on the outside the 140 was a clean-sheet design, featuring the boxy shape that would define the look of Volvo cars for decades. The sedan here is the 144, of course, with the last digit standing for the number of doors while the middle digit denotes the number of cylinders. The wagon was the 145, you will recall, while the rarer two-door sedan was badged 142—and not really seen all that often over here, even in very committed Volvo circles.
The 140 didn’t spend much time on the assembly line. Production of this series ran from 1966 till 1974, until it was essentially upgraded into the 240, so it didn’t even see a full decade. By the standards of American cars of the time, the eight-year run represented a pretty long time on the shelf. The biggest change under the skin during its tenure was arguably the switch from the 1.8-liter inline-four B18 engine borrowed from the Amazon to the 2.0-liter B20 in 1969, as well as the introduction of the differently styled six-cylinder 164 the same year.
Another big change was the debut of fuel injection toward the end of its run, in 1971, as well as an updated grille design. The sedan in our photo has the later grille variant but the front door windows are two-piece, so it hails from 1973. The older grille would have looked more metallic, with a vertical bar in the center, and it would have lacked the “wraparound” side markers. Models in 1974, on the other hand, had the grille as seen on this car plus the beefier 5-mph bumpers, making 1973 a pretty easy year to identify when it comes to the 140 series.
The design of the asymmetric “slash” on this car’s grille must have seemed like a big shock at the time for Volvo buyers, and we kind of have to wonder how Volvo dealers explained it.
As we came across this late version of the 140, we also wondered when the 240 will truly become a rarity on today’s roads. We’re glad that it isn’t yet, even in the 2020s, but by the end of the decade the picture could be different.
Have you seen a 140 in traffic recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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