5k: 1981 Volvo 242

There’s something to be said for a simple, solid, rear-wheel drive, 4-cylinder, manual trans car. Plenty of room to wrench under the hood, with no fussy transaxle to get in your way. Economical as a daily driver yet entertaining in the occasional autocross, parking lot slalom, or rainy-day dorifto on public streets during your morning commute. This 1981 Volvo 242 is resplendent in its original shade of Artesia Beige with complimentary “poo brown” interior – offered for $1900 in Santa Monica, CA via craigslist.

These earlier 240’s featured single-stage paint that just needs the occasional wax and polish to keep it looking fresh. No worries when minor scuffs and dings become “patina” and add character! This particular car looks to be in great cosmetic shape. Most early 80’s Volvos have cracks the size of the San Andreas fault in the dash by now, but this one seems to have escaped that fate either by indoor storage or use of sun-shades and dash mats by previous owners. Likewise, finding a 242 with intact interior door cards is like finding Jimmy Hoffa buried in your back yard – the odds are pretty slim.

At $1900 you would be hard-pressed to find a more usable and stylish classic Volvo, and hey, the Malaise-era quasi-Brougham look could come back in style any day now! This car’s original blue and yellow plates means it has likely been in California since new. It needs a few bits of plastic trim – the Volvo “slash” and Iron badge are missing from the grille, the back-up lenses are missing from the taillights, and those sealed-beam headlights could stand for a re-fresh. On the plus side, with Bilstein dampers and stiffer anti-roll bars from a Volvo 240 Turbo, this Swedish brick should handle more like Lisbeth Salander’s cafe racer and less like the Viking ship Vasa . Keep that roll under control! The 14″ Virgo Turbo wheels are a nice upgrade from the stock steelies as well.

With the venerable 8-valve 2.1L “redblock” 4-cylinder under the hood, acceleration could be described as glacial. Adding a turbo to the NA longblock is also easily accomplished by amateur mechanics and gives a bit more oomph with the higher stock compression ratio. Being an ’81 model this particular 242 has a Bosch K-Jetronic continuous injection system, so do yourself a favor and swap it to a more modern pulsed EFI system at the same time.

This Volvo could do with a bit of stance lowering and a touch more power, but would make a satisfying, fun, RWD daily driver immediately after driving it away from the Santa Monica tagger’s practice wall.

Does this beige mobile induce an open mouth grin or open mouth vomit?

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