Volvo aficionados who got used to the 1940s styling of the PV444-PV544 (1947-66) and the 1950s looks of the 122 (1956-70) might have been surprised by the “boxy” Volvo 140 Series, which launched in 1966 in Europe and 1968 in the USA. Possibly even more surprising was that the body style would last until 1993, when the last 240 wagon took a short trip to the factory museum in Gothenburg.
The 142/144/145 designations indicated two-door sedan (142), four-door sedan (144), or five-door station wagon (145). Volvo produced the 140-series from 1966-74, and from 1968-75 there was a six-cylinder sedan called the Volvo 164. Well over a million of these brick-shaped workhorses have traveled millions of miles reliably, if not particularly fast.
The 140 series remained conventional with its un-burstable cast-iron four-cylinder, B18 1.8-liter, then B20 2.0-liter OHV engine. It delivered power to the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual gearbox with optional overdrive or a 3-speed automatic transmission. It wasn’t fully appreciated at the time but Volvo pioneered “progressive crush” construction (along with Mercedes-Benz and Rover), realizing that surviving a crash depended on energy being absorbed by the car before it impacted the passengers.
Road testers at the time felt that the Volvo 140 series cars were a bit underwhelming and bland, but did praise the large glass area and more passenger room than many American sedans. Testers also praised the four-wheel power disc brakes with dual systems, the versatile adjustment of the front seats, the effectiveness of the heater, the compliant ride, and the quality of the fit and finish.
Compared to the outgoing 122, the Volvo 144 sedan was 7.4 inches longer, 2.6 inches lower, and 4.3 inches wider. Performance was improved as well, but was never stellar, and maximum speed was never the point, anyway. That said, Volvo’s 1800E Bosch fuel-injected B20 engine was fitted to 1972’s 142E sport sedan and the resulting 135 bhp cut 0-60 mph time to 9.7 seconds with a top speed of 108 mph. MSRP for the 144S sedan rose from $3090 in 1968 to $3530 in 1972 and $4340 in 1973, which was the first year that effective air-conditioning contributed more than just noise to the interior.
In 1974, a further price jump of $600 raised the Volvo 144S MSRP to $4940, partly due to the additional expense of hefty federally mandated push bumpers. Meanwhile, the luxury 144GL sedan included leather upholstery and Bosch fuel-injection and cost $5655. The equivalent 142GL cost $5465. Paralleling 144S prices, the Volvo 145S station wagon was available from 1969 at an MSRP of $3420, rising to $5210 in 1974.
Volvo made a serious upmarket move in 1969 with the 6-cylinder, 3-liter, 164S luxury sedan, basically the B20 4-cylinder with two extra cylinders. Despite the handsome square grille and driving lights, air conditioning, power steering, 4-speed and overdrive and leather seats, testers complained that the 164 had too much of the 140 Series about it to be a genuine contender in the BMW or even Buick class. The 164 was 4-inches longer than the 140, but the body was identical from the windshield back and journalists were disappointed by the sparse dashboard and fake wood trim. Testers also grumbled that even though the vented discs were 35 percent larger than the 140 series, the pressure to bring the 164 to a halt seemed disproportionately heavier than in the four-cylinder car.
The 164’s MSRP started at $3995 in 1969, rising to $6995 in 1974. Sales were modest compared to the 140 models (about 10 percent of 140 sales) and survivors are rare, though prized by the faithful. The 164 was discontinued in 1975 when the new 240 and 260 models were introduced.