Swedishbricks.net Model FAQ


700 Purchase FAQ


Thomas Mutchler
'87 745T

So You Want To Buy a Volvo 740/760/780...

Some helpful hints concerning the typical triumphs, tribulations, and tragedies that make up the Brick that looks like a Buick.

Introduction - Why I Wrote This

I’m just your typical car nut/mechanical engineer who spends far too much time searching for what his next car should be. I’ve discovered two things in all of this:

  • 1) I can never find that all-wheel-drive-supercharged-station-wagon-convertible that I want and
  • 2) It is hard even in this internet age to find a concise statement of the pluses and minuses of a particular car. I wanted to provide exactly that for the Volvo 700 series.

Some notes though: I’m not connected to Volvo NA in any way, nor am I a mechanic. The following is partially based on my ownership of The Black Box, my 1987 740 Turbo Wagon (or 745t for the initiated). I’ve also lived vicariously through the exploits of my former engineering school classmate/friend/collegue/part-time used car salesperson who, when he isn’t busy trying to do another Volvo-Chevy V8 conversion, has sold a dozen, and owned another half-dozen, of these cars. What I haven’t seen, I’ve picked up from the Swedishbricks mailing list, a delightfully useful forum.

I’m going to assume you already know how to examine a used car. (Duct tape or roofing compound on the floorboards as a structual member = bad. Snakes crawling out of the oil fill = bad, etc.) These are the particular assets and liabilities of the 700 series, and some general means of correcting the problems. I can’t be responsible if you buy a car whose floor is held together with roofing compound (like my 240 was - always sleep on a used car purchase overnight) or for any other incorrect info I may have presented. Sorry about that.


  • Why Would You Want to Buy a 700 Series Volvo?
  • What Are You Going to Have to Put Up With?
  • The Choices

Why Would You Want to Buy a 700 Series Volvo?

1) Safety - Let’s get to the obvious first. Volvo builds safe cars. They’ve been doing it for years, even when a young Lee Iacocca tried to show the assets of safety padding by dropping eggs on it from a ladder. Volvos are often listed among the statistically safest cars on the road. They have a strong safety cage around the passenger compartment, front and rear crumple zones that will more than willingly sacrifice themselves to save your butt, headrests that do something, lap and shoulder belts front and rear, and they don’t have any stupid passive seat belt systems.

Every Volvo fanatic has their favorite accident story. Here’s mine: A crash was reported one evening on the local news. I live outside of New York City, so the news usually doesn’t waste its time on car crashes. This one was especially scary - a group of five teenagers were doing 90 mph down the Henry Hudson Parkway in a 740 Turbo Wagon. They hit a tree so hard that the engine of the car wound up 50 feet away from the car. Despite this, three people, by the grace of God and the passenger compartment still looking somewhat like a car, survived. What would you expect from a company whose motto is the decidedly unsexy "Drive Safely?"

2) Durability - A Volvo will run poorly longer than most cars will run right off of the showroom floor. Keep oil in it, and most Volvo four-cylinders won’t even run poorly at 300k miles. The body structure of 700 cars is also excellent; the cars don’t rust, even here where there is more salt on the roads than is on a pretzel. I have chips on my car that just show the faintest bit of surface rust, even though they are a year old. (I should touch them up someday....)

3) Versitility - A Volvo wagon is one of the most useful cars in the universe. The rear seats fold completely flat, and the bottom cushions can even be removed for more room. With the seats folded flat, there is a full six feet of cargo/emergency bed space. There is more room in a 700 wagon than there is in many sport-utes. Even the coupes and sedans have a big deep trunk and a pass-through for skis, paddles, grenade launchers, and the like.

4) Turbo performance - My 172k mile, automatic-transmission car can still go from 0-60 in easily less than nine seconds. When new, the last of the 740 Turbos with the Generation 3 turbo system could snap off 0-60 in 7.2 seconds - this is seriously fast.

5) Ease of maintenance - There is a lot of space in a Volvo engine compartment. (Ask my friend who has dropped a Chevy V8 where the Volvo turbo-diesel used to be.) On a four-cylinder Volvo, you can see all of the pieces that you would have to replace, like the starter, alternator, AC compressor and the like. You can even reach them without yanking the engine out, unlike a Volkswagon VR6 in which the engine has to be lifted to change a water pump.

6) Hedonistic comfort - There are no better stock OEM seats than those in Volvos. I’ve tried almost all of them. Volvo seats are big, firm, and offer adjustments where they are helpful. I’ve driven four hours, kayaked or biked all day, and then driven back another four hours with very little fatigue, thanks to these seats. Plus, most 700 series cars have heated seats, one of mankind’s best little gifts to itself. The climate control systems work well, the defrosters are powerful (ever tried to defrost an Integra’s windshield - not too good), and there’s enough room for almost everyone.

What Do You Have To Put Up With?

1) Fuel economy - It’s not a Honda Civic. Non-turbo cars do much better here than do the turbos. Well-tuned non-turbos can get 28 mpg on the highway, not bad for this sized car. Most turbo owners, me included, are thrilled to see the high side of 23 mpg on the highway. One trip, with a kayak and two mountain bikes on the roof and cruising at 75 mph, averaged a wonderful 14 mpg. I sent an oil sheik’s kid to a semester of dental school that day.

2) Non-turbo performance - You pay for the reasonable fuel economy. The non-turbo cars (except for the rare 16 valve) are only using 114 horsepower to haul around a 3100 pound car. This is not a recipe for driving excitement, or even getting up hills very quickly. The engine is torquey at the low end, which does help. The standard-transmission equipped cars are also more responsive. As for the automatic, normally-aspirated car - well, even Consumer Reports said it was barely adequate in acceleration. Load up the car, and you’ll only beat diesel Chevettes at a light.

3) Let it snow... - They are rear-wheel-drive cars after all. Remember how to drive one? Weight in the trunk helps. I personally think you should consider snow tires as being absolutely necessary. There are better ways to spend your money than on a good set of snow tires for a Volvo 700 series - like shots for your kids or batteries to replace those in the smoke detector you stole to run the remote control. You get the idea. With a set of Gislaved Nordfrost IIs, my wagon is OK in the snow, considering you remember to keep your foot out of the turbo.

4) Creaks and rattles - Most of these cars are getting on in years. While the basic body holds up well as the clock exceeds 100k to 150k miles, the bushings and drivetrain mounts don’t. Of course, most other cars aren’t even running by then.... However, I’ve also found that 740s and pre-1988 760s don’t have the most durable interior plastics. Dashboards crack, armrest hinges break, the little trim strip across the top of the glovebox breaks, the panel on the tailgate rattles, etc. 1988-on 760s and all 780s have mostly different interior trim that seems to hold up much better.

5) The old European car curse - An ancient Chinese proverb said "May you live in interesting times." An older European car is certainly interesting - in both good and bad ways. The car can be a kick to drive, and technically is up-to-date with many current domestic cars. You are enjoying the benefits of driving a car that sold for $20,000 to $35,000 - but in the mid-’80s! However, parts and service prices can reflect this original cost. It helps a lot to find a good independent mechanic that specializes in Volvos. It also helps a whole lot to buy parts from a mail-order business that discounts them far below dealer costs.

Keep in mind that you are probably buying a car with some miles on it. All cars need to have wear items replaced. However, as time and mileage goes on, everything becomes a wear item. I just spent a few hours one night this week working on my car. The brakes were vibrating, there was a clunk from under the car when I went over bumps, the windshield washers didn’t work, and the tailgate had crashed down on my head that morning. So, after repacking and tightening the bearings, and installing new ball joints, windshield washer jets, and tailgate struts, all was good again. Of course, I was out two hours and $150 in parts.

Similar evenings seem to occur about once every two months. On one hand, it’s a lot cheaper than new car payments and depreciation. On the other, sometimes it’s hard to even find those few hours. You’ll have to decide - but most of the time, the car’s worth the effort. One blast down a back road with a big load of stuff in the back with the sunroof open makes up for it - until I notice the rear washer pump’s out, the PRNDL indicator’s broken...and visions of new V70s dance through my head with $650 a month payments.

So, What Are My Choices?

There are 3 basic 700 series models, with many variations within each. Here’s a brief summary of each with pluses and minuses for each. All share the common 700 series problems listed in the next section, but some things are unique to each model.

The 740

740s were sold from 1985 until 1991. Initially introduced as a cheaper 760 alternative, they are by far the most numerous of the 700 series.

740 Engines - 740s were all four-cylinders, except for the six-cylinder VW-turbo-diesel engine equipped cars. There were three basic gasoline engine choices, although horsepower and internal engine details varied over the years: a slow 114 hp non-turbo four, a quick 158-162 hp turbo four, and a rare 153 hp 16-valve four from 1989 on. The diesels are not really up to Volvo longevity standards, and parts are mucho expensive.

740 Body Styles and Equipment - 740s were available as both sedans and wagons. All had a four sealed-beam-headlight until 1990 when they adopted a one-piece headlight on each side. These one-piece lights aren’t all that great, and are hard to upgrade.

740s all share the same dashboard, which has rather complete instrumentation, especially in turbos. Unfortunately, this dash tends to crack badly, and some of its trim pieces aren’t very robust. Most 740s will have a sunroof.

740 Pluses

+ Easy to find, with lots of variations on the theme
+ 740 Turbo is by far the most sporting of all Volvos at this time, with special trim and suspension modifications
+The 740 Wagon is very unique as a performance-orientated cargo hauler that could waste some pony cars.

740 Minuses

- The turbo-diesel is not a good bet unless meticulously maintained
- The dashboard is prone to cracking, and the interior trim is a bit on the cheap side
- The climate control system tends to blow a bit of warm air, even if the temp slide is at full cold
- Less than great headlights from 1990-on.

The 760

A more luxurious 700 series car, these are rarer than 740s, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The 760 was freshened in 1988, making it unique from the 740, with a different front end with big one-piece headlights, unique independent rear suspension in the sedans, and a different interior.

760 Engines - Here it gets tricky. A six in the middle digit of the model name means six-cylinder, right? Ah, not all the time. 760 sedans had either the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6, the straight six turbo-diesel, or the same turbo four as the 740s.

As for the V6 - lots of people hate "the frog motor," calling it the Satan of Volvodom. I’ve driven cars with it, and if the engine is maintained (read: religious oil changes), it is a smooth and somewhat peppy powerplant. However, parts are expensive, and servicing the engine is not for the faint-of-heart. If the oil isn’t changed regularly, the earlier engines (pre-1988) are prone to eating cams since the oil galleries get blocked. Most V6s have not received the care and feeding they need to see the high mileage levels that the Volvo four cylinders continue to thrive at. Most people, me included, think you should stick with a four cylinder.

760 Bodies and Equipment - The 760 was available in a sedan from 1983 and a wagon from 1985. All but the very earliest cars (or special order cars) have a sunroof and power seats. All also have automatic climate control; the pre-1988 systems are a bit limited in the options they give you for managing airflow. 760s shared their crack-prone dashboard with the 740s until 1988 when they got a swoopy-by-Volvo-standards dash with a dial-controlled climate control and a big, complicated, loud stereo system.

760s have a Nivomat self-levelling rear suspension. These shocks are expensive to replace, and aren’t exactly the most sporting of suspension options. However, to totally eliminate them, you need to upgrade the rear springs as well as replacing the shocks, a $400-500 job. Also, 1988-on 760 sedans had an independant rear suspension. You can not substitute better shocks and springs for the Nivomats in these cars, and sway bars, which dramatically reduce body roll in Volvos, are not made yet for this application. 760 wagons have the live axle rear like 740s, so the Nivomats can be junked and sway bars are available.

760 Pluses

+ Very well-equipped luxurious cars
+ 1988-on dashboard is stylish, durable, and packs a mean stereo system
+ Rare and somewhat distinct from 1988 on

760 Minuses

- Watch out for the V6 in the sedans
- Expensive and limited rear suspension upgrade/repair potential
- 1987 and earlier cars are not much more than loaded 740s
- Less than great headlights from 1988-on.

The 780

Think Jaguar, except for the lack of Prince of Darkness electronics. These luxurious coupes were made from 1987-1991 in limited numbers by Bertone, the Italian coachbuilder.

780 Engines - 1987 and 1988 780s had only the V6, whose limitations we discussed with the 760. 1989 and on saw the car also being offered with the turbo four, with the 1991 car (badged as Coupe) having only the turbo four cylinder. All 780s sold in the US were automatics.

780 Equipment

You name it, it has it. The only Volvos of the time with a glass moonroof. The interior is beautiful, with overstuffed stunningly soft leather seats and lots of nicely done rear wood accents. However, you pay a price for the car’s rarity - interior parts, especially trim and the power seat mechanisms, are very, very expensive, as are some exterior parts. Don’t expect to find too many 780s in a junkyard either.

780 Pluses

+ A truly rare, almost handbuilt car
+ Very comfortable and chic interior with any option you can think of standard
+ Pleasant crisp styling
+ Still has that Volvo reliability with the turbo four-cylinder
+ Roomy rear seat for two, and abundant trunk space.

780 Minuses

- Rarity has its price, when it comes to parts, finding one, and paying to buy one

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