I confess. I love diesels. And I love discovering otherwise dull cars from the 80s that were offered (briefly) with diesel engines at one point. The BMW 524TD. The Toyota Camry diesel. Cadillac Seville diesel. Now here comes a Volvo diesel.
The 740 was Volvo's mid-size family sedan from 1982-1992. These were very stoic cars: boxy, upright styling, small engines, but rear-wheel drive and solid-as-a-rock build quality. When their cars were offered with turbos or stick-shifts, they showed surprising signs of life. Needless to say, they have engendered an enormous cult following for a variety of reasons.
In the 1980s, auto manufacturers still had the fuel crises of the 70s in the back of their minds. Diesel engines compress air first then directly inject fuel. Diesel fuel is less volatile than gas and is a better lubricant, making parts work better together and therefore last longer. Diesel engines are typically 20% more efficient than gasoline engines.
Then there are the just plain cool aspects, like a diesel engine theoretically being able to function under water because they are totally mechanical and don't require electronics. Or, similarly, being able to start a diesel engine after a thermonuclear shock wave because the ignition isn't electrically triggered. Talk about dependability. They'll be there for you even in the apocalypse.
Mercedes-Benz mastered the concept of combining diesel reliability and passenger car comfort with a long line of vehicles going back to the first such implementation ever, their 1936 260 D. By the 1980s, their diesel cars were legendary. Coincidentally, diesel fuel was typically less expensive than gasoline. Since the equation of comfort, performance, and reliability was successful for them, a lot of other manufacturers jumped into the fray with varying results, but mostly all unsuccessful in the U.S. At some point it struck Volvo executives as something they must attempt, however.
From what I can tell, Volvo only sold the 740 diesel from around 1985-1986. This is an '85 version. On the outside, it's your typical 740, all hard angles and straight lines, and looking even more stern in gunmetal grey metallic paint. The overall car exudes this remarkably harsh and almost oppresssive industrial aura, with the big plastic unpainted 5 mph bumpers, jutting front air dam, sealed-beam quad square headlights and upright rectangular grille. In some ways, the reliable and efficient concept of diesel engines are perfectly befitting of this Volvo's hyper-utilitarian character. It looks like a Mack truck morphed into a sedan.
Volvo body. Big truck diesel engine. Stick shift. How did this all turn out?
According to this excellent blog post on this very same subject, the Volvo 740 Turbo Diesel drove like you'd expect a passenger car with a truck engine to drive: not smooth, refined or clean. However, the author has a 740 TD of their own that has racked up a remarkable 215,000 miles, several engines, turbos and transmissions later and enjoy it thoroughly, on principle and performance. They do note a potential trouble area in the timing belt, which requires a rare tool to fix.
All of which makes this 95k-mile survivor rather remarkable. The seller says they acquired it from an estate sale and it runs, shifts and drives fine. They admit not knowing much about the history, but say it seems well maintained and the sale of the vehicle comes with extra parts and service manuals. This Volvo looks cold, steely and reliable, and with a some love and care, it could easily prove to be just that for many, many more miles. Trust me. Volvo collectors out there are daydreaming about this puppy.
Find it here on ebay in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania with bidding already at $3,050 and no reserve.