Junkyard Gem: 1997 Volvo V90 Station Wagon

Volvo’s “Brick Era” of squared-off rear-wheel-drive machines lasted from the debut of the 144 in 1966 all the way through the 900 Series cars of the 1990s, with the wildly successful 240 being the most iconic of the breed on our shores. The final chapter of the Swedish Brick saga came in the 1997 and 1998 model years, when the 960 sedan and wagon were rebadged as the S90 and V90, respectively. Here’s one of those cars, a refrigerator-colored (and refrigerator-shaped) V90 wagon that got forcibly retired after a crash in Northern California.

Volvo revived the V90 name in 2016, and you can buy a new V90 right now if you so choose. Today’s Junkyard Gem, however, is the culmination of four decades of improvement to the original 140 design (itself based on much of the Amazon’s chassis features and sharing plenty of components with the 1940s-era PV Series cars), while the current V90 comes straight out of the 21st century.

I’ve been going out of my way to document just about every discarded 140 and 240 wagon I find, with some 740s and 940s mixed in. Many Volvo longroof owners still maintain a fanatical devotion to the rear-wheel-drive bricks, and I’ve found some of these cars in junkyards with impressively high final odometer readings. The fuel-efficiency and interior-space limitations of the old-timey brick design kept 960 sales lower than those of their predecessors, though, and I haven’t met any 960 owners who share the level of devotion that 145 and 245 owners lavish on their cars.

This car just squeaked past 150,000 miles during its 24 years on the road.

The body and interior look to have been in very nice condition, showing that meticulous owners took good care of this car throughout its life, but then it got T-boned on the right side. This sort of damage isn’t worth fixing on a quarter-century-old European wagon, and so here it sits.

This engine compartment looks very similar to that of the old 240, though this modern 3.0-liter, DOHC straight-six and its 181 horses runs counter to the super-sensible spirit of most of those 1970s Göteborg bricks.

The 960 was far more plush than its ancestors, and priced accordingly. In 1997, this car’s list price started at $35,850 (about $60,660 in 2021 dollars). By comparison, a new 1975 245 wagon had an MSRP of $5,795 (about $29,940 today). Of course, that 245 still cost significantly more than, say, the bigger and more powerful 1975 Chevy Malibu station wagon ($4,476, or $23,125 today) but you still got gigantic helpings of safety hardware for the price.

Volvo’s safety advantage wasn’t quite as pronounced by the 1990s, so luxury features became more prominent.

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