What happens when gentrification hits classic cars?

We’ll find out as Volvo 240 prices soar

The word “gentrification” has a different connotation depending on your perspective. To a developer, it means changing the character of a neighborhood, enabling real property owners to offer new amenities and charge higher rents. To a displaced long-time resident of a recently gentrified neighborhood, that is cold comfort. The beloved “Brick,” the Volvo 240, now faces the classic car world’s version of gentrification. Accordingly, there will be some sad abnormal-psychology professors and hemp-clothing retailers priced out of the market soon.

The Volvo 240 series came in two-door and four-door sedan body-styles. It was also available as a five-door wagon and it’s the wagon that’s been cherished by everyone from Fairfield County, Conn., old money types to the aforementioned hemp-clothing sellers. To this day, we challenge anyone to pick a neighborhood at random, in either northeast or southeast Portland, Ore., and drive more than three blocks without seeing one.

But all that may be ending, and not as a result of the cars dying off—the 240 is after all, simply unkillable. Production ended in 1993, and Bricks are now starting to appear on collectors’ radar. Station wagons in general are extremely popular right now, and while the Big Three makes are the most favored, Volvo wagons lead the import pack.

Shawn Dougan, who works at Hyman Ltd., one of the nation’s biggest and oldest classic car dealers, bought one personally about 10 years ago. “I bought it because I wanted something iconic but reliable. I drive it almost every day and enjoy a love/hate relationship with the car. I love and hate it because it never breaks. The 240’s reliability gets almost tedious—there’s been nothing to do other than change the oil. It’s one of the last semi-modern cars that anyone can work on, is truly dead nuts reliable, and fun to drive,” says Dougan who owns the final year, a 1993 240 with a rare 5-speed manual transmission.

Dougan is planning on selling his Brick soon, and having seen sales prices for 240 wagons on BringaTrailer.com, he estimates that it’s worth about three times what he paid for it in 2007. What that means to the current clientele for 240 wagons is anyone’s guess. The truly disheveled ones are still cheap, but traditional 240 buyers will have few places to go when the supply of usable, cheap 240s dries up. Maybe a later (but less common) 740 or 940 wagon? But the front-wheel drive 850 that replaced them is a dry well. It doesn’t have anywhere near the reputation for reliability that the rear-wheel drive 240 has. Someone from Ford, (which owned Volvo from 1999-2010), must have said something like “guys, we love those boxy little numbers that you’ve been building since the ‘70s, but seriously, you gotta stop making them last forever.”

What could take the 240’s place? We honestly don’t know. Subaru Outbacks aren’t as simple or durable, nor are they as charismatic, but they do seem like the 240’s logical successor. They’re already supplanting the 240 on the farmer’s market circuit. Still, it’s truly hard to imagine a world in which Volvo 240 wagons are collected, restored and shown, like VW Microbuses are today. Sadly, that seems where we are headed.