Unsung Heroes : Volvo 300 Series

Mike Humble takes another sideways look at cars which once littered the streets up and down the land.

This one, on paper, had little going for it – it was heavy, painfully slow in 1.4-litre form, and considering its size and bulk, was none too space efficient. Yet sold in once colossal numbers in the UK. It’s Volvo’s 300-series!

A very British Swede

The DAF designed Volvo 343 in original 1976 guise

I’ve never owned a Volvo. Yet I have driven many, repaired loads and admired nearly all of them. The 700-series was not everyone’s cup of tea – yet I loved them. They were hulking great cars, with front seats similar in size and shape to a Drayon armchair, and with styling where the only curves were surrounded by wheelarch…

Solid as granite and possessing an uncanny knack of being able to destroy anything it comes into physical contact with, the big Volvo certainly have a charm all of its own. The 200 estate was the load-lugger of choice for antique dealers and caravan club members, while the oddly impressive 240 GLT saloon with it’s buttoned leather interior and switchable overdrive became an early ’80s Q-car. It was as sporting as Les Dawson and had the road manners of a drunk cyclist – yet this mattered not one iota, people bought them in droves.

‘Keep ’em peeled’, as Shaw Taylor one told us, and you will still spot 740s, 240s and the odd 760 here and there in daily use. Do a quick trawl on the ‘Trader, and you will spot many for sale – most now over 25 years old. The Volvo, which is now diminishing fast however, is the seemingly forgotten three- and five-door hatchback: the 340/360.

I will never forget my first experience with the 300 series many years back. It was a Djion mustard-coloured 345DL, which belonged to a friend of a friend – so to speak. I was asked to give it a service while he was away visiting relatives, and I was utterly impressed with its build quality, ease of repair and the fact that not one spot of rust was present. All this despite the fact it was well used, abused and covered in scrapes. The motor trade used to nick name them ‘bird cages’, owing to the strong passenger structure and side impact bars in doors.

At the time of the 300’s launch in 1976, most other volume makers offered front seat belts as the only form of safety kit. This little Volvo was somewhat different, and featured a vast padded fascia, collapsible steering column, headlight wipers, crumple zones and split circuit brakes. Initially it was known as the 343 (with the 345 arriving in 1979), and the last digit denoted the number of doors. The 300 was with belt driven CVT automatic (with the manual version following on again in 1979), based on the DAF Variomatic gearbox, but now – unusually housed in the rear as a transaxle.

But of course, the Volvo 300-series had been developed by an independent DAF as project P900, hence the use of the venerable 1.4-litre Renault Cléon engine. Volvo bought up the car division of DAF in 1973, and although the Dutch manufacturer had almost complete the car by this time, it would not wear its marque name.

The rear-wheel drive 300-series featured a transaxle gearbox, where the differential and gearbox were combined with the rear axle unit. This gave the car superb weight balance but robbed the rear passenger area of space, and meant that rear occupants strangely sat a good few inches higher than those in the front.

The three-door featured front seat which tipped forward at an angle giving the impression the seat frame was broken, while the CVT drove like a manual car with a slipping clutch – all very weird indeed. The high boot sill made loading big bulky items a nightmare, and the underpowered 1400cc model sprinted up to its maxima in a way akin to a road roller – slowly and with lots of noise.

But we are missing the point. Power and speed is not what the 300-series was all about. It was a solid sensible Volvo for sensible people (and not just dummies) – just shrunken down in size to fit your wallet and garage where a 240 or 260 maybe couldn’t. Regardless of all its faults (and there were many), it rapidly became the fastest selling model in the Volvo range. The UK became the 300’s top buyer after Sweden – no doubt spurred on by the marketeers’ relentless ‘safety sells’ mantra. Throughout its entire production run, not one major panel was restyled or changed – revisions came in the form of minor styling tweaks or light/bumper changes.

Popularity of the 300 range continued right through the 1980s, with the car often residing in the top 10 of the sales league. And despite it being slower, thirstier and blander than many rivals, used values remained strong. The simple yet proven engineering of it’s OHV Renault engine kept servicing costs minimal, and as the 80s progressed, the range was joined by a Renault powered 1.7-litre OHC.

Ultimately, the Volvo powered 2.0-litre model – known as the 360 – arrived in 1982, and tilted (gently) at hot hatchback superstardom in 115bhp GLT form. But for those who wanted less racy, the new four-door saloon body style was much more suitable to the Octogenarians attracted to these cars.

All the features of the bigger Volvo in a small hatchback bodyshell proved a winning sales formula. Hugely solid engineering and strong bodyshells were far from the 1970s and ’80s norm, and buyers really did go for this in a big way, despite wobbly dynamics, that lacklustre performance and poor fuel economy. And Volvo campaigned hard on the value for money front, too –  crowing how a 340 was cheaper to buy than an Escort or Maestro. And so it should have been!

But that deep-seated build quality, did mean the 300 could go the distance too. Some 360s, especially, were more than capable racking up colossal mileages. In 1991, the 300 finally went out of production with over a million built – and putting it into perspective, when launched, its rival was the Ford Escort Mk2; and at the end, the Rover 214/216 was its principal rival. An impressive lifespan.

The recent (and some say damaging) scrappage scheme has had dealt a fatal blow to many old yet still usable Volvos – along with many other decent clunkers. But now, those that remain (in token numbers) are valued as idiosyncratic classic cars…

The 360 GLT offered more grunt from it’s fuel injected 2.0 Volvo engine borrowed from the 240.
Mike Humble


  1. Elephant on a bar stool springs to mind… I remember driving one of these, an early 1.4 in very good condition and couldn’t believe how solid, but gutless and topsy turvy it felt. I sold this to buy a Cavalier sports hatch with suspension that should have made me feel seasick, but actually felt far more confident about chucking that into corners than the the Volvo!

    Still I knew that if I were to wrap the elephant around the tree, I’d have a greater chance of surviving.

    I have to admit, they do look good lowered and with a big fat set of wheels. Good stuff. I’ve seen what those crazy Swedes get up to…

  2. I have always had a soft spot for a 360 GTL but I had wondered if they ever considered making a estate, so I had a look on the net. No estate but I found a commercial version, basically a 5dr with filled in windows. I will post on FB the picture or have a look at this site volvotips.com, there are some great prototype pictures etc

  3. My dad had one of these in the late 80s a 1.7 bought brand new.

    The positive features were:

    The negative features were:
    – Slow
    – Ugly
    – Uncomfortable
    – Unreliable

    As you can tell I disliked it intensely (and not just because I was 17 beacause at 17 access to any car was cool when your friends didn’t have it)

    To me it was never a proper Volvo but then again it was designed as a Daf

  4. An friend drives an old 240, and loves it. Plenty of 700/900s around here too – all happily plodding around. Only the one 300 though that I know of; a brown example driven by a youngish looking lad. Hes got red seatbelt covers in it. Oh dear. I can remember feeling very indifferent about these cars when current, but looking at the pic of the 360 above and I’m quite liking it!

  5. My Parents had 2 of these both in 1.4 flavour. The first, an ’86 model got old and tired and eventually became a doner for their second, an accident damaged ’88 model. The latter being the car I learnt to drive in and also passed my test in, so I have fond memories of them, even if massivley underpowered. Very quirky with it’s constantly rotating drive shaft, g/box under the boot floor and spare wheel almost sitting on the engine. I also remember both had a problem where the lenses of the rear lights would fall out when you closed the boot, and I have also seen many driving about with them missing!

  6. The first car I bought with my own money, a white 4-gear 340 in 1995. Traded it in for a 440 in 1998 before realising that Leyland tin was more fun, more idiosyncratic, and more interesting and went to Metro, Princess, TR7 and then Rover 75.

  7. The 340 has become the darling of the drift set, often fitting bigger Renault engines from Clios & Renault 5 GT Turbos. A major flaw in the 340/360 was the rear engine mount, which would give way & wear out the splines on the propshaft. A very expensive replacement was the only answer.

  8. Ohh Dear where do you dig them up from Mike? Have driven a couple of these, I couldn’t believe how noisy and gutless they were, But biggest memory was the Drive Prop shaft from the front bell housing which held the flywheel and clutch, The splines on the shaft used to grind themselves smooth, a common fault apparently, We priced the new parts once for a customer which were,

    New Bell Housing shaft

    and new Propeller shaft which was aluminium if I remember

    Then my Boss had to confront the customer about the parts price itself (without Labour) which was 3 times more than the car was worth !

    I think the car went for scrap… But you are quite right Mike these were quite common, but have always found Volvo Drivers quite strange.

  9. These things were terrible, and the automatics never seemed to actually do much, putting your foot down just seemed to make more noise but little else.

    They rotted.

    The spare tyre used to perish, from being sat on top of the engine.

    They were ugly, easily making any other Volvo look like a stunner.

    Even Volvo gave up on them pretty quickly, if you go to a Volvo dealer it’s about the only model that the bits are NLA’d!

  10. My dad bought one of these (at 78 years old) to replace his retirement Triumph Dolomite which he had worn out. He then ran it until I took his keys off him at age 91.The Volvo then sat unloved and untouched in the garage until he eventually died some years late. I thought the old girl would be only fit for scrap –oh no, my bother in law had it recovered to the local garage where fresh fuel and a new battery saw it burst into life and pass its MoT without further work! He has run it for a further 7 years until this last spring when the MoT man suggested it should go. Last seen banger racing!!Strength by design I believe!

  11. We had an H-reg 340 catalyser after a great aunt who’d bought it as an ex-demo at 6 months old. When she couldn’t handle the unassisted steering any more she bought a micra, and was given a better deal if she didn’t trade the Volvo in! So she gave the old tank to us.

    All I can say is I’ve never had so much confidence in a car since that old bruiser. It had been serviced at a volvo dealers with no expense spared and had that “brick outhouse” feeling that made you sure it would get you anywhere. I regret not selling on for banger rallying, as while the 1.4 engine was a bit underpowered (a proper twin choke weber did help) you could have a lot of fun in it. Coming off roundabouts sideways was always fun!

  12. Wouldn’t “A very British Dutchman” be a more appropriate title ? It was, after all, designed originally by DAF and built in the Netherlands.

  13. I remember these well – my parents had three and I drove them a lot. It was an undemanding purchase after an awful, unrelaible Morris Ital, purchased in a misguided move to Buy British. The Volvo wasn’t great in any way dynamically, however, being sluggish and, because of rwd, absolutely hopeless in the snow (despite Swedish connections!).
    We Brits still love a good quality finish to a car. The Volvo didn’t have wood and leather but it felt very solid and the interior was a nice place to be, especially the front seats. There was the obvious association with the big Volvos which also sold well here because of their perceived reliability – in contrast to BL’s equivalent offerings at the time. A Volvo for less than the cost of an Escort was a very strong marketing line and they sold loads, for years. Surprising you see so few of them these days.
    Not a car to remember because of its tangible qualities, but it had real character and it does evoke memories of motoring in the ’80s.

  14. “Surprising you see so few of them these days.”

    They rotted and Volvo stopped supplying most of the bits. Unlike the real Volvos which were pretty good for rust and you can still manage to obtain even the most obscure bits from Volvo dealers.

    So even if they weren’t rotten many went for scrap because it was impossible to find even a simple part.

  15. Even with the benfit of rose tinted glasses these were bad cars. They needed to be strong as you were more likely to loose control and leave the road in one of these than in one of its competitors.

  16. There was clearly a market for a non racey, conservative small rwd car, with a ‘prestige’ badge.

    Sigh, SD2. Sigh, facelifted Dolomite.

  17. I’ve had two of these – a 340 that was gutless and thirsty but got taken rallying up a bridleway one night and made it the full three miles to the other end, sliding all over the place in the mud (it had been raining a lot in the preceding days. It blew its engine up on the motorway after pumping its oil out through the breather until the sump ran dry. I sheared the prop (one of the rubber bushes in the ends) after launching it off speed bumps one time too many. It also snapped its belts a couple of times. But each time a trip to the scrapyard and it was back on the road in a day or so.

    It was replaced by a 360 GLT – a very different animal! I used to laugh at the open jawed looks it got from people when I’d give it a bootful and it would disappear. As the 360 looked just like the 340 externally (with a few minor trim difference too small for the average person to notice) no one could beleive their eyes when they saw it go! I stripped the splines on the propshaft coupling after doing a few too many doughnuts in it and the cost of replacement parts was beyond my means. So it went back to the scrapyard I bought it from originally with a snapped cambelt, about 2 years previously. Despite the slighty tatty bodywork (a few scrapes and scratches from before my ownership) it was rock solid and an amazing car at the time, especially after the 340!

  18. Had 2 growing up, at the same time… Mum had a brown mk1 with full reflective tape on the bumpers… Dad had a mk2 saloon in metallic apple green 🙂

    Wicked cars…. Entry point for many a drifter!

  19. Never driven or been driven in one. Been a passenger in a 240 & 440 though.

    I would imagine that dynamically they were rather poor. However, in the days when the 240 had a very positive image, you can understand the appeal, success of the 300 series.

  20. I remember reading an interview with a Volvo marketeer a few years ago saying that they had an image problem because there were still so many aged 340s on the roads while everyone else’s 80’s junk had disappeared, wonder if that accounts for the lack of parts availability. On the other hand I suspect Mercedes is very happy with the survival of so many R107s and W123s, they look classy but are very obviously survivors from a different era, giving the (probably false) impression that new Mercs are also built to last for decades.

  21. @Kev

    Give the Brits what they want – and we bought the 300 in huge numbers.

    I agree though, and I seem to recall shaking my head in despair every time a new SMMT monthly Top 10 was published starring this awful car…

  22. I think there are a lot of mean comments about these- having run 3 (a 1.4 and 2 1.7s)- they were pretty much bullet proof, and the idea that some seem to have that they rusted so badly is nonsense compared to the likes of Ford and BL offerings at the time. Nor were they that bad to drive- not the nimblest, but the weight of the gearbox over the back axle kept the rear end pretty controllable, andd the things could be made to handle (if you were 18 and not too afraid of anything!). Far more refined and comfortable than other offerings at the time, they just got long in the tooth before production ended. It was a far better car (build-wise and to drive) than the 440 replacement. Stop being mean!!!

  23. I know a used car dealer who once told me he couldn’t get enough of them. He had a list of customers wanting used 300’s for several years. I think it kinda proves that most car buyers are a pretty undiscerning bunch.

  24. Another car that we almost forgot about, thanks Mike for reminding us. I dont have any personal experience with the Volvo 340 apart from one of the Finance Managers in my company had a 300 saloon version as his company car in the late 80s. It seemed to run without incident.

  25. Had one of these back in ’99, bought it as a run about, it was a 340 1,7GL, bloody awful really, slow, lethal in the wet, horrble ride, noisy and thirsty. Interior quality reminded me of a German car, dull, not very well molded plastics and it creaked alot. Had a kind of a character but not a very nice car in the grand scheme of things.

  26. The ironic thing about the 300-series was that it wasn’t really a Volvo at all, it was the bastard child of the company’s one time alliance (and subsequently, takeover) with DAF. It was to all intents and purposes, a DAF design, fitted with a Renault engine and Volvo merely came along and finished the job. I disagree with the build quality being excellent – I recall the detail fit and finish never being up to the same standard as “proper” Swedish-built Volvos. And the CVT gearbox was an absolute joke!

  27. We had an A reg 340DL 3 door which we bought when it was 4 years old with average mileage. It was a horrible light beige colour. In the following 8 years we went everywhere in it. Took it well over 100,000 miles and it never let us down. The little 1400 engine ran like a sewing m/c and despite having a 4 speed gearbox it never really felt under powered although the top speed was not all that. we had a front wheel bearing replaced, the clutch, and as i remenber I had to fit a new distributor cap & rotor arm every other year as it would suddenly start to run rough. It never failed the mot.
    As for the handling, all those who have complained about it must have had something wrong with theirs – I thought it was really good – even in the snow it was better than an Astra company car I later had. I guess it was due to the weight of the gearbox/diff at the back.
    on the rare occasions it got a wash & polish the horrible beige paintwork shone like new and there was not any rust anywhere. It seemed to me that all the hideously coloured ones survived for a long time…………
    We only sold it because we wanted a 4 door body when our second daughter arrived and we traded it in for a 4 year old 440, then another, then a posh 460. So pleased were we with Renault engined volvos that we went on to get a Megane and Scenic when the Renault Volvos died out. The Ford Volvos were too exensive for us………
    I drove a variomatic 340 once, really weird – accelerating as the engine revs are actually FALLING is a strange sensation.

  28. My mum ran an asthmatic auto for a while, burgundy metallic, I thought it was a solid old car and quite enjoyed driving it….she traded it in some years later for a blue 440 and that thing rattled and squeaked something terrible, I’d drive around in a good 300 but wouldn’t touch a 400 again….

  29. A lot of respect for these old tanks. The other day saw a yellow sports version (with factory spoiler and decals).

    Started a lineage with the 440 replacement and S40 built at the Dutch ‘NedCar’ plant. Also spawned the Mitsubishi Carisma.

    In my mind the spiritual successor wasn’t the Ford Fusion, but the facelifted Skoda Felicia.

  30. I owned a spotless D-reg 343 in 1998 as a teenager with glossy bright red paintwork and a sporty rubber rear spoiler which was so big the hatchback struts couldn’t support the weight – so I kept a broken broom handle in the boot to prop it open.

    It was amazingly reliable and quite a comfy ride (heated seats were a bonus) but that manual gearbox screamed for a fifth gear that would never come. One winter I span out on a roundabout near Bangor and when I opened my eyes I discovered we were sitting on top of it. The police had to close the road to tow me off – and apart from a buckled wheel it survived intact.

    Things went downhill when the car started to attract compliments from other Volvo drivers and when my own in-laws joined in I hastily traded it in for a Clio, fearing a future wearing patterened jumpers, brown suede effect slippers, a tweed cap and / or box of tissues on the parcel shelf. Unfortunately the French car led to me being nicknamed Nicole. Still not sure what was worse.

  31. “I recall the detail fit and finish never being up to the same standard as “proper” Swedish-built Volvos.”

    I agree, although you mean Swedish ‘designed’ Volvo’s, as most of the 740’s and V70’s were ‘built’ in Belgium.

    “And the CVT gearbox was an absolute joke!”
    It was much like driving a manual with a slipping clutch.

    “It was to all intents and purposes, a DAF design, fitted with a Renault engine”

    It does say that in the article above though. 😉 It wasn’t unusual to find Renault engines in Volvos. The PVR V6 in the 760 was a Peugeot-Renault-Volvo joint design. Renault Trucks are also now owned by Volvo trucks and nothing to do with Renault at all these days.

  32. The 440 had some Renault engines, notably the fairly well regarded 1.9D, and I think the S40 may have carried this engine over.

    The most famous application of the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 has to be the Delorean DMC12!

  33. I only drove one of these briefly on a test drive and rode in one owned by my boss. My boss’ CVT version was “interesting” as a passenger, mainly due to the excessive roll angles when driven in a spirited manner. His main technique involved not slowing down for corners because it took too long to work speed up again. It was a comfy old thing though and soldiered on for many years with little trouble.

    I briefly test drove a 2.0 (manual box) which, I have to say was fairly reasonable in the acceleration stakes, and was extremely comfortable (all you needed was a fireplace and a TV with those front chairs) but the fuel consumption was truly horrendous (low twenties when a Cavalier 2.0 16V would easily crack 35mpg) and the image was nil – so I bought a Golf Mk2 instead.

    That said, the 340/360 really were dynamically pretty dreadful and way off the pace even in 1986. Something akin to the automotive equipment of God’s waiting room.

  34. I still see a few 300’s around, mostly from the last few years of production.

    In the 1980’s they were popular with caravan owners due to the weight distribution.

  35. “The 440 had some Renault engines, notably the fairly well regarded 1.9D, and I think the S40 may have carried this engine over.”

    Most of the Diesel Volvo’s used VW units.

  36. @Dennis:
    440 was definitely a Renault diesel engine. Guy I used to work with had one, used to fit Renault 19 engine parts.

    From what I can find ( http://www.volvoforums.org.uk/archive/index.php/t-41753.html ) S40 also used the Renault diesel.

    The 850 DID have a VW diesel engine. But that car was a different beast to the smaller Volvos.

    As a tedious link, the Lancer which replaced the Carisma which was the sister car to the mk1 S40 now uses a VW TDi engine.

  37. My dad had one, 340 GLE 1.7 E923 XUJ. Had it from 1988 to 1994. His previous car was a Y reg Ford Sierra 1.6L which he had from 1984. The Volvo not only had the side impart bars, but also bumpers which were sprung at the side so no body damage happened at low speed incidents.. Had heated seats, electric windows and velour seats. Front seats were really comfortable.. the rear seats were a bit flat though.. Even had 5 speed box.Next door neighbour had a Renault 11 with the same engine!! Leant to drive in it at 17. Crashed it at 18…. hit a wall at 60mph and walked away with out a scratch!! Dad sold it a year later for a Citroen Xantia 1.8LX… Another great car.
    The 340/360 might have been the ‘ugly ducking’,but have great memories of it…

  38. There’s a hilarious clip on YT somewhere of Clarkson feeding one into a scrap metal shredder – think it was from Top Gear in 1992 when the Volvo 850 came out…

  39. @ Dennis, the 440/460/480 were mechanically the Renault 19, and actually shared the same floorpan. All the engines were stock Renault. RWD Volvos used Veedub diesel engines though, so I can see why you are getting in a muddle.

  40. “@ Dennis, the 440/460/480 were mechanically the Renault 19, and actually shared the same floorpan. All the engines were stock Renault. RWD Volvos used Veedub diesel engines though, so I can see why you are getting in a muddle.”

    No i take you point.

    The first gen S40 was basically the Mitsubishi underneath.

    I’m pretty sure the later FWD models, 850, V70 etc still used the Vag TDi lumps though? I thought that strange really as you’d think they’d use PSA/Ford lumps like the rest of Ford Group did. It obviously show’s that Volvo still had a great deal of autonomy under Ford.

  41. Ford bought Volvo Cars in 1999. The first Volvos to use Ford/PSA diesels were the S40 and V50, which were the first to be based on a Ford-designed platform.

    The 300 Series being considered rubbish is, to me at least, part of its appeal, which is why I bought mine 4,5 years ago. I’m sure the same goes for people who enjoy their Maestros and Montegos, or their Citroen BX. It is so uncool that it is cool again.

    The 300 Series was actually designed by Daf to be compatible with a huge number of drivetrains, as it was designed to be built in cooperation with another car manufacturer. It could have been front wheel drive if Daf’s new-found partner required.

    It was ultimately Volvo’s choice, not Daf’s, to fit the car with the variomatic transmission as standard. Truth be told, they did make a lot of improvements to it. Ironically, it was Daf that suggested to at least offer a manual transmission, with 15 years of experience trying to sell automatics to misguided Europeans who thought (and still think) it is ‘sporty’ to change gears yourself…

  42. My parents’ neighbours were Volvo fans, he had a collection of 245, worst was the diesel! So noisy, it would wake up the entire cul-de-sac! The 740 he had after wasn’t much quieter either!!! it was the VW 6 cyl. 2.4 diesel from the Lt van they fitted in, adding turbo for the 740/760 line up. She has 343, then 345 and the last one was a diesel. They put the R9 1,6L engine in it! Must have been horendous, jut about 55bhp for around 1200 Kg!!!It was a bit less noisy, but looked smart in saloon dark grey-green metallic and alloys.
    When the 400 series was launched, they all had R19 engines, modified for some (turbo wasn’t on Renault price list, they had 16V) including the now in 1,9L guise diesel and TD… I never fancied these, I drove a 440 Gli (I think!) a couple of times, long time ago, it didn’t feel like a family hatch with 100bhp but more like a tank with 50 horses on tap, not that economical either… Anyway, Volvo’s still here, SAAB just went….

  43. My old teacher still has a 340, which he bought back in the 80’s when I was at school and although its a bit rusty he still swears by it!

  44. My first car was a 340 GLE 1.7. It cost £1050 (including the £50 discount I shrewdly negotiated lol)in 1996. The going rate at the time was £1800 for a hatch but I’d stumbled across an example of the less popular saloon.

    Still as a single 21 year old still at college, price was more of a priority than practicality. It was no hot rod but it still had a decent turn of speed. Handling was exceptional due to the front:rear weight ratio which was probably only bettered by the E30 BMW 3 series of the same era. As for reliability, the only thing I had to replace was a pair of rear strut bushes.

    Probably the best car I’ve ever had.

  45. It is suggested that the location of the transaxle is the unusual thing about the 340, however all its DAF predecessors had its transmissions (rubber belts) in the rear of the car.Hence also the height off these cars. The 343/340 is mechanically still very similar to the daf/volvo 66 which had the same de Dion suspension, only this car was only made with CVT/Variomatic.

  46. I bought a rather neglected -88 340 DL variomatic for my wife in 2001. She drove it to work for two years, until she traded it for a larger car. This was an extremely fidgetty car to start. She got the hang of it eventually, but I could barely start it without creating copious ammounts of billowing exhaust. It was equally hard to start in freezing or hot weather. When idling it was a bit jumpy and one had to keep the brake pedal firmly down, just in case.
    However,in all fairness it was also extremely rugged. Once one of the two rubber drive belts snapped off (after 16 years), but we still managed to drive to a garage. At Volvo they claimed they hadn’t replaced a belt for the last 5 years (this was in 2004). I still see many 340s and 360s here in Sweden today, some of them are in very good shape and it seems in the last model years they became very corrosion resistant. But I havn’t seen a single variomatic since 2004. There obviously are a few veteran 343s though. It also seems that the 300 series has a much longer lifespan than the 400 series. Probably because it was far less sophisticated. Here it was always primarily an old peoples car but it also became a popular second hand extra car for families on a budget.

  47. Re: “…based on the DAF Variomatic gearbox, but now – unusually housed in the rear as a transaxle”
    That’s exactly where it was housed in a Daf.. The 343 was hardly changed mechanically from the Daf 66 / Volvo 66.

  48. Dad bought one of these traded in his Fiat Strada at Ian Allan of Wimbledon a 360 GLE Injection. Survived a nasty rear end smack and used to seat 5 of us comfortably on drives to Italy. Not understanding the dislike of these cars here. Loved the seats and looked very smart with the alloy wheels. Survived 4 years before being traded in for an early 90’s Saab 900; Now that was a gorgeous car

    • Nice seats (heated on most models), durable, not too big, cheap to buy, safe.

      This was an appealing formula for a lot of older buyers. The poor handling didn’t bother them, and the thirsty engines weren’t a problem for low mileage drivers.

      I would imagine the 340 stole quite a few BL customers who didn’t fancy a Maestro or Acclaim in the early 80s, before the R8 brought them back into the fold.

  49. Family friends bought a 343 DL new in 1980 after their 1968 Vauxhall Viva was killed off by rust and engine failure. The little Volvo obviously was light years ahead of the Viva, but wasn’t particularly reliable or economical and they traded it in two years later for a Toyota Corolla, which was faultless.

  50. The “idiot proof” gearbox was another reason for the 340 to appeal to older drivers.

    They were also popular with caravan owners due to the power delivery being good for towing.

  51. Looking at that 360 photo above, the Volvo 300 has rather odd proportions with a sizeable overhang at the front.

    Such an overhang is unusual for a RWD car, and more common with the Audi type longitudinal FWD layout, with the engine out ahead of the front wheels. Was this purely on the Volvo 300 due to the crumple zone, or was the engine unusually far forward?

  52. I realize that the rear mounted gearbox and unusually even weight distribution should have given great traction, but I seem to remember the 300’s having a poor reputation in this area.
    My brother and I travelled from a village West of Aberdeen to Derby in winter ’81. We soon realized, when we saw ditches full of white vans (one inverted) and an artic’ “parked” in a field, that this would be a challenging journey. We got over Carter Bar on the Scottish-English border to find the road on the English side covered in undisturbed snow, and a sign pointing the other way saying Road Closed. We had left behind two articulated trucks and a Volvo 345 which couldn’t get enough traction to get out of a dip in the road. We were in an RWD Cavalier, which didn’t have brilliant traction, but a boot full of heavy luggage seemed to help. That, and determined driving.

  53. I do remember the 343 DL my family friends bought to replace the Viva( 12 years was amazing for an HB Viva, but the car was beyond help when they scrapped it) and do remember these really comfortable nylon seats it had and the car feeling solidly built. However, the 1.4 litre Renault engine was no ball of fire and was thirsty, and the car suffered from starting problems, which is why they traded it in for a Toyota two years later. I think they were a bit miffed that a car they expected to be totally reliable wasn’t.

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