The History Of Volvo 960

The Volvo 700 and 900 series are two ranges of mid-size car manufactured by Volvo Cars in the 1980s and 1990s. The 700 series was introduced in 1982, followed in 1990 by the 900 series. The 700, designed by Jan Wilsgaard, was originally to have been a replacement for the 200 series, but production of that model continued.

The most visible differences between the 700 and the 900 series were the more rounded corners on the body of the latter, and a somewhat better-appointed interior. The 960 was substantially revised for the 1995 model year, improving the handling. The range was first augmented and finally supplanted by the Volvo 850 in 1993, with the last of the 900s being sold in 1998. Some 900 series were built as chassis for ambulances and hearses after the main production run had been completed.

The 760 was Volvo's attempt to cement a place in the prestige market, after building a reputation for being solid and safe rather than out-and-out luxurious cars. Jan Wilsgaard, head of Volvo's Design and Styling team, proposed over 50 new designs for the new car. It was introduced to the US in 1982 for the 1983 model year as the 760 GLE sedan. This new design was criticized by the media when released: Gordon Murray of Autocar Magazine said, "To me it's obscene! That goes right against the grain of what everybody else is trying to do. To me it looks like a European version of a North American car. It produces the same amount of power as a 2600 or 3500 — in this day and age it disgusts me to see something about like that. It's a definite step backwards." All that changed however when Autocar and Car & Driver got their hands on a turbo intercooled 760; they said it was one of the best handling and fastest accelerating cars they had seen in a while, thundering from 0-60 mph (97 km/ h) in under 8 seconds.

Turbocharged and intercooled variants were added in 1984, station wagon variants and the 740 – the 760's lower-specification sibling – were introduced for the 1985 model year. In 1985 Electronic Traction Control system was introduced. For the 1988 model year, the 760 received numerous updates. From the outside, the most noticeable of the over 2,000 changes were the revised front sheetmetal, including an aluminium hood, recessed windscreen wipers, and new aerodynamic headlights. Inside, all 760s were equipped with a new electronic climate control (ECC), a revised dashboard, three-position tilt steering, and a new stereo system. Underneath, sedans received the same multi-link independent rear suspension that was used on the 780. Along with the revised dash, the interior saw the addition of a revised dome light and many fabric accent pieces.

The Volvo 760 was also used as a police car in several countries. East German dictator Erich Honecker also often used this Volvo in his governmental car pool.

For its final year of production, 1990, 760 sedans received tail lights in the style of the Volvo 780 (see below), and minor interior changes. The 760 was discontinued after the 1990 model year (with production ending on 27 June 1990), and was replaced by the Volvo 960, an evolutionary update of the 760 chassis. The Volvo 740 outlived the 760, remaining for another two years.

All 760s were built in Kalmar, Sweden.

During a challenge on the british television motoring series top gear, the team are given a challenge to purchase fully legal cars (with road tax and a valid M.O.T.) for less than £100, presenter Jeremy clarkson purchased a Volvo 760 GLE, and won the overall challenge, mainly because his car cost only £1, and was the only car still working after a 30mph (48km/ h) crash they had at the end!

Introduced in the U.S. for the 1985 model year, the 740 was a more simply equipped version of the Volvo 760. The 740 was intended to be a mid-size car that offered more style, performance, and luxury than the venerable 200 series.

In the U.S., the 740 was offered from 1985 to 1992 as a 4-door sedan (known internally as the 744) and a 5-door station wagon (known internally as the 745). Production of the 740 ceased in 1992, though the engine, transmission, chassis, and other details lived on in the Volvo 940 (see below), which was essentially a re-skinned 740. Though out of production for close to 15 years, the majority of these cars are still on the road today, thanks to robust construction and engines known to run for hundreds of thousands of miles.

In 1990 the 740 received a minor facelift with new composite headlamps and 780-style tail lights. In 1991, both the 740 and the newly introduced 940 received an updated dashboard, similar in appearance to the ones found in the 760. The 740 remained mostly unchanged for the 1992 model year, and was phased out in 1993 in favour of the Volvo 940.

Aside from styling, 1990 marked a number of mechanical improvements to the 740 series. The B230 motor received larger 13mm (0.5in) connecting rods. The 740 Turbo switched from the Garrett T3-series turbocharger to the Mitsubishi TD04 series, offering quicker spool-up and better low-RPM boost at the expense of top-end performance. The fuel system was upgraded from Bosch LH-Jetronic 2.2 to 2.4 (in 1988 for naturally aspirated cars, 1990 for Turbo cars). The newer fuel system offered onboard diagnostics, which are easily accessible from under the hood, and require no special equipment. In 1992, the final year for the 740, the mechanical engine cooling fan was replaced with an electric fan. In short, many of the mechanical lackings of the 1985-89 740s were ironed out in the 1990-92 model years. The 1990-92 Volvo 700-series cars may very well represent one of the most reliable 4-door passenger sedans of its era due to a limited number of engineering limitations and solid build quality.

Trim levels were GL, GLE and GLT worldwide; Continental markets had some exceptions to this rule. The most interesting exception was perhaps the 740 Turbo 16v sold only in Italy. This car used the B204FT engine found also in the 780 on the same market and it came with some unusual extras such as the ECC from the 760.

The Volvo 780 grand touring coupé made its debut at the International Auto Show in Geneva, Switzerland in 1985. It marked the return of a two-door 2+2 seater coupe to the Volvo stable after a four-year absence following the departure of the 262C in 1981. The 780 became available in Europe in 1986, and would come to the United States a year later.

Like its predecessor, the 780 was designed and built by Carrozzeria Bertone in Turin, Italy. However, unlike the Volvo 262C, the 780 was not merely a two-door 760 with a "chop top" roof. Bertone gave the 780 its own distinctive shape which set it apart from the other models, yet was still identifiable as a Volvo. The car had a sleek, low profile, inheriting some of the styling of the other 700 series cars, but without many of the severe angles and sharp corners. The hood, trunk, and roof lines were all slightly lower than the standard 700 series profile, and the C-pillar was wider and had a more gradual slope down to the trunk. Headroom was improved over the 262C, due to Bertone’s mere 1 cm lowering of the roofline. Window frames all had black matte trim, and were accented with chrome. Chrome also highlighted the door handles, bumpers, and side mouldings.

In the first two years the 780 was available worldwide ('86 and '87) the 780 was available with the B280F V6 engine and a solid (live) rear axle. In the following year, they came equipped with Volvo's independent rear suspension, which used self-leveling Nivomat shocks, to keep ride height correct.

Many people began to take note of the relatively weak powerplant that the 780 had. The B280F at this point had roughly 150hp (110kW), but the car itself was nearly 3400 pounds. To address concerns over performance, Volvo introduced the B230FT+; a B230FT with Volvo's boost controller, Turbo+, increasing the engine output to 175hp (130kW). The following model year saw it increase to 188hp (140kW). In Italy, 780s came with the B204GT. This was a 16 Valve Turbo motor producing 200hp (150kW). In the car's finale year, 1991, it was rebadged simply as "Coupé". At this point, the car came only in turbo guise.

Volvo's official production total for the 780 is 8,518 cars built between 1986 and 1991. However, this number has often been disputed as different sources have often estimated the actual total to be higher. As before, a coupé would remain absent from Volvo's model line for several years, until the front-wheel drive C70 was premiered in 1995 for the following model year.

Total production was more than 9,521 worldwide, but the exact total production is still unknown. 5,695 were imported to the US.

The Volvo 940 is among the last in the long-running line of large rear-wheel drive cars from Volvo. Introduced in 1991, the 940 was essentially a cosmetic reskinning of the 740. All drivetrains, and most options available in the 940 had been available in the 740. The 940 was more closely related to the 740 than the 760, sharing the same dashboard, drivetrain choices, and sheet metal from the A-pillar forward. In contrast, the 960 was an evolution of the 760. The 760 / 960 front sheet metal, independent rear suspension, dashboard, and other interior features were all exclusive to the two upscale models.

In the United States, the 1991 940 was offered in three versions: the 940GLE used a DOHC 16-valve version of the 2.3-litre engine with a 6000 rpm redline. The 940 Turbo used a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine, and the top-end 940SE (turbo) included body-coloured trim, and the premium features (leather, power seats/ moonroof, etc.) as standard equipment.

In 1992, the 940 GLE was downgraded with a 114 bhp 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine and sold as the 940 GL (or basic 940 in some export markets). The 940 SE was altered in such a fashion that it was a 960 Turbo sold as the 940 SE, but the 940 Turbo remained largely unchanged. Production of the 940 series ended in 1998.

Transmission Reduction Ratios

Source: 1991 Volvo 940 Owner's Manual

For 1995, the 960 underwent radical changes.

Autumn 1990 saw the launch of the Volvo 960, in time for the 1991 model year. This was the replacement for the 760. The 1991 960 was an evolutionary progression of the 1990 760. The most significant change was that, in most markets, the 960 was offered with an all-new aluminum 24-valve DOHC inline six-cylinder engine. Some markets, such as Australia, saw 1991 960s equipped with the same V6 engine, the B280, that had powered the 1990 760. The 1992 model year saw the U.S. introduction of a 960 with the DOHC six-cylinder engine. In Italy, the 960 was sold with the 16v 2-litre turbo for the model year 1991.

The 960 received further incremental changes for the 1992, 1993, and 1994 model years. Most visible were the new more shapely seats, and redesigned seat-belts with hydraulic pretensioners for 1992. 1993 saw a new more ergonomic shifter, and 1994 saw the introduction of dual front airbags in some markets. The opaque sunroof was replaced by a sliding sunshade and glass window.

Most obvious was the more aerodynamic front end, and more body coloured panels. Underneath, the front suspension was completely retooled to more closely match that of the 850. Indeed, 1995 to 1998 960s are able to use the same wheels as 1994 and newer front-wheel drive Volvo models. The rear suspension was a completely redesigned multi-link independent design. Instead of conventional coil springs, Volvo used a single transverse fibreglass leaf spring. The 1995 960 station wagon marked the first time ever that Volvo equipped one of its rear-wheel drive station wagons with an independent rear suspension. Included in the suspension redesign, Boge's self-levelling rear suspension system, the Nivomat, became an option, rather than standard equipment.

Production of the 960 ended in 1998, with the 1998 model year vehicles renamed as the Volvo S90/ Volvo V90. Some 1997 model year vehicles were branded S90 or V90 as well.

The 1992-94 Volvo 960s were built in Kalmar, Sweden. The very first Volvo 960 for the US-market rolled off the assembly line on August 12, 1991, as a 1992 model. The 1995 to 1998 960s were built in Göteborg, Sweden. The first 1995 960 was built on June 27, 1994.

All US cars were equipped with an electronically controlled Aisin AW-series automatic transmission. Beginning in the 1995 model year, European cars with the 2.5L engines were also available with a manual transmission, the so-called M90, a strong new design that was derived from the Volvo 850's transmission. With the demise of the 2.5L engine, the M90 was paired with a detuned version of the 3.0L engine.


Beginning in 1985, the 740 and 760 models were available in both saloon and estate forms.

North American model availability:


These engines were offered on US-spec 700 and 900 series vehicles:

  • B23FT: 2.3 L inline-4, turbocharged
  • B230F: 2.3 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, 114 hp ('85-88 740GLE, '89-90 740GL, '90-92 740)
  • B234F: 2.3 L 16-valve, DOHC, inline-4, naturally aspirated, 153 hp ('89-90 740 GLT)
  • B230FT: 2.3 L inline-4, turbocharged, 160 hp ('85-92 740 Turbo **NOTE: '90-92 models produced 162 hp**)
  • B28F: 2.8 L V6, naturally aspirated, odd fire crankshaft ('82-86)
  • B280F: 2.8 L V6, naturally aspirated, even fire crankshaft ('87-90)
  • D24T: 2.4 L inline-6, turbodiesel, 107hp (80kW), variant of the LT35 engine manufactured by Volkswagen.
  • D24TIC: 2.4 L inline-6, turbodiesel, intercooled, 124hp (92kW), variant of the LT35 engine manufactured by Volkswagen.
  • B6304: 3.0 L straight-6, naturally aspirated

Other engines offered in other markets include:

  • B19E (offered for the '84 model year only)
  • B23E: 2.3 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection ('84)
  • B23ET: 2.3 L inline-4, turbocharged, utilizing Bosch Motronic engine management ('84)
  • B28A: 2.8 L V6, naturally aspirated, carburated ('82-85)
  • B28E: 2.8 L V6, naturally aspirated, Bosch K-Jetronic, high output ('82-86)
  • B200F: 2.0 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, Bosch LH-Jetronic 111hp (83kW)
  • B200K: 2.0 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, Renix ignition, 200K had standard head unlike 230K (introduced for the '85 model year)
  • B200ET: 2.0 L inline-4, turbocharged, Bosch Motronic engine management (introduced for the '85 model year)
  • B200FT: 2.0 L inline-4, turbocharged, Bosch LH-Jetronic 156hp (116kW)
  • B204E: 2.0 L 16-valve, DOHC, inline-4, naturally aspirated (introduced for the '89 model year)
  • B204FT: 2.0 L 16-valve, DOHC, inline-4, turbocharged (introduced for the '89 model year)
  • B204GT: 2.0 L 16-valve, DOHC, inline-4, turbocharged (introduced for the '89 model year)
  • B230A: 2.3 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, carburated (1985-86)
  • B230E: 2.3 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection (introduced in the '85 model year)
  • B230K: 2.3 L inline-4, naturally aspirated, Renix ignition, Heron head (introduced for the '85 model year)
  • B230ET: 2.3 L inline-4, turbocharged, Bosch Motronic (introduced in the '85 model year)
  • B230FK: 2.3 L inline-4, turbocharged, Low Pressure Turbo ('95-)
  • B280E: 2.8 L V6, naturally aspirated (introduced in the '87 model year)
  • B230FB: 2.3 L inline-4. naturally aspirated. available in 940
  • B6244: 2.4 L straight-6, naturally aspirated
  • B6254: 2.5 L straight-6 24v, naturally aspirated


Volvo offered various transmissions depending on the year/ model/ engine combinations including the:

  • M46 manual transmission (4-speed + Laycock de Normanville overdrive)
  • M47 manual transmission (5-speed)
  • M90 manual transmission (5-speed)
  • AW30-40 electronically controlled automatic transmission (4-speed, lockup torque converter)
  • AW70/ AW70L automatic transmission (3-speed + overdrive, lockup torque converter on some models)
  • AW71 automatic transmission (3-speed + overdrive)
  • AW72L automatic transmission (4-speed, lockup torque converter)
  • ZF4HP22 automatic transmission (4-speed, lockup torque converter)

Suspension/ Axle

There were also different suspension combinations depending on the model chosen:

  • 1030: Standard rear axle
  • 1031: Heavy-duty version of the 1030
  • 1041: Rear axle with Eaton locking mechanism

SE models

Later in 1991, Volvo offered a sedan and wagon badged the 740 SE. The 740 SEs, along with the 740 Turbo sedan, were subsequently discontinued for 1992. The SE badge was in fact one of the more confusing badges. In the US, the 940 SE was in fact a 960 Turbo with the four-cylinder B230FT engine, the 940 SE badge presumably chosen by Volvo in order to maintain the link between name and number of cylinders. In Sweden, the 940 SE was an ordinary non-turbo 940 with some optional extras as standard, most notably painted mirrors and bumpers. In the UK, the 940 SE was a 2-litre Turbo with some extras as standard aimed specifically at the company car market as 2-litre engines receive a tax benefit.

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