Sales that Teach

1983 Volvo 242 Turbo Coupe: The art of the flip

by Andrew Newton
29 December 2020 3 min read
Photo by Courtesy Bring a Trailer

The Hagerty Valuation Team has analyzed some 415,000 auction and private transactions (and counting). They all help inform our view of the market, but some tell us something more. We call these Sales that Teach.

The sale: 1983 Volvo 242 Turbo Flat Hood Coupe – sold for $21,000 on Bring a Trailer December 14, 2020

The details: This car is reportedly one of 500 “flat-hood” Volvo 242 Turbos built for Group A racing homologation. It was owned for many years by a couple who owned a Volvo service shop in California, and the Western climate was clearly kind to this coupe. Though the odometer shows 179,743 miles, any Volvo fan will tell you that’s “barely broken in.” The underside of the car is maintained, if a bit grimy. The timing belt was done in 2018 and the oil is fresh. There are some scuffs and blemishes in the paint, and nothing about the car is perfect or looks factory fresh, but it’s all impressive for a 37-year-old car that has covered so much ground. Other than the general age, the major shortcoming of this car is that it’s an automatic. That would be one thing on a base model wagon, but on a sporty two-door Turbo it’s a bit unfortunate.

The lesson: You’ve probably heard about how important it is to find a proper time and venue to sell a car. An auction or showroom that specializes in prewar Alfa Romeos, no matter how good, might not be the best place to offer your Datsun 240Z and vice versa. Such wisdom might seem less important in an era when more and more classic cars sell online and are thus visible to enthusiasts all over the world. This Volvo, which has sold twice in the last six months, tells us it still holds.

Affectionately known as “Bricks,” 200-series Volvos are fondly remembered for safety, reliability, and durability. (The Volvo shop that used to work on my family’s 240 wagon had a “wall of fame”—essentially a bulletin board tacked up with photos of Volvo 240s and their latest odometer readings. There wasn’t anything under 200,000.)

Few of the suburban families and college professors who drove Volvos in this era appreciated their performance potential. Despite their dowdy looks, hefty weight, and the lump under the hood that is Volvo’s B-Series four, the turbocharged versions of the 240 (aka the “Turbo Brick”) were relatively successful in FIA Group A racing and the European Touring Car Championship.

In order to homologate its “240 Turbo Evolution” race car, Volvo had to build 500 roadgoing versions. The exact history is murky, but legend has it that Volvo sent 500 242 Turbos with competition equipment, like a special intake and rear spoiler in the trunk, to the United States (about half to the East Coast and half to the West Coast), where the go-fast bits were installed. Then they were un-installed, and the cars sold as standard versions, but supposedly still with higher output engines. The rules allowed Volvo to race the car if 500 cars were built, not necessarily sold. The homologation cars sold to the public are visually distinguished by a different nose and hood than normal U.S. market cars.

If you’ve been reading Insider for a while, this car might sound familiar. That’s because we covered its sale, for just $8400, back in August at Bonhams’ Quail Motorcar auction. Even though the Bonhams auction was livestreamed rather than actually held at Quail Lodge this year, the sale still skewed towards higher end classics. This esoteric used Volvo, offered late in the day at no reserve, flew way under the radar despite a lofty $20,000–$25,000 estimate.

The winning bidder at the Bonhams auction put 68 miles on the car, changed the oil, added new leather for the seats, and put the car up for sale on Bring a Trailer, which put it in front of a larger audience that time and time again goes gaga for modern, sporty, boxy European cars. Twenty-nine bids later, they had more than doubled their money.

What we have here then, is a perfectly executed flip. These quick, easy profits aren’t as easy to come by as they might have been five to ten years ago, when values across the market were surging and information on what things were worth was less readily available to all. But this boxy Swede shows us it’s still possible, so long as you plan everything right on both ends of the deal. Sure, there was a little luck involved, but that’s true of any investment. And most investments aren’t this much fun.

Volvo interior
Volvo 242 Turbo side


  • eighthtry says:

    $21,000 for the thrill of owning and maybe driving an old Volvo? Is this a great country or what?

  • John Carter says:

    First car I ever bought new. Always told myself while driving, what else would anyone want.
    Still believe it.

  • John Carter says:

    Also, mine had the 4 speed with overdrive with a bit of the go fast equipment added.
    What a car.

  • J Tom Field says:

    Just picked up a 91 wagon with a 5 speed and 405k miles. Surprisingly fun car to drive.

  • Brian says:

    Makes we want one.

  • Brian says:

    Makes we want one, Again.

  • Cheryl Bowkett says:

    We have a 1980 Volvo Coupe, similar to the one noted, baby blue, less than 80,000 km. Two owners, I have had it since 1987. Always garaged. Looking to sell to a good home. Any ideas?

  • Franckv says:

    In 2018, I bought a 1990 Volvo station wagon 240 DL with 5 speeds, a one-owner UC Berkeley professor. I have more than 10 classic cars from Bentley V12, Ferrari Testa Rossa, Porsche 930 … Citroen DS, and some modern cars but my everyday is my Volvo. I do not impress anybody but I do not care. Simply said I love the mechanical feel it has, it is sort of an agricultural machine something coming out of a farm. Plus I do not particularly like putting miles on my other cars for obvious reasons which does not stop me driving them but this Volvo I rejoice seeing the miles go up. I can’t wait to pass 300,000 miles! I have another car like this which is much much more valuable, prettier to look and gets a lot of attention but I am not sure it is better overall: my 1966 VW Bus.

  • Ray says:

    I have owned 11 of the Bricks standards and auto 4 dr,2dr and wagons and turbo and am now the owner of a 2005 XC 70 chipped out to 340 hp with cold air kit borla exhaust air ride and locked into 4×4 had her up to 280 kilo and still had more on the pedal but ran out of road My first Brick was a 1980 4 dr standard paid 40 bucks for it and drove it to the bone yard 10 years later with 876 thousand kilo on the clock and then someone took out the motor and tranny and put it into a 24 foot fishing boat and it is still running today

  • Chuck says:

    Yeah…they were a ton of fun. I still have one just like this, but in graphite…requires resto. Just haven’t gotten aroud to it.

  • DJL says:

    I’m on my third 240, an 1982 automatic for the wife. With about 1,000,000 between the three of them and about 20 more cars taking their turns in my garage, I can say that the brick is the best. Nearing 40 years old it is starting to turn heads, too. My classy looking wife doesn’t hurt, either.

  • Jan Fredrik Larsen says:

    I wonder how many 2 Doors turbos there were sold in total🙌

  • James says:

    I worked on the 250 that were done at the Volvo Plant in Chesapeake Va. Changed to a larger turbo and wastegate with larger intake with larger runners, a larger intercooler. Along with other goodies under the hood. Changed out the hoods. The automatics had the valve body dropped down to change the springs in the pistons for a crisper shift. Made a huge difference. A few had water injected added to cool the intake charge. We had to change a few rear axles because they were ” bowing ” in the middle under acceleration. I was one of people that got to test drive these after each was done. On a 4 wheel roll test dyno, to check for function and to see if it over boost. Some did and would shut down. The waste gate had to be adjusted with a new seal and tested again. Then road tested. Great fun. They seem to rev quick like a motorcycle. Sidestepping the clutch meant you hardly moved, with so much smoke you couldnt see out the back window. All modifications done had to look perfect, no junk thrown together. All cars were inspected by an outside source for perfect installation. Then when all were completed, test driven and passed inspections. All modified parts were removed and packed up, and all stock parts were put back on and tested. All so they could race these in this class.

  • Irene says:

    I bought one from the head mechanic in Virginia Beach/Chesapeake when I was in college. It’s was a rocket! I loved the looks from people at lights, laughing at the idea the Brick could even have a chance. Still the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned. Smooth thru the turns. Many oil changes. Sold it to a young guy in Lynchburg, VA many years later and miss it often.

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