Volvo 240 Saloon

Cross the river from Warsaw's Royal Palace, and you get to Praga Polnoc. Yes, there is a place called Prague, in Warsaw, because Poland is better than the Czech Republic. Apparently. The Polnoc bit means either North, or Midnight, depending on which you prefer. Such are the vagaries of the Polish language.

Praga does not have the best reputation of Warsaw's districts, unless you find stab wounds a fashion accessory, in which case Praga Midnight is the coolest place in town. The area has never really considered itself a true part of Warsaw though, instead being the murky cousin who lives on the Eastern bank; home to Communist sympathisers, workshy benefit scroungers and bears. Not the vodka-swilling fur hatted Russians, but the grizzly type, who live in a specially designed concrete run next to one of the busiest junctions in Warsaw.

With assualts, pollution and carnivores to contend with, one should enter Praga with caution. Most people opt for either a stout sturdy stick as a deterrent, or one of the 50ml bottles (two shots) of vodka that can be bought locally for a pound. Or, as someone else has done, arrive in a canary yellow Volvo 240.

Volvos are one of the most unthreatening manufacturers in the world. Attributed to antiques traders and librarians, the simple reliable oblongs have been shuttling Swedes in and out of forests for decades, cocooning their owners from such risks as avalanches, black ice and elk. There's no Saab-style aggressiveness of snarling raked grills, just an unimposing functional block that can be relied on and ignored, like an Ikea coffee table. Wrapping the whole thing up in that shade of paint also makes it look like a cubist banana.

The 240 was one denomination of the entire 200-series range of cars which lasted from 1974 to 1993; a production run so succesful that it outlasted the model designed to replace it (the 700-series.) And despite only a third production run being estates, the blocky 200-series became the modern icon of a Volvo - square, sturdy and safe. So what formed the basis of that reputation? The Volvo Experimental Safety Car.

A test bed for the technologies that would morph the old 140 into the 200-series, the VESC incorporated all-important features like crumple zones, self-collapsing engine mounts and four-wheel disc brakes, but with the practical application of using those then-expensive systems onto a mass-production affordable motor. And over the course of the 2.8million production run, more and more features would be added to keep the Swedes safe. A truss bar ran across the top of the B pillar, to stop the roof deflecting more than 75mm in the even of a rollover. All doors contained tubular steel side-impact bars. The fuel system must be fully intact in the event of any collision, and all sharp edges must be rounded off. Like the church of St Cyril that stands behind it, this 240 was a monument to sanctuary - hewn from stone but shelter from the storm.

Of course, moving a cathedral is an equally monumental effort to building one, and the 2.0litre pushrod engine in this number, despite pushing out 124bhp, would be a rather thirsty number. Which is why you should look closer at the pictures. Spot it?

Twin petrol filler flaps. Poland has the highest number of LPG-converted cars, and this guzzler is no exception. Which is hardly surprisng, considering the drinking problems of the locals, bears included.


Steve said...

Actually it means South, or midday. Greetings from Sosnowiec.

Grrrmachine said...

Silly me! It's Praga Polnoc, not Poludnie, that's over the river from Stare Miasto! I've edited it now, dzieki!