The Knowledge: The Volvo 300 Series wasn't cool when it was new, but it is now
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
What’s the most versatile classic car you can think of? By which we mean: what’s the classic car you can do the most with, be it modifying, keeping it standard, turning it into a show queen or simply using it as a practical, comfortable daily?
Allow us to submit for your consideration the Volvo 300 Series – that’s the 343, 345, 340 and 360, to you and me. Conceived as the DAF 77, it was rebadged as a Volvo just before its launch as the Swedish company took a controlling interest, and rapidly became a popular entry-level model favoured by buyers who liked the traditional Volvo values of safety, space and comfort, but didn’t want to pay for a larger Volvo saloon or estate.
In its day, the 300’s reputation was dull, but worthy. It did everything very well – except excitement. With its solidly built but rather drab interior, safe and stable but uninvolving handling, and tidy but slightly frumpy styling, it was distinctly a head-over-heart purchase. Buying a 340 was a little bit like buying a kagoul: sensible, practical and very worthwhile, but the polar opposite of sexy.
Today, on the other hand, the 300 has become a cult classic with immense appeal – and one which can be whatever you want it to be.
Not only has its styling aged well, with a fabulous air of period charm that buyers prize, but its rear-wheel-drive layout has given it a favoured place among the drift community. You’ll often see 340s and 360s used as cheap drift cars nowadays – their predictable handling characteristics and torquey engines making them ideal cars in which to learn the sport.
But the 300 Series has merits beyond simply being a ‘rip it apart and drift it’ machine. For starters, its comfortable seats, wafty ride quality and spacious interior make it a practical, usable daily classic, and ideal for those who have only the space and cash for one car, but want something with a bit of character.
And the fact the 300 was usually bought by sensible, level-headed buyers when it was new means a good number were fastidiously maintained, with the result that today there are plenty of very clean examples available with copious amounts of history.
Why you should buy one now
Not only is it easy to find a good 300 Series, but the model’s lack of glamour means prices are still very reasonable. If you look in the right places, it’s still possible to pick up a very clean, tidy, low-mileage 340 for less than £2,000, with project cars going for even less. Even the very best 340s shouldn’t set you back more than £4,000.
And while 340s do have their issues – of which more in a sec – they’re also, for the most part, very reliable. Just one more reason they’re an ideal choice if you want a classic for more than just high days and holidays.
What to look out for
Rust is the biggest killer of the 340. Look out for it on the sills, around the windscreen, below the front bumper, on the front wings and, on four- and five-door cars, along the tops of the doors.
The 340 came with two engines: a 1.4-litre and a 1.7-litre, both Renault-sourced, while the 360 used Volvo’s own 2.0-litre. The general consensus among enthusiasts is that the 2.0 is thirsty, but the most reliable, while the 1.4 strikes a good balance between reliability and economy, though it isn’t very quick.
The 1.7s tend to be a little less reliable, and are notorious for warped carburettor base plates, resulting in air leaks and rough running. The only cure is a replacement carb, which isn’t cheap.
Your best bet is to keep an eye out for a tidy, well-maintained 300 Series – of which, as we’ve already discussed, there are many; do so, and it should prove a dependable, reliable and very easy to live with classic car that should cost you very little to buy and run.