First off, I have liked these cars for years! When I was growing up, in the late 80s and early 1990s, pretty much every other schoolfriend's parents had a Volvo 740. I have always appreciated their comfort (and the swiftness of the Turbo models in particular) and so was delighted when the chance to own one came up.
I received this car from the widow of a man who'd owned it from new in 1990 and had taken very loving care of the mechanicals. The car had been parked in a rather damp garage for about 8 months, but had been started and run regularly.
A couple of days work with plenty of soap and water on the car's interior removed the overriding 'gooeyness' from the trim that had arisen through months of non-use and the leaking sunroof.
My car is a GLE, which is pretty highly specc'ed for a 1990 car, with four electric windows, electric mirrors and sunroof, heated black leather seats, alloy wheels and halogen front foglamps. All the electric gizmos work as well as they would have when she was brand new (ignoring the perished sunroof seal)
Since then, I have hugely enjoyed hustling my Swedish tank around southern England. She's a big car; very comfortable and soft... you can drive for hours without really wanting a break.
The interior is tough, practical and well-made, much like the rest of the car, in fact. There are numerous useful door pockets and pouches, good headroom and a decent-sized glovebox. In the boot, there is a decent sized cubbyhole (that houses kiddie seats, if fitted) and it is upholstered in dark, very tough carpet that doesn't seem to mark or stain. And, needless to say, the boot capacity is colossal... I have seen this car swallow a small sofa without so much as a hiccough.
For passengers, the seats are excellent, multi-adjustable (in the front) and supportive. It is a very wide car; there is room in the back for three people to sit comfortably without rubbing shoulders, while rear legroom is also excellent no matter how far back the front seats are pushed. My friends love riding in the back of my car, especially compared with the cramped back seats of the tiny vehicles most people my age (24) seem to own.
The 740 is no firebreather at the lights, but is quick enough on the open road and you feel safe overtaking on single carriageways. Very good on motorways; there is a high fifth gear which means that you can trundle along quickly without having to thrash the engine. Rear wheel drive gives good grip and, for puerile amusement, is fun when in the appropriate (i.e. deserted) place... there is something deliciously anachronistic about attempting doughnuts and power oversteer in a 'sensible' family wagon.
Around town she's not bad either, due to decent low-down performance and a very tight turning circle (due to RWD, I believe), though the petrol consumption around town, is, understandably, rather high. The car also has a very low waistline, which makes for good visibility. Easy to park, owing to the squareness of the body and good visibility, but one does need at least to locate a decently-sized space.
Maintenance is straightforward; there are very few hidden surprises under the bonnet. I spent a small fortune on the MOT in January, but on reflection I could easily have been braver and done the work myself; this car is a doddle to work on and that is one of its best features. There is a lot of space under the bonnet, everything is straightforward and mechanically-operated (no electronic actuators here, thank you very much). Also, the build quality is very good; these cars were designed to last, and be easy to service.
(NB: My car does have by far the simplest engine in the 700-range; it might be trickier under the bonnet of 740 Turbos/760 V6s).
Engine and transmission are excellent; they do their job and do it well. The Haynes manual describes the gearbox as being "conventional in design and very sturdy". Again, this really could be applied to the entire car.
The car has done over 200,000 miles, which sounds a lot, but the fact that it has been properly serviced for its entire life means that this distance isn't overly severe... these things are designed to last. If you're looking for the most comfortable and practical car that you can own for under £500, you could do a lot worse than buy a well-loved 740.
While I had to spend a bit to get her through the MOT, I do not begrudge the car this attention one bit. Besides, I'd rather maintain an oldish car that I like and fulfils my needs than waste ££££s on the eye-watering depreciation of a brand-new car. My Swedish brick is surprisingly fun to drive, puts a smile in my face every time I drive anywhere and I am looking forward immensely to putting more miles on the clock. :)