As we walk through the past, talking about Ferraris or Maserati, we remember cars that are sleek, curvaceous and dramatic. But when we think of classic Volvos, what comes to mind are the indestructible “tanks”. Think of a car that as immortal as the Volvo 850, we wait ! Classic Volvos are known for their boxy design, serious safety and reliability features. Safety has always been a priority for Volvos, but there have been examples of Volvo’s that are fun to drive!
Most Volvos of the ’80s and’ 90s weren’t very good driving cars. But the Swedish automaker wanted to change all that, and in the late 1980s they came up with a very radical car – the Volvo 480. It was unlike any other Volvo at the time with a form factor that had merged into one. coupe, a wagon, and a rather tasteful sedan. With retractable headlights and a large rear windshield, the 480 has a Japanese sports car vibe.
In fact, that’s what Volvo had in mind for the American public and the pop-ups were added only to amplify its sporty appeal. The Volvo 480 was truly an “international” car as it had been built in the Netherlands, designed by a Dutchman, the interior designed by a Briton, and the French automaker Renault supplied the mechanical parts. This remains an oddity in the otherwise “square” history of Volvo.
The Volvo 480 was the very first front-wheel drive car produced by the Swedish automaker and is considered the spiritual successor to the beautiful Volvo 1800ES of the early 1970s.
The very first Volvo Wedgy: a quirk among the “tanks”
Lame and lame cars are what comes to mind when a commoner thinks of classic Volvos. But there have been examples of beautiful Volvos produced over time. One of the most notable is the iconic Volvo P1800 which is arguably the most beautiful Volvo of all time.
Likewise, there are many examples of curvy Volvos, but only one from a corner. Between the indestructible 240 and 850 series, Volvo trusted the wedgy 480. It was unlike any other Volvo made, and it turned a lot of heads.
The very first front-wheel drive Volvo had Lotus and Porsche to help with the mechanics
Volvo 480 was their very first front-wheel drive model and was fitted with an in-line 4-cylinder engine several times during its lifetime. Initially, all 480s were fitted with an original Renault 1.7 liter engine which was a humble performer, developing 109 HP and having a top speed of 118 MPH. To make things interesting, Volvo turned to Lotus for the suspension tuning and made it a rather impressive handling machine.
The ride quality was impressive and it often showed RWD characteristics! Things got even better in 1988 when Volvo added a turbocharger and increased performance to 120 hp. This engine was co-developed with Porsche, which made the Radical 480 even cooler.
Quite sporty 2 + 2 interior with 2-spoke steering
The interior layout was done by Peter Horbury who managed to create a spacious 2 + 2 layout for this 2-door coupe. Getting into the second row was always a problem, but the comfortable and ergonomic seats were worth it. The second row was divided between the two with a palm rest storage area. And technically, all 4 seats were captain’s seats.
As for the dashboard layout, it was pretty technical for the time, but would be considered too clunky now. The two-spoke steering wheel was a Volvo-specific feature and is fairly well designed with the driver-centric dashboard layout. The 480 was also packed with a few innovative features for the time, like illuminated door locks and an on-board computer mounted on the dashboard.
The retractable headlights and the large rear windshield gave it a JDM vibe
The design of the shooting brake was an original idea of John de Vries and it made this sedan look much sportier than it was. Plus, the station wagon vibe has been kept to help it not feel like a black sheep in the Volvo herd. The beveled front fairing, retractable headlights and fast rear with a huge windshield clearly gave it a strong JDM vibe.
The Volvo 480 sure looked sporty and they didn’t even have to add a spoiler! The huge rear window was an ode to the beautiful 1800ES, and the retractable headlights were added only with the United States in mind. On the outside, it also came with the Follow Me Home feature which was sci-fi level stuff back then. The taillights have been shaped to mimic a single strip of light at the rear, and the oddly placed grab handle has become an iconic design element.
FUN FACT: The Volvo grille in the front was a last minute addition, which is why it had to be integrated into the bumper.
The 480 was neither sensible nor sporty: the Volvo unlike a Volvo
While the Volvo 480 was a very bold move by the Swedish automaker to challenge conventional ideas and think outside the box, it was still a confusing car. Its performance was also not as sporty as it looked and the design deprived of comfort and functionality unlike any other Volvo! It was an eccentric car that decided to be the scapegoat to pave a new way for future Volvos.
This is the car that helped us see the Volvo beyond its square, boring appeal. He bought FWD at the table and showed that clean-looking Volvos aren’t that bad either. Apart from the Volvo P1800ES and the very recent Volvo V30, the wedgy 480 from the late 1980s was the only other car from the Swedish team to come in this coupe-wagon configuration with a fairly wide rear windshield.
Sources: Volvocars.com, Dyler.com, Thetruthaboutcars.com, Restromotor.co.uk
Volvo is known to be a pioneer in car safety, but the Swedish manufacturer has also built some fun cars.
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