Auto-Biography: The Volvo Concept Car – A 700-Series Preview

By late 1979, I had been a full-time permanent employee of Volvo of America Corporation for nearly two years, a welcome change from my earlier status as a “permanent temporary” hire. I had also moved into the Product Planning & Development group’s Technical Analysis subsection, where I had the chance to sink my teeth into more complex and rewarding projects.

Dealing with my father’s last hospitalization for COPD and emphysema, as well as some other personal challenges at the time, I was grateful to have the opportunity to focus on some detailed elements of a larger project – the Volvo Concept Car (VCC).

The Volvo Concept Car was Gothenburg’s first “idea car” of the 1980s. Debuting during the first quarter of 1980, it was seen as “an efficient means of evaluating peoples’ reactions to our ideas,” according to our department’s former chief, who by then had moved back to Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg, Sweden, having accepted the position of global product planning manager.

Our former department chief (at left) next to the VCC.


Lest you think that Volvo had abandoned its core values in favor of starry-eyed showmanship, however, he was quick to add that “More or less fantastic creations, referred to as cars, are frequently exhibited on motor-show stands around the world. What we are doing is to show in tangible form that the car designer must keep his feet on the ground – thereby to satisfy the requirements which the customers and authorities make on us, using the possibilities which our capabilities and resources provide.”

The VCC’s rear three-quarter view, captured during winter 1980 in Gothenburg.


Volvo enthusiasts will be quick to recognize that the VCC bears a strong resemblance to the 700-series (760/740) which made its North American debut (in sedan form) for the 1983 model year. The VCC’s unibody, chassis, and basic structure accurately forecast the upcoming 700-series. Its passenger compartment was virtually identical to that of the production car, though details such as its shortened rear overhang and flat (non-“coffin nose”) hood didn’t make production.

Though the VCC and the production 700-series station wagon shared a 2770 mm (109.1”) wheelbase, the concept car’s 4350 mm overall length (171.3”) was 435 mm (17.1”) shorter than the production version’s 4785 mm (188.4”) measure. The increased overall length can be attributed to the need to fit an optional rearward-facing third seat in the production car, which was not a consideration in the VCC. Around the company, the concept car was typically referred to as the “cutback” for obvious reasons. At the time, I kept trying to visualize the VCC as a two-door, a much “squarer” take on the 1800ES, if you will.

The VCC on top, a later 760 wagon (with requisite Swedish tennis players nearby) on the bottom.


But I digress. As part of the project, we were asked to participate in the development of a new instrument cluster concept. Given the tenor of the times, it was decided that a CRT display might be used as the basis for a configurable instrument cluster. This system could not only display detailed versions of the typical speed, odometer, fuel and coolant level readouts (shown both graphically and numerically), but also inform the driver of the status of safety-related items such as tire pressure, brake pad wear, bulb failure, and seat belt usage.

Eventually, a pair of CRTs was deemed necessary to provide the required information in an easily readable format. The second screen was normally configured to show a tachometer display, as well as oil pressure and voltage readouts, as well as graphical and numerical instant/average fuel economy displays.

Dual CRTs replaced the traditional instrument cluster in the VCC. They never made it into production, however.


The detailed design of the various displays and readouts became my responsibility. Since programs such as AUTOCAD had not yet been released, several weeks were spent hunched over the drawing board, literally designing each display by hand, pixel by pixel. Sweden provided us with a “package drawing” of the available instrument-cluster space, and with the able assistance of a local electronics fabrication firm, a pair of CRTs of the appropriate size (110 x 260 mm, or about 4.3” by 10.2”) were obtained.

The driver would normally see these gauges on the side-by-side CRTs. A lot of thought went into the display logic.


Fortunately, the same supplier undertook the herculean job of programming the desired graphics, trouble-shooting the many existing and newly-required system sensors and interfacing the entire array with the VCC’s electrical system. I wasn’t on-site in Sweden when the twin CRTs finally blinked to life and started relaying real-time, on-the-road information, but I was told that all functioned flawlessly.

The right-hand CRT display would show the status of various systems during the vehicle start-up process.


Although in early 1980, we weren’t the first automaker to debut a CRT-based instrument cluster (the “Series 3” Aston Martin Lagonda of 1976 apparently holds that distinction), I’m pleased that just as the VCC itself previewed the design theme of Volvo station wagons yet to come, some of the VCC’s then-new info readouts and graphics might have been a source of inspiration for later Volvo interior designers and engineers.

The first known digital dash on the mid-1970s Aston Martin Lagonda. Reportedly, its development nearly bankrupted the company. (Source:


In fact, Volvo’s recent ReCharge Concept (2021) may be an indication that some aspects of the nearly 45-year-old VCC- and its innovative dash- may one day come to life in a new, modern form.

Gothenburg’s 2021 ReCharge Concept may hint at future EV station wagons. A 21st century “cutback”?