Auto-Biography: The Volvo RoadSport — Volvo’s Turbo Powered 1977 Show Car

The RoadSport was another special project I was fortunate enough to be involved in during my early years at Volvo. To set the stage a bit, we’ll first take a brief look at one of the Swedish brand’s more important new models for ’78.

Model year 1978 was notable in several respects for Volvo’s fortunes in the U.S. market. As in 1977, sales were once again on the upswing, continuing to recover after a disastrous decline in 1976, which surely pleased the home office. 1978 also saw the introduction of the chop-top 262C as well as the first 240-series variant aimed at enthusiastic drivers, the 242 GT. While its B21F four-cylinder developed the same 102-HP as a garden-variety 240 sedan (99-HP in California spec), its functional improvements included heavier stabilizer bars, gas-filled shocks, and vented front disc brakes, improving the model’s handling and performance.

Externally, buyers could specify any color they wanted, as long as it was silver metallic. Blackout trim replaced bright accents, and black/red stripes adorned the hood, trunk lid, and body sides. A color-coordinated grille with integral driving lights and a unique front spoiler (with its own striping!) added more visual differentiation, as did the fitment of alloy wheels.

A 1979 242 GT. Changes from the ’78 version included a new front spoiler and five-spoke alloy wheels, along with a face-lifted rear end common to all 240-series sedans.


On the inside, the first 242 GTs featured black corduroy-like upholstery with red accent striping, which also divided the upper and lower dashboard. Volvo’s M46 four-speed manual gearbox with overdrive, the latter activated by a slide switch atop the gearshift lever, was the only available transmission.

The 242 GT interior. The nifty center armrest wasn’t a factory option. (Source:


Though the 242 GT was a mild success, adding a bit of interest to the Volvo lineup, it was clear that the 240’s tunable chassis and near-perfect weight distribution could handle additional power. The fact that the other Swedish automaker had recently added a turbocharger model to its U.S. lineup was likely a contributing factor as well.

In late 1976, a medium blue Volvo 242 SRO (sunroof and overdrive-equipped, in Volvospeak) was driven from Volvo’s Rockleigh, New Jersey headquarters to the west coast offices of Road Test magazine. The good folks there proceeded to tear into its suspension, rolling stock, and finally its engine, with the intent of turning the anonymous two-door into a “balls out street fighter of a car” (their words, not mine).

Tires and wheels were addressed via the substitution of a set of 225/50 VR 15 Pirellis mounted on 9.5-inch wide spun aluminum wheels. Suspension mods included cut front springs; front and rear stabilizer bars were beefed up as well (to 23 mm and 25 mm rear, respectively).

The nitty-gritty details of the RoadSport’s chassis mods.


Under the hood, the fuel-injected B21F four-cylinder was blueprinted, balanced, treated to a set of forged pistons, and provided with a Garrett Airesearch T04 turbocharger mounted to specially-fabricated intake and exhaust plumbing. When all was said and done, dyno testing revealed a horsepower output of 175, an increase of more than 75% from stock.

The RoadSport’s tidy turbocharged engine room.


Externally, the RoadSport (as it was dubbed) was given box flares front and rear (it was, after all, the late 1970s) as well as an outrageous rear wing and yellow striping applied to its blue paintwork, thus approximating the colors of the Swedish flag. My small contribution to the RoadSport’s exterior styling was the front spoiler, originally intended for the Volvo Safety Concept Car (see last week’s post for the details) but judged too aggressive to show in that context.

Being driven as intended, somewhere in SoCal. Looks like fun!


Sometime after the RoadSport’s debut in the pages of October 1977’s Road Test, the car was repainted white and given a more subtle striping effect, also losing its rear spoiler in the process. It did put in an appearance at the Vancouver Auto Show in the spring of 1978 where, according to Volvo Canada’s PR department, the car “scored a huge success.”

The RoadSport in its last known (and more subtle) iteration.


Alas, after that public relations opportunity, the RoadSport seems to have disappeared. Its significant engine room mods likely made it impossible to legally register the car in California, but whether the car ended up back in New Jersey is also unclear.  Regardless of its ultimate fate, the RoadSport suggested that future Volvo 240s might be admired for their performance potential in addition to their well-deserved reputation for safety and durability.

That would become even more apparent by the 1981 model year, when the 242 GT’s successor, the GLT Turbo, featured Volvo’s first force-fed passenger-car engine, a technology still found under the hood of Gothenburg’s finest more than forty years later. If, as it’s sometimes said, success has many fathers, surely the RoadSport must have an important place on the Volvo Turbo family tree.