Curbside Classic: 1980 Volvo Bertone Coupe: Lost In Translation

(first posted 10/27/2011)   It seems Volvo has always had kind of a thing for Ford, although in the end, it didn’t work out all that well. And given the results of at least one of their flings they had prior to getting hitched, you’d think they’d have gotten the message: they just weren’t meant for each other. It’s clear that in the seventies, they were checking each other out pretty heavily too. I doubt anybody from the Fox-development era at Ford would admit it, but the Fairmont sure has a decidedly Volvo-esqe quality to it. Good call! And the Volvo 700 Series returned the compliment. The problem was when Volvo had the crazy idea to copy a Lincoln.

Looking over at Ford was an old tradition, as Volvo’s PV444 (above),

is commonly considered to be a scaled-down copy of the 1941 Ford. Not exactly the worst sin in the world.

Whether Ford was looking at Volvo’s 140/240 series when it designed the Fairmont is more speculative. But they couldn’t have been totally oblivious to its existence, and its many charms.

Volvo’s 700 series is probably more influenced by the Fairmont, than the Fairmont was by the 140/240. Whatever; so far, these little hook-ups were at least working for everyone involved.

The story about the origin of the Bertone Coupe goes like this, but we’ll probably never know absolutely for sure. In the mid-seventies, Volvo (and Saab) made some revolutionary changes to the assembly of automobiles, creating teams in which the members had a much wider range of responsibilities. It was the biggest change since Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, albeit with mind-numbing consequences. Not surprisingly, Ford executives were interested, and came for a visit.

Supposedly, Henry II and an entourage arrived at the factory in a bunch of big barges, FoMoCo coupes of all sorts, including one or more Mark IVs. And exactly where did these cars come from? Airlifted, like the President’s limo? Or maybe the European ops kept some on hand, and drove/shipped them up to Sweden. Regardless, it makes a good story. Anyway, the Swedes were impressed by the Mark IV, and decided they just had to have one of their own.

Volvo 262C

This has to be the most Mark IV-ish Volvo ad ever made.

Bertone was called in to do the actual assembly, using 262 body shells and drive trains. The roof was lowered several inches, the windshield splayed back, and the seats lowered, in a vain effort to leave a reasonable degree of headroom. The results speak for themselves, all to clearly. And Volvo Coupe drivers were known for their “laid-back” driving position.

The Coupe arrived for the 1978 model year, and initially was called the 262Coupe, and came only with the un-loved PRV V6. And although it had a nicely trimmed cabin, its price tag was problematic. The 1979 Coupe listed for $15,995; a 1979 Mark V went for $13,067. Well, I’m not going to try to compare their various pros and cons, as different as they were. But let’s just say that the chop-top Volvo didn’t go over very well.

A total of just 6622 coupes were built during its short four-year life span. The name was changed to just Bertone Coupe after 1980, and a peek under this one’s hood explained why. The Volvo four cylinder is under there, which surprised me. I’d just assumed they were all V6s, given their lofty prices. By the last year, 1981, they were listed at $19,950. And the V6 was presumably an option. I know which version I’d take.

Actually, the Volvo Coupe may have lost some of the 240’s airy headroom, but its interior space utilization probably still had the Marks beat. Never has there been a worse ratio of interior room to overall size and mass. And of course, the Volvo had all the usual Volvo goodness, like a super-tight turning circle, good brakes, and a solid foundation. But chopping the top of the boxy Volvo made it the laughingstock of a generation, even if it did presage a coming trend of gun-slit windows. To thine own self stay true.