Curbside Classic: 1997 Volvo S90 Royal – Formal Follows Function

Limos don’t have to be overly expensive Rolls-Royces or ludicrously stretched Lincolns. Between those and a bog standard four-door, there is a middle way: the modest extended wheelbase saloon. We will examine two examples of this now virtually extinct species, both from the ‘90s. Tomorrow’s lengthened sedan will be a JDM car, of course. But today, let us re-acquaint ourselves with a swanky Swede.

I say re-acquaint because CC’s dearly missed googly-eyed professor, the legendary Don Andreina, wrote one of these up a few years back. I would invite you to read his piece again, as it does cover a lot of ground. Not unlike the S90 Royal. But I trust I should be able to find a few additional tidbits to regale you with. That’s what we do here, after all.

First, a quick recap about the S90. It is justifiably known by some as the last traditional (i.e. boxy and RWD) Volvo. Originally known as the 960, the big Volvo arrived in 1990 and was given a pretty extensive facelift in 1994. From MY 1995, the nameplate was gradually switched to S90: Asia got them first, followed by Europe in 1996 and North America by the following model year. This change was but a last gasp, as production of the S90 was halted in February 1998.

Volvo marketed a bunch of LWB variants of their big boxy berlines, including six-door monsters and extra-long landaulets for the East German politburo. They were all special-order cars made by Swedish coachbuilder Nielsson, who also made a far more modest extended wheelbase Executive model for folks who were not linked to the Stasi. The extensive redesign included a completely refashioned C-pillar, which Nielsson modified again when the 960 was facelifted in 1994.

Being situated at the very top of the range, the S90 Executive only came with the largest engine Volvo could muster in those days, which was a 2.9 litre straight-6 providing 201hp and mated to an Aisin 4-speed automatic. The extra 15cm in wheelbase length, plus all that additional cowhide and polished burl walnut, all adds to the car’s total weight in no small way, but it seems the Volvo is able to get going pretty satisfactorily – just not like a Maserati. Not that anyone ever thought it could be sporty. It’s chiefly good at being what it is, but it does do that exceedingly well.

It won’t have escaped many of you that the car we have here is not called “S90 Executive,” but “S90 Royal” (with cheese), because Volvo determined that Asian markets were keener on royalty than Europe or America. From what I could tell online, Japan received a small contingent of these in the summer of 1997 and they were sold out immediately, so more were shipped over. No idea how many precisely, but we’re talking about a couple hundred units at most.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing particular about the front end of the cabin per se. We’re just looking at yet another superbly preserved 25-year-old car interior. This time though, due to its manufacturer’s reputation, the task of keeping this car in decent nick would not have necessarily meant it was preserved in a heated garage and driven only on sunny weekends. That’s the good thing about Volvos: you can actually use them. They don’t seem to mind.

There were three grades on offer in Japan – that was probably the case worldwide too, but I could not find much confirmation on this, for as Don A lamented in his post, info is rather scarce about these cars. Our CC is a base grade car, known as the five-seater due to its lack of a rear console. Leather upholstery and plenty of mod cons were included as part of the ¥6.5m price tag (i.e. far cheaper than a Mercedes S-Class or a Toyota Century, which were closer to ¥10m), but elevate that to an even ¥7m and you could lose the middle seat in the back and get a wooden slab populated with more switches and, glory of glories, cupholders. Oooh, fancy!

And for about a ¥1.2m more than the base model, the ultimate Volvo lounge experience was the four-seater S90 Royal Hermès, wherein the whole cabin was upholstered by the famous Parisian fashion house’s special cream-coloured leather. Apparently, these most exclusive of Royals attracted 30 Japanese customers. That didn’t stop Volvo from printing a brochure, as we can see above.

Extended wheelbase saloons never completely went away. Only Mercedes-Benz still have a relatively wide selection of these, others like Citroën, Lancia, Peugeot or Volvo have kind of given up on the idea, be they factory-made like the CX Prestige or the Thema limousine, or coachbuilt like the Peugeot 604 Heuliez or the S90 Executive / Royal. Very high end makers (Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Bentley) still make them of course, but those are in a different league from the Volvos and Peugeots of the world.

This kind of affordable luxury is not readily available nowadays – especially not with this much glass area. The total production number for the LWB Volvo S90 is said to be about 1100, which is actually pretty high, all things considered, for this kind of ultra-niche vehicle. Because when all is said and done, although one might enjoy the idea of riding in the back of this Royally-appointed conveyance, owning it would be a bit of a stretch.


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In-Motion Classic: Volvo S90 Executive – Nobody’s Talkin’, by Don Andreina