What is it that makes a car sexy? Not just attractive, but really sexy. Is it looks? Power? Handling? The formula is not so simple. We could ask a lot of people, and I suspect that the only common answer would be something along the lines of “I’ll know it when I see it.” Consider this as one of the rare Volvos to pass that test.
Volvo has been known for a lot of things, but building sexy cars has not been one of them. Not even the Saint-ed P1800 (CC here) was really a sexy car. Sexy for a Volvo, maybe, but in a world of Jaguar XK-Es and Corvette Stingrays, the P1800 didn’t even move the needle. Volvo’s thing was to build cars that were, for the most part, durable, boring and safe.
By the 1990s, though, it was becoming apparent to Volvo that durable, boring and safe was not going to generate the kind of moolah necessary to keep a small independent company in the black over the long haul. All through the 80s, upscale American buyers were flinging their cash into the hands of Mercedes and BMW dealers from coast to coast. Sure, a Volvo 240 might be a suitable car to which a young yuppie-mommy might affix her yellow “Baby On Board” sign, but for those with real disposable income to stay in the Volvo family, a march up-market seemed to be the move.
I will leave it to someone else to chronicle Volvo’s assault on the sports sedan market, though I will at least wonder aloud about Volvo’s switch to front wheel drive as the platform which which to do so. I will come right out and admit that I am generally not a fan of Volvo’s front wheel drive cars. Except for this one.
As Volvo was developing its S70 and S80 lines, style and appeal were the new order of the day. In line with this philosophy, Volvo entered into a joint venture with the British company TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) to develop and manufacture a low volume halo model that would help get the word out about Volvo’s new direction. Although quite a bit of the S70 would be used in this new car (which, in turn, began as a riff on the Volvo 850 platform), much of the car would be unique. This was no quickie hacksaw job. The car was designed with some notable features such as boron steel A pillars that would support the windshield during a rollover, as well as a pop-up roll bar to protect rear seat occupants. We can’t have Volvo selling unsafe cars now, can we?
Mechanically, the C70 would be in keeping with Volvo’s modern philosophy. Gone were the old red block engines and the tried and true rear wheel drive. In their place would be an inline five cylinder engine, offered in different turbocharged versions, including low (2.4L) and high pressure (2.0 and 2.3L) variants. The high pressure 2.3L engine would be good for 236 horses, which could move the 3,600 pound ragtop along with some urgency. Although most cars were automatics, a five speed was available and seems to have been fitted to perhaps only five percent of production.
To my mind though, the thing that sets this car apart from its contemporaries was its styling. The styling was done under the direction of Peter Horbury, who headed up Volvo styling through most of the 1990s. Horbury later moved to Ford and was largely responsible for several attractive cars there during the era of the “three bar grille”, including the 2006 Fusion and the 2010 Taurus.
Car styling must be a difficult thing, or else how could it be so frequently fouled up? It is hard to get the shapes and proportions just right. In this car, Horbury got the job done. Is there a better looking convertible built in the decade between 1995 and 2005? Horbury is reported to have said that in this car, “we threw away the box and kept the toy inside.” There were several attractive four-place ragtops offered in those years, but I’m not sure that any of them surpasses this one. Top up or top down, this is one of the best looking car of its era.
After a thirty month gestation, the C70 hit showrooms as a 1997 model, and remained in production through 2004. Altogether, there were only about 50,000 of these soft tops built over the model’s eight year run, with perhaps half of them making their way to the States. There was also a closed coupe offered, which sold in genuinely minuscule numbers.
I must admit to some wonder about one thing – of all of CC’s contributors, there is probably none who is less enamored with the cult of Volvo than yours truly. So, I ask myself, how do I manage to find all of the fun ones? Not only was I the first to snag and write up a P1800, but now I get one of these. Although this one is a bit of a cheat as I know its former owner quite well.
He bought this car at about a year old, and had to search high and low for a stick shift version that was not silver. I rode in it many times, and even spent a weekend with it when its owner borrowed one of my cars. I can report that the combo of the high pressure turbo and the five speed was a hoot to drive. The car also boasted of one of the best air conditioning systems I have experienced in recent years. I had only two gripes – the excruciatingly slow motion of the electric passenger seat which was required for anyone to access the back seat, and the fairly severe structural quiver experienced on less than perfect roads. Oh well, don’t we have to put up with some personality flaws to live with a car this beautiful?
Unfortunately, the other long-term issue was that all-too-common European-car frailty. The car’s owner finally gave up on it within the last few months after one-too-many plus-sized repair bills. Even the sexiest of companions can eventually wear out her welcome if she can’t keep her hands out of a fellow’s wallet. However, after well over 150,000 miles, I suppose that my friend did as well as could be expected with a front wheel drive Volvo with as many complicated systems as this one had.
For those who have forgotten, this car was already in its third year by the time Ford bought Volvo and annexed it into the Premium Auto Group (along with Jaguar, Range Rover and Lincoln). There would be a replacement C70 with an optional retractable hardtop, done this time under the Ford umbrella and without any help from TVR. While the car was produced in slightly higher numbers, it has been recently abandoned. The newer car may have had some improvements, but it never looked as good, and I suspect that this was much of its problem – it certainly never temped my friend. I suppose the lesson here is that it was indeed possible for Volvo to build a sexy car. But not two of them in a row. So, we shall just have to make do with this one – Ja?.
I didn’t realize Volvo first developed the pop-up rear seat protection system but that does make sense….
This is a beautiful car with some limitations, including the typical S70 pratfalls like fragile system components (A/C, ABS brain, etc). I loved our S70, but after 5 years and 70k it didn’t make sense to keep pouring money into it; we had just started our family and the Volvo had stranded my wife twice.
“Is there a better looking convertible built in the decade between 1995 and 2005?”
There’s even a better-looking Swede IMO – the ’04+ Saab 9-3 Aero. Although both do have that goofy FWD proportional awkwardness……
Re the ‘pop up’ roll bar idea. Mercedes were there in 1989 with the 129 SL and BMW in ’93 with the E36 convertible. Volvo were seldom first with any technology but their self righteous marketing done its best to convince the less savvy otherwise.
Thanks for the info. It appears that the Wiki article on this car was a mite aggressive on the roll bar claim. I have fixed the text.
I agree with you that the C70 was one sexy car – possibly the sexiest Volvo ever. Well-balanced, with athletic shoulders, and distinctive lines. I also really like the coupe version, with its fastback roofline. I honestly can’t decide which one I like better.
A girl I went to high school with had a red 2000 C70 convertible for her first car. Talk about a distinctive car. It’s funny how much the available wheels on the C70 changed its look. Her’s had the multi-spoke wheels like the silver one in the last picture. Definitely gave it a softer, grand touring look than the sporty look of the featured teal car’s wheels. Regardless, a great car and a great write-up.
I should also add that I’ve actually recently looked at used C70s in my area to possibly purchase as a fun summer car. Despite their age, even high mileage C70 convertibles are priced near the $10,000 range, well out of my budget 🙁
Those “starfish” wheels on my friend’s car were a problem. He had quite a problem with bent rims over the years, probably due to the combination of a heavy car, potholes and rims with too much unsupported span. That aside, those are some of the best looking rims ever.
Terrific write-up about a car I had simply forgotten about.
This is a fine looking car, however the shot of the interior is what really has me revved up. Your statement about getting this just right is spot on.
Great write up!! As I mentioned in the Intro to Volvo Week post, I’m the proud owner of a 2002 C70 Coupe. It was my first car, and I’ve had it for a little over 7 years now. It’s been absolutely flawless, a great ownership experience! I replaced the transmission under warranty, (it didn’t really need to be changed, but it was slowly going out and the warranty was about to run out!!), and a few little electrical bits and bobs, but overall it’s been a wonderful experience.
I bought it with only 34k miles on the clock, and now it’s got something like 110k. Being a daily driver throughout high school and college has taken its toll, she sure isn’t as nice as she used to be. But it’s parked in my parents’ garage now, waiting on me to finish school, get a good job, and be able to afford to bring her back to better than new. I drive it every time I come home to visit and it starts right up every time.
I’m planning a full restoration on it someday, stripping it down completely and rebuilding it to better than new.
Looks so good in silver with the black wheels! I like the C70 convertible with the top down, but the coupe looks incredible 100% of the time.
Best looking Volvo since the P1800.
Just the best looking Volvo, in my opinion
I liked your friend’s taste. Automatic transmission and silver: For me, the kiss of death in a car. I wouldn’t own anything in that combination, even if it said Ferrari on the hood.
That said, automatic silver cars do have their advantages. I drive the wife’s old Impala and the cops never give you a second look…
Despite the ragtop’s looks, this is a car I and other Volvoisti tend to avoid like the plague.
Among the Volvo faithful, it is an open secret that most, if not all, models made between 1999 and 2004 are problem-plagued and should be avoided – and the C70 convertible’s lifespan starts and ends at the aforementioned years. Volvo started decontenting their cars when the 70 Series started production in early 1997 and it showed – door panels began to shrink and pucker, electrics started failing, ABS modules started going on the fritz, the list goes on. The downfall of the convertible, though, is the fact that the original 850 platform was not engineered or designed to be converted into a ragtop. I have driven several examples – they are probably some of the least fun Volvo cars I’ve spent time in. There is a lot of cowl shake and body flex, even on the smoothest roads, the handling is not up to par on curvy roads, and overall, the structure just feels very loose, as if it’s going to fall apart any day.
Give me a 240 or 740 and I’ll be happy.
I drove one recently and could not believe the amount of body flex and cowl shake while driving down a smooth road. Much better to look at than to drive, it is closer to a Swedish Lebaron Convertible than a proper Volvo.
Could not agree more. It has that boat like suspension that old Cadillac had. Although my 04 Dodge Stratus had similar too. Is it because of soft top ? Or does the coupe C70 also has these problems? Is there a solution ? Because the engine 200+ hp!
i never liked these much. Like most FWD cars it has way too much front overhang to look at all balanced and scuttle shake on these was just dreadful. I see the matter of the pop up roll bar system has been addressed already – Mercedes did it almost a decade earlier.
Beautiful car. Drove one at the press preview in Arizona…shook like a wet dog.
Definitely an attractive car. A friend of Stephanie’s had a C70 coupe she inherited from her grandmother, drove for a while, and then traded for a…..last gen Monte Carlo. Ouch!
BTW, you did beat me to the P1800 write-up, but not in finding one. There’s three in my part of town, and I shot one early on, but I never got around to writing it up. In fact, Gordon Sayre, who did the post on his yellow 142E, used to own one of those three.
Now I’m going to have to give it it’s day in the CC sun.
And I’ll be looking forward to your P1800 write-up, Paul. 🙂
Believe it or not, we actually closely considered buying one of these shortly before I settled on my 2012 Impala LTZ.
There was a nice 2011 at our nearby Volvo dealer, a reddish one. They wanted much more than we were willing to pay for a used car, thousands more than what our new Impala cost.
As beautiful as they are, I don’t regret not buying one, but it would’ve been fun, just the same – I see several around our community.
Always though of these and the SAAB 900 convert as the definitive DILF cars. Confident, handsome and mature.
Im absolutely BAFFLED that the coupe version of the C70 didn’t take off like wildfire. Sure, as convertibles go, this is a nice enough car but ‘verts are…..for ladies.
A dark blue, black, or even silver C70 coupe with the boosted 5 cyl and manual trans would be a nice ride. Im surprised those didn’t sweep the market. Although the same combo could be more readily found in the C30 which is even lighter and more compact, making it an even better performance car.
I remember looking at these back when they were new. There was simply no way it made sense. Sure, it was good looking, but the power was lacking and the price was ludicrous. The local dealership was adding wild mark-ups to the price for the first year or so, compounding the problem.
By the time the major mark-ups had vanished, there were rumblings in the Volvo-sphere that the cars had some serious problems.
There’s the story of someone at Volvo, maybe Horbury, putting an early C70 through an informal test. They drove it to a swanky hotel in LA and watched as the car was parked ‘on display’ at the front of the building. They had a winner. The coupe is one of the better post-90s two doors, really well done. I think the convertible loses the visual clincher which is the C-pillar. Nice JPC.
Totally agree … and I believe the designer does too. Well before the intro of the C70, I spent an afternoon at the Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg in the company of Mr. Horbury. We had seen the prototypes at the factory earlier in the day and he gave me the impression that while he felt the coupe was perhaps his best work to date, the convertible version was something the marketers had demanded.
Incidentally the 1997 new model introduction where this car was introduced was the last Volvo event I attended as a dealer. I often reflect that I sold out at just the right time.
One of the cool things about CC is that sometimes we get insider insights like this!
It is a great looking car. I like the teal color a lot, not too far removed from a ’60s turquoise. A former neighbor bought one of the last of these to replace his Focus. Time for some fun after the practicality.
These aren’t bad looking, but I actually prefer the subsequent C70 in terms of shape. (As I recall, it was a Pininfarina design.) I just wished that one wasn’t a retractable hardtop or at least that they’d offered a fixed-head coupe version. Pininfarina — if it was Pininfarina — did a really nice job with the sail panels of that car, which is tricky because a lot of modern retractable hardtops have profiles that look like someone attempting to reassemble a paper airplane after it’s been crumpled up.
+1 on retractable hardtops. My favourite is the still the R170 SLK but that’s in a different category. And also the 993 sliding glass Targa. I’m not a cabriophile, so if a retractable spoils the lines I’m not interested. I’m struggling to think of any others that really impress.
Nice write up, JP.
As a non-Volvo obsessive (although I’m fine with the FWD cars, I can’t take the RWD ones at all), I agree it’s a great looking car, and even better as a Coupe.
One quick point – the British company doing the suspension design and other concept stuff was TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Walkinshaw_Racing), not TVR the sports car people, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TVR.
Either way, both companies are no more……..there is no British motor but there is a thriving motor industry in Britain…….
Aaahh. That makes sense. I was surprised that Volvo (or anyone) would contract TVR to do engineering work – but TWR was running their touring car effort at the time.
Ahhhhh – TVR, TWR, aren’t all of those British companies alike? 🙂
Thanks for the catch – my brain meant TWR but my fingers typed TVR and I never caught it. I have fixed the text.
No points lost JP!
Great car though – I saw about 8 of them today and kept thinking “that’s the Volvo I want!”
Beautiful cars, agreed that these are probably the best-looking Volvos ever. Others approach–I’m a fan of the C30 and 780 in particular–but this one is head and shoulders above. It’s a shame the structure wasn’t sufficiently braced for the convertibles to have that bank-vault solidity that befits a Volvo though.
I do also like the following generation with the retractable hardtop; one of those is on the short list for potential next car for my wife. But top-down, it doesn’t have the same great lines that this generation does.
Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) campaigned both Jaguar and Volvo in various race series.
My favourite memory was of the British Racing Green TWR Jaguar XJS, winning the Australian iconic 12 Hour race at Mt Panorama, Bathurst. If you like seeing older cars(though they were current in ’85), try to get your hands on a video of that race.. My reference to TWR, its racing pedigree and Scotsman Walkinshaw arose of extreme disappointment at the level of flex and scuttle shake on my C70 convertible , I have just bought a this immaculate 62kmiler , an import from Japan, and I must say that against my other toy, a 30K miler 300zx Twin Turbo,Targa , it fares badly.
Well where to start , as to most NEG Comments I admit she’s a little pricy to keep on the road . But such is love , besides my main Vehicle is a Mitsi Pajero (2007) 3.6L V6 petrol so RED Is 1/3 of the running costs and my Favorite to drive (top down)
DIY is the path for a car like this, making a dealer or mechanic’s $1500 or $2000 charge becoming $15 or $20 in parts (with elbow greese, I mean ‘pumis orange). Of course many a mechanic when seeing a European car pull up have a slight smile at the get go, at what all its owner could be suggested (not always ethically) to replace, whereas, some ‘old American small town know how,’ could permanently fix many a prob.
Beautiful car. Many in auto trader have gone far miles, needing TLC, and, yes, when absolutely needed, OEM parts.
Have an ’04 HPT convertible with a 5 speed. I agree with some of the posters that it feels like a fragile car. However, I would have a hard time finding a convertible that can scoot quickly, get 30 mpg on the highway, and have enough space for me (at 6’3″) to fit behind myself. Not saying i’d like to do that on a long trip mind you, but at least the kids have plenty of legroom behind me. One thing that’s not mentioned is the turning radius is very poor. Again though, very fast and surprisingly economical (at least on gas).