Throughout the 1980s, Volvo was a very square automaker, in both the figurative and literal senses. Its 200 and 700 Series sedans and wagons were durable, comfortable, practical, and very square in their styling. While charming in their own conservative ways and a rational choice in European car, Volvos of this era were hardly the cars that turned many heads or stirred many emotions. Nevertheless, Volvo did have at least one vehicle in the 1980s that oozed sex appeal — the ultra low-production 780 coupe.
Most sources cite only 8,518 examples produced globally, though Volvo Bertone registry claims this number is 11,905 total, — either way, the odds of encountering two of them together are not favorable, and more so, what are the odds I did within minutes of getting behind the wheel of another 2-door Volvo for the first time ever?
This rare sighting occurred in a part of the Massachusetts I seldom find myself in, a result of personally delivering my client’s new car to their home to save them another 2.5 hour round trip back to the dealer as a malfunctioning adaptive headlamp prevented them from taking the car home with them when they signed paperwork. Upon dropping off their new MINI, I was handed over their well-maintained 2011 Volvo C70 to drive back in, and headed out to Route 20 (Boston Post Road) that would take me back to I-95. Little did I know, in just a few minutes I was about to encounter not one but two examples of a far rarer 2-door Volvo.
Truthfully, I can only recall ever seeing the elusive 780 twice in my life before. One of those such I was fortunate enough to capture on camera, as it was parked behind my car, so now I can say I’ve photographed three of the four Volvo 780s I’ve ever encountered. While the other two appeared daily driven, this white 1989 and black 1990 sadly stand rusting away together, showing no signs of recent movement with wheels buried in sand, and sporting inspection and registration stickers last valid a decade ago.
Debuting in Europe in 1985 as a 1986 model, with North American sales commencing the following year, the 780 was Volvo’s spiritual successor to the 262C — the Swedish automaker’s first “personal luxury coupe” (if one does not count the sports-oriented P1800). Like the 262C, the 780 was outsourced to the Italian coachbuilder Bertone for both design and production.
Yet while the 262C was a rather ill-proportioned, ill-positioned “Brougham-ified” Volvo, taking inspiration from American personal luxury coupes like the Lincoln Continental Mark Series, the 780 more appropriately drew heavier influence from other European luxury coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz C123/C124 (E-Class) and BMW E24 (6 Series).
Conceived as an exclusive, stylish low-production sports coupe marketed as “an exotic automobile for the practical consumer”, the Volvo 780 was unveiled to the public at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, with production soon beginning in September 1985 in Turin, Italy. Low-production it was with only 8,518 or 11,905 (once again, depending on who you believe) produced for global sales over five years, and I’m willing to bet only several hundred at most are still in existence in the United States.
Sharing the same wheelbase, suspension, and drivetrain as the 760 sedan, despite the strong visual resemblance, the 780 coupe shared no body panels with any other 700 Series sedan or wagon — a key difference between its “chopped roof” 262C predecessor. Keeping familial ties to the 740/760 sedans and wagons, Bertone gave the 780 a 1-inch lower roof, gentler sloping front and rear windshields, lower hood and trunk, and slimmer headlights and taillights, owing to its sleeker, sexier appearance.
As the flagship model of the 700 Series and entire Volvo brand, the 780 came complete with every comfort, convenience, and safety option Volvo offered, as well as a exclusive interior finishes not found on other 700 Series cars. Interior occupants were treated to orthopedically-designed 8-way power adjustable and heated front seats, individually sculpted rear seats, fully upholstered in hand-stitched leather. The dashboard and door panels were trimmed in eleven layers of hand rubbed, polished birchwood veneer.
Other standard amenities included automatic climate control, power central locks, interior trunk and fuel door releases, premium 4-speaker sound system with seven-band graphic equalizer, alarm system, power moonroof, and full analogue instrumentation. Standard safety features included an energy-absorbing safety cage construction, drivers side airbag, front and rear head restraints, three-point seat belts for all four passengers, and antilock brakes.
European-spec 780s were initially powered by either a 2.4-liter Volkswagen turbodiesel I6 (127 hp; 184 lb-ft torque) or a 2.8-liter Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 (147 hp; 173 lb-ft torque), while North America only received the 2.8-liter V6. Select European markets soon received a 2.0-liter turbo I4 (158 hp; 180 lb-ft torque) and later a 16-valve high-output version making 200 horsepower, with the added availability of a 4-speed manual. A 4-speed automatic was the sole transmission for North America.
1989 saw the addition of the 2.3-liter B230FT+ “redblock” turbo I4 making 175 horsepower and 187 lb-ft torque, an engine overhauled for 1990 to make 188 horsepower and 206 lb-ft torque, making it the most powerful car Volvo had ever produced up until that time. This engine would be the sole engine for final-year 1991 North American models.
It’s worth noting that the 780 was never intended as a sports car, despite its robust turbo. Along the likes of the European touring coupes it competed against, the 780 was a grand tourer at its core, providing a taut yet comfortable ride, tight European handling, and brisk acceleration.
Like the concurrent 760, early 780s featured a MacPherson strut front suspension with anti-sway bar, with a constant track rigid live axle rear suspension with anti-sway bar and Nivomat self-leveling shocks. Following the 760’s mid-cycle refresh, 1988 780s gained an multi-link independent rear suspension, losing the anti-sway bar in the process. For its final year, the suspension was further upgraded to match the new 960 sedan, gaining a locking differential, rear anti-sway bar, and a larger front anti-sway bar.
Other updates over the course of the low-volume 780 were minimal, limited to minor equipment, color, and trim details. Coinciding with the 760’s discontinuation in 1990, final 1991-model year 780s lost the “780” designation and were simply badged and marketed as the Volvo “Coupe”.
Intended as a low-volume vehicle from the start, the 780’s price was also a limiting factor to its demand. Starting at $34,785 USD for the 1987 model year ($78,831 adjusted 09/2018), the 780’s base price steadily rose to $41,945 by its final 1991 model year ($78,531 adjusted — oddly enough, due to weakening late-1980s USD).
Make no mistake that the Volvo 780 was a very special car, crafted to a level of excellence, not a budget. In more ways than one, the 780 is car of a bygone era, a living example of the statement “they don’t make them like they used to”. Special also describes this very sighting. There can’t be many 780s left, and finding two together, while driving a newer 2-door Volvo made it all the more incredible.
Photographed in Sudbury, Massachusetts – August 2018
1988 Volvo 780 (COAL)
Never even knew these existed, what a great find! They look pretty sharp, even in this dilapidated state.
“As sexy as a Volvo”, said no one ever.
I’ll admit, while I’ve never been a fan of Volvo, having grown up viewing them as cheap beater cars with zero luxury connotations associated with them, the 780 is the closest car the company’s made that I could consider a favorite of mine. Something about it just works, even with the somewhat humble and pedestrian roots of the 700 series it’s based on, there is something oddly stylish in its DNA that’s hard to ignore.
I was Never a Volvo fan but as a classic car collector now upon reflection I very much love to add a 1978 Volvo 262C Bertone to my dear collection !!
Awesome find, Brendan! I mean, what are the odds of seeing two of these together since they left dealership?! I remember seeing one new at the dealership in Seekonk before it closed. A beautiful car, but the sticker was pretty steep, even compared to the 760s, which they were already pretty proud of.
I do have to say, there’s definitely a certain appeal to these, in that they clearly retain the 700-series DNA, but somehow look more premium at the same time. I think they looked especially good with the wheels on the black and maroon examples above.
There is one thing that really strikes me about the lines on the 780: If you changed out the badges, I think this looks exactly like a 2-door version of the 1985-1988 Cressida would have looked. Now THAT is car I would have loved. The amazing inline-6 and reliability combined with those handsome 2-door lines would make for a killer combination.
I’ve never noticed it before but I do see a lot of Cressida in the design. Though we didn’t get it here, the closest thing Toyota made was the Soarer, which still looks rather nice in its square 80s way.
While living in Memphis I managed to see 2 of these, 1 black and 1 silver (if I remember correctly). It was the mid-late 90s and both appeared to be daily drivers.
These are quite elegant looking cars, especially compared to the concurrent Volvos and certainly compared to the 262C.
Please excuse this blatant self-promotion:
I´ve seen only three of these cars. One in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 80s or early 90s (near the US embassy) and the other two in museums. The one in the Sommers museum in Denmark is interesting because it had a Toyota diesel engine and it was a prototype that ought to have been scrapped.
Volvo´s own museum in Gothenburg has their 780 displaed with remarkable lack of sensitivity: there´s an ID plaque in the way of the car, it´s black and in a corner with terrible lighting.
For a long time I have tried to get a brochure of one these, without success.
Speaking from a European perspective, these 700-series Volvos seem no squarer than what GM was making at the same time. I think Volvo might even have been considering US taste since American was such a big market for them. Why are Volvo seen as being so particularly boxy when, frankly, most US cars were “boxy” or rectilinear.
Good eyes!..Congratulations on spotting 2 of these….they certainly are rare, I guess the price for these was pretty large and limited their sales. I’m not so much into Volvos (like the old ones better than the current ones)…but I did know about the 780/Coupe, which I very much liked the styling of (unlike the predecessor 262C)…more a fan of the “square” Volvos.
Three of my Cousins live pretty close to here (well, one lives in Worcester, which isn’t really close, but used to live in Chelmsford). I have an odd relationship with Massachusetts as I was born there, got my first job there (in North Andover, where the recent gas explosions occurred), but really spent only 4 years of my life living in the state…having left 35 years ago and seldom return, as I live a couple thousand miles away. About 10 years ago when my Aunt died I think I was last on Boston Post rd travelling into the north end of Boston to visit a former co-worker (who actually lived in the town I’m in now but relocated to Boston some 20 years ago).
Anyhow…I guess what reminded me of him was that he drove a 240 Volvo (not the same as a 780 of course…but putting Volvo together with Massachusetts, that’s what came into my mind).
I’ve seen a few 780s for sale here and there, but what scares me is (non) availability of parts…if I’m in a fender bender, almost no chance of getting hoods, fenders, etc, not to mention glass. Not to say I would have been able to afford a 780 when it was new, but If I was, I would think twice about buying one of these for that reason (I tend to hold onto cars a long time, my current (only) car is 18 years old). I’d have preferred the 4 cyl to the 6 cyl, which means I would have been in the market for one of the later cars, and knowing that they were so scarce would probably made me rethink my purchase of such an expensive car.
I had a look for the brochures on eBay. Oh my sainted aunted. They are very expensive in some cases and far from cheap at best. What does that tell Volvo? This car has an intense cult following. I say “put it back in production, Gothenburg” but with a proper V6 instread of the Douvrin unit.
I had forgotten about these, which may have been the most handsome Volvos of their era. Volvo was clearly beginning its attempt to play in a higher division and the sales figures indicate that they had a long way to go.
The C-70 makes me laugh a bit. When we were in St. Louis last weekend we got to briefly visit my son and check out the prior generation C-70 convertible that had recently been donated to the Dominican friars there. Aside from its being wildly inappropriate for a religious order living a vow of poverty, I offered my advice to dump it now as they were holding a financial hand grenade. Jim Klein differed, suggesting that they drive it until the first big repair, then fix and sell. 2 days later I learned that we were both right as the power top was malfunctioning and 3 warning lights were lit. They are trading for a Corolla. 🙂
Now that’s what you call penitence.
I just figured it would enforce them sticking to their vow lest the temptation to stray got too strong. That E-350 group van was borderline opulent with the meaty tread-filled tires it sported along with the leather(-like) interior surfaces. Not to mention the three Camry “practically entry level luxury” vehicles, far too reliable to keep one on the right track. Better to enforce discipline.
I don’t know what what kind of cars the Dominican friars had but going by what my great aunt’s Catholic order (Immaculate Heart of Mary(IHM) ) had in their fleet when I was growing up I would say it is whatever they got the best deal on in fleet sales. The cars at the convent at Immaculata PA were a mixture of K cars (Aries and Reliant) to a suspicious looking(and quasi sinful) turbo Daytona and a Fifth Ave.
The cars were all purchased as cheaply as possible. So if a dealer was offering a brand new Daytona for cheaper from the previous model year for less then that year’s Aries in order to have it leave the lot then it got bought.
Though I could not see my great aunt(a very serious nun) driving a sports car.
The friars are heavy with Camrys, Corollas and the occasional Prius. Plus the occasional donated car, which was how the Volvo got into the fleet.
What a fabulous, fun article you wrote – it has made my morning even better!
Indeed, it is very rare to see two individual 780 Bertones together, let alone in tip-top condition. Do you know if the white one is functional?
As most readers of CC know, I am a diehard Volvo fan at heart and will not drive a vehicle from any other automotive brand. The Bertone coupes were rare when new and they are still rare today. Then and now, they always gave off that aura of exclusivity due to their unique design and high price. However, with that exclusivity comes the fact that any body parts for them will be extremely difficult to find, as one just doesn’t go into a junkyard and start searching for them. The 740s are so much easier to find parts for.
Fun fact: Irv Gordon, the gentleman with the 3.2-million mile 1966 Volvo 1800, once owned a 1987 780 Bertone. It was given to him by Volvo Cars of North America in the fall of ’87 after he turned the first million miles in the ’66. He ended up selling the Bertone to someone in 2002…after he put over 450k on that car. Irv told me, when I first met him, that he never did anything to the PRV engine, nor did he have to rebuild the gearbox.
That 2011 C70 looks awesome. How many miles does it have? Also, tell your customers I’m interested in buying it when they sell it.
I’m not sure if either of the 780s were drivable or even functional. I was pressed for time when I found them and didn’t make it into the garage on the property where it looked like someone was working.
The 2011 C70 only had about 44K miles on it but we sent it to auction because it had a bad Carfax. They traded it in for a new Cooper S convertible.
One more thing – the next time I am up north, I’d like to give you the chance to write up an article on my second 1989 740 GL, which is depicted in the photo below.
This car has a whopping 309k miles on it, and it still has the original engine and transmission, both of which are in excellent condition. I bought it from the estate of the original owners a year ago today – at that time, it had all of 304,713 miles. The original owner was a high-ranking U.S. Army officer who bought it new in Sweden, and for many years it served as his and his wife’s only car. They continued to drive it up until their respective passings in early 2017. I picked it up for way less than what the estate was asking for it.
Since then, I’ve driven it all over the Mid-Atlantic and even took a trip up to Lake George, NY this past July. What I will not do is drive it in the winter time, which is why it goes into storage in December.
And I’d be more than happy to write up your 740 GL if you want to stop by! It sounds very impressive!
Just to note, I actually just moved from South Shore MINI to Land Rover of Hanover (just one off Rt 3, one more exit South towards the Cape) and started this week so you can find me there now!
Great find! My cousin owned a 262C and one of the last years of the 780 with the redblock turbo. She still has them… not a surprise considering she may have every single car she’s ever owned… still. Good thing she has a ranch and a barn to store them.
How much does your cousin want for the 780, if she is going to sell?
Want to buy a 780? It needs…some things. But it’s all there, in the same spot where we found it at the end of my COAL article, sadly.
Great post Brendan! I love the fact that you were driving a rather rare 2-door Volvo of a more recent vintage when you spotted this pair.
I like the conservatively elegant design of the 780, and always found it surprising that Volvo invested so much in differentiating the car inside and out from its more pedestrian 4-door stablemates.
Most of my knowledge of these comes from the printed page: I have probably only ever seen one or two in person. No matter which global production number is correct, the volumes imported to the U.S. would have been minuscule. An “exotic” Volvo has always been something of a head-scratcher–lacking the glamour of fancier brands, and too posh for the pragmatic core Volvo buyer, the poor 780 was just a lost cause.
Based on the description of your travels delivering your customers car, I’d guess that you passed through the town of Sudbury on Route 20. If you did then you drove by The Wayside Inn. It has a rich history going back 300 years, which includes ownership by Henry Ford from 1923 to 1945. Nice find on the Volvo’s.
I’m very familiar with the Wayside Inn and did pass by it. My entire extended family (about 20 of us) went there for a dinner to celebrate some birthday or anniversary back in the late-1990s, and I always remember it because my mom took a panoramic photo (high-tech back then!) of my entire family there.
I never really thought of these as being particularly rare, as it seemed likeI used to see a lot of these in Los Angeles back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. At the time I thought of it as an alternative to the Mercedes E-Class coupe.
It’s Volvo’s take on the BMW 635CSI. The same, but now with angles! The 780 really is a very attractive car, a neighbor of mine had one when I was a lad. I think my pick of these two would be the white one, the wheels alone (same as what my 740 Turbo Wagon sported) do it for me. A very good find.
Synchronicity? Serendipity? One of those five-cylinder S-words, anyhow. What a fun find, well reported.
Me, I don’t like the 780s. I don’t find them sexy or attractive or interesting or nifty or desirable; they look to me like pretty much everything else Bertone did around the same time, they suggest to me a severe degradation of Volvo durability and build quality by dint of Italian construction, and they are a hideous pain in the nuts to find (and afford) parts for. But I don’t like 2-door cars and in general my automotive tastes are far off the norm, so I surely don’t begrudge anyone a hankering or an appreciation for these cars.
The thing about them is, I seem to see an unusually awful lot of them for how few were built. I’m talking about cars in (or near) traffic and driveways, not car shows. I don’t mean to say I see a 780 around every corner, but over the last ten years I’ve surely seen more 780s than air-cooled Beetles, for example, which is kind of strange.
Describing the 262C as “rather ill-proportioned, ill-positioned” … Brendan, you’re a master of understatement. The 780 on the other hand I’ve always found very elegant. And like commenter Joseph, I really don’t get the “boxy” criticism of many Volvo’s. Sure, the 140 was a box compared to its Amazon predecessor, but no more than many contemporary European and even American cars, and by the mid-80’s a slope front 240 probably had more curves than a Chevy Celebrity or Ford Fairmont. Sexy? Well, I don’t think of machines as sexy, but I find a wide-tired 740 Turbo wagon, or a V70R to be exceptionally attractive cars. And ditto with most of Volvo’s current lineup.
Doesn’t surprise me a bit. As a long-time RWD Volvo nut, old Volvos tend to cluster in groups.
In this case, especially so. Given the rarity of the body and interior parts, it’s especially important to own a parts car.
To me, the 780 never made much sense. The funny part about it was that Volvo spent all this money to differentiate it from the rest of their product line — as you said, all body panels were different, and they outsourced design and production to a fabled Italian styling house — but to the untrained eye, it looked exactly like every other Volvo on the road. It just doesn’t look like an expensive sports coupe; it didn’t have that wow factor that buyers expected in that price range. To the general public, it was just a two-door Volvo 760. It’s one of those cars where I get excited whenever I see one (it’s an Italian Volvo!), and everybody around me just gives me a strange look because they think they’ve seen 47 of them in the last week. It’s no wonder that it didn’t sell.
These things were raced down under in turbo form, ok the handling wasnt great but they were quite fast in standard form back in the day, Kiwi racer Robbie Francevic ran one with moderate success it was said to handle like a block of flats(apartment building)
Neat find, even if I’m not over fond of the car, though it is much better looking than the regular 760
Maybe the closest European equivalents were the Rover 800 Coupe (6500 made, 1992 to 1997) and the Lancia Kappa Coupe (3200 made, 1997 to 2000).
The D24T VW Turbodiesel unit is actually a inline 6 cylinder engine.
Hopefully this pair eventually get back on the road.
Yup. Fixed now.
There used to be be a few of these around town, but it’s been a while since I saw one last. Maybe they’re all gone, finally?
I saw a 780 Bertone Coupe around 5 months ago in a neighborhood grocery store’s roof top parking lot.
The 780 really has a BMW 635 vibe to it – elegant & special. Wish I had asked the owner about it – looked like his daily driver. I think the 780 looks best in dark colors, the one I saw was black too. I also understand that a lot of folks would think it’s just a 2dr Volvo, especially if you can’t see the interior.
Saw this one, a 1991 (since it was badged “COUPE” instead of “780”) in Erie, PA last year. Not in the greatest condition, but definitely the only one I’ve seen in the past five years.
Those production numbers make the Citroen SM seem common…I’ve seen many more 780s than they suggest I should have. Maybe there are a disproportion in Massachusetts, where I lived for many years. Saw one for sale a few years ago, and wanted it bad…I’m a sucker for the anti-brougham coupe. But I’m not one to keep a 25 year old car running for everyday use. They still look good, though.
This morning on BAT there is a nice looking 780 that has a transplanted Ford 5.0 V-8 and T-5 manual transmission. This is a good fix for any Volvo.
Though the 780 was much cheaper, it seems to me that if you were going to buy an expensive, exclusive European coupe at the time the smart choice would have been to go with the best – 300CE.
Given the upright appearance and ample space for four people, this qualifies as a 2-door sedan. Which is an interesting segment that has died out. In my mind, the final 2-door sedans were the last two generations of the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class and–at the complete opposite end of the spectrum–the Scion tC.
The generally accepted (and the one I use) definition of a 2-door sedan is that it shares the same roof structure as the 4-door sedan version. That’s the way it was defined back in the early 20s when closed sedans became common, and that definition was used by the American manufacturers until the end of the 2 -door sedan era, which was roughly between 1970 and 1975, with a few exceptions.
By this definition, not one of the cars you mentioned are 2-door sedans; they’re all clearly coupes, because they have a unique roof structure that is invariably somewhat shorter/lower/steeper raked than the sedan roof.
I think we agreed here a while back that the Toyota Echo was the last 2-door sedan.
Intooknthisnpocture years ago. The 780 on the rd. Was one that I used to own. I had to stop and take a photo of my car’s twin. I sold that car years ago and missed it. One eve, I was browsing CLs and I found the 780 Bertone that was in the parking spot for sale. I spoke with the owner who was selling it because her late husband had passed. I asked her if the car had been In Eugene Oregon before. (The car was for sale in Bend). She said that she and her husband used to travel there for the track meets. What a small world. Needless to say, I ended up buying her 780.