Something Wicked This Way Comes

Quiet and unassuming by day, the 262C saw the distinctly suburban 200-Series loosen its collar and show a slightly darker side to its personality.

Image: boitierouge

Loved by owners, derided by the UK motoring press, the 200-series Volvo seemed even by mid-Seventies standards, something of an anachronism. Its upright and uncompromising appearance made few concessions to fashion, majoring on values of practicality, durability, comfort and occupant safety. Not that this prevented it from becoming a firm favourite and the model that cemented the Swedish carmaker’s reputation for solidly respectable middle-class transportation.

1977 saw Volvo celebrate its half-centenary and to celebrate, the car maker announced a number of Anniversary special editions of their 244/264 models. But a surprise announcement was that of a coupé variant, the Bertone-assembled 262C. The project is believed to have been initiated in 1974, when returning from a trip to the United States, Volvo President P.G. Gyllenhammer conceived the idea of a personal luxury coupé (based on existing hardware) as an image builder.

Volvo 262 prototype. Image: auto-zer

Shortly afterwards, a using a 164-based prototype was built by carozzerria Coggiola, using concept drawings from Volvo’s own design team, under Jan Wilsgaard. With an almost total US-market focus, European styling tastes were not given high priority.

A coupé in the dictionary sense of the term then, the canopy section was completely reworked above the beltline, featuring a more raked windscreen, a chopped roofline and thicker, more raked c-pillars. The fitment of a vinyl roof added to the car’s distinctively formal, Luxe appearance. Lacking the production facilities to build the car in-house, Bertone was contracted for build duty, the Swedes valuing the carrozzeria’s reputation for quality and craftmanship.

Image: Volvo Bertone Register

Not what anyone in their right mind would call conventionally attractive, the 262C did possess a certain appealing menace, there being something of the slammed American custom car about its low-profile roofline, although some critics derided it as being more akin to a Martello tower. Initially available only in silver with an all-black interior, its lavish leather and elm wood-lined cabin featured four separate seats upholstered in fine pleated Italian leather normally reserved for high-end furniture.

In launch specification, it married an appealingly loucheness with perhaps something of the ambience of a high-end fetish-club. Less adventurous US customers however, could choose from a small range of alternative exterior colours and the option of beige leather.

“Shiny shiny. Shiny seats of leather…” Image: autoanddesign

Launched at the 1977 Geneva motor show, the 262C was mechanically identical to its 264 saloon sibling. Simple and rugged then, with a well located live rear axle which allowed for generous roll angles and handling which the UK motoring press unanimously derided as ‘stodgy’. Power came from the familiar PRV 2664 cc V6 engine, with 140 bhp. Needless to say, the virulently anti-Volvo Car magazine, who had already dismissed the entire 200-Series as “mediocrity by the mile”, opined, “This is prestige?”

Produced from 1977 until 1981, changes to the car over its production run were relatively minor. Mechanically, an uprated 2.8 litre version of the V6 arrived in 1980, which added another 15 horses to supplement a power unit which in original form offered nothing in performance or refinement over Volvo’s own four cylinder 2.3 litre fuel-injected engine.

Visual changes during the car’s lifespan amounted to wrap-around tail lamps in 1979 and for the final year of production, a re-profiled nose, revised instruments and the deletion of the (so-Seventies it hurt) vinyl roof – which did soften the visuals somewhat. In all, 6622 were built, with over 75% of total production going to the United States.

Image: momentcar

With something of a split personality then, the 262C was a difficult car to for Europeans to comprehend, in addition to being a very expensive one to purchase. As a US-focused model however, it was probably a success, so to judge it on any other basis is probably both irrelevant and somewhat unfair. Furthermore, its existence, despite being an eccentric one, probably didn’t do Volvo’s image  a great deal of harm either.

It also led directly to the lovely (if equally rare) Bertone designed and built 780ES model in 1986, a car that a reasonably cogent argument could be made for being something rather wicked indeed.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

  1. Car magazine really had some strong prejudices, didn’t they? I think they often failed to see some cars for what they were and instead tried fitting them into their own few boxes. Even without hindsight, the 240 was obviously a seriously thought-through car, as much as 525 or 911.

    1. This is highly prevalent throughout the UK motoring press today. The reviews are not worth the paper they are written on, for any major manufacturer they dare not criticise (hence Audi getting great reviews for some really very poor cars) and with anything that isn’t oversprung and underdamped faux-sporty they just slate it.

    2. Are you sure that you’re writing about the UK press? I could have written the same about the German press, word by word.

    3. I can only comment on the UK press. The US motor press is a bit different. They seem willing to see a car’s purpose and judge accordingly more of the time. They do find ordinarily adequate engines less than adequate though (our US readers can offer qualification of that, of course).

  2. They should have kept the prototype’s front design! So much nicer, though no doubt a lot more expensive to produce.

    1. I can see the charms of that design; however, it was truly outdated at this time, stemming from the 260’s predecessor. Mind you, this was long before retro design became fashionable.

  3. There existed a 2-door saloon version of the 200-series, the 242. The Bertone coupe had to look different in relation to both. The Bertone model has a very thick C-pillar. Perhaps they overegged it a bit. I can see a nice coupe based on the 200 – which the 262C isn´t really, if one is objective. At the same time, coupe buyers might be the kinds of people who are willing to pay a little wierdness in return for different. That aside, these days the 262C seems like an entertaining oddity. And I never did get a brochure for this car. I have lots of others – the 262C brochures are evidently in short supply now.

    1. One wonders if they could have got away with a ‘broughamised’ version of the pre-existing two-door model? It certainly would have been a more cost-effective solution. It seems the good Mr. Gyllenhammer was very taken with the contemporary 2-door Lincoln MK IV personal luxury coupe and that became his visual ‘mood board’. The 262C certainly has an overtly transatlantic look to it.

      I believe Nuccio Bertone was quoted as saying that he’d have done something similar had he been commissioned for styling duties, saying the 262C was entirely correct. I suspect however that the wily Italian was playing a longer game and given Bertone’s subsequent links with the carrozzeria who can argue he wasn’t right. Certainly, for the 780 ES, Bertone reined in the overt Americana, the resultant car being notably restrained and formally elegant. I really like that car.

  4. I think it raises interesting questions about proportions, as the couped roof only makes the lower body half come out of proportion. It makes the car look tippy toed with too small wheels. It should’ve needed larger wheels more spaced out and with a lowered suspension. Above all, the entire car should’ve been sectioned.

    1. Agreed. It is an insubtle reworking. A car is a visual whole; it is seldom one can alter one part without changing the way the rest is perceived.

  5. I think Rover did it rather better on the P5 coupe, admittedly with 5 doors

    1. My younger, more insecure self would be horrified, but there’s something quite appealingly louche about it, isn’t there? Oh God, I said that out loud, didn’t I?

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