Quiet and unassuming by day, the 262C saw the distinctly suburban 200-Series loosen its tie and show a slightly darker side to its personality.
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 it’s half-centenary and to celebrate, the car maker announced a number of Anniversary special editions of their 244/264 models. But the 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 US, Volvo President P.G. Gyllenhammer conceived the idea of a personal luxury coupé (based on existing hardware) as an image builder.
Shortly afterwards, a prototype was built using a 164 bodyshell by carozzerria Coggiola, using concept drawings from Volvo’s own design team under Jan Wilsgaard. With an almost total US-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, brougham 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.
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.
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.
With something of a split personality, 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 slightly unfair. Furthermore, its existence, despite being an eccentric one, probably didn’t do Volvo’s image much 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.