“Muitos anos a virar frangos!!”

Hard to believe but I have seen more Buick Rivieras* than Volvo 300s in the last fifteen years. Here is maybe the third 300 I’ve seen in Denmark since 2006. I also saw one in Sweden, in a museum. That doesn’t count.

This model is the 1985 360 GLS, a more elaborately trimmed version of the 340 which had a smaller engine. While the 260 and 760 had six-cylinder engines, the 360 was  slyly trading on the name. It had a 2.0 litre petrol four, fuel injected (hence the “S” bit of the badge). What kind of car was it? For comparison, the asking for this car (in 1987) was within 200 quid of a 2.0 litre Ford Sierra LX or even a BMW 316. For about the same money one could also even go so far as to

1985 Volvo 360 GLS

go to Vauxhall and drive off with a Belmont 1.8 GLSi. That means the 360 lurked in size and price in between the expensive end of the medium-sized saloons and the mid-price of the medium-large saloons. Isn’t that where the Mk1 S40 ended up too, sharing a beer with the Rover 45 at some point? Well, the market positioning worked because these cars were often in the top ten UK sales charts.

1985 Volvo 360 GLS

Let’s look at the day’s car. You’ll notice this one is missing some trim. To my disappointment, that vent-like bit behind the Hofmeister kink does nothing  – there are no holes in the metal.

1985 Volvo 360 GLS interior: nice velour, practical console design

Turning to the inside we find delicious red burgundy velour and colour-matching plastic inserts on the doors. Is it possible those are the same seats as found in the 240? The dashboard is the larger and more elaborate development; the earlier 343s had much less trim around the gear lever, for example and a less bulky IP. I have to say it looks tidy and efficient. The question is, did the Sierra and Belmont driver notice much of a difference when they cross-compared?

1985 Volvo 360 GLS: notice the cart spring rear suspension

Having scrutinised the available images, I can’t say there is any marked difference in quality evident in any of the three. They all look quite acceptable. I would expect the Vauxhall’s medium-car roots are more evident when you sit in the car; the Ford is designed to be from a class above and so even if there was less equipment it still must have seemed substantial. I suppose that is real choice. Vauxhall offered a very modern and efficient package; Ford offered space and good value and Volvo offered less space and more heft (I am not sure the heft meant much).

Given that the basic design went back to the early 70s, the 300 has to be viewed as a success though. Despite the primitive suspension, slow steering and compromised interior (due to the transmission tunnel) a large number of customers opted for this over the modern and space efficient FWD mid-size cars and the larger, better value C-D class cars. Volvo shifted about 75,000 of them a year, which is commendable.

Volvo 440. Image credit: (c) auto-types

The sales volume is not matched by survival rates. For some reason Volvo could not get its Dutch factory to make the cars as well they made 200s and 700s in Gothenburg and the Swedes don’t really like them. Did you know that the 300 series stayed in production for four years after its supposed replacement the 400 was launched?

A quick look at Mobile.de shows that 440s cost less than most of the 300s on sale. That is something of a remarkable discovery. I have always felt the 400-series was one of the last of the properly mediocre cars to be made and I feel vindicated by the fact that an ordinary 300 is worth more than a low-mileage 400. Whereas the 300s could be said to acceptably bad (the design is pre-Cretaceous) the 400 is unnacceptably bad – Volvo ought to have been able to do better by 1988. In the same year** Opel launched the Vectra, Renault the 19 and VW the Passat (B3), all of them better in every way than the 400.

*This isn’t the only one I’ve seen. I see a Riviera about once a year, somewhere in Denmark.

1988 Maserati Karif: source

** Maserati launched the Karif in 1988 too.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

44 thoughts on ““Muitos anos a virar frangos!!””

  1. You call the 300’s suspension primitive and Alfisti get lyrical about the same DeDion rear suspension on their Alfettas. Volvo even went to the expense of redesigning the transmission from Alfetta style independent engine and gearbox with a jointed propellor shaft to a Porsche-like rigid tube between them, something Alfa also should have done to the Alfetta but couldn’t afford.

    1. Dave, I hesitate to question your expertise, but I think the origin of the “primitive” lies in the spring type as much as anything. The “cart” spring offers limited travel compared to a coil and thus further compromises the ride quality of a simple design. The Alfa has coils, but the Volvo would counter with better seats, no doubt. I suspect reliability and seat quality were the principle selling aids for the 300.

  2. Back in the day these sold well in the Netherlands, even though these cars had a terrible image. When someone took a 360 to the Zandvoort racetrack for a racing course in 2000, nobody gave it much thought. It turned out the 360 makes a good racing and drift car. Since costs are low and the car was successful, the 360 cup was formed in 2002. No Ferraris of the same name are allowed, though.

    1. Some of these Volvos were astonishingly powerful with the big Volvo B20 engines and with the gearbox under the rear seat the handling was quite good. These are not to be confused with asthmatic Renault-engined examples with Variomatic transmission.

    1. Good morning, PJ. Google translate is typically literal but unhelpful, translating Richard’s title as

      “Many years turning into chickens!”

      Perhaps you might enlighten the less cosmopolitan amongst us? (That would be me)

    2. The expression literally transaltes as “too many years roasting chickens”, but it means…

      I’ve been at this for such a long time that nothing surprises me
      I’ve learned everything that there is to know about it.

      Usually spoken in a cynical, disdainful way…

      PS – glad to be of service.

    3. I have been mining Portugese culture for about two years or more. First there was a succession of rather poor histories followed by a read of Saramago (Driving to Portugal) and Kaplan´s rather obese book. In November I got to visit Lisbon and since then I have had Portugal as a background hum in my mind. Azulejos! Olisiponas! Small custard tarts! Manueline architecture! Subtle cheese!

  3. I’ve always rather liked booth the 300 and 400 Series Volvo, but have never driven or even travelled in one. They both had enough ‘Volvoness’, aesthetically at least, to lift them above the mainstream herd (even if the 300 wasn’t a Volvo at all in the first place but the putative Daf 77). Their ‘in between’ size is actually quite handy and not dissimilar to the first VW-era Škoda Octavia, which did that car no harm.

    There’s a five-door 300 I regularly see around out town that is, I suspect, meticulously maintained by its owner. It’s always immaculate, with it’s metallic blue paintwork sparkling.

    Richard, I’m curious as to why you rate the 400 as “properly mediocre”. Did it have quality, dynamic or reliability problems?

    1. About the suspension, the car has cart springs at the back which is was a bit much for a medium-sized car at this time. The 400 was not especially well-made, not especially handsome, not especially good to drive, not that cheap and had no clear USP. It didn´t ride well and rusted enthusiastically.

    2. Spot on, Richard. When the 440 was just introduced my neighbor had one. He had a problem with the bonnet latches which caused the bonnet to open on the motorway. Luckily no one injured. There were a few more cases like that and if I remember correctly there was a recall for that particular problem as well.

    3. That’s disappointing to hear. Unlike the 300, Volvo cannot blame anyone but itself for the 400’s shortcomings.

    4. Yup – at 1700 it was my chance to try one of my favourite blends: Walcher dry vermouth and some Ballantine´s. I do like the term gin o`clock even if I am not having gin.
      The “oatmeal” cloth is rather nice. Does anyone offer anything like beige now? I notice the car in the ad also has a rear centre armrest. My research has shown quite a few marques still include this feature which means the decision of others not to do the same is hard to comprehend.

  4. There seems to be a reliable supply of mint versions of these in the UK – owned from new by fastidious middle-class owners:


    Funnily enough, I regularly see a silver one from the early eighties in the disabled customer parking in Sainsbury’s – original owner, or an owner from early in its life, I’m sure.

    The 300 series used to drive car journalists mad, as they didn’t rate it, but well-to-do buyers loved it. Clever advertising helped, of course.

    1. These Volvos or DAFs were often used by disabled drivers. A friend of mine had a severe apoplectic stroke in his early Twenties and the only car he was allowed to drive afterwards was a 343 with Renault engine and Variomatic.

    2. Gosh, I remember that advertisement. Wasn’t it brilliant the first time you saw it? Thanks for sharing, Charles. The Volvo for sale looks immaculate, but I don’t think I could live with “metallic beige”!

    3. If my formerly metallic beige XM had that Volvos´s beige cloth interior I´d be much happier. I have to say that the beige metallic and the cloth are selling that Volvo to me, overcoming my dislike of the 300 series.

    4. Actually, it’s the name I object to, not the colour, per se. I bet Volvo didn’t call it “beige”, metallic or otherwise. Other manufacturers call that colour “champagne”. I really like the upholstery fabric because it’s so unlike anything you find now in modern cars.

      Speaking of alcohol, only an hour to Friday gin o’clock in our house…yippee!

  5. “Fastidious middle class owners” were definitely the constituency for these cars. At one stage my father muttered about getting one and, as the frequent next custodian of his cars, I obviously had to step in at this point and put a severe stop to this nonsense. He subsequently poddled off to an auction, still chanting his misplaced mantra about no-one needing more than 2 litres and four cylinders (three and six were the more gentlemanly solution, I countered), and came back with something orphaned at the fag end of the day – a 25,000 mile Series 3 XJ12. Altogether more agreeable!

    1. Good man! Reminds me of another Jaguar auction story. My father was friendly with a chap who had the local Mazda franchise, but they also kept a stock of good, used vehicles (it was a very reputable garage).

      Some of the mechanics were ex-Jaguar, so they did a small but regular trade in used Jags. The owner was training a new sales person and, having briefed him thoroughly on how to buy a good car at auction, sent him off to buy one, on his own. He came back with a car (XJ6) which great in every respect – condition, mileage, etc, except one. It was pink. My father doubled-up with laughter when the garage owner pulled back the workshop door and revealed the car. It’s hard to believe, but I think it may have been a factory colour. Anyone know?

  6. Charles, I believe it was a factory colour. I have definitely seen a S3 E type in this fetching shade (fetching, as in, “fetch the bucket, and quickly”).

    1. Heather is indeed the shade. It was actually quite a rich colour and in my view it worked surprisingly well on the E-Type, which had the visual drama to carry it off. However, on the XJ, it was, well, a matter of taste. I don’t think it lasted on the colour charts much beyond 1974, but instead Jaguar offered a really quite fetching lavender shade. God, I miss the ’70s…

  7. Remember Lady Penelope’s FAB 1?
    As a kid, I wanted it so badly. Still do, TBH.

  8. You’d have to be a pretty confident character to roll up anywhere in a pink XJ6 (never explain!) but I rather regret the passing of the colour palettes of the 70s. My bank official father was a pretty conservative o
    individual, but even he had an orange Mk2 Escort. I daresay his 2020 equivalent listens to hipper music and has a much more adventurous diet, but drives a black Quashqai…

  9. The 400-series had an incredibly long gestation, and was at least five years too late to the market. The project began in the late 70’s, and with road going prototypes seen already in 1982. Why it took so incredibly long I have no idea, but I would guess Volvo simply didn’t have the resources to make it any faster. Also, the problem with being in between classes with a rather small interior for its size, not unlike the Peugeot 305 that was boxed in between the Golf and the Sierra. The Volvo 440 would have been a more credible contender for 1983, not so much for what you got in 1988.

    1. Hello Ingvar,

      The 440 was part of the ‘Galaxy Project’, which encompassed developing the 440, 460, 480 and 700 series, plus new production facilities, in close conjunction with each other.

      However, before the 440 project got going fully, they decided to prioritise the 480, so they could test components. They also developed a load of prototypes for the 440, before deciding which to go with. All of this ended up taking a long time.

      On a slightly separate note, it’s a pity they didn’t develop the convertible 480 – I thought it was a nice car.

  10. The 300-series, for all its apparent anonimity, had certain visual features
    that conveyed a tank-like, cocooning capsule image, hence efficiently
    building upon the Volvo reputation for safety: small (short doors), with
    thick window frames, slightly tapering rear end, and a general promise
    of a relatively contemporary ‘styling’ over a convincingy conservative
    mechanical layout (a possibl y perfect recipe for selling to fastidious, safety
    sensitive middle class play-it-safe individuals).

    Personally, in certain colours (and in latter model years’ trims), I find its appearance sober and unpretentious, for the better.

    Size wise, it seemed to aim for a loop in the market segmentation, which definitely helped its sales figures. C-segm. Volvos were always slightly smaller than the average, with the latter-gen, Focus-based S40/V50
    being a prime example thereof.

    The appalingly long overhangs do reveal a surprisingly short wheelbase
    for the segment they nominally fell into. It must’ve given them very predictable, toy-like handling in wet/snowy conditions, and probably
    traded ride quality for a very ‘trusty’, no-surprises dynamic attitude
    when driven with more aplomb (and/or in critical situations).
    They are probably very friendly to drive, having in mind such a layout.

    I never had the chance to drive one myself, and only vaguely remember
    being a passenger in one many moons ago.

    As for the 400 series, apart from the thoroughly individual and resolutely
    appealing 480 mini-longroof-2dr, the 440/460 left me rather cold, with only a moderate respect for the honest simplicity of their styling. Build quality simply wasn’t there. The ‘placebo’ effect, in this context, was actually exemplary: being mostly ‘Renault inside’, one would happily forgive
    such squeaks & rattles if it was a Renault, but, in a Volvo-branded vehicle,
    one actually expected a lot sturdier ‘physical environment’, so they did disappoint on a relative level. All the while, the same car would
    be perfectly acceptable if one, eg., removed the Volvo badges
    (and, which is harder to do, the Volvo expectations…).

    The claustrophobic C30 was the total opposite. You expected Ford inside,
    and ended up falling in love with the decidedly extraordinary air of deeply
    embedded build & finish quality, justifying the bravery of its post-modernistic design solutions.

    If the C30 cabin wasn’t so R4-sized in its occupant proximity geometry,
    it would be the place to be even now in 2020.

    I mentioned the C30 mostly for a contrasting effect to the 300-series,
    as, both were (technically) a C-segm. car, but obviously aimed for vastly
    different target groups. This, in turn, endows the brand with a diconcertingly wide ‘scope of commercial coverage’, which is getting rare nowadays.

    1. Hi Alex, I’ve always had a soft spot for the C30, in spite of its lack of obvious purpose. It wasn’t quite sporty enough looking to compete with cars like the Scirocco and its three-door layout, especially with the unusual way the glasshouse tapered in towards the rear, the narrow tailgate and high loading lip, limited it’s practicality considerably.

      Still, there was something attractive and distinctive about the C30, especially in the right colour:

      Around our part of the country, they seemed to be the choice of WOOPIES* who hadn’t succumbed to the lure of SUVs and their higher H-point.

      * Well-Off Older Persons, apparently

    2. I take it you like the 300 though the support is not sizzling. It´s good to hear some reasons not to commend it to the bin. The 30 I like without reserve. I might ask Daniel politely about “reasons for existence”. I agree it is a very agreeable car probably in large part because it falls outside an obvious category. The reason I wish to sound a note of caution about the “lack of obvious purpose” is that it sounds like a meta-reason and not a real reason. The car can drive about safely and carry stuff. Is that not enough of a reason for it? The “lack of obvious purpose” critique was also levelled at the Fusion and it seems to me the car committed no crime other than that journalists could not put it in a niche. I don´t want to make a big deal about it though – just, as I say, raise an eyebrow.

    3. Discuss: ‘in-between-size’ cars (e.g., early Korean stuff, most of Rover’s 1990s output), as a rule, generally tend to sell fairly poorly. This is ascribed by journalists in part to be a result of customers getting ‘confused’ or not knowing how to mentally classify them and thus, by extension, not being able to compare them against de facto conventional class leaders effectively. Could it be that journalists lacking imagination and meta-critiquing cars in this way contributes to an in-betweener’s market failure?

    4. Hi Richard. You make a very good point and my phrasing was a bit careless. Instead of “lack of obvious purpose” I should have said “difficult to categorise”, which is not a criticism, merely an observation. The market (and motoring press) likes to put vehicles into neat categories because this makes them easy to compare to their peers and judge them in that context. It was difficult to think of any obvious direct competitor for the C30, apart from the aforementioned Scirocco.

      The Fusion was another favourite of mine. Regarded as simply more capacious and practical Fiesta and ignoring Ford’s “Urban Activity Vehicle” marketing nonsense, it made perfect sense to me. Would it had sold strongly if it had been offered as a replacement for the Fiesta, rather than an alternative?

  11. My view on the Volvo C-30 was that it was a mixed-up character vehicle.
    The first half very similar to the S-40, alas a sallon styled front, and the rear something echoeing the superb 480.
    Confusing stuff, as if two characters in one, never really took off in anyone’s heart.

  12. Daniel, Richard,

    it’s so good to hear that we share a fondness for the C30. As time goes by, it looks more and more relevant.

    I recall how they made the gear ratios noticably lower, on the more entry-engined 1.6 versions, in an attempt to mask the obvious weight penalty it carried against the Focus it was largely based on. It made us think: “Smaller? Yet heavier?… Hmm, this really does feel like a small tank”. Being inside felt so safe, that even an A3 felt almost flimsy in comparison.

    Its roof is so strongly convergent towards the rear, and the hatch aperture is so small, that its torsional rigidity was probably off the scale. Plus, the aggressive way the bulk of its doors’/sides’ do eat away from its (anyway narrower than a Focus) cabin size, provide
    a rare opportunity to experience that elusive Volvoness in a most post-modern visual interpretation (the fetishistic central console etc.).

    With their values being what they currently are, for a not pristine but solid example, it’s hands-down the most passive-safety for your dollar there is.

    Particularly liked the Mk1 DRIVe in green – it’s rare, but it’s
    the one I’d personally go for:

    1. Hi Alex, I always loved the C30’s strong shoulder line but was never convinced by the ‘floating’ centre console, simply because it seemed a lot of effort to free up some ‘dead’ space behind it that was of little practical use. I was also unsure about the thick ‘black eye-liner ‘ around the Mk1’s headlamps, although I preferred their shape to the slightly droopy MK2:

    2. Daniel,
      the appeal of the floating central console, at least to me, was in its technical elegance – denoting that the engineers found another way to package various HVAC / ICE bits and bobs, that usually nest in the bulky central consoles of mainstream cars.

      Practical it wasn’t, but it was fascinating in the above context, and a pure bijoux to look at / use it.

      It is one of those features that prove cars could be profoundly different, if the designers were a bit less restrained by the usual gruel corporate demands.

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