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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
** Maserati launched the Karif in 1988 too.