Tre Kroner

Dirty Great Volvos: Part one – which deals with a mid-seventies international affair.

Volvo-Bertone 262C. (c) Volvo Cars

When Henry Ford II came to town, he got noticed. And when he showed up in Sweden with his entourage of executives to have a look-see at how they made cars in Gothenburg, he, along with his Yankee-Iron cavalcade, caused quite a stir, enough to inspire a new Volvo.

The Mk4 Lincoln Continental coupé was Henry’s weapon of choice – with that low roof, C-pillars you could hide a truck behind and virtually sixteen foot length, these cars caused impact outside but significantly more inside the factory gates – those gates being brand new. CEO, Pehr Gyllenhammar wished for more human contact in car production which led to the Kalmar plant, the world’s first team assembly plant. Small teams working in stages, fewer mistakes, better employee relations all made enough noise to entice Hank the Deuce over.

Plans were quickly drawn up for Volvo to make their own Lincoln, based on their 264 saloon which would incur huge new tooling costs along with production on a new line – bottom line – too expensive. Fortuitously, a number of Volvo representatives were at the 1976 Geneva motor show chatting to opposite numbers hailing from Carrozzeria Bertone, who had collaborated earlier, making a Europe-only 264 TE.

Enthusiastically agreeing to a fresh connection, the Swedes would ship over the mechanicals and floor pan, leaving the Italians the task of roof (with Swedish input), interior (ruched leather, plenty of timber) including finishing the new coupé, code named Three Crowns, ready for sale.

Volvo’s chief designer, Jan Wilsgaard is credited with lowering the 262 saloon roof some sixty millimetres, thus creating the 262C’s Marmite stance, “I took what I believe to be a rational approach to a modern personal car.” The raked windscreen and flush fitting rear side windows alongside that enormous C pillar certainly add weight to proceedings. With aluminium bumpers, a fairground ride could be aspired to, and if those rectangular headlamps don’t fix you in their gaze, the upright, gently chromed grille just may.

The craftspeople of Bertone attempted to soften the cars interior, with genuine elm veneer (with matching grain for both sides) on the door cards being the only surface change alongside that of the softest of leathers. Whilst in no way a beautiful dashboard, more industrial, brutal even, comfort here was king. Electricity operated windows, seats (set 2.3 inches lower than the saloon as a foil to that roof), mirrors, air-con and central locking, the floor having deep pile carpets.

Jan Wilsgaard, looking a bit glum here. Image:

Options were limited to a choice of radio/cassette stereo and, ahem, a limited slip differential – handy for the freeways. One’s 262C came initially in Mystic Silver with black vinyl roof with (gloomy) black interior, setting the sybarite back $16,000 in 1978, since the majority of these Swedish/Italian hybrids wound up in Henry’s back yard, often driven by the female of the species whilst husband went off to work in something even larger.(*)

Under that long bonnet sat that other international feature, the 2.7 litre PRV V6 engine shoving out to the rear wheels a rather unimpressive 127 bhp and 150 newton metres, which for a projectile hitting the scales at 1,400 Kg’s (3,000 pounds) amounted to a rather sedentary pace – 110 mph v-max. The engineers gave the coupé a turning circle of 32.1 feet.

Fourteen inch wheels were halted by disc brakes all round; vented up front, backed by more Volvo safety features, the dual triangle-split power hydraulic system. Suspension came in the form of MacPherson strut and anti-roll bar forwards, a live axle with longitudinal control arms, aft. Borg-Warner offered the (practically standard) three speed automatic gearbox with a four speed manual (with overdrive) rarely taken up by customers.

Volvo believed just 800 coupés would be sold per year. In 1978, sales hit double that figure, posting 1,670. The Turin Bertone boys and girls were kept busy. 1979 witnessed 2,120 262C’s hitting the tarmac alongside new colour schemes; gold for the bodywork and a beige leather interior could now be specified. With that added 1980 exclusivity came the inevitable price hike; $17, 345 bought you a brand new Bertone Coupé which was the car’s second strongest selling year at 1,920. At this time Volvo fitted the air dam from the 242 GT, effectively reducing the cars top speed in accordance with American law at the time to well under 100mph (approximately 86).

Resembling an ingot or just possibly a years supply of Caramac. (c)

Rarely chosen, a metallic blue may have lightened the load of this dirty great Volvo and once the vinyl roof was discontinued for ‘81, a gold roof over bronze bodywork with equally beige interior would now set you back $20,000; 912 coupés sold, a grand total of just 6,622.

The competition was, as one would expect, stiff. The Volvo was a full two thousand dollars more expensive than a similarly specified Eldorado, yet very similar (in price) to the Bavarian 528i. Mercedes 280CE with its creamy six cylinder mill offering more cachet undoubtedly. Peter Monteverdi, when upon laying eyes on Volvo’s new beast at the 1977 Geneva show proclaimed, “It’s inexplicable how they’ve made such a stylistic mess.

Admittedly, this car will divide opinions, but check out the alternatives; the inspiration stemming from a Lincoln Continental Mk4, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Mk2, Cadillac’s Brougham and Eldorado and the mainstream, European norm. Ruggedly built, dependably safe, left of the middle, the Volvo 262 Bertone Coupé became the first Volvo to be desired for what it represented – a change of the old guard.

(*) Research shows several thousand went initially Stateside. Many more were sold at home in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Finland with a sprinkling for the U.K. including single models to Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Japan along with in 1979, Ireland – a four speed manual in silver.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

33 thoughts on “Tre Kroner”

  1. Morning Andrew. Up early listening to our Son who is doing a 24 hour home disco for charity. Crazy guy!
    Another interesting article so thank you. I find it amazing that such a large car doesn’t seem too much of a shock to me. I suppose it must be familiarity with the design over time? I wonder why they limited the colour choice as well – possibly didn’t want to be too radical?

  2. Good morning Andrew. An interesting piece on a largely (deliberately?) Forgotten Volvo, thank you. Like Mike, I find myself more intrigued than repelled by the 262C. In isolation, the canopy is actually quite interesting, but it only serves to emphasise the visual mass of the lower body. Could Bertone have made a better job of it, or would it have worked better on the facelifted 200 Series, with the slimmed down bumpers and smoother front end? I’m tempted to find out.

    I’d also love go know exactly what Jan Wilsgaard is thinking when that photo was taken!

    1. Actually, no need to resort to Photoshop, as Bertone did build a few 262C coupés with the facelifted front end and slimmer bumpers. The Imgur app is playing up at the moment, but I’ll upload a photo of it using my laptop later.

    2. Let’s see if this works:

      It certainly improves it, I think.

      (Shame about the mismatched paint colour on the door.)

  3. This car came up here the other day but in case anyone missed it the 262C has a special place in rock history.
    The 780 which succeeded it was, I have to admit, a nicer looking vehicle though the 200 series is quirkily appealing.
    I have to say I haven´t forgotten this car. For years I wanted a brochure for it and failed to get a hold of one. I suppose they are out there and rather costly.

  4. In the linked article by Eóin Doyle I saw a picture of the prototype for the 262 for the first time. Now I am driven by the never to be fulfilled wish of a 262C with the front of the 164 – and without bumpers.
    See what you have done to me…

  5. I have a perverse love for these – tacky and gauch as they are.
    I always imagined them as showy criminal-class ‘gangster’ cars – a paradox to the buttoned up civilised aura of Volvo and Sweden in general. That’s the sort of disconnect I can get behind!

    I feel that the faux ‘brougham’ feel the roof and c pillar (wot no opera window?) would work well with the phase-one less-brick-like front end of the 140:

    or the more majestic long bonnet 164:

    Someone should build one!

    I recently discovered they rekindled the Bertone relationship a few years later with the 780 – a 700 based coupe, which is just sublime in its execution, and a shame was not a more common site on the road.

    The saloon of that shape always looked like ‘the estate with the cargo windows bitten off’ rather than a real saloon shape fashioned from a clean sheet of paper.

    But then they always cut corners with door frames to be ambidextrous on saloons and estates 🙂

    245/850 door tops ‘not quite lining up’ with the cargo window

    1. Hi Huw. Great photos. The 164 and 780 are lovely. If I recall correctly, the 780 was very expensive (and only LHD) which might explain its scarcity. According to Wikipedia, just 8,518 were built between 1986 and 1991.

      Incidentally, I think that the 850’s misaligned rear door is an adjustment issue and, unlike the 200 series, nothing to do with the use of the saloon doors.

  6. Great article Andrew, thank you. I love a dirty great big Volvo. I had the 4 door version, the 264. The facelift version looks a little better. I used to see one around Southport when I was growing up. I’ve seen a blue one but never seen a gold one. I’d like one in my virtual garage.

  7. Thanks for this Andrew;
    I think I am not alone in finding this Volvo not exactly beautiful or elegant in any sense, but still glad that it exists because it made and makes the automotive landscape more interesting.
    Incidentally, a fellow in Finland produced this rather fetching (in my opinion) Volvo 162 Coupé, merged with an E36 BMW M3:

    1. Oh, that is just beautiful! You’ve made my day, Bruno!

    2. It’s amazing. The interior’s pretty much stock BMW, but even so, someone’s very talented.

    3. Saw that one before. Great job, even though personally I would have preferred the front of the 142 , less chrome and no bumpers. Here’s a shot of the interior. That Volvo badge looks so weird here.

    4. Guys, is there a website with more photos of the car and build? I’d love to see them.

    5. Here’s another hybrid, a 164 front end attached to a 142 bodyshell with a 262C style vinyl half-roof covering:

      Here’s Volvo’s official 262C prototype, based on the 164:

      Lots of Volvo loveliness and quirkiness!

  8. On a business trip to the country around 1979, I happened upon a tiny Volvo dealer in the middle of a small tourist town, of all places. With time to kill, I wandered in and met the entrepeneur, a bit of an unforgettable character, a one-man band with a mechanic. Sizing up my Audi, he decided I needed the 262C he had on his tiny forecourt. A city slicker in a suit was just the punter on whom to unload the piece of lot-poison screwing up his finances. So I got the full tale, he being of course unaware of my addiction to CAR and Car&Driver. I was handed the keys and almost ordered to take a spin, really try ‘er out.

    Not being of the social class accustomed to ruched leather, and random artisanal ruching at that, the door cards did not impress me much. They looked untidy. The car itself was stodgier even than my pal’s 244. Woolly power steering in place of the civilian car, which had bicep-trainer-approved heave-the-helm directional control, was a new Volvo experience to me. After all, my first car was a 544. The engine sounded woofly in a distant way, softly displaying zero poke or enthusiasm, and along with the awful automatic was a bad imitation of a Buick, or at least Volvo’s idea of a Yankee personal car, anyway. The same engine in the Renault 30 I had tried some months earlier seemed much better, as did that whole car, to be honest. I tootled around for a while on a lovely sunny summer day trying to imagine who would actually buy a Volvo with a silly roof, no power and a ridiculous price. Certainly not me. The dealer’s hook was a price in Canuck bucks the same as that in mainline US dollars, a mere three times the cost of my Audi four years earlier and a huge discount. Great price if you liked the product.

    We parted on good terms, he quite unabashed and in no way aggressive, and in fact pretty chatty. Gotta give it the old college try, I suppose. So a year later when I had for some odd reason decided to buy a Jetta, I discovered he had moved on and become, somehow, the VW dealer in a larger regional centre a dozen miles from where I’d met him. He handily beat the city price at my own VW/Audi dealer, so I bit. Not his fault, the car was an absolute disaster. Thankyou, Wolfsburg. A decade later, he had ditched VW and become the Jeep dealer in the same centre. He handily beat the city price for a new Eagle Talon/Misubishi Eclipse turbo AWD with a smile, and that car was ace, my first Japanese car and first vehicle I owned that didn’t go wrong every five minutes, which to me defines my German car-owning era. So I suppose I have the 262C to thank for my further motoring adventures, just not in its particular very odd clutches.

    1. Bill – as ever stepping in to ruin my unfounded fantasies. Now I can relieve myself of the ambition to own the 262C. Your description of the car as a Swedish idea of Buick resonates with a almost-unheard radio broadcast I made in the 1990s where I paired Buick and Volvo since I thought they had something in common. In all probability a Buick Century coupe from the mid 80s does what I think the 262C should do but apparently can´t really. It looks a bit better but, darnit, not so …. intriguing.

  9. Hello everyone, my timekeeping gets worse for which I apologise.

    Firstly, that BMW/Volvo cross breed is magnificent.

    Part two of the story deals with the 780 so I’m giving nothing else away.

    Thirdly, Bill, your circumnavigational story was most impressive to me. These autobiographical themes are fascinating to unravel.

    As to poor old Jan in the picture, my guess is that the photographer took one look at the car and asked to be placed somewhere high up. The coupé has angles that make photography troublesome and Jan caught the “worried” vibe. Or his cuppas gone cold.

    Whilst the 262c attracted me enough to write about it, it’s a difficult car to add up and love. The car appears to be one of those amalgams that shouldn’t work, but does – for me on levels I’m unsure of. Nobody said love was easy.

    But don’t just take my word it. Try this chap;

    And if the car was good enough for Bowie, that’ll do for me. Although I always find it interesting imagining pop/rock stars actually driving. Don’t they have “people” for that sort of thing?

    1. Good stuff, Andrew. Is that presenter about 8′ tall?

      I see what Bill meant about the ‘artisanal’ rouched leather. It’s a bit untidy looking and the seats look like a cheap sofa. Definitely an esoteric choice,

    2. I think Bowie did have a driver, at least when he lived in Switzerland. That said, wouldn´t it be odd to not want to drive about a bit yourself without having the driver hanging around? Rich people get a lot of help but they also seem to live on show, even at home. Imagine being the Queen and more or less having no private life?

  10. The most redeaming quality of the Bertone is that they did away with the spare wheel wells usually situated in the flanks of the car, it’s usually such an awful eyesore you just can’t unsee it. As there’s no room for a standing spare on the coupe it’s situated flat in the trunk up towards the rear bulkhead.

    Also, there’s an interesting “What if” going around the internets. Someone mated the trim from the 242GT on the body of the262C for an alternate reality 242 GTC. The counter factual story goes it would’ve been a cheaper four cylinder version of the coupe sans vinyl roof, but with the (look for it!) outrageous bright orange interior trim of the 242GT. I think it looks rather nice! I can’t paste pictures on this site but if someone would be so kind?

    1. Why do I find such square cars so appealing? They go against concepts of aerodynamics and are therefore a bit “wrong”. However, I find myself thrilled by the verticals and horizontals. 80s GM cars used this effect broadly. Is it the visual interest from the contrast of what is and what is not there?

  11. Could someone please put up a picture of the 262C alongside a picture of the Lincoln Continental Mark 2 for comparison. I realise the Conti is much bigger, but if the pictures were scaled so that they appeared to be the same size (appeared to be on the same wheelbase) there may be some interesting discoveries to be made.

  12. Aha! Perhaps it’s the C-pillar. Something not quite right about it.

    Could you also do a Conti Mk4?

  13. Looks like the angle the backlight makes with the boot-lid is too steep. Also the vertical line terminating the side glass is wrong. It needed to slope downwards and aft (diagonal). That would fix the c-pillar I think.

    There is a possibly the waist is needs a small step after the sidelight (like the Mk4), although I’m not sure this would work for the Volvo as it does for the Continental. Not sure the step would help, but just maybe it might.

    – — –

    I drove a Mk4 some years ago. It was a soft ride. It would devour mile after mile on the open road effortlessly. No stress. Just cruise along. Don’t throw it hard at corners!

  14. I’ve printed the Volvo and the C0ntinental Mk4 pictures on large format paper (A2 gloss) so I don’t have to keep flicking up and down the screen on the computer to compare them.

    The Continental is an interesting design. I quite like how it works.

    The Volvo has a problem at the c-pillar. That is where all the trouble starts.

    What do you think?

    BTW, thank you Daniel for putting up the pictures. I’m still studying them!

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