Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks

We take a brief dive into Volvo’s Italian coachbuilt past. 

Volvo GTZ Zagato. fijen.se

Turin based coachbuilder, Carrozeria Fissore had confidence aplenty. Founded in 1919 by the four brothers; Antonio, Bernardo, Giovanni, and Costanzo, the reins fell under Bernado’s control in 1936. Originally horse carriage experts then car repairers, by wartime the carrozzeria had moved on to manufacturing – mail cars, vans, even hearses after military service.

No prizes for guessing much of Fissore’s work lay within the Fiat purview. By the 1960s, Fissore may not have been the household name far outside the confines of their homeland but their reputation had grown. To the point that Motauto, the Italian import agent for Volvo believed the carrozzeria possessed the skills to woo the Swedes into implanting what they believed was some much needed sex-appeal into Gothenburg’s line-up.

Fissore’s Volvo 1800 proposal. volvo1800pictures

Planned for a 1965 Turin motor show release, Motauto commissioned Fissore to produce a new take on Volvo’s P1800 using that car as the basis to potentially rival such sportivos as the homespun Lancia or Alfa. The Fissore did a pleasing enough job on Pelle Petterson’s already handsome version. Upon seeing the British Racing Green, Mustang-esque fastback shape, almost square rear windows and C-pillar ventilation scoops however, Volvo politely informed Motauto that the now almost six year old P1800 was selling quite nicely, thank you, so that’s a no from us. Imitation certainly not the flattering form here. Relations stayed cordial – more chassis were Turin-bound.

Motauto, while stung, applied soothing balm. However, in a tie up with Monteverdi, Fissore took a bite too large from the cherry. Their bespoke ways succumbed to industrial production, something with which Fissore were not fully au fait, sadly seeing them fold when Monteverdi spiralled, around 1984.

Motauto, their anger simmering some five years, this time headed for a Milan-based coachbuilder, born the same year as Fissore: carrozzeria Zagato. By now the P1800’s teeth had lengthened enough for Motauto to hatch a new plan based upon Volvo’s newer 140 series. Timed for a 1969 Turin show reveal, rumours abound a cash customer was found on the show floor practically instantaneously. 

Zagato’s Volvo 1800 proposal. Viaretro

Underneath this more attractively coupé’s styling lay Volvo’s own B20, 2 litre, four cylinder mill. Two, double barrel Solex carburettors added to the sporting mix alongside the colour scheme consisting of  a streak of orange, cutting the navy blue bodywork almost in two. Bursting the double bubble roof, Zagato maintained an esoteric front to the now named Volvo 2000 GTZ.

Four headlamps confined within a chromed frontal area made for comparisons with Zagato’s own Alfa Romeo Junior Z, itself a debutant. Alongside a Lancia Fulvia Sport, Zagato’s confidence was acutely expressed. Volvo gave the Zagato GTZ (and Motauto) a firm ‘Nej Tack’ yet some Gothenburg high-up’s (possibly) eluded to a potential future maybe if the engine became more sporty.

1969 Volvo 2000 GTZ. fijen.se

Rather confusingly, the summer 1970 edition of Volvo Driver, the UK club’s soundboard gave wind of the GTZ. This erstwhile copy was led to believe the car was an official A B Volvo commission, with production in mind. They maintained high hopes of seeing the car at Earls Court but research uncovered nothing on this claim. Another falsehood, Sports Car Graphic assured their readers the new Zagato was the P1800’s replacement. 

One definitive trend, from Volvo Driver and its readers was the utterly positive reaction; “Does it matter what this car replaces? Let’s set a new trend and have it as it is, please !” They close their two page spread enthusiastically. Aside from the looks, their biggest shocks are the sporting yet comfy looking seats, a combination of P1800 along with 144 instruments with standard fitment of radio and tape deck. Decadence, Zagato style.

Considering Volvo’s stoic disdain of commutations in their line up, by now, Pelle Petterson’s coupé had but four lean years left, Motauto’s chagrin appears rather misguided. One can see the appeal of not only attempting to convince the hand that fed some of some spirited, alternative shapes endorsed with Italian latency. The financial rewards, evidently to Motauto, glistened as the bright as the GTZ’s chrome. Bridled with that Zagato brio, the second knock back may have loosened teeth yet Motauto’s third attempt in penetrating the Gothenburg defence would be final.

1970 Volvo 3000 GTZ. classicdriver.com

Volvo and indeed Motauto themselves may have considered the GTZ too similar to the contemporary ISO Grifo. Concluding a different engine might sway outcomes, Motauto believed this a chink in Volvo’s armour, setting Zagato on another iteration. Zagato listened with close intent. Taking just four months to create a new model, the formulation was to offer a clearly distinctive shape easily transmutable to full production. Throw in excellent road manners, light and airy cabin with acceptable luggage space and seating for four real humans – and the all important Volvo safety connections. A 1970 Palexpo would be the new Volvo’s stage.

Utilising the 164 chassis and most importantly the B30 straight six cylinder, three litre engine, good for 200Kmh (124mph), the 3000 GTZ had also gone on a strict diet in order to witness such heights. Deviating from the original, the 3000 was 13cms shorter, 7cms narrower, ten centimetres lower along with 135Kgs lighter. Wind tunnel time had improved the co-efficiency over its short lived predecessor, aided by semi-concealed headlights.

1970 Volvo 3000 GTZ. fijen.se

Impressive sounding, the overall package had literally lost face, a return to which momentarily. The internal space too became compromised – enough to the rear – yes for smaller humans. The American standard golf bag could also fit – this through the cabin – that neat glass rear end was no hatchback although it appeared in typical Zagato fashion to ajar enough for ventilation. 

The 3000’s body sides a parallel evolution of the 2000 but here similarities end. Because of the taller engine, the bonnet was raised, but despite the provenance of the confident carrozzeria, that snout made a dog’s breakfast of matters. The amateurish rear too was most heavy handed. Attempting to incorporate the Volvo rectangular grille may have been the final nail in the Motauto/Zagato collaboration. Gothenburg turned away, unimpressed. Motauto finally waved the white flag.

Volvo 164 Zagato. motor24

Rumours of inflated GTZ 3000 build numbers remain uncorroborated with Volvo vehemently denying anything but that single example produced. The 3000 thought lost was in fact used in Italy until a road accident laid it up for many years. Currently residing in Sweden, awaiting significant restoration. As to the Fissore and the far more elegant 2000, no current information is available. As for confidence in finding them – zero.

Data sources: classicdriver.com/ ranwhenparked.net/ viaretro.com/ zagato-cars.com/ Volvo Driver magazine.

Author: Andrew Miles

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

20 thoughts on “Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks”

  1. Hello Andrew,
    Thank you for shining a light on a few interesting and lesser known Volvo studies; with the Fissore P1800 from 1965 it almost looks as if they replaced the rear section of the DLO with that of the early Opel Kadett B Coupé. The Zagato 2000 GTZ is not too bad but a bit derivative, and the 3000 GTZ: uhm, no thanks.
    Volvo’s own design team did a (in my opinion) much nicer coupé proposal with the 1965 P172 prototype, meant for the US market but stillborn as it was feared the market was too small for it:

    1. Oh, that is just beautiful! What a shame it did not make even small-scale production. DTW should exert its considerable influence(!) to campaign for the return of coupés to brighten up the automotive landscape.

    2. I claim the P172 as Volvo’s biggest missed opportunity. If it has been based off the 164 they would’ve had a nice straight six going for it.

      The Facel-Vega connotations aren’t out of the blue, as that car was its main inspiration. So much so that a car was privately ordered by someone on the Volvo board of directors, so that the company could study it in detail. Remember, Volvo had company ties to Facel-Vega insomuch they delivered B18 engines for the Facel III.

    3. bbruno: can you please unambiguously idenfify the coupé in the photo. Is it as good from the front and back as it is from the side?

    4. Seems there were two nose treatments applied to the same full sized model. Note what appear to be Magnum wheels, as featured on muscle and pony cars from all four major American manufacturers.

    5. Richard: For the front, it seems Volvo tried out two different options. A single headlight one which looks more in line withe the Volvo styling idiom as would be seen with the 142/144, and one with double headlights which looks decidedly more aggressive; even a bit Monteverdi-like (or Leyland P76 if one wants to be unkind).
      The rear is quite simple but clean; a mix of Mercedes and some American cars of the day.
      All in all I would say that as far as I am concerned the rear is certainly as good as the side view, but the front might have needed some more development work.

  2. Good morning, Andrew. I was unaware of Zagato ever collaborating with Volvo. Seems like an unlikely combination, but Zagato had their go at a Cadillac as well.

    The P172 in Bruno’s comment is a wonderful thing. Reminds me somehow of a Facel Vega.

    1. Yes, one can easily imagine Facel Vega producing something like this if they’d survived. There’s also more than a hint of Fiat 130 coupé about it.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Thanks for another collection of interesting might-have-beens. Things really went awry with the 3000 GTZ, however. It completely lost the dynamism of the 2000 GTZ and looks a bit frumpy to my eyes.

  4. Is there somerhing wrong with my eyes or does the 2000 GTZ look like a Bristol 603

  5. There are similarities, Dave. Grille, DLO, though I’m unsure dimensionally.

    Here’s another comparison; the ISO Grifo (on an angle)

  6. Good afternoon to all
    The zagato design returned modernised in the form of the Lancia Hyena by zagato in the 90s

  7. 3000GTZ? Tasty. So far I’m alone in thinking that. It is almost there it just needs tweaking a little. There needs to be a gentle curve across the leading edge of the bonnet, so it sweeps rearwords at the edges. Without it, it looks like the bonnet edge curves forwards suggestive of those stalks that manta rays have.
    The radiator grill? I secretly like it when viewed from the dead ahead position but it would be better without the raised top edge, basically if semi hidden like the headlamps it would integrate better.
    Door handles are clumsy. They need to be longer not tall. Zagato used them to same clumsy effect on the Alfa Junior Z. The much copied AMC style door handles (The ones everyone refers to now as the “Marina” handles), or better still the slimmer version that graced the Alfetta GT would be better.
    Do I see a glazed luggage compartment bulkhead? If so this pre-dates the Maserati Khamsin by a couple of years.
    The P172 coupe is wonderful. It’s tge Thunderbirds (Puppet TV series, not Ford car) version of the Fiat 130 coupe. The good news is the P172 did make it to production… as a scale model, available from an internet near you.

    1. Those door handles also were used in late Fulvias, so they should be the most beautiful door handles…

  8. Not quite sold on the Volvo 2000 GTZ at the front, while the rear could have probably done with more cues from the 1971 Volvo 1800 ESC Viking by Coggiola.

    Also like the Volvo P172 although the idea should have also been applied to a smaller 4-cylinder Volvo 140-derived model to directly replace the success yet aging 1800.

  9. The P172 looks indeed like a Farcel Vega.

    And the GTZ 300 reminds me very much of the Lotus Eclat.

  10. I wonder how much they really had Volvo and its target markets in mind when they were developing the concepts.

    There are elements of all sorts of concepts of the time, there (e.g. Zagato’s own 1967 Rover 2000 TCZ, which I think works better, as well as assorted ideas which were presented as Lancias).

    I’ve had fun playing ‘spot the late 1960s coupé design trends’ – watching ideas be picked up and developed across designers.

  11. A most interesting collection: it’s a pity none reached even small-scale production. The recurrent theme is Motauto, the Italian Volvo concession holder. Volvo seemed to be well-liked by the Italian middle classes, at least oing by the evidence of my eyes in the mid to late eighties, when 200-Series seemed to outnumber big Fiats, Alfas, and Lancias, which perhaps lacked the air of seriousness and solidity preferred by the nations’ professionals, academics, and managers.

    Charles – well spotted! There’s a lot of Rover 2000TCZ in the Zagato Volvos. Hercules Sword is credited with the Rover’s design, but I suspect a lot of it was bashed out from readily-available Fulvia panels, rather than drawn. The end result looks great but was an appalling lash-up underneath.

    It was, at least in part, fit for purpose being widely admired at the 1967 Turin Show. Rover chose to go at least two of their own ways, with ‘Gladys’ and the P6BS. Regrettably both led nowhere.

    The TCZ wasn’t exempted from the enormous Zagato door handle, which looks better suited to a caravan or HGV. Even the Bristol 412 got it.

  12. Another interesting read Andrew. I can see why Volvo said no to their creations, none more so than the last one. It did look rather cobbled together and a complete mismatch in styles.

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