Continuing the story of the Volvo 700/900 series.
In the Spring of 1984, two years after the launch of the 760 GLE saloon, Volvo introduced its less luxurious sibling, the 740. Deliveries started later in the year, first in North America, then in Europe. The estate versions of both the 740 and 760 were launched in February 1985. They went on sale in North America in the summer, then in Europe in the autumn of that year. The market had by this time become used to the saloon’s angular looks, so the estate, shorn of the saloon’s controversial rear window, was generally regarded as rather smart, even handsome.
Oddly, for a company so concerned with safety, anti-lock braking was only available on the top of the range 760 GLE saloon, and not at all on the estate. Volvo’s explanation for this was that there was no room to house the bulky ABS control unit in the estate without compromising load space.
Car magazine tested the 700 series estate in November 1985. The reviewer thought that the estate might well attract “the sort that grimace at the saloon’s styling but rather like what Volvo stands for.” The pricing, from £10.8k to £17.5k, neatly slotted in above the 200 series estate’s £9.2k to £10.6k range, also giving existing Volvo owners an obvious choice for trading up.
The reviewer rated first impressions of the new estates highly: “It is the refinement that gives these new estates an instant appeal. Get them onto a motorway and straightaway you feel able to settle down in an environment of agreeable ease and well-being.” Road noise was “admirably low” and there was “just the barest whisper from the wind.” The “black-everything interior” was, however, “positively funerial” but was saved by the “low waistline” and “excellent climate-control” that was standard on the 760GLE.
The 156bhp (116kW) V6 automatic was “steady and smooth” but “not over-burdened with performance” while the 180bhp (134kW) turbo-four manual was “quick but not specially(sic) smooth.” The ride, however, was somewhat disappointing, being “joggly” and giving the impression that “the whole suspension is under-damped and too stiffly sprung.” The reviewer suggested that optional self-levelling suspension “should help tame things when the vehicle is fully laden.”
The 700 series estate was commendably practical with its vertical tailgate that “opens to just about the full width / depth of the rear of the body.” A consequence of the car’s low waistline, however, was that the space beneath the optional roller blind to cover the load space was “curiously shallow(1).”
The reviewer concluded that “the stockbroker belt will reach out its collective heart to the 700 series estate and Volvo will be equally glad to reach out for the not inconsiderable sums necessary for acquisition.” And so it would prove to be the case.
In pursuit of its upmarket ambitions, Volvo unveiled a 700 series-based two-door coupé, dubbed 780, at the Geneva motor show in March 1985. Styled and built by Carrozzeria Bertone in Turin, the new coupé was a clean and elegantly styled car with a more classical profile and none of the awkwardness of the 700 saloon. The coupé’s front end was shallower and smoother than the saloon and estate’s.
Despite the similarity in appearance, there were no body panels shared between the coupé and saloon. Perhaps surprisingly, the coupé shared the saloon (and estate’s) 2,770mm (109”) wheelbase and 4,800mm (189”) overall length and was a mere 10mm (1/2”) lower, so was unusually spacious for such a car, and perfectly sized for the US market for which it was primarily intended.
The 780 went on sale in Europe in 1986 and in the US the following year. It was powered by the same range of engines as the 760 and was initially fitted with the same live rear axle. In 1987, it received a new four-link self-levelling independent rear suspension layout. As a hand-built car, the 780 was exclusive and expensive, intended to be primarily an image-builder for Volvo. It remained on sale for five years until 1991 and a total of just 8,518 were produced.
The 760 model was given a substantial overhaul in 1988, intended to distinguish it more strongly from the 740. The bodywork forward of the A-pillars was all-new. The pre-facelift car had a separate scuttle panel between the trailing edge of the bonnet and base of the windscreen, which contained the cabin air intake grille and exposed wiper arms. The facelifted model instead had a new, longer aluminium bonnet with an upswept trailing edge that partly concealed a new recessed scuttle panel and wiper arms.
At the front, shallower headlamps with integral fog lights were flanked by new indicator / sidelamp units that wrapped further around into the front wings. These, together with body-coloured bumpers (with black rubber inserts) and door mirror cappings gave the front end a smoother and wider look. At the rear of the saloon, a red reflective number plate surround now connected the tail lights to give the appearance of a full-width light bar.
Inside, the 760 received a revised and more driver-orientated dashboard with an angled rather than rectangular instrument cowl and revised upholstery options.
More significantly, the 760 saloon received 780 coupé’s four-link independent rear suspension layout(2) intended to improve the car’s refinement and ride quality to match its upmarket competitors. The 760 remained on the market until the autumn of 1990 when it was replaced by the 960, a heavily revised car based on the 760, but with completely new bodywork aft of the C-pillars on the saloon. A lower-specification version dubbed the 940 was also launched at the same time.
Notwithstanding the launch of the 940, the 740 remained in production and was updated in 1990. The front end received the shallower indicator / sidelamp units from the 760, albeit paired with narrower single rectangular headlamps, which required a body-coloured infill between them and the grille. The latter was black plastic with a chrome rim, rather than the more upmarket bright metal item fitted to the 760.
Unlike the facelifted 760, the 740 retained the separate scuttle panel and exposed wipers of the original model. Inside, the 740 received the revised dashboard from the 760. The 740 outlived the 760 by two years and remained in production until October 1992, although examples remained on sale for well over a further year.
Total production of the 700 Series over its ten-year production life were 1,239,363 units(3), broken down as follows:
|740 Saloon||1984 to 1992||650,422|
|740 Estate||1985 to 1992||358,952|
|740 Total||1984 to 1992||1,009,374|
|760 Saloon||1982 to 1990||184,026|
|760 Estate||1985 to 1990||37,445|
|760 Total||1982 to 1990||221,471|
|780 Coupé||1985 to 1990||8,518|
|700 Series Total||1982 to 1992||1,239,363|
This was an impressive total, but there was plenty of life left in the design, in the guise of the 900 series.
The series concludes with the Volvo 900 story in Part Three shortly.
(1) This was also a consequence of the separate rear suspension subframe necessitating a relatively high boot floor, flush with the top of the rear bumper.
(2) The estate retained the lighter live axle set-up in order not to compromise its maximum payload.
(3) Source: Volvo Car Corporation.