I’ve never wanted to be That Parent. You know the one? The mom or dad who argues with baseball coaches, complains about junior’s grades, or does other antics that undermine their hard working coaches and educators. However, the other day I did have those feeling when my kid told me that his School Of Rock class was learning to play I Was Made For Lovin’You by the band KISS. “It’s a really terrible song, Daddy, and I don’t know why a rock group was doing disco.” He’s ten years old, but he’s right. I told him that many musicians in the late seventies were doing dance songs to try to capitalize on the then-current trend, and it’s true that the band that made “Detroit Rock City” had no business making something you could possibly dance to.
Some car companies fell into the same trap during the malaise era, and the results were often just as befuddling. You’d never expect Volvo to make a Lincoln Mark III-style personal luxury coupe, would you? Neither would I, but for whatever reason the carmaker appears to have fallen in the same trap as KISS’s Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and given us a Swedish car built largely in Italy with highly American styling.
The 1978 to 1981 262C Bertone was a real thing, and it even found a famous celebrity owner. Could such a formula work again today? (Euro versions got the big brick headlights that were illegal in the U.S.; see below).
This Is Not America
Volvo was becoming an aspirational brand by the late seventies, and with the discontinuation of the P1800 series of sports cars it had no real “halo” coupe in the lineup. During the disco era, a flagship car was typically a fancy coupe, so you would think that Volvo would look to cars like the Jaguar XJS as inspiration (especially since the character on the television show The Saint switched from a Volvo P1800 to that Jag coupe for The Saint Returns).
You would never, ever think that the designers in Gotenburg would try to make such a luxury coupe out of one of their existing cars, and the brand certainly wouldn’t look to the gilded coupes from Detroit for ideas, but it did.
For whatever reason, Sweden has always had a love affair with American cars, and the number of fans of giant tailfinned classics is often seen as disproportionally high compared to other European countries. This is the only reason I can think of that caused designer Jan Wilsgaard to try to chop the roof down on a standard 262 coupe and add thick “C” pillars with chrome badges; that and the fact that the U.S. market was the main target for this thing. The end result looks a bit like something you would see me create with Photoshop as a joke.
You’d probably question how lowering the roof like that would affect headroom; the answer is, despite lowering the seats, “not positively.” Actually, the prototype (below) was based on the earlier 100 Series six-cylinder model with the Mercedes-looking front clip, and for whatever reason the nose of that car seems to better suit the chopped roof, and it looks more convincingly like a big Lincoln coupe. (The pic below shows the prototype 262C and the Lincoln Mark III, which is what most people think the 262C was trying to emulate).
From the front at least, it makes a rather convincing personal luxury coupe, or at least more so than with brick-shaped front lamps of the production model.
Why is there a “Bertone” name on a car that looks absolutely nothing like a product of this famous Turin firm in the late seventies? Bertone was known for sleek, angular cars like the Lamborghini Countach, not what appeared to be a George Barris conversion of a boxy sedan. As with most large firms, Volvo outsourced smaller projects to boutique makers; the British company Jensen initially made bodies for the P1800, so it shouldn’t surprise you that Volvo shipped stock cars for Bertone to modify in Italy. The surprise to me was that Bertone actually put their name on the thing.
Inside, the 262C did offer a nicely upgraded interior with wood veneers and braided details on the special leather seats, but the buying public understandably didn’t know what to think about this thing. In some ways it’s amazing that 6,622 units actually did find owners before Volvo discontinued the car in 1981. You rarely hear about these cars today, with the possible exception of the one below that sold at auction in 2013 for a whopping $216,000. This example was purchased new and registered to a certain David Robert Jones, which is the real name of Ziggy Stardust / Labyrinth actor David Bowie.
Seemingly undeterred by the disappointing sales, Volvo proceeded to make a replacement for the 262C 1986 called the 780. Based on the 700 series model, this Bertone creation was now designed as well as produce by the coachbuilder. Taking a different approach, the 780 was a far more “normal” looking coupe than the 262C, which turned out to be a double-edged sword.
Despite having body panels different from any other Volvo car the end result looks surprisingly like the stock 740 sedan it’s based on; it’s more handsome for sure, but for a car approaching $40,000 in late eighties dollars ($7500 more than the next most expensive Volvo) it seemed to be lacking that panache needed to match the price point. Interior finish and materials were once again nicely upgraded, but the 780 was just a big of a sales dud as the 262C with only 8,518 cars sold from 1986 to 1991.
Been So Long (So Long, So Long)
Would Volvo do something like this for a third time? I think that the perceived need for a car like this back in the seventies still exists today. Volvo continues to make good cars, but the lineup is no more exciting now than it was fifty years ago. They have no “halo” car whatsoever to attract attention (good or bad). In fact, as of right now, they have no cars (i.e. not SUVs) at all to sell, with the S90 sedan being discontinued last June.
One thing that has changed since the seventies is that those Volvo sedans like that last S90 were some damn good-looking cars (and that ultra-hot V90 wagon, which would have replaced my departed BMW 530xi estate if the NVH control on the Volvo wasn’t so lacking). Volvo is supposed to release some new electric sedans in the coming years, and honestly the excitement level for this launch could certainly use a boost. If some recent concept cars and upcoming production vehicles are any indication, coupes appear to be coming back. Would an EV coupe introduced ahead of these four doors spike some interest? What would it look like?
For our C90EV Coupe, we’ll base the design on these new sedans Volvo is promising. We don’t know exactly what they’ll look like, but I would imagine they’ll be somewhere between the styling of the outgoing S90 and the design language of the electric SUVs Volvo is banking on now. We’ll get a flat grille, signature headlights, and a slightly more angular interpretation of the previous sedan. There are no Lincoln coupes available now for Volvo to ape like they did with the 262C, but there are fastback Bentley and Rolls Royce two doors that scream money and class. Why not interpret this kind of roofline for our new coupe?
Note that our Coupe eschews the wraparound lights of current Volvos for sharp flanks, and in back the sloping tail tapers to a detent on the trunk lid and recess for the license plate. Wheels mimic the old Volvo turbine-style alloys.
What You Like Is In The Limo
Inside, I’m inspired by the version of the S90 called the Excellence, specifically designed to be a chauffeur driven car. The lavish features of the Excellence included folding trays and refrigerator between the rear seat passengers.
Volvo went so far as to remove the front passenger seat and replace it with a giant screen.
We won’t do that with our Coupe, but I have something similar in mind. There are tracks in the floor of the coupe. Opening the passenger door, you hit the ACCESS button to slide the front passenger seat all the way forward (almost under the dashboad) and to slide the right side rear seat forward. This system allows unparalleled ease of entry to that back seat (even better than the swivel seats in a seventies Monte Carlo?). Once seated the rear passenger electrically slides back to the original position of the seat. If there’s no front passenger, you can leave the seat there to give right rear passenger an absurd amount ot legroom; enough, in fact, to recline their seat and pop up a Lay Z Boy-style footrest. Even if you do have two people up front, rear legroom will still be as good as the sedan so there’s no compromises with usability over the more stately four door.
If the Thin White Duke were still alive today, would he consider an C90EV Coupe to replace his old Bertone? I think he’d find this replacement alluring for the same reasons that the 262C appealed to him. It’s a high quality, ultra-comfortable European car that’s attractive and different, but not nearly as flashy as a Rolls Royce or Bentley; a celebrity artist like Bowie would possibly find such ostentation to be crass and drawing too much attention. Maybe there’s other relatively well-to-do buyers out there that think the same way.
You don’t need a car with a retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament to show your worth. Is it any wonder you’re too cool to fool?