Swede smell of success

Picture from Road & Track 1988

Aimed at the $ 33,000-$ 35,000

bracket when it makes its U. S. debut early this year, the Bertone-styled and manufactured Volvo 780 coupe might be seen as a rather ambitious BMW and Jaguar competitor. But the Swedish company claims it is merely trying to give its traditional American customers something classier as they become more affluent. Despite the 780's conservative apperarance, or perhaps because of it, a number of loyal Volvo owners might be pleased to remain in the fold.

The number need only be 1000 in 1987 and increase to 2000 a year thereafter to make Volvo happy. In a new plant erected at Grugliasco to assemble the 780, Carrozzeria Bertone is currently building 12 cars a day, with anultimate capacity of 20, or 4000 a year, half of them for the European market. The Italian coachbuilder signed a contract to produce the 780 in 1982 and finished design in 1985.

The design is clearly a Volvo, with only a little more flair than Swedish stylists might have given it. Bertone's influence is seen in the rear quarters, especially in the C-pillars where the famous badge is the focal point. The front is all Volvo and there is a resemblance to the 760 series throughout; it is built on the same 109.l-in. wheelbase with the same 57.9/57.5-in. track dimensions front and rear.

For Europe there are two engine options, a turbocharged 2.4 liter inline-6 and an extensively redesigned 2.8-liter B280E V-6, but American customers will be offered a single model, employing the V-6 mated to a 4-speed automatic. The 2846-cc B280 has a new crankshaft with split pairs of journals, interspaced at 30 degrees to give smoother running, and in its U.S. form with catalyst, the B280F produces 146 bhp at 5100 rpm.

In a day of driving the 780 (Swedish-registered but American-spec except for the mounting of headlight wipers) from Monte Carlo to the Bertone plant in Turin, I found it to be an alert performer. The throttle response is good and the transmission ratios are well chosen, although the engine does sound a bit worked above 4500 rpm. The handling was crip enough for the narrow streets and repeated hairpin turns of Monte Carlo, Nice and the mountains above, but the suspension was a touch on the soft side, giving a slightly wallowy ride on undulating roads. In fairness, this was experienced mainly on the Italian "Autostrada" at speeds approaching the 780's maximum of 115 mph, and its comportment on American roads will certainly be respectable. The braking, controlled by ABS, was excellent. Altough we didn't get the specific figures, Volvo claims 11.2 seconds for acceleration from 1-100 km/h (62 mph) and 21.5 combined city/highway mpg for the B280F version.

The 780 comes fully equipped, as well it should at the price. The Interior, with leather upholstery (20 square meters of it) and laminated wood (11 layers of beech) on the instrument panel, is luxurious but restained. We were pleased to see that the instrument housing contains a complete set of analog gauges, very readable but not quite as elegant in appearance as they might be in a car of this class. The center console has a full but not overbearing grouping of ventilation and audio controls and a moonroof is standard equipment. Most important, the electrically adjustable seats are extremely comfortable, providing sufficient but not constraining side support. The rear seats aren's quite to the 4-door 760's standarts but they are comfotable for real adults.

The 780 is not intented to be an all-out driver's car, of course, but it covered a lot of kilometers of widely varying European terrain quickly and easily. It may prove to be a very satisfying coupe for the Volvo customer who is willing to spend another $ 12,000-$ 15,000 to trade two doors for high style and exclusivity.

text by: Jonathan Thompson, Picture from: Road & Track January 1987.

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