Oh ho! Now these cars truly do look sublime, one of my absolute favourite sporty looks, especially coming from something as unsuspecting as a Volvo compact!
Development of the 480 goes back to the late 1970’s, where Volvo desired to move away from their boxy saloon car image and create something a bit more sport looking. Seeing that the Hot Hatchback trend was up in the air at the time, the company chose that their product would take a stab at this lucrative market, creating their very first Front-Wheel-Drive car, but also their first compact. One thing Volvo did notice though was that the hot hatchbacks of the era, such as the Peugeot 205 and the Volkswagen Golf, looked very boxy themselves, with angles and straight lines. As such, the company chose instead to try and cross the sporting looks of contemporary Italian sports cars with the sought after practicality of a hot hatch. The car would be the first hatchback design of Volvo’s since the P1800ES prototype of 1972, developed by the Italian styling house Frua.
Production of the 480 took place at the NedCar factory in Born in the Netherlands, and cars were built onto the same platform as the company’s upcoming 440/460 saloon cars. Power came from a 1.7L Renault engine with 108hp, this being added to later by a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger that upped the power to 118hp. Suspension was designed by Lotus, and came with a myriad of internal electrics for that futuristic touch.
The car made its debut at a press launch on October 15th, 1985, and then made its first public appearance at the 1986 Geneva Motor Show. Cars went on sale a year later in 1987, and the car was almost immediately lauded for its break from traditional Volvo design, a true step out of the company’s comfort zone. Motoring critics noted its gutsy power, its lucious styling, its fantastic Lotus suspension and handling, and the fact that it was, and still is, the only Volvo to feature pop-up headlights.
Although a Cabrio variant was considered in 1987, although it wouldn’t be seen until 1990, it wasn’t followed up after the supplier declared bankruptcy over safety precautions. Aside from this, the car went through very few changes aside from a facelift and refurb in 1992. Production of this amazing car ended on September 7th, 1995, with 80,463 units sold.
Today, this car is often cited as the only Volvo worth preserving outside the P1800, a break from traditional family cars built like tanks but dull as Rice Crackers, and a step into a wild and lary sports world of fast cars and beautiful styling. Although I call the P1800 a fantastic machine, its the 480 that wins me over, it really is a fantastic looking machine, complimented by Volvo’s legendary safety and some gung-ho power!