Just the thing for turning the West Country into the West Coast…
By John Howell / Tuesday, 17 May 2022 / Loading comments
Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. Indeed, have you ever seen a Volvo 780 Bertone Coupe, outside of a magazine or an Internet? I think I may have, but in the same way I think I may have seen a ghost in the WWII tunnels below Dover Castle. Was the distant figure dressed in an airman’s uniform that appeared to walk through a shut door at the end of a long corridor just a figment of my overactive imagination? Probably. 780 Coupes are as rare as wraiths in the UK because they were never imported here officially. Most went to the USA, where the licence plate reveals this one to have sprung from, and in total Volvo made only 8,518. It’s yours for the princely sum of £8,000 – give or take. And what do you reckon? Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Remember the 262 C? That carried the Bertone script but only because Bertone built it. It wasn’t designed by Bertone. You can tell that from its somewhat awkward roof-chop styling that added as much grace to the 200’s bricky shape as stone cladding does to a Victorian terrace. Volvo’s in-house design demon, Jan Wilsgaard, created the 262 C, and rumour has it he was inspired to lop 10mm from the A-, B- and C-pillars after Henry Ford II visited the Volvo factory in a Continental MkIV.
I believe Wilsgaard captured some of the MkIV’s hideousness, but where the Continental, like Las Vegas, kind of pulls off the cheap gaudiness with a cheeky sort of charm, the 262 C doesn’t. Rather like an MR2-based Ferrari F40 kit car, it plays all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. To me it looks wrong. Inside it’s no better, with shiny, ruched-leather seats with platted belts and MFI-grade veneers. I mean, what were they thinking? What was David Bowie thinking when he bought one? More to the point, what was the person who bought Bowie’s car in 2016 thinking when they paid £160,000 for it?
Anyway, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So Volvo did four years later, and this time let Bertone do the lot. Admittedly, the 700 was, by Volvo’s standards, a more rakish thing to begin with, but still – to turn angles into art in the way the 780 managed is a darn fine trick. There’s less of the ‘chop a bit off here’ and ‘shove some of that in there’ approach to the newer model. It looks like it was designed with a considered and unified approach. Every panel was new. The slim pillars lend it a certain grace. And it was even left with a sensible amount of headroom, along with enough of a glasshouse to make it pleasant and airy to sit in.
The production in Turin wasn’t the mass-produced affair of a volume manufacturer. The cars were more or less built by hand rather than machine, and after the quality issues that plagued early 262 C’s, the standard of fit and finish was seen as generally high. It rode well, and while the 780 was no sports coupe it handled gamely, with good heft to its rack and pinion steering. Suspension was MacPherson struts at the front and a live axle at the rear, although this was swapped for a more sophisticated multi-link arrangement from 1987. Performance was satisfying rather than scintillating, befitting a cruiser designed for the American market, after all. The range of engines included the PRV 147hp 2.8-litre V6 and turbocharged 2.0- and 2.3-litre four-pots – the latter boasting 200hp.
This one is a 2.3-litre, and that means it should prove to be a simpler affair than a V6 to maintain. And on that very subject, with so many of the mechanical and electrical gubbins shared with the 700 series, keeping a 780 Coupe plodding on shouldn’t be too hard compared with many other low-volume models. I should imagine the bespoke elements will prove trickier to source, though. That’s why it’s good to see the exterior of this Californian-sourced car looking so complete and square in all the right places.
As someone who likes colours that cause others to wince, I happen to think it looks bang on in champagne, too. It’s just such a cool-looking car. From the side profile there are hints of past Maseratis, and, perhaps it’s just me, maybe even some Aston Martin Lagonda percolating through? Inside, the leather looks like it needs some expert attention after years of cooking in the dry, West Coast heat, but otherwise this car seems to require no more than a bit of TLC. According to the advert it comes with an MOT but will need registering in the UK, and then you’re good to go. Just be prepared to field many questions about what this curiosity is from an always admiring public.
SPECIFICATION | Volvo 780 Bertone Coupe
Engine: 2,316cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 4-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200
Torque (lb ft): 214
First registered: 1990
Recorded mileage: 58,000
Price new: $35,000
Yours for: £7,950
See the full ad here
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