The P1800 is the sexiest car to wear a Volvo badge, right? Oh sure, it was beautiful, but while it was a sexy car, was it really a sexy Volvo? Can the Volvo 780 of 1985 mount a stronger case for being a more seductive Swede?
Volvo had worked with Bertone before, but the 262C and 264 Top Executive limo were hardly works of art. Sure, the bottom half of the cars looked nice enough, but the roofline gave them the look of something that had just had an unfortunate encounter with a low bridge. Great for limbo dancing, but hardly beautiful.
With the Volvo 780, the two partners had clearly learnt from their mistakes. The elegant 780 was an object lesson in how two of the most stylish and design-led nations can work together to create something beautiful. The 780 was part-Swedish, part-Italian and 100 percent gorgeous.
Bertone started with a clean sheet of paper and, despite appearances, only the engines and chassis were carried over from the 700 range. When it was unveiled at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, this was an entirely new model and was the most expensive car the company had ever launched.
Carrozzeria Bertone was responsible for the assembly of the 780, with powertrains and chassis components shipped from Sweden to Turin. Production started soon after the Geneva Motor Show, with the first deliveries taking place in 1986. Thirty years on, the Volvo 780 looks better than ever.
Here’s the thing. If you put the P1800 and 780 side by side and asked a non-car person to pick out the Volvo, they’d almost certainly choose the 780. Does that make it sexier? Obviously not, but it proves the 780 has a clearer identity. It looks the more Volvo of the two and that’s a significant factor in this argument.
If you’re not convinced by the styling – and if not, we’d be happy to arrange an appointment at Specsavers – check out the interior. This was unique to the 780 and included a pair of individual rear seats. And in case you’re wondering, that’s hand-stitched Italian leather you’re looking at. Perfect for the pampered bottoms of would-be Gordon Gekkos in the mid 1980s.
Volvo produced a total of 8,518 of these elegant coupes, with the vast majority being shipped to the United States for boulevard-cruising duties. Carleric Häggström, Volvo’s marketing director at the time, said: “With the 780, we can offer an elegant car that is ideal for long journeys, incorporating a personal design, exclusive component solutions and a unique range of engines with the emphasis on comfort.”
As you can imagine, the 780 was kitted out like a branch of Tandy Electronics. Almost everything was powered, including the seats, windows, sunroof and rear-view mirrors. Other goodies guaranteed to impress your shoulder-padded friend at the dinner party included climate control, ABS brakes and automatic level control. Your friend would have been left choking on their Wall’s Viennetta and reaching for the Liebfraumilch.
Check out the microprocessor-controlled stereo, which would have been a big thing back in 1985. Adjust the frequencies on that bad boy and a few Phyllis Nelson tunes would almost certainly encourage your passenger to move closer. Smooth. And yes, that is real wood. No fake malarkey going on in this Swedish lounge.
Several engines were available, including a straight-six turbodiesel, which was followed by a turbocharged four-cylinder and a 2.8-litre V6. Production continued until 1990, by which time the rigid rear axle had been replaced by a multi-link axle. The 780 was never designed to go quickly, which is why it wasn’t a huge success in Germany.
Finding one for sale is tough, especially in Europe, so you may have to dig deep in order to get your hands on one. It was never a cheap car, but then Volvo never pushed it as a volume seller. In its final year, the 780 cost SEK 315,200 in Sweden, compared to SEK 247,500 for a 760 GLE. But then the 760 didn’t have the Italian leather, a long list of equipment and delightful Bertone styling.
Is it sexier than the Volvo P1800? The majority of people will say no, but the 780 looks and feels more on brand and is definitely more PetrolBloggy. And the styling just seems to pull together in a more balanced and cohesive manner. With apologies to people who actually know about matters of a design nature.
We’re sticking to our guns: the 780 Coupe is the sexiest Volvo ever made.*
*Assuming we don’t include the Volvo Concept Estate.