Introducing Bangerwatch, a new series for PetrolBlog, which starts with the Volvo 480.
You've seen Springwatch, you may have even seen Autumnwatch, now PetrolBlog introduces Bangerwatch. It many ways it is much the same as the TV show, only without Kate Humble, animals or a primetime slot on BBC television. The idea is simple, PetrolBlog will hunt down interesting and increasingly rare cars that have somehow fallen into Banger territory.
By giving them some exposure it is hoped that they will be considered as potential Bangernomics project cars and in some cases, saved from inevitable extinction. There are no hard and fast rules over what constitutes a Banger, but a price of sub £1k is probably a good place to start.
To kick things off, PetrolBlog looks at the Volvo 480, influenced in part by the recent test of the C30 T5 Polestar.
History of species
The Volvo 480 made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1986 and at the time, it caused something of a stir. For a company best known for producing large, boxy and rear wheel drive cars, the 480 was quite a departure. It was a bit like Radio 4 replacing John Humphrys with Lady Gaga as the host of the Today programme.
It was shaped like a cheese wedge, had pop-up headlights and the ubiquitous Volvo grille with the diagonal ribbon was discreetly positioned below the front bumper. Not since the beautiful P1800 had Volvo produced a car so visually striking.
But the cosmetics were merely the start of it. The 480 was actually the result of a major product planning project named Galaxy. In short, the project was rolled out with the single aim of building replacements for the 340/360, 240 and 740/760. The result was the 400 and 850 series. The 480 was born and with it, Volvo produced its first ever front wheel drive car. The company hasn't looked back and today only builds front and four wheel drive cars. The 480 therefore has a place in motoring history.
The 480 was also the first true Volvo, if you exclude the 66, to be built by Volvo Car B.V, a subsidiary company based in Holland and more commonly associated with DAF cars. The exterior was designed by John De Vries, whilst Peter Hobury was involved with the interior, a Brit who subsequently went on to head up design at Volvo Cars.
At launch, the Volvo 480 ES was available with only a 1.7 litre Renault-sourced engine. With just 109 bhp driven through the front wheels, the 480 was no sports car. Turbocharging arrived in 1988 and took the power up to 120 bhp, so still not exactly a firecracker. The 1.7 unit was replaced by a 110 bhp 2 litre engine in 1993, but despite the modest increase in power, torque was much improved.
Volvo teased the world with a convertible in 1990, but sadly or thankfully, depending on which way you look at it, the car never made it into production. By the time production finished in 1995, some 76,375 480s had been produced and Volvo chose to mark the occasion with a limited 480 run of Celebration models.
Today they're the most highly sought after models, but at the time they weren't particularly well received. Richard Bremner was quoted in Car magazine as saying: “And Celebration it was too, as Europe waved goodbye to the badly built, pointless, DAF coupe with an outrageous asking price of £16,500. That paid for the CD player, alloys, leather and a pointless hallmarked plaque glued to the dashboard.”
But despite this, PetrolBlog thinks that the 480 deserves its place in British motoring history and right now, prices are at rock bottom. Time to go in search of a good 480 then?
Volvo 480: Habitat
Today the 480 can mostly be found loitering around suspect suburbs, although there's an increasing number being snapped by retro enthusiasts. This is highlighted in part by the vibrant community over at the Volvo 480 Club Europe, which claims to have 4,193 members and 4,342 cars on its books. Not bad. The vast majority of members are in the UK, with a whopping 1,626 listed on the site, compared with the next highest number of 642 in Holland.
What to look for
Volvo was quoted as saying that the electronics could be a little troublesome, stating that they "caused a fair bit of reliability problems". This is backed up by the club who list the electric windows, the ‘Info Centre’, pop-up headlights and switches and buttons as key areas to check. Rust seems to affect the rear arches, bottom of doors, the area between the roof and windscreen along with a metal strip behind the rear bumper.
The normally aspirated Renault engine is largely bulletproof, but the usual checks for loss of oil should be investigation. On the turbocharged version check for smooth running, but in general all 480s are solid, well built and with the right history, should be reliable. Usual Bangernomics checks apply.
Risk of extinction
According to howmanyleft.co.uk, the number of Volvo 480s is stabilising and the days of rapid decline seem to be over. There are 165 manual Celebration models on the road, with a further 44 currently SORN. The most common version is the ES model, with 285 running and 181 off the road. So with a total of 1,154 Volvo 480s on Britain's roads, it can hardly be classed as an ‘at risk’ car, but with servicing and repair costs undoubtedly outstripping the value of the car, many will be endangered. One to watch.
Caught in the wild
Despite the relatively healthy number of 480s left, there are surprisingly few available to buy. At the time of writing this blog, I could find only 20 for sale on eBay, Car & Classic, AutoTrader and Motors. Prices range from £200 for an ES with long a MOT but an overheating issue, through to a wildly optimistic £1,750 for a quite lovely ES with 77k miles on the clock. But in general, you should expect to pay between £300 and £800 for a 480 and certainly no more than £1,000.
Volvo 480: PetrolBlog verdict
There can be no doubt, the Volvo 480 is officially cool. It might be ridiculously underpowered, but look beyond this and you can have a genuine piece of Volvo history for about the price of a set of tyres on a C30. I mean, what more do you want? It probably won't kill you in a crash, it will be far more reliable than other cars of this vintage and budget, it has a neat glass tailgate and oh, it has pop-up headlights. I'd go as far to say that the 480 is probably as interesting and desirable now than it ever has been. Volvo will claim that the C30 took the most influence from the P1800, but look closely and you'll see just as much of the 480.
It'll be a number of years before I get my hands on a C30 T5, but in the meantime I might just end up with a 480. Maybe even the one with the pointless hallmarked plaque glued to the dashboard.
Visit Volvo 480 Club Europe or Volvo Owners Club.