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The Volvo 780 Was a Strange Attempt to Make Boxy Beautiful

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2017

As many of you undoubtedly know, 1980s Volvo was the age of boxy. Every single car Volvo produced was boxy, with right angles appearing virtually everywhere on the exterior design. Even sedan models with trunks had right angles in back, despite the fact that rivals were starting to embrace the idea of flowing curves.

Apparently intent on changing their boxy image, Volvo decided to try something radical at the end of the 1980s: the Volvo 780.

You see, the Volvo 740 and 760 came out in 1982, and it was the usual Volvo: boxy, boring and staid, but safe, practical and solid -- and only offered as a sedan or a station wagon. To spice things up a bit, Volvo contacted Italian design house Bertone, and they created a coupe. It would be called the 780, and it debuted a few years later.

Designed by Bertone and assembled in Italy, the 780 looked -- to the untrained eye -- like a simple coupe version of the 740 and 760 sedans. But the entire car was changed in a way that only Volvo would request: incrementally and subtly. The car's entire shape was reworked so the hood was lower, and the pillars were lower, and the trunk was lower, giving the car a different design -- assuming you could tell. Most people couldn't.

With that said, the 780 did have one obvious stylistic change compared to the 740 and 760 sedans: The C-pillar, in back, was sloped much more gradually -- like you'd expect from a coupe. This gave the car a distinctive look compared to the sedan models, even if the other changes (which, surely, were expensive to make) went completely unnoticed.

While you might think the creation of the 780 is an odd pairing of Swedish practicality with Italian design (to predictably disappointing results), it had precedent: Bertone also created a coupe version of the Volvo 240, dubbed the 262C, which featured a lower roofline and a more stylish look than the standard model. So the 780 wasn't Volvo's first foray into teaming up with the Italians to inject a little emotion into the lineup.

But, apparently, Volvo didn't learn much from the original attempt -- because the 262C sold poorly, and the 780 wasn't exactly a huge success in its own right. Part of the issue, I suspect, is that few people thought "Volvo" when they thought "sporty coupe" -- and the car's meager 150 horsepower (later bumped to 175) probably wasn't especially enticing, either. In the end, the 780 died out by 1990 -- and Volvo didn't replace it for nearly a decade, until the (beautiful) Volvo-designed C70 came out near the end of the 1990s.

Today, a clean Volvo 780 is hard to find: There are just three examples listed on Autotrader across the entire country, with an average price of just $4,500. That's not so bad, though, when you consider you're buying an Italian-built turbocharged sports coupe.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Volvo 780 Was a Strange Attempt to Make Boxy Beautiful - Autotrader