Unsung Heroes : Volvo 740 and 760 Turbo
Continuing onwards from the ‘Overhyped and Over Here’ which stirred the water slightly, here we have a trip along Nostalgia Drive for a sideways look back at some cars that were special yet today seem somewhat forgotten.
I WILL be the first to admit, I love Sweden and even though I have never been there, they have produced some of my favourite things. Items such as Abba albums, Saabs, cough sweets and my all time late night snack: ‘Krisprolls’ have all been on my shopping list at one time or another. Volvo back in the 1970s and ’80s were a formidable force in the world automotive sector producing reliable and practical cars.
Their revolutionary F86/88 range of commercial vehicles pretty much single handed pulled the trousers down of the British truck builder, while the bus and coach range built up a reputation for quality and back up that other European rivals – Leyland included – could never touch. Its range of cars could never be called exiting or dramatic for not since the 1960s with the Volvo P1800 sports coupe had Volvo produced anything remotely sporting. As the late 1970s turned into the ’80s, the product range comprised of the worthy but dull 343 and 345 range (the last number denoting the number of doors) the 200-series saloon and estate: the chosen tool of the antique dealer of choice and the odd looking V6 coupe: the Volvo 262C.
Both the 200- and 300-series had been a sales hit here in the UK and with thanks to the marque’s reputation for quality, safety and clever marketing; the Volvo range were seen as prestige cars. When we think of turbocharging on a mass production scale, the other Swedish marque comes to mind: Saab. Volvo had extensive experience with turbo seen in its range of trucks and buses, suffice to say that Volvo could extract the same amount of power from an engine of just over 6-litres if not more than our own Gardner engines of almost 11-litres with the use of a turbo with no loss of reliability or fuel consumption.
So as far as turbocharging a petrol engine, those strange people at Saab developed a reliable front driven turbocharged car while Volvo continued to produce a range of worthy but ever so slightly dull rear wheel drive saloons & estates that were conventional to last letter. The biggest selling Volvo as the ’80s progressed was the 240 saloon and estate, a boxy yet blastproof tank of a car which sold in very respectable numbers both here and in the USA. This new decade ushered in a new era of styling over substance, so those clever Swedes bought some new pencils and set to work penning a new model for the 80’s.
Upon its launch in 82, the 760 was panned by the motoring scribblers for being a car that seemed to be inspired by the American market, and it would be fair to say it did look like a scaled down American car. Under the skin, the suspension and many of the mechanics were carried over and improved where needed from the existing 200 range. In its first guise, the 760 was offered with three engines; a VAG-sourced diesel turbo, a 2.3-litre four-cylinder injected turbo Volvo sourced plant and a 2.8-litre PRV alliance (Peugeot Renault Volvo) all alloy V6.
Even though the styling was not to everyone’s taste, the 700 range quickly became a car known for all the best aspects of all Volvos that came before: safety, reliability and equipment. The people who mattered ie: the buying public, quickly warmed to the styling of the 700 range and the range went on to sell in decent numbers here in the UK never being a threat to the Granada or Rover SD1, but the 700-series quickly became a common sight on British roads.
The models I’m focusing on, namely the 740 and 760 Turbo changed the public’s perception of the brand almost over night. The 760GLE turbo offered a colossal 185bhp and average power rating today but extraordinary in 1982. Here was a car in saloon or estate format that would gather momentum up to 60mph a shade under 8 seconds, a time that even today is a match for many a hot hatch – even more amazing considering the 760 estate tipped the scales at just under two tonnes!
Two years after the launch of the 760, the 740 entered the marketplace sharing the same body style, but with smaller engines and slightly less equipment. The Turbo continued with the 740 – so the 760 turbo was seen as a high speed executive cruiser with a GLE badge; the 740 Turbo was marketed with a genuine sporting theme with visually different alloy wheels and a substantial reduction in price.
The gearbox had the trademark Volvo overdrive button as opposed to a normal five-speed shift pattern – a feature sadly dropped in later models as cost cutting measures took place. What made the 700 turbo’s such a pleasure to drive was the fact it was as docile as a Spring Lamb under normal driving conditions, its long travel suspension soaked up the ruts and bumps while its bombproof build quality gave the driver a eery sense of imortality. The vast never ending bonnet seemed to make objects and hazards seem a million miles away and its mechanical components, though not the first word in high technology, were insulated well from the cabin and simply went on for miles and miles never giving any real cause for concern.
As I write this, I recall the time I took a beaten up 740 estate as a part exchange for a new Vectra back in 2007. The car in question was an 86 D-plate GLE with 290,000 miles on the clock – from just two owners! It sat behind the showroom for six weeks untouched before i was asked to move it to the vehicle compound some two miles away, it fired first turn of the key and even though it stank of dog and other foul odours, it drove better than some cars with more than half its mileage or half its age.
Next time you have a few spare minutes, have a search on the auction sites and used car web pages and see how many of these utterly reliable bricks still survive…
Big Volvos? we love ’em!