Volvo has long been recognized for its boxiness and its Swedish sensibilities but it wasn’t always so. For February 2012, Volvo is celebrating the 30th birthday of the original 760 GLE sedan, the car that saved the Volvo Car Corporation.
During 1975, automakers across the world were badly beaten by the effects of the oil crisis. Struggling to build quality cars in a difficult economy and an uncertain future, Volvo needed to create a vehicle that would be successful despite the volatility of the times. With limited resources, Volvo did its best to thoroughly analyze trends that shift the market. Finally, Volvo determined that what it needed to create is a vehicle that highlights reliability, fuel efficiency, longevity, serviceability, low noise levels, design and performance. Project “P31” was born.
For cost reasons, the foundation was built upon technical content carried over from the 240 series predecessor with minor modifications. However, the enhanced recipe was brilliant. The new rear-wheel drive Volvo would get a wheelbase stretched another 10 cm for stability while its overhangs were shortened for a shorter overall length than the 240. In the weight department, the new Volvo was effectively reduced 100 kg.
As for the design, Volvo needed to create an angular, straight, and flat body panel design to minimize production costs. While many sketches were proposed, Volvo head of design Jan Wilsgaard finally introduced a design with striking identity and market appeal. Known as the cutback, the Volvo sedan featured a drawn out rear end that ended abruptly, providing a spacious and comfortable feeling from inside the cabin, and a characteristic profile from the exterior. Amid all the slippery soap bar shaped vehicles that other manufacturers offered, the Volvo’s radical box design was sure to stick out and attract a following.
Close to completion, Volvo renamed the prototype as “1155”, or 5 minutes to midnight, to suggest the final phases of development. The 1155 was sent off to 3,200,000 km of field testing and shakedowns in 3 continents and the most extreme climates, where it was challenged in every thinkable manner.
The completed Volvo 760 finally made its public reveal on February 1982. Featuring an automatic transmission, air conditioning, a sunroof, power steering, and 3 engine choices including a four-cylinder turbo, a V6 bored out to 2.8 liters, and a Volkswagen-built turbodiesel, critics were surprised at how powerful, comfortable, and pleasant to drive the 760 turned out to be. At the time, the turbodiesel 760 was the quickest accelerating diesel car in the world.
Sales took off instantly, both in Sweden and abroad. Its success allowed one of the longest product-lives of any vehicle, when the 1998 Volvo V90 became the last Volvo car to carry its technical and architectural roots back to the 760. So why are we looking back to a car that Volvo introduced 30 years ago? Because it still stands as a pillar of what Volvo represents today.