1977–81 Volvo 262C: That most Broughamtastic Volvo
A frequent commenter (who goes by CJ) on another site that I write for had this to say about a Volvo 262C post that I wrote months ago: “The genesis of the Volvo … was actually a Swedish trip by U.S. Ford executives to learn about Volvo’s innovative humane production line. They brought along a fleet of Mark IVs to drive, and Volvo management decided to find a way to make something similar.
“This car was the result of Volvo having an innovative approach to factory management in the ’70s that was thought to be improving quality and labor retention. Ford sent a contingent of executives, including Henry the Deuce, to Sweden to check it out. They brought a number of Lincoln Mark IVs to drive while they were there. Volvo’s CEO Per Gyllenhammar was green with envy at the style of the Lincolns, so Volvo’s designers were tasked with building something similar. They couldn’t tool up for a limited run of cars that were so different from the usual boxes, so they farmed out production to Bertone.”
I’d remembered reading a story about that years ago. I thought it was in a book I got from Mike and Cathy Lundahl, owners of Lundahl Volvo in Moline, Illinois, back in the ’80s. They were friends of my parents, and my parents bought their Volvos from Mike, so we saw a lot of them. I came home from the hospital in my mom’s dark blue 1977 245DL wagon. Anyway, the book, titled Volvo: The Cars From the ’20s to the ’80s, was published by Volvo and was a treasure trove of pics and information for the preteen version of yours truly.
Shortly after reading CJ’s comment, curiosity got the best of me. I dug up my book and was surprised to see no mention of the Ford brain trust visiting the Kalmar facility back in the 1970s. After looking through the other half-dozen Volvo books I own, I saw no reference whatsoever in the sections on the 262C. But I know I read it somewhere, dammit! Fortunately, CJ backed up the info by providing a link to a story in The New York Times archive. If you’re not the link-clicking type, below is a summary, borrowed from another site.
“Volvo’s first luxury coupe, the V-6-powered 262C, had an unusual genesis, as explained by Bob Austin, who was a 31-year Volvo employee and the company’s director of marketing communications from 1991 through 2001: ‘Volvo was at the leading edge of reinventing factory work in the 1970s. The CEO, Pehr Gyllenhammar, felt life in the car business was inhumane—that factory work only took advantage of people’s arms and legs.
“He authorized the building of Kalmar, the new factory that became the world’s first automotive team assembly plant. People worked in small groups, and the cars moved from station to station—they felt that with more worker engagement, there would be fewer defects, fewer work-related injuries, and reduced employee turnover. Automakers around the world were interested in this plant, and in the mid-1970s, an American industrialist entourage led by Henry Ford II traveled to Sweden to inspect the factory.
“When they arrived, they brought over a number of cars to drive, all two-door Lincoln Mark coupes with low roofs and wide C-pillars. American cars were rare in Sweden, and they caught the attention of people both inside and outside of Volvo. We wanted to build a car like that, but we knew it would have to be done off-line and that the tooling costs would be too much. Our people were talking to the people at Carrozzeria Bertone at an auto show in Europe, and Bertone expressed great interest in the project; the two companies had previously teamed up to build the Europe-only 264TE limousine.”
I found another link from Hemmings that told essentially the same story. Verrrrry interesting, as the late, great Arte Johnson frequently said on Laugh-In back in the ’60s. Although I always DID think these looked like a Volvo version of the then-current Eldorado and Continental Mark V and Mark VI coupes. The Brougham for people who think?
As most of my three regular readers know (four on weekends!), I am a big fan of Cadillacs and Lincolns from the 1970s. Combine that with all the Volvos my parents owned when I was growing up, and here we have the perfect hybrid. I’ve always loved those seats. Like buttah! But I never knew how the car had come to be in such detail before CJ piped up. So, thank you sir. I may not have seen a 262C since the ’80s, but I still love these cars.