Tuesday August 21, 2018
When the Volvo 262C made its bow at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, it would be fair to say that it could not be mistaken for any other car on the planet. It was the first two-door coupe to bear the famous marque name since the P1800 had ceased production in 1973, but that was more of a grand tourer - and, apart from the late model ES estate variant, it had no pretentions towards being a four-seater. The 262C was as luxurious as its coachwork was uncompromising, and it appealed to the select few.
In the UK, the flagship Volvo was always going to be a niche product, thanks to its price tag and its looks – which were variously described as ‘unique’, individual’, and ‘Sherman Tank”. But then the 262C was not aimed at the well-heeled British motorist who might have otherwise considered a Reliant Scimitar GTE or even a Jaguar XJ6 Coupe.
This was a Volvo for a New York corporate lawyer in the Cadillac Eldorado bracket who wanted the social cachet of an ‘imported car’ to display at their country club. Indeed, one of the inspirations for the 262C was the Lincoln Continental Mk. IV.
In the mid-1970s Volvo’s management devised a plan to build a six-cylinder coupe, based on the two-door 262GL saloon (which itself was built for the American market) and with an innate appeal to the US motorist. The running gear, floorpan and much of the coachwork was the same as the standard model, but the 262C would sport a lowered roofline, a steeply raked windscreen and substantial C-pillars.
The cabin was decorated with elm veneer - the leather finished even extended to the grab handles – with air conditioning and cruise control as standard equipment. The majority of cars were fitted with automatic transmission - a manual gearbox was a rarely specified no-cost extra – and the original colour choice was “Mystic Silver” while a vinyl roof enhanced the Volvo’s quite formidable appearance.
The 262C was assembled by Bertone of Turin rather than in Sweden, which assisted Volvo from both a practical viewpoint (their factory space was at a premium) and gave their range-topper the additional sales appeal of an association with a famous coachbuilder. In the USA the Volvo cost $2,000 more than a Cadillac Eldorado, but it was never intended to be a mass-seller for its role to bring lustre to the 200 range.
Early forecasts were for no more than 800 examples per year but when production ended in 1981 6,622 of the 262C had been sold. The last models were fitted with the 2.8-litre engine of the later 260 saloons and lacked a vinyl roof while the paint finish options extended to gold, black and light blue.
It almost goes without saying that any 262C is a highly collectable machine, and, in its own way, a car of aesthetic wonder. One famous owner was David Bowie and his 262C was sold at auction earlier this year for £160,735.
The thought of the great performance artist (and Anthony Newley impersonator) driving a Volvo coupe through Geneva remains an intriguing one – especially if he was playing The Laughing Gnome on the stereo…