The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : Meet the owner - James Ross Sinclair and his Volvo 343 The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : Meet the owner - James Ross Sinclair and his Volvo 343
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Meet the owner - James Ross Sinclair and his Volvo 343

For many years, James Ross Sinclair craved a Volvo 343 and so XRU 557Y recently joined his Triumph 2000 Mk. II and his Renault 10.

I have an odd almost unexplainable liking for them. Partly the multicultural background, partly the DAF history, the questionable British snob value of a small Volvo, the odd design - and they are genuinely fun to drive too’

Volvo 343A further inspiration behind James’s acquisition of this fine vehicle was that shortly after passing his test he ‘drove a rather well to do lady around in her 300; a kind of British Driving Miss Daisy.  I remember thinking it was an odd car even then’.

DAF commenced work on “Project 99” at the end of the 1960s.

By 1975 Volvo had acquired a majority share in the Dutch concern, and when the 343 made its bow in early 1976 it was under the auspices of the new parent company.

However, it was still made in The Netherlands and, as a further sign of its origins, it featured “Variomatic” transmission.

The early models were plagued with reliability issues while the performance from the Renault-sourced 1,397cc engine was best described as ‘limited’.

Volvo worked hard to resolve the quality issues and as the decade progressed the 343 was incredibly seen as the ideal car for anyone replacing their old 66 (which remained available until as recently as 1980) or trading in their Opel Kadett.

The range was gradually expanded with the option of the M45 manual gearbox, sourced from the 200, from August 1978 onwards.

James prefers this transmission but likes ‘the idea of the Vario though. I’ve been in a few, and it feels like a clutch slipping with engine noise and revs never quite in harmony. The appeal of the car was undoubtedly widened when Volvo fitted their own manual gearbox - but the original Vario was clever’.

At £3,350 a four-speed 343 cost within £5 of a five-door VW Golf GLS and slightly more than a 1.6-litre Chrysler Sunbeam.

Autocar regarded the Volvo as ‘not too expensive’ considering its ‘fairly generous specification and quality of construction’.

In 1979, the very sensible What Car magazine voted the 343 “Hatchback of the Year”. Equally importantly, it also appealed to thousands of British motorists who regarded it, regardless of the DAF connection, as a form of scaled-down 244.

The introduction of the GL (tinted windows and metallic paint as standard) at the end of the 1970s only increased its appeal.

Production of the 300 ceased in 1991, by which time it was as much part of suburban life as Gordon Brittas-types who presided over the local social club.

James’s 1982 example is a GL – ‘a super low mileage original and the interior colour combo is a winner too’. 

The cabin is indeed a symphony in burgundy in addition to serving as a further reminder why the 343 achieved such a strong following in the UK.

Back in 1976, Richard Hudson-Evans of Thames TV’s Drive In programme worried that the 343 might look too  unusual to ‘convert customers from other marques’  - but enthusiasts such as Mr. Sinclair prefer the term ‘individual’


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