Here I share my secret fantasy for those non British models – both past and present. The trade used to call them Bird Cages while dull schoolteachers adored them and mature drivers cossetted them.
Ladies and gentleman, boys & girls… its the Volvo 360
Tested by dummies… driven by the intelligent
Old Volvos… I love ’em to bits me. Ever since I were a small boy as Fred Dibnah used to say, I’ve had deep rooted respect for quite a lot of things hailing from Sweden. You’ll often find me singing along to “Soo Per Per – Troo Per Per” if its on the wireless and there’s always a bag of Pogen branded Krisp rolls in our kitchen cupboards… by royal appointment to the King of Sweden didn’t you know eh? A cup of strong sweet tea and well buttered Krisp roll is the snack from heaven!
Right back to the days when my modes of transport were either a Darlington Corporation Leyland Leopard or my 12 speed Raleigh racing bike, one of my favourite pastimes was collecting brochures. Our town once sported a large Volvo outlet and the sales folk were always pleasant and courteous in palming me off with all the latest promotional material – Mill Garages Darlington, gone… but not forgotten. Even at manufacturer level Volvo played their part in my youth.
“They were a bit like an Austin Mini but in reverse… large on the outside yet laughably cramped on the inside”
When studying for my GCSE exams in motor vehicle engineering, the company UK head office provided me with an alarming wad of files, facts and figures all to do with engineering, safety and crash reports of Volvo cars up to 1987 – all retyped and translated into English and sourced from Sweden. When the parcel came through the post it was almost as thick as an Argos catalogue – I kid you not. The postage frank amounted to more than what my parents probably spent on stamps in a whole year, they even sent on a huge model 700 estate a week later.
As was the case then, as is the case now, It wasn’t the loony models like the 740 or 760 Turbo that I adored, nor was it the push – me – pull – you looking 240 saloon. My Swedish love affair, along with the SAAB 900 of course… was the entry range 300 series but in 2.0 form. They were a bit like an Austin Mini but in reverse – large on the outside yet laughably cramped on the inside. A spin off from their involvement with DAF, the 300 range eventually grew from the 340 (offering a 1.4 or 1.7 Renault engine) or 360 series that featured the same B series 2.0 litre engine from the larger 240 model in carb (GLS) or injection (GLT) flavour.
“Despite the large engine capacity, the 360GLS was a 2.0 carb fed model that wasn’t remotely quick. The kerb weight of the model made sure that a standard 1600 Astra would roundly trounce it away from the lights”
My admiration for the car also had a “girl next door” theme to it – see the caption on the image below. One of my best friends next door neighbours (with a lovely daughter a similar age to me) owned a stunning metallic blue 360 GLS. Even in the darkest dank winter days this car always looked factory fresh like the moment it plopped off the assembly line in 1980s, I can still see and smell that blue striped draylon cloth upholstery. Despite the large engine capacity the 360GLS was a 2.0 carb fed model that wasn’t remotely quick. The kerb weight of the model made sure that a standard 1600 Astra would roundly trounce it away from the lights.
The leggy gearing, torque biased long stroke engine and leaf sprung rear suspension made sure that even the GLT with its 2.0i plant was not really much faster and certainly no where near as nimble than say an XR3i. Also, it was rather too big compared to rivals, looked clumsy and boxy and didn’t really handle that well, but it got worse inside too. Owing to gearbox being in the rear axle assembly and the fuel tank position being under the rear seat cushion, sitting in the back of one was rather like travelling inside a charabanc as the rear seat was a few inches higher than those sat in the front. But boy were they comfortable chairs.
The boot sill was too high, there wasn’t that much rear legroom and they drank like the guests at a Gypsy post – funeral wake… but I loved ’em, so did the Volvo customers and everyone I’ve ever known who ran one. Just like the advert depicted, the Volvo 300 series was tough as nails. The motor trade used to call them bird cages – mainly because of all the metal bars and impact beams built into the body shell. To say they were almost indestructible would be pretty much bang on the money, those of you of a certain age will remember the advert with the kamikaze test dummy driving one out of an upstairs window surely? It was for the 340 actually but you’ll get the gist.
Another personal contact of mine ran a 360GLT who wrote one off during a midnight race along the A428. Overcooking the rear end on a wet bend found him spinning off the road, hurtle through a picket fence and barrel roll down a ten foot embankment into a rapeseed crop field… landing on its side. Going back to the scene of the crime the following day and pushing the stricken Swede onto its feet again, the farmer was silenced with money and his services were hired to drag the plucky lucky Volvo out of the field and back onto the main road. With a bit of tinkering it fired up and drove, albeit rather wobbly, back to Northampton… to be scrapped.
“Whereby Mrs & Mrs Bucket (pron: bouquet) drove a Rover 216, down at number 38 Mr & Mrs Col Hemsby-Brown owned a gold 760… with a 360 tucked in the garage…”
The last time I saw mad Martyn – some twelve or so years after the last paragraph, he was a sales manager driving a silver Volvo V70 – funny how events make lasting choices isn’t it? But that’s the interesting thing, they sold well because they were rock solid and more often than not a second car in the affluent household that tended to own… a larger Volvo no less. Whereby Mrs & Mrs Bucket (pron: bouquet) drove a Rover 216, down at number 38 Mr & Mrs Col Hemsby-Brown owned a gold 760… with a 360 tucked in the garage for the wife or when the big one was in for service.
So they were heavy, cumbersome, slow and thirsty with nothing extravagant in terms of standard equipment… what indeed was the rub? Incredibly, they had impressive second hand residual value, the 2.0 engine was almost bombproof, they were comfortable and once in the hands of the third or fourth owner, laughably simple to wield a spanner on. Have a think of when you last saw one, if you did you’re lucky as most of them have ended up in the hands of the crayon sucking drift boys. Funny really… the car is now appreciated by todays youngsters over 25 years after their Grandparents were buying them new!
What was great?
- Torquey engine
- Solid and dependable
- Not difficult to service / repair
- Held their used values
- Were nearly always well cared for
- Super comfy seats
- Cruised along with decent refinement
- Had a “cut above” image about them
- Even the injected GLT was a bit slow despite its large engine
- Handled like a shot Giraffe – especially in poor weather
- Interior space belied its exterior dimensions
- Rather poorly equipped even in top trim level
- Drank petrol like it was going out of style
- Volvos 5dr hatch for the 80s… but those in their 90s liked them too