What happens when you blend Swedish engineering with Italian styling? (And please, no meatball jokes!) Volvo answered that with the 780, also known as the 1987-1991 Bertone Coupe. It was not Volvo’s first dalliance with an Italian design.
It had long been thought that the Volvo 1800S sports coupe of the 1960s was designed by Italian coachbuilder Pietro Frua, who had also done Maserati models of the period. In fact, the 1800S designer was a Swede, Pelle Petterson, who was an apprentice of Frua’s. Fair to say, there is an Italian influence reflected in the 1800S, and a passing resemblance to some Maserati and Ferrari coupes of that time.
Flash forward to the late 1970s and Volvo engaged Italian design firm Bertone to add some pizzazz to its line. Bertone’s name can be found attached to numerous high-end and premium European designs from the 1950s to the present day. The resulting car was based on the 200-series coupe and was known as the 262C, and then later simply “Coupe.” Bertone not only designed this model, but built it, as well, in Italy. In essence, its main divergence from the standard Volvo body was a lowered roofline and a more raked-back windshield. The interior sported additional luxuries.
The 262C was not everyone’s cup of glogg, but the follow up in 1987 was a smash – the 780. This time, Bertone had more latitude with the design, and the 780 had its own body. The 780’s shape echoed some themes Bertone had been applying to its coupe designs since the 1960s, and the result was a car that still looks fresh 20 years later.
The 780 was based on the 700-series platform, but was sleeker than the sedan and wagon models. It was not simply a two-door sedan, but rather a true coupe in style. Chrome was used judiciously to trim the windows and door handles. Though it appeared lower than other Volvo 700 models, the 780’s roof was just 0.4-inches lower than its sedan cousins.
Mechanically, the 780 shared its parts with the 760, including, at first, the V6 engine and solid-axle rear suspension. Multi-link independent rear suspension came for 1988, and demand for more performance resulted in the use of Volvo’s excellent turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, which made 188 hp, in later years. In the U.S., the standard transmission was a four-speed automatic.
One print ad for the 780 used the headline, “For those who want something more than a Volvo but will accept nothing less.” The copy billed the car as the “limited edition 780 coupe by Bertone of Italy,” and reinforced its luxury stature, stating that everything was standard on this model – there were no extra-cost options. The dashboard with its “11 separate layers of hand-rubbed lacquered beech” was one detail called out.
The 780 cost upward of $40,000 at the end of its run. It is a special, though not exceptionally rare car, with 5,700 imported to the U.S. But that’s what helps make it so accessible today. The 780 is a swift, easy-driving luxury GT and can still hold its own in modern company. Since parts are shared with the 760 Turbo models, replacements are available. Some owners choose to upgrade performance with aftermarket parts as well. Driving enthusiasts prefer the turbo four to the earlier V6.
The 780 made a strong design statement for Volvo, and it holds a special place in brand history. It is also a “genuine Bertone,” and that’s pretty impressive on its own. Today, a few thousand dollars can buy a piece of Volvo history that’s also a great every day driver.