Volvo 480 pages
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       The Beginning - The first ideas
       The Development - The story behind development and design
       The Cabrio - Why did it never make it
       Volvo 480 Phase II - The almost-return of 480

        History - THE BEGINNING
In the late seventies, when the first plans for the 480 arose, the dutch Volvo Car BV was merely a subsidiary of the swedish Volvo Car Corporation. This relation implied that the Volvo Car Corporation decided how things were done in Helmond (NL), with a little advice and participation of Volvo Car BV. In 1981 this relation would change in favor of the dutch, but no one knew that back in 1979.
Volvo wanted a new platform, a complete new undercarriage on which the next series 'dutch' Volvos could be build. Dan Warbin, who suffered illness from his stay in the United States, was setting the tone as product planner. The first major demand was that this Volvo was to have front wheel traction, the other one was that the car needed to have a wheelbase of 2.5 meter. On this undercarriage a first model had to be designed. Not a familycar this time, but a leader that would set the trend for the entire new range! Today we all know what the car looks like, but at the time no one had any idea.
Jan Wilsgaard was head of the design department in Gothenborg (S) and was planning the course for Volvo. He gave his people a hard time by inviting four competetors. The 'local styling office' in Helmond (NL) was one of the candidates for the temporal design.
With great interest Robert Koch noted all data and requirements. He knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for his 'branch office'. It would be a 'all or nothing' situation, or as he has said himself: "if this design had not won, this office would not have existed anymore".
The competition was fierce. Bertone was given the same assignment, just like Coggiola. Besides, Jan Wilsgaard was working on a design together with his own staff.
Back home in Helmond, Robert did more than passing on the criteria, he made a competition out of it among his own personnel.
At the first presentation in Sweden, four of the circa one hundred drawings were selected to be carried out as a scale model. One of the models was the design made by John de Vries, with its striking roofline, large glass-surface and steep rear window.
It took until June 9th 1981 before a decision was made in Sweden. Robert Koch had to defend his design against both the management at Helmond as well as the swedish management and the criticism of Jan Wilsgaard, his former superior. "The largest complaint was that it wasn't a Volvo we created. But I was able to point out the large bumpers and the great expectations we had from this design". Who had won the competition will be obvious to you, but did you know that even Per Gyllenhammar (head of Volvo at the time) supported the decision of the board? He seems to have said: "the car certainly differs from other cars, but the shape is functional and the car doesn't have gimmicks".


        History - THE DEVELOPMENT

When the basic shape was determined it was merely an ensemble between the stylists and the technicians. The technicians had to come up with a little understanding for the often a little utopic ideas of the sylists. The designers on the other hand were confronted with technical impossibilities they were unable to counter.
Robert Koch: "When we were determining the definitive shape back in 1981 the Ford Sierra had just been launched. And no matter how you look at it, the car was a trendsetter with all the curved shapes in it. Therefore we too started looking for somewhat rounder shapes in our design. Even Giugiaro wanted to add some rounder shapes in his famous DeLorean design. You just clearly see it was a trend. Of course these curves were abnormalities compared to the robust and boxy characteristics of the 240 and 760.
All the time we had to make sure that the produced version of our design has to be in the same showroom as a 760 and must look like it's a relative!
After this you enter the stage where manufacturing difficulties arise. These have to be solved with good consultation. The nose of the car, for instance, is very sharp, which causes problems when pressing the slabs. However they didn't choose for the procedure where you press the entire nose as a single part, like the 343.
On the first 343 we build a nose that consisted out of several parts, which would make it easier to give the car a facelift. But as soon as the first facelift came we threw the entire design in the bin and started over again. It turned out that mounting a different nose was so labor-intensive that pressing new wheelarches and mounting those was preferred over having to unscrew an entire part and screw the new nose in place. These days, with all the robotics, it's easier to assemble the entire nose near the assembly line and mount the nose in one turn with all the headlights properly adjusted alltogether!
Another problem were the rain-gulleys which the Sierra did have, but would not be present on the 480. On this car we aimed for it not to have raingulleys on the roof. The door covers the entire A-post (the edge between door and front-window) and the seam is located against the roof and not on top of it. Behind the door the roofline is continued with a plastic cover resting on top of the rear-side windows.
Yes, plastic, which is used on the 480 generously. The bumpers, for instance, are mostly made out of synthetic material. Mostly, because it has a metal core to meet the US-criteria for a 5 mph crash. And since the 480 is be the same for all different countries all european countries have 480ies with such a metal core in the bumper.
The accompanying spoiler is of course also made out of plastic, just like the bonnet and the part where the pop-up lights are located. These plastic parts could be painted in the painting facility which was new in 1985."
Back home in Helmond, Robert did more than passing on the criteria, he made a competition out of it among his own personnel.
At the first presentation in Sweden, four of the circa hundred drawings were selected to be carried out as a scale model. One of the models was the design made by John de Vries, with its striking roofline, large glass-surface and steep rear window.

Certain editions have painted sidefenders and bumpers while on other editions these were left blank. Mr. Koch admits that the unusual bumpers aren't the most beautiful part of this car. They were a concession to the identifiability of the car as a Volvo. We had the technique to make and fit bumpers like on a Porsche, where they seem to be an integral part of the fuselage, but our solution has as advantage that the bumper may garble without causing damage to the rest of the car.

What immediately stands out on the car is its slanting nose and pop-up headlights. Robert Koch: "We wanted to emphasize the the aerodynamic shape of the car. What we wanted to avoid was the VW Scirocco, which is very sporty, but always disappoints when you look at the normal grille and headlights in the rear view mirror. We want to keep that sporty character."
The pop-up headlights were chosen to meet US legislation. They claim headlights need to be at a certain height above the road. This law was abandoned as soon as the pop-up design was finished, but it wasn't worth designing the car again but this time without the pop-up lights.
One of the features that may stand out most is the small black triangle at the bottom of the doorwindows. Located in it is the doorlock. This solution was used after the technicians found out that it was impossible to have a decent window-mechanism without seeing a small part of the bar that guides the window (note that the slanted side of the triangle runs parallel with the little glass triangle at the front of the door).
After the triangle was put there the stylists immediately made use of this opportunity. Mr. Koch: "If that thing will be put there then I want the lock to be inside it.
Positive side-effects are that it will be located at a practical height and that people don't scratch the paint when trying to lock or unlock the car. It is also directly connected to the lock-mechanism."
A solution that was immediately patented. Also patented is the rear-window which runs steep down and goes over in the rear-light cluster. These are only identifiable as such when you turn them on, because their reflectors are equiped with smoked glass.
Furthermore a styled wiper is located on the rear-window. It is so designed that the rubber could go straight into the wiperarm. The producers of window wipers, however, prefer to make laborious metal constructions. They won't suddenly throw away their lengthy tradition and adopt a new technique...

Remarkable is that the car has practically no spoilers or other earodynamic parts. Mr Koch: "The aerodynamics are in the main design, that is the tendency. Cars will have less and less need for additions, since the bottom becomes more flat all the time. You often see a low spoiler to prevent air from flowing underneath the car, but when there are practically no parts to obstruct the airflow there it is perfectly all right for air to flow underneath."
This brings us to the delicate matter of Cw-values... Volvo modestly administers a Cw-value of below 0.34, a value that doesn't appear to be extremely low. But Rob Koch knows what he's talking about: "Values entered for most vehicles only aply for the stylingmodels without gulleys, or with only one mirror or very thin tires. You must always keep in mind what you are comparing. Honda has administered the same Cw-value for the Aerodeck as Volvo did for the 480, but after comparison in a windtunnel the Aerodeck appears to have a Cw-value of 0.37 when it is similar equiped as the 480."
The fibreglass bonnet used on the 480 has also got a strong framework on the inside. Rob Koch had seen on the RAI (Amsterdam Car Show) how people were busy breaking the honeycomb structure out of the plastic bonnet of a Citroen BX and wanted to avoid things like that at all cost. Hence it's so hard to see that the SMC (sheet moulded compound) bonnet is different from a standard steel version. Mr Koch: "We choose for a solution that offers the benefits of having a synthetic bonnet, but which doesn't require the emotional acceptation of the customer."

The aluminium 14" 'Pollux' alloys that are fitted on the 1.7 ES as standard have also been designed in Helmond. Five spokes, because all aluminium alloys had five and with a notch between spoke and edge. A shape which, by no incidence, can be found in the steering wheel.
This brings us to the interior of the car. In front of the driver some sort of 'floating' instrument panel has been mounted which provides all data the driver could ask for. Nothing is located next to this panel, the space was used to give the interior its spatial impression. That's why the colors were kept pretty light, without causing risk of reflection in the windscreen. A knee-bar is fitted in the dashboard, also to meet the United States safety demands. It made the dimensions of the glove-box a bit small, but this is largely made up by the storage trays in the doors and the two storage compartments between both the front- and rearseats.
Each occupant has its own chair, and the passengers in the back also have the option of adjusting their chair. The interior provides a decent and proper impression. This has been largely accomplished by Corien Pompe, who was responsible for cloths/fabrics, the finishing touch and more. How did she prevent the 480 becoming a sugary female-car? Corien Pompe: "We have rules for that. With the colouring we took in account that there are harder and softer colortones.
For example, if you put a small grey edge around a surface it tends to look softer, but when you put a black edge around it it tends to look harder." Corien is very pleased with the results of her work, which contains many details a layman can hardly notice. Corien has had a special fabric developed for the 480, a sort of crushed-velours which looks very good in the car. But she's even more charmed with the entire interior as a whole. Corien: "I think the products and the materials from which they were made are very modern. That's what I am really pleased about. Really nice materials have been used." Also important is the fact that the same workmanship standards have been used throughout the entire interior, thus providing a unity between inside and outside, between hard and soft materials. Corien: "Sometimes I deliberately took a basenerve, with the risk that somwhere a nerve would be wrong or too crude, just to keep unity and to finish it off all around." To clarify her view she adds: "You have to communicate from the outside to the inside, your goal has to be a unity. It is not an interior and an exterior, it is one and the same product." Corien also tells that she had been working on other fabrics, like alcantara-leather for the interior, but it didn't meet the Volvo quality standards...
Before the launch of the 480 in 1986 the car was flown with a KLM Jumbo Jet to the australian desert where temperatures could rise above 50 degrees celcius. They wanted to test if the airco worked flawlessly and if the plastic dashboard would not crumble at the enormous high temperatures. It wasn't funny at all to be doing that sort of work, because you were almost damping out of the car with all the heat.
The testcar was always accompanied by other vehicles with Volvo personnel and mechanics. This because on a testcar parts can break down from time to time and you cannot take the car into a town and ask the local mechanics to fix it. There was also a large trailer present where the car could rush into when civilians were around. Volvo didn't want any spy-pictures to spread of this new car.


        History - THE CABRIO

After the Volvo 480 was developed by the 'local styling office' Helmond the project of designing an entire new car seemed to come to an end. Some details needed to be accomplished on the Turbo-version, and for the rest some work was done on the at that time future projects of follow-up vehicles for the 340 and 360. But how do you keep control over a group of enthusiastic car designers when they start to have sparkling new ideas?
Well, those kind of designers just need to be able to blow of steam, or in their case: energy. Even if it's merely to practise their skills.
Some prototypes offered the chance to execute their ideas. Normally these cars, after having run on various testtracks, have a dishonourable end. Their parts are distributed to different laboratory for testing purposes and they mostly end up on a wreckyard. Mostly, but not always! One of the cars went to the design office in Helmond. Robert Koch again started competition among his personnel to... develop a cabrio version of the 480!
Two designers applied for the job: the british Steve Harper, who had led the 480-project as a freelancer, and the dutch Cor Steenstra who had won third prize in the design-competition of the dutch magazine 'AutoSelekt' in 1983 and afterwards was added to the design-team lead by Rob Koch.
The demands were simple: no changes to the base of the car, it had to be a practical 2 + 2 vehicle, and to honour the old Volvo safety tradition (they didn't want to backbite Volvo too much) the car had to be fitted with a roll-bar. This last demand meant that the car would not follow the trend set by other brands of having nothing but the windscreen to stick out above the waistline of the car.
Steve and Cor choose to go each their own way in designing the cabrio. This meant that later on 2 seperate designs were made, both on paper as in polyester. Steve's design showed a somewhat higher and sturdy reardeck and Cor choose for a somewhat lower and flat reardeck. The eventual result was based on Steve's design, but with additions from Cor it became a more refined design. Behind the rearseats for example are two elevations which remind of the aerodynamic sportscars from the fifties.
Cor gave these a function: they could well serve as storage compartments or, very clever, a first-aid kit compartment. The rear-cover consists out of two parts. The first part is the actual luggage compartment and the second is the location of the soft-top just as in the BMW of the time. With the top down the 480 looks very elegant, like a real Spider.
The effect of the normal rear-window, which seemed to form a unity together with the rearlight cluster didn't have to be rejected because the rearlights were absorbed in a smokeglass panel which gave a similar charisma.
Because of the high reardeck the roll-bar seems to be lower, emphasizing the sporty character of the car. Furthermore the driver and the passengers are located very low above the road leading to almost identical safety-figures as the normal 480. The 2 + 2 principle has to be interpreted rather fairly: behind the front seats is room for two children who may not be too tall!
Rob Koch decided to have the cabrio fitted free of gimmicks or futuristic details.
He believes it is superfluous because the ordinary 480 already is a balanced car alltogether. On three points his personnel was allowed to make an exception:
First of all the rearwheels would be located a bit wider from each other, this way the design with the roll-bar would look more robust. Second Corien Pompe was set at liberty to make changes to the outside color and the interior, this to make the car differ a little from the original 480.
Corien had discovered a new technique with leather, cotton and vinyl. This fabric would offer more hold to its occupants, but it also offered the opportunity to break with the traditional fabrics with stripes, squares and dots. Choosing the color was based on the new trend of looking for softer tones combined with metallic paint. The cabrio-prototype was toned very light purple. Also in the interior a small purple line could be found, but not as abundant as some racing drivers attempt. The bumpers were kept in almost the same tone as the car instead of high-contrasting colors.
The car would have been more than welcome at the time. In a british magazine the then selling 340 was bombed 'most boring car' and the germans wrote that the 340 diesel was the slowest of its kind. Not exactly an image to be proud of.
After having build some prototypes it was a real shame when one of the suppliers for parts went bankrupt. So much had been invested in the development of the 480 cabrio and now the entire project was cancelled.
One of the 480 cabriolets can be admired in the Volvo Museum in Gothenborg. Another one is a red one which is kept at a secret location. Every now and then it makes an appearance on a Volvo event...


        History - Volvo 480 PHASE II

Somewhere in the beginning of the nineties Helmond was working on the Volvo 480 PHASE II. The most significant changes were the disappearing of the pop-up headlights. These were replaced by normal headlight units located at the place where the day-running lights and long range lights used to be fitted.
Furthermore the bonnet design had changed. It would now cover the entire distance from windscreen to frontbumper.
Then finally the bumpers itself also were changed. The bumpers had become a little smaller to give the car a more aggressive look. You have to decide for yourself whether you like it or not that this car never made it into production.