Volvo traveled to the 1986 Geneva Motor Show to introduce the 480, a small hatchback that was billed as the spiritual successor to the P1800. The 480’s design was loosely inspired by Bertone’s 1979 Tundra concept and as a result it differed greatly from the rest of the Volvo lineup. It was constructed with a sizable amount of plastic, something that couldn’t be said about the 200-Series, and it featured pop-up headlights that accentuated its wedge shape.
The 480 was equally innovative under the skin because it was Volvo’s first-ever mass-produced front-wheel drive car. Since the Swedish automaker had little experience in the field, it enlisted Lotus to help design the hatchback’s rear suspension setup. The partnership was successful and most period road tests indicate that the 480 handled very well.
Volvo dug around the Renault parts bin and launched the 480 with a 1.7-liter water-cooled four-cylinder engine. A turbocharged unit fine-tuned by Porsche and a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-banger were added later in the production run.
Interestingly, the 480 was designed to be sold in the United States and it was equipped with DoT-mandated five-mph bumpers and side marker lights. The unfavorable currency exchange rate between the U.S. and Sweden caused Volvo to cancel its trans-Atlantic export plans at the last minute and focus exclusively on the European market.
480 production ended in 1995 after roughly 76,000 examples rolled off of the Born, Holland, assembly line. The car had no direct successor but the C30 that was presented at the 2006 Paris Motor Show was essentially a 480 for the 21st century.
The 480 today
480s are an uncommon sight throughout most of Europe and well-preserved examples are getting difficult to find. A group called Volvo 480 Club of Europe was formed in 2000 and counts over 4,700 members today, a good sign that a growing community of enthusiasts is interested in preserving the remaining examples.
Will 480s go up in value as they get older, or will they follow the path blazed by the 343/345 and be forgotten about?