Volvo’s recent plans to bring the next-generation V40 hatch to the States reminded us of the fact that Volvo has almost always kept some models out of North America…which is why you can buy a V40 Cross Country hatch in just about every European country. Even before that model debuted, the Gothenburg-based automaker kept a unique model or three on its side of the Atlantic, sometimes with good cause.
With the Chinese-made S60 Inscription now trying to make long-wheelbase midsize sedans “a thing” in the States, it’s time to take a look at some notable cars from the Swedish marque that we never got.
1. Volvo 264TE by Bertone
Bertone’s personal luxury limousine is the rarest version of the 200 series, and there’s a good reason: virtually all of them went to East Germany, where they were used as government limousines. The 264TE featured a redesigned rear-passenger compartment, longer rear doors and a redesigned C-pillar section buying an impressive amount of room for the VIPs it transported.
Just around 300 of these were said to be built, with the overwhelming majority of examples settling in and around East Berlin. The sluggish PRV V6 powered the 264TE, but compared to just about everything else on the streets of the DDR it was a supercar.
Despite the tiny production run, Volvo went through the trouble of creating sales brochures for the car, even though the individuals ordering it were government bureaucracies that didn’t really care about cars or design. But the design turned out to be far more fortunate than on some other Volvo/Bertone collaborations (not going to name names — they know who they are).
Due to government maintenance, a good number of these survived the collapse of the DDR, only to be ignored by the car collectors, so it’s not too difficult to find one for sale today.
Was America denied something awesome? The average Cadillac of the day was twice as wide as the 240, so it wouldn’t have competed well with American barges of the time.
Can I import one? Yes, and you’ll be the first to do so.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s a 200 series limo for the East German government.”
2. S90 Royal Hermes
North America had the S90 in the 900 series’ twilight years, but we never got the S90 Royal Hermes, a stretched and even more luxurious version of Gothenburg’s luxobarge. Swedish coachbuilder Nilsson produced these sedans for Volvo featuring a redesigned C-pillar, longer rear doors and an interior with Hermes leather. The result was something akin to the BMW L7, even though the S90 did not have an insert after the B-pillar.
The S90 Royal Hermes proved to be popular in the diplomatic corps … and nowhere else. The S90 arrived toward the latter half of 960/S90 production and at a time when the model was facing stiff competition from newer German rivals like the BMW L7 and the various Mercedes-Benz W140-based limos.
Was America denied something awesome? As much as we would have loved to see them, it wouldn’t have made economic sense for Volvo to import them. Volvo had enough trouble selling the aging S90.
Can I import one? Strangely enough, no. You’ll have a wait a few more years, though examples of the six-passenger Volvo 960 limos can still be found and purchased in the U.S. We’re not making this up; we’ve seen a couple.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s a slightly longer S90 sedan, basically.”
3. Volvo 340
What became the Volvo 340 and 360 was originally planned as the DAF 77, until Volvo took an interest in the Dutch automaker and its lineup. Volvo’s smallest car in the early 1970s was still the 140 series, soon to become the 240, and it needed a range of smaller, affordable cars. DAF planned to release the car under its own name, but Volvo took over the passenger car division in 1975, adding its own badges to a car ready to go into production.
DAF was famous for one thing among passenger cars: its Variomatic continuously variable transmission. The Volvo 340 debuted with Renault’s 1.3-liter engine, but later models gained Volvo’s own 1.7-liter and 2.0-liter units. The most powerful engine on these would end up being the 2.0-liter engine out of the Volvo 240 which produced all of 116 hp, and that version would ditch the Variomatic CVT for the M45 transmission out of the 200 series. The later 300-series cars adopted a bit of Volvo parts-bin items as the cars were updated, remaining mildly popular in western and northern Europe. Just three examples would find their way to North America, all private imports.
Was America denied something awesome? The 340 had the potential to undercut the 240 in price by just a tiny bit, perhaps making some business sense, but it would have been slower as well. It’s also hard to predict how Americans would have liked the CVT at that point in time.
Can I import one? Yes.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s a Dutch-made DAF that became a Volvo.”
The 480 was a revolutionary car for Volvo in many ways. It was the marque’s first front-wheel-drive car and the only hatchback Volvo made in the 20th century after the P1800 left production in the 1970s. The 480 kept the glass-hatch/shooting-brake design of the P1800 but adopted a wedge shape along with a modern interior and exterior design, one that looked very different from the rest of the lineup. The car was designed with the U.S. market in mind and featured 5-mph impact bumpers, as mandated by the NHTSA, as well as the familiar rectangular side markers.
The 480 debuted in 1987, sharing a platform with the 440 and 460 sedans, with a turbo model going into production a year later. The 480 offered a spacious interior for a hatch, but it was ultimately let down by shoddy electrics and various plastics issues, which is why it’s a major challenge to find a nicely sorted example today. It can be done: There are at least a couple examples in the States, all brought in within the last few years.
Was America denied something awesome? Out of the seven cars listed here, this one had the potential to be popular going up against things like the Volkswagen Golf.
Can I import one? Yes.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s the predecessor of the C30.”
Since Volvo’s acquisition of DAF, the Dutch automaker’s cars filled out the compact side of the lineup with the 300 series. But by the early 1980s, the 300 series was already getting old and in need of replacement. To put the Dutch automaker’s resources to use, Volvo designed the 400 series to replace the DAF-derived cars. The 440 debuted in 1987 and featured the familiar Volvo design that to some extent would preview the 850, but in a slightly more compact package.
Gas engines in the 440 and 460 sedans ranged in displacement from 1.6 liters to 2.0 liters, while a 1.9-liter diesel engine was also available. The 400-series cars had a front-wheel-drive layout and were even offered with a DAF CVT, even though a five-speed manual and a four-speed auto proved to be much more popular choices down the road. The 440 and 460 were available in a huge selection of trim levels and stayed in production till 1997, adopting the 850’s softer design language.
Was America denied something awesome? On one hand, the 850 was pretty close in size, but the 440 could have gone up against the Volkswagen Jetta with mini-850 styling.
Can I import one? Yes, and you’ll be the first one to do so.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s an 850 that was shrunk in the dryer.”
If you look really closely, you can sometimes tell that this is a long-wheelbase version.
6. Volvo S80L
We had the second-generation Volvo S80, but China managed to get a longer one. Long-wheelbase versions of European sedans large and small are a market favorite in the Middle Kingdom, and Volvo offered a version that was 5.5 inches longer, with that length going to rear-seat legroom. Instead of a 4.4-liter Yamaha V8 under the hood, the S80L came with a 2.0-liter inline-four or a 3.0-liter inline-six.
Was the S80 appreciably longer? Volvo moved some things around on the inside to offer a bit more room for rear-seat passengers, but if you saw one of these in a grocery-store parking lot in the States, you probably wouldn’t notice that it’s the long-wheelbase model. It remains to be seen whether the S90 that will replace the S80 in a few months will spawn an even longer version for the Chinese market that the company will let North America in on.
Was America denied something awesome? A short-wheelbase S80 didn’t make much sense to begin with, given the fact that people cross-shopped these with larger luxury sedans.
Can I import one? No.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? “It’s here illegally!”
7. Volvo 66
An evolution of the DAF 55 design, the 66 debuted in 1972 just as Volvo was starting to take an interest in Van Doorne’s Automobiel Fabriek. Available as a two-door sedan, a three-door wagon and a 2+2 coupe, the 55 featured a CVT and engines sourced from Renault. Not very big engines either: A 1.3-liter four-cylinder was the main powerplant offered, producing all of 50 hp.
The interiors were basic but comfortable with a surprising amount of room inside, at least for the front-seat occupants. The drivetrains in the 66 were also very reliable, even if the top speed was nothing to write home about. In the Dutch countryside, that didn’t matter; the car wasn’t designed for blasting around on the interstate.
Was America denied something awesome? The 66 was a smaller, slower version of the 340 with a CVT and a small Renault engine. The 140 series of the time was a spacious luxury car, by comparison, and the 66 would have had to battle a tremendous variety of Japanese and European imports.
Can I import one? Yes.
How will I be able to explain this at classic car shows? You won’t have to — Volvo enthusiasts will just come up to you to shake your hand.