When one mentions ‘C70’, the first thing that pops up the minds of many is the Honda C70 underbone bike. However, there is another iconic C70 which some of you would’ve never heard of – the Volvo C70, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year.
First shown to the world at the 1996 Paris Motor Show, the C70 was Volvo’s first “proper” coupé since the 1800 model, and it was also the first time Volvo had cooperated with engineering firm TWR on a new car. Furthermore, it was to be built partly using new methods at a newly opened plant in the Swedish town of Uddevalla.
The C70’s story started at the beginning of the 1990s when Volvo decided to expand its passenger car programme with a coupé and a cabriolet based on the 850.
With limited experience in developing such a characteristically niche product and limited time, a small project group was formed in early 1994 led by Håkan Abrahamsson, who chose to cooperate with the British engineering firm TWR, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who were already involved with Volvo’s racing team in the BTCC.
The team had just a couple of months during 1994 to define the project, and they got to work almost straight away with a comprehensive competitor analysis. The project group had to cancel their holidays and instead headed to the south to France to rent and try out coupés and cabriolets from their key competitors.
While most of the design and development work took place at TWR near Oxford in England, Volvo was responsible for the basic technical structure.
It is said that the project group was given an unusually free hand in terms of shaping the car, and head of design Peter Horbury wanted to change the idea that Volvo design was angular and boxy.
When TWR’s Ian Callum showed sketches of a coupé that featured a significantly arched roofline and sculpted sides following proposals that had been considered “too Volvo”, the matter was decided. The design would go on to remain almost unchanged right up to production.
The new car had the same wheelbase as the Volvo 850 and was the same length, but it still gave the impression that it was rather more dapper. As it was already known from the beginning that the car would also be produced as a cabriolet, the development team ensured that the design worked both with and without a roof.
And so, after 30 months of studying, researching, and developing, the Volvo C70 finally entered production.
While the front clearly linked to Volvo, the rest of the body was significantly curvier than anything previously released by the company - at least the first in a long time.
In fact, the C70 was the car responsible for heralding a new design direction that would characterise many future Volvo models.
According to Volvo, freedom of choice was what it wanted the C70 to offer customers. For instance, there were 17 different paint colours to choose between. Solid, metallic and pearl. As for the interior, there were 40 different interior combinations with differences in material and colours, making the choices almost endless.
As good as it looked, it was crucial that the C70 performed just as well. The C70 was therefore launched exclusively with five cylinder turbo engines. The strongest engine, at 2.3 litres and 240 hp, was shared with the Volvo 850R. A calmer version, at 2.5 litres and 193 hp, was also released at the same time, and there were also 2 litre versions offering 180 and 225 hp respectively for markets where cylinder volume determines taxation levels.
The news that the Volvo C70 Coupé would be joined by a cabriolet was announced at the same time as the coupé was launched. The C70 Cabriolet was unveiled one year later and it was the first convertible Volvo of the modern era.
The design stood the test of time and did not change significantly during the nine years of life enjoyed by the first generation. The Volvo C70 Coupé was manufactured until 2002, while the cabriolet lived on for a further three years until April 2005. By this time, 76,809 C70s had been built, of which 27,014 were coupés and 49,795 cabriolets.
The second generation C70 convertible, featuring a three piece retractable hardtop and built by Pininfarina, was launched at Paris Motor Show in September 2005.
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