Volvo 480

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Volvo 480
Volvo480 TwoTone.JPG
1992 Volvo 480 TwoTone
Manufacturer Volvo Cars
Production 1986–1995
Assembly Born, Netherlands (NedCar)
Designer John de Vries (1981)[1]
Body and chassis
Class Compact car (C)
Body style Hatchback, coupé
Layout FF layout
Related Volvo 440/460
Wheelbase 2,502.7 mm (99 in)
Length 4,258 mm (168 in)
Width 1,710 mm (67 in)
Height 1,318 mm (52 in)
Curb weight 998 kg (2,200 lb)
Predecessor Volvo P1800
Successor Volvo C30
A 1988 1.7-litre 480ES with headlamps lowered

The Volvo 480 is a compact car[2] that was produced in Born, Netherlands, by Volvo from 1986 to 1995. It was the first front-wheel drive car made by the automaker. The 480 was available in only one body style on an automobile platform related to the Volvo 440/460 five door hatchback and four door sedan models.

It features an unusual four seat, three door hatchback body, somewhere between liftback and estate in form. The 480 was marketed as a coupé in Europe starting in 1986. The compact car was originally intended to be marketed in the United States as a 2+2 "sports wagon" in the fall 1987, although these plans were cancelled due to the continued weakness of the U.S. dollar during 1987.[3][4][5]


Volvo took six years from the time the 480 was conceived, through its development, and finally brought to production readiness.[6] The press launch was on October 15, 1985, but the 480 was first put on public show in March at the 1986 Geneva Motor Show, becoming available to the buyers in 1987.

The automaker described the car as a four seater with "sporty styling" and the first front wheel driven Volvo.[7] The press described it as having a "sleek hatch body" in contrast to Volvo's traditional "boxcar look".[8] The 480 was the first Volvo of its style since the P1800ES, and the last until the unveiling of the C30.[9] All of these models featured a frameless glass hatch for cargo access.

The 480 was produced in Born, Netherlands, at the factory that built DAF cars, including the DAF 66 based Volvo 66, and later, the Volvo 300 Series. The 480 shared the platform of the Volvo 440 and 460 models. It was originally planned for the North American market (evidenced by its front and rear side markers, not used on European automobiles).

Volvo also claimed that it was one of the first cars sold in Europe featuring bumpers designed to comply with United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations to withstand a 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) front rear impact without damage to the engine, lights, and safety equipment.[10] This was the only Volvo to feature pop up headlamps for better aerodynamics.[8]

The concept was to market a modern, compact front wheel drive car with a unique low slung design targeting buyers "between 25 and 40, probably with a higher than average education and with a career."[6] Designed by Volvo's Dutch subsidiary, the "sporty 480 ES coupe" was introduced to change the automaker's "frumpy image" and into the "yuppie" market segment.[10]

Volvo highlighted that the car was "well-endowed with advanced electronics" and the automaker's press release described in detail the numerous features.[6] The 480 had good handling, due in part to its Lotus designed suspension. The normally aspirated Renault engines were reliable.[11]

Annual changes[edit]

The 1987 models were available with an anti-locking brake system (ABS) as an optional extra.[7]

In 1988, a Turbo version was introduced, the Garrett AiResearch turbocharger increasing the power from 109 PS (80 kW; 108 hp) to120 PS (88 kW; 118 hp). Maximum torque was 175 N⋅m (129 lb⋅ft) compared to the 140 N⋅m (103 lb⋅ft) for the naturally aspirated 1.7 L engine.

In 1993 (United Kingdom), due to new legislation which meant that catalytic converters had to be fitted to unleaded petrol engines, power dropped and so the 2.0 L engine was developed; it was rated at 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp) and 165 N⋅m (122 lb⋅ft). A four-speed automatic transmission was also offered.

In 1991, the 480 received new mirrors, headrests for the back seats, as well as subtle modifications to the trim and body colour bumpers. The 2.0 naturally aspirated engine was also introduced, again based on the Renault F3 engine.

Changes between the CEM (Central Electronic Module) are externally apparent with the introduction of a total closure system whereby the key can be held in the lock position to close the windows and (where fitted) sunroof. Earlier CEM modules feature a "passing" function for the wipers, whereby fully depressing the accelerator pedal will switch intermittent wipers to full. Early 1992 saw the first release of special editions such as the "TwoTone" (with a two tone paintjob).[12]

Rear end of 480 with its hatchback

1994 saw the United Kingdom release of the "Celebration" limited edition of 480 specially equipped and numbered cars. In 1994, the 480 also received its last light update, and now sported clear front turn signals.[12] Production ended on 7 September 1995. According to the Volvo Museum, 76,375 cars in ES and Turbo versions were made between 1986 and 1995.


Writing about the demise of the 480 in Car Magazine, journalist Richard Bremner wrote about the car's decent power and low weight combination. "This meant there was some danger of a sporty steer — pretty radical from a company that considered having fun at the wheel as acceptable as seducing a nun," he commented. "Good grief, a Volvo worth preserving. And there aren't many of them."

He also commented on the last versions for the United Kingdom as, "And Celebration it was too, as Europe waved goodbye to the badly built, pointless, DAF coupé with an outrageous asking price of £16,500. That paid for the CD player, alloys, leather and a pointless hallmarked plaque glued to the dashboard."[11] It "was no sports car" with most being "ridiculously underpowered" and available to collectors "at rock bottom" prices.[11]


A Volvo 480 Cabrio prototype in the Volvo Museum

The 480 factory also made several prototypes, including a 480 with an electric drivetrain, a supercharged version (G-Lader), a version with a sixteen valve engine, and a version with a turbocharged 2.0 L engine. A convertible was also announced to the press in summer 1987, but not seen in public until the 1990 Geneva Motor Show.

It was planned to be launched at the beginning of 1991, but it did not make production after a supplier declared bankruptcy, and concerns over roll over safety protection.[12]


  1. ^ "History". Retrieved 27 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "Motoring: Return of a Saint - A Front-Drive Volvo". Scottish Field. Holmes McDougall. 132. 1986. Retrieved 4 November 2017. Just about 14 feet overall, from nose to tail, the new Volvo is a compact car 
  3. ^ "Volvo Cars of North America". Ward's Automotive Yearbook. Ward's Reports. 50: 207. 1988. Retrieved 4 November 2017. Volvo Cars of North America Inc. was hurt by the continued weakness of the U.S. dollar in 1987, and by U.S. tax law changes that took effect Jan. 1, 1987. The dollar's weakness also caused Volvo to abandon much-ballyhooed plans, slated for the spring of 1987, to import the compact front-drive 480-series cars 
  4. ^ Hartford, Bill (July 1986). "Imports". Popular Mechanics. 163 (7): 49. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Matras, John (7 December 2015). "Volvo 480ES: The immigrant that wasn't". CarBuzzard. Retrieved 4 November 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c "The Volvo 480 ES: a dynamic car" (PDF) (Press release). Volvo Car B.V., Helmond, Netherlands, Marketing Department, Public Relations. 1986. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "1980-1989 a historical review" (Press release). 8 January 2003. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Front Drive Coupe". Popular Science. 228 (2): 46. February 1986. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Barry, Keith (25 May 2011), Swedish Style Icon Turns 50 
  10. ^ a b Scott, David (February 1987). "Dutch treat". Popular Science. 230 (2): 122. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c Braithwaite-Smith, Gavin (20 June 2011). "Volvo 480". Bangerwatch. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c "Volvo 480 historiken" [Volvo 480 history]. Svenska 480 Klubben (in Swedish). Retrieved 2014-11-02. 

External links[edit]