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Volvo's First Front-Wheel Drive Car Turned 30, Still Looks Good

Current Volvo models are sold in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations. However, this was not the case for the Swedish brand's lineup until 1985, when all Volvos were rear-wheel drive.
Volvo 480 Turbo 5 photos
Photo: Volvo
Volvo 480 TurboVolvo 480 TurboVolvo 480 TurboVolvo 480 ES
The company will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of its first-ever front-wheel-drive car this year. We are talking about the Volvo 480, a wedge-shaped model that was first shown to the public on March 6, 1986.

This model paved the way for all the Volvo cars that followed, but it was not a massive sales success. The 480 was powered by a Renault engine that was reportedly tuned by Porsche Development in Weissach, but that is a piece of information not present in the company's releases.

Volvo had several sketches for the 480 prepared, including an entry from Carozzeria Bertone, and from Jan Wilsgaard, Volvo Cars Chief Designer at the time. However, the winning design came from Netherlands and was penned by John De Vries. The latter worked for Volvo's Dutch subsidiary, and that was also responsible for the manufacture of the 480 and its derivatives.

The central idea of the 480 was a car that inspired dynamics and personality, and we still consider the model to do exactly that even 30 years after it came to market. The wedge-shaped body was a big thing at the time and isn't present on modern vehicles because of various reasons, but the design of this car passed the test of time.

The exterior design was not the only important thing about the 480, as the interior was created by Peter Horbury, the man that later became the brand's Chief Designer. Volvo's 480 featured a digital trip computer, an element that we take for granted today, but was stunning in a non-premium car at the time.

Furthermore, the 480 had its instrument panel angled towards the driver, and the rear seats had adjustable backrests. The latter is not found in most modern cars of the compact or even midsize class, so the Volvo 480 was ahead of its time on that one.

The engine was a 1.7-liter naturally aspirated unit that provided 109 HP, but the 480 was praised for its handling and its power-to-weight ratio. Volvo later introduced a turbo variant of this model that developed 120 HP, unimpressive in today's world, but a lot in 1988. The 90's brought back a naturally aspirated unit under the hood in the form of a 2.0-liter unit that provided improved torque and 110 HP.

The legacy of the Volvo 480 will live on for years to come, as Volvo still offers us models with an unusual design and smart features.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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