30 years ago, Volvo produced a breakthrough car in the wedge shape of the 480 ES. The first front-wheel drive car with a transverse engine to be produced by the brand, it caused quite a splash at its official premiere at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1986.
As the first sports car from Volvo in over a decade, the 480 ES was special in more ways than one; the brand’s first front-wheel drive car in series production marked an important moment in Volvo’s history. Futuristic styling in the pointed nose and pop-up headlights provided a fresh outlook while an abruptly-ending rear section with glass tailgate looked back in homage to the 1800 ES.
Although sketches were prepared by a number of designers, including Carozzeria Bertone and Volvo Cars Chief Designer Jan Wilsgard, the proposal that went ahead came from John De Vries of Volvo’s subsidiary in the Netherlands. Keywords that guided the design placed emphasis on dynamics and personality, elements that stand out in the finished product.
Innovation carried through to the inside of the car, designed by Peter Horbury, who later became Volvo’s Chief Designer, with features such as adjustable backrests in the individual rear seats and an instrument panel angled towards the driver. The cockpit even included a trip computer, able to give information about average consumption, average speed, range and even the outside temperature.
With a 1.7-litre engine capable of producing 109hp and a top speed of 190km/h, the 480 ES had the performance to match its sporty appearance, and it would only improve over time. In 1988, Volvo launched the 480 Turbo, which boasted a 120hp engine, and a 2.0-litre model was released in 1993.
Designed as only a niche model, the 480 ES was not a big seller, however it paved the way into the future for Volvo as the beginning of the internal project named Galaxy, implying the brand was reaching for the stars. Now 30 years on from that pivotal reveal, the Volvo 480 ES remains the symbol for progress and evolution for the iconic brand.
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