It seems that Volvo these days is trying to jazz things up a little bit. First they debuted the very stylish Volvo Concept Coupe, and then this week they released some outlandish artistic takes on another upcoming concept that look like violent acid trips.
Maybe the Swedish automaker is starting to let their hair down more. That's a good thing, because while their old boxy wagons are certainly iconic, their designs have in recent years been mostly nice but a bit boring and directionless. The brand built on safety could use some new excitement.
With that in mind, let's look at the last time Volvo considered going crazy, and then said "No, thanks."
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
This golden hatchback is the Volvo Tundra Concept. It comes from 1979, a time when it was acceptable and even encouraged for a woman to wear a shimmering gold pants/bikini top/jacket combo. And as you might guess from its outlandish design, it was done up by Bertone, who around the same time penned the amazing Lancia Siblio concept.
Car Design News has a pretty good breakdown of how this came about. Back in the late 1970s, Volvo's lineup consisted largely of big, stately wagons, sedans and coupes, none of which were terribly affordable for the common man. The Volvo 340 line debuted in 1976, and although it sold well, some of the higher-ups at Volvo deemed it to be not terribly attractive or Swedish enough. They were right on both counts — that car looked like a mix between a Honda Accord and a Volkswagen, not a Volvo.
Having recently obtained the impossibly sexy (well, as far as Volvos go) 262C Coupe from Bertone, the Swedes tapped the Italian design company to come up with a stylish new hatchback design that they could debut in the early 1980s to replace the 340.
So Bertone chief designer Marcello Gandini cooked up the Tundra, a hatchback that was both practical and wonderfully late-70s-futuristic. But he cheated a little bit. Gandini revived an earlier design he created for English automaker Reliant called the FW11. The Reliant FW11 had an extra set of doors, but it looks remarkably similar to the Volvo. Not that Reliant needed it; although several prototypes were built, Reliant decided not to build it after all.
Gandini's design was like that adorable rescue shelter puppy that keeps peeing on the carpet and mauling mailmen to death: it looks good, but it had trouble finding a home. In the end, as Car Design News puts it, Volvo decided it wasn't what they were after. It was too modern, not in-line enough with Volvo's heritage, and not something they felt they could sell.
But another automaker with a reputation for selling oddballs felt differently.
What was it? The Volvo Tundra was a three-door hatchback that could have been the next generation of Volvo's take on affordable people's cars. The design featured full 360 degree glass wrapped around the cabin to fit with Gandini's love of lighting, a "floating roof" that seemed independent of the pillars, pop-up headlamps, and an off-center front radiator grille.
What were the specs? The Tundra concept car was built on an existing Volvo 343 hatch, which meant it was rear-wheel drive and powered by the same 1.4-liter, 70 horsepower inline four. I'd like to think that had it been made, it would have ended up with the PRV V6, same as every other car in the universe built in the 1980s.
What else made it special? Gold! Gold everywhere. Just look at those wheels!
What did it look like on the inside? In a word: fucking amazing. (Okay, that's two words, but why not.) Surprisingly modern, or at least, modern for its time. The concept has a gigantic "Cartesian plane vector linear speedometer" that takes up most of the dash in front of the driver. Beyond that, it looks pretty production-ready by concept standards. Check out those seats, too.
Did it actually run? Since the Tundra was based on the 343, there's a good chance that it probably did, although I can't find any articles about road tests anywhere. It certainly looks roadworthy.
Was it ever planned for production? The Volvo Tundra wasn't, but after Volvo spiked the design, Bertone presented it to Citroën, a company whose love of weirdness runs deep. They were all about it, and after adding an extra set of doors and toning down some of the styling elements just a bit, they sold it as the Citroën BX, which sold 2.3 million copies during its 12-year run.
Should it have been built? By Volvo, you mean? Sure! It's ridiculous and wonderful! It looks infinitely cooler than the 300 series that soldiered on until the early 1990s. Maybe it wouldn't have quite fit with Volvo's famous boxes, but it was close, and it was cool enough to stand on its own. Besides, the BX sold quite well; who's to say this wouldn't have?
The Tundra could have been a hit if Volvo hadn't felt the need to play things so conservatively. But with some stylish new concepts in the pipeline, maybe they learned their lesson.