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When it was introduced back in 1986, it was quickly dubbed the “Anti-Volvo”. Yet, it was clearly inspired by the elegant 1800ES, which in recent years has risen significantly in popularity as a classic and is now rather sought after. So where does that leave the 480ES?

The 480ES is one of those cars which I have always had feelings for. No doubt largely because I grew up in a Volvo-family, and as a boy and young man during the seventies and eighties I probably had enough of Volvo’s obsession with all things safety – both active, passive and designwise safety. Perhaps the 480ES was specifically designed and constructed for me?

A lifestyle press picture from Volvo – with an ultralight aircraft! I strongly doubt the traditional and conservative Volvo buyer would have known what an ultralight was.

In which case, it managed to bypass me by a few years, as I didn’t yet have much buying power in 1986 when it first came on to the market. However, my Volvo-parents did, and Volvo pulled off a neat little trick when they gifted one to the Danish Crown Prince Frederik. The fact that her even drove his 480ES and seemingly enjoyed it too, only made it better still for Volvo’s core customers. But even that wasn’t quite enough. The 480ES just wasn’t a real Volvo. And my parents weren’t the only loyal Volvo owners who felt this way. I suppose in retrospective, those sceptics were in many ways right too, as time has shown that the build quality of the 480ES was an all-time low for Volvo.

Was this perhaps a byproduct of all the innovation (for Volvo) that was poured into the 480ES? One could have hoped that they could have achieved this without compromising quality. But even with the signature Volvo quality intact, the core customers would have probably just found another excuse for shying away from the 480ES, such as the front wheel drive.

The 480ES was one of those rare cars which actually turned out significantly better than the prototypes suggested. This picture is borrowed from the fantastic website “Volvotips” which is the place to go for anything regarding Volvo.

Already during the early design phase were they utilising the famous Park-It-Next-To-An-Aircraft marketing trick.

But for me, the 480ES has always been about the design, which could have been the prettiest Volvo the world had ever seen. If it hadn’t been for that front. Because while the rear is the perfect reinterpretation of the ES-inheritance, the front is heavily weighed down by having to bear a front grill which they sadly only found space for under the front bumper. Frankly, it just looks odd, so best to avoid that angle altogether – though the profile is beautifully balanced.

The almost finalised prototype. But take note – it lacks pop-up headlights.

But where does all of this leave a fiasco-Volvo from the eighties in its quest for stardom among youngtimers and soon enough even the fully-fledged classics? On the face of it, probably not in the best of places. Because the 480ES is currently not sought after at all and this reflects on their current market value. Its status as a classic car is dismal.

Yes, we get the picture…

Yet, I recently read an analysis suggesting that now was the time to buy one. And not just because they are so unbelievably cheap, but more so because it will offer free motoring over the next couple of years! The reasoning being that prices are apparently believed to increase somewhere between 100 and an amazing 300% in very short time. At first I physically laughed out loud. But then I realised that this is in fact precisely what happened with its spiritual successor – the 1800ES – in recent years. And furthermore, it’s really quite easy for such a cheap car to increase in value by 100%. It will still be a really cheap car!

But will that make the 480ES a cool car? A proper classic? One which spins you around on your heels for a second look? Can that even be achieved when they produced 80,000 of the 480ES held up against a mere 8,000 of the 1800ES?

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I feel. I already appreciate them and always give them a second look when I encounter one on the streets. But would I buy one? No, probably not. At least not yet. But the analysis says that I will regret that decision.

What say you dear reader?


4 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    While I’m not out of a Volvo-family – far from in fact! – I’ve always quite liked the 480ES and 480 Turbo. They stand out in a crowd, and not just in a Volvo crowd either, but in any crowd in fact. And based on that alone, I would agree that they will indeed become true and valued classics with time.

    But what about another classy Volvo coupé which is perhaps slowly entering the ranks of youngtimer acceptance – the first generation C70? Admitted, I biased as there’s one parked on my drive. But I find it’s one of the last truly elegant and timeless coupé designs of the more recent automotive world. Not just that, but the T5 engine combined with a manual gearbox is just nothing short of fabulous. Love the power delivery and not least the rough and slightly off-beat soundtrack from the force-feed 5-cylinder engine. But what say the crowd, will the C70 become a true classic? Because right now, they’re just about as cheap as can possibly be, and thus represent amazing value…

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    Another interesting Volvo, the C70. And I say that for the same reasons as you, @anders-bilidt – not because of family ties. But debuting in 1997 it is 1.5 generation newer than the 480 and just about interesting to the same degree – although the latter factor is highly subjective and debatable, of course. I’d say it is roughly 1.5 generation behind the 480 towards classicdom.


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