Some cars – in fact, the vast majority of cars – simply aren’t born for glamour or stardom. Instead their sole purpose is to provide safe and reliable daily transportation for ordinary people all around the globe. But even among those everyday heroes of yesteryear, there is still a social rank. Within the confines of being a mass-produced family car, some cars still achieve much recognition as a classic car. Others don’t.
I fact, some cars get so little recognition that their only claim to being a classic is their age. Some will even argue, that not even age is quite enough for every car to achieve true classic car status. To me personally, that rings a little hollow. But let’s not launch into the usual discussion of what defines a classic. Instead let’s just agree that the Volvo 300-series is indeed one of those old cars which really struggles to achieve any recognition at all.
Developed at DAF in the Netherlands, the Volvo 343 was launched in 1976, so at 43 years old, it certainly has age on its side. It was also a reasonably well-built car, but then that doesn’t always seem to have much influence on whether a car achieves iconic status as a classic or not. But the 300-series has other attributes too. How about a design by none other than Michelotti? It also boasts rear wheel drive and an expensive De Dion rear suspension. And the small Volvo even has a transaxle similar to that used on many classic Alfa Romeos and classic front-engined Porsches? Nope, not even all of that appears to be enough to ignite a spark with classic car enthusiasts.
Is that because the 300-series lacked sporting credentials? Perhaps.
Sure, Volvo eventually gave us the 2-litre fuel-injected 360 GLT in 1983, but it was probably a case of too little, too late. In fact, the GLT brought so little to the table in terms of performance, that if it were me looking to add a 300-series Volvo to my garage, I’d rather ignore performance altogether and instead opt for the slightly odd and quirky seventies charms of a very early and unmolested 343 DL in some charismatic seventies hue.
But all of that could have been very different. Because in 1977 – when the 343 was only one year old – Volvo developed an absolute beast of a 300-series. It didn’t just have character – it had real attitude!
I give you the Volvo 363 CS.
Bear in mind that at this point the 2-litre 360-series hadn’t been introduced yet. The 300-series consisted only of the 343 and the 345, with that model designation telling us that they were Volvos with 4-cylinder engines and either 3- or 5-door bodies respectively. The same Volvo-logic was of course applied to the 200-series designations where a 264 received their big V6 B27a engine. Now put two and two together, and to your own surprise, it may dawn on you that this entirely bonkers 363 CS is indeed a compact 3-door Volvo hatchback with rear wheel drive and a big old 2.7-litre V6 engine out front. Did that grab your attention? Suddenly, there’s a 300-series Volvo which seems mighty tasty…
Volvo wanted to make a comeback in rallying where they had previously experienced some success with both the PV544 and later with the Amazon. This was the motivation for developing the Volvo 363 CS, where ‘CS’ was short for ‘Competition Services’.
Being rear wheel drive and especially since the transaxle gave the compact hatchback an inherently well-balanced chassis, the new 300-series was their weapon of choice. But the small 1.4-litre Renault engine was never going to cut it. So Volvo took their big PRV developed 2.7-litre fuel-injected V6 B27a engine and shoehorned it into the engine bay of a 343 hatchback shell – thereby almost doubling engine capacity. The stock transaxle was never going to handle all that extra power, so they borrowed an Alfa Romeo transaxle which was used to dealing with the famous V6 Busso engine. Then finish off the whole project with suitable suspension and brake modifications, subtly flared arches all round, wide mesh alloy wheels, Recaro seats, various auxiliary gauges built into the dashboard, and not least a set of fabulous orange go-faster stripes down the flanks, and hey presto… you’ve got yourself one seriously mean Volvo 300-series.
Effectively, Volvo beat VW by all of 15 years as it wasn’t until 1992 that they gave us the 6-cylinder hot hatch Golf VR6. However, Volvo had to build 400 cars for the 363 CS to be allowed to compete in Group 4 rally. Sadly, that was a step further than Volvo had the courage to take their most brutal 300-series project. Believed production numbers vary a little, but it would seem that most agree that three cars were built by Volvo. Today, only one is known to have survived. Fittingly, it is now owned by the legendary Swedish rally driver Per-Inge Walfridsson who saw quite some success with a 4-cylinder and heavily turboed 343 in rallycross up through the late seventies and early eighties.
But what’s the verdict of our knowledgeable ViaRETRO readers? Would 400 examples of the Volvo 363 CS rally car and a factory backed assault on Group 4 rallying been enough to introduce a bit of sex into the otherwise docile 300-series? Might we have witnessed a Volvo hatchback doing bad things to Ford Escort RS1800s, Abarth 131s and Opel Ascona 400s out on the gravel stages? And could the 363 CS have spawned a lesser (perhaps still 4-cylinder) but still decidedly sporty version which could have sold in large numbers to the public who wanted a compact and fast rear wheel drive Volvo?