Wildly Wedge-Shaped Volvo Is Today's Bring a Trailer Find

1994 volvo 480 gt 5 speed
Wildly Wedge-Shaped Volvo 480 GT for Sale on BaTBring a Trailer
  • A radical break from tradition in style and substance, the Volvo 480 was the company's first front-drive car, and it ushered in a new era of Volvos.

  • Although it was originally designed for U.S. sale, souring exchange rates nixed that plan and made the Dutch-built 480 into forbidden fruit here for decades.

  • This was a late-in-the-run special model; only 250 480 GTs were made for the U.K., and fewer than 100 are known to exist. This one's up for auction on Bring a Trailer right now.

Originally, the Volvo 480 was created with America in mind. Even its pop-up headlights were designed to meet U.S. bumper and lighting regulations. If things had gone according, to plan this sleek shooting brake would have begun helping shed the automaker's frumpy image as a maker of safe but staid rolling boxes in 1987. However, much to Volvo's chagrin, souring exchange rates in 1986–1987 drove the 480's projected base price into Nissan 300ZX territory before it ever arrived. Volvo repeatedly postponed its U.S. launch before giving up entirely in early 1988. But that was then, and this is now.

1994 volvo 480 gt 5 speed side
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The 480 was built from 1986 to 1995, so all versions are now legal imports under the 25-year rule. This recently imported 1994 Volvo 480 GT is up for auction on Bring a Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos. All 480s are rare in the U.S., but the GT is the rarest variant of the car and one of only 250 built.

While the loss of the 480 was a bitter pill for the company's U.S. arm, the car generated lots of excitement in Europe, at least at first. The slick looks, penned by Dutch designer John de Vries, referenced the pretty 1800ES's glass hatch and wagon shape but were otherwise a complete break from the past. The car was the first self-consciously sporty Volvo in over a decade. The interior styling was led by a temporary recruit, Peter Horbury, who later returned as Volvo's design director.

1994 volvo 480 gt 5 speed rear
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It was just as radical under the skin. The 480 was the first fruit of a sprawling program to develop efficient new front-drive Volvo platforms that ran from roughly 1978 to 1991: Project Galaxy. The smaller Galaxy became the Dutch-built 480 and its sedan siblings, the 440/460, while the larger one became the 850. The 480 was the first to go into production, and despite being the blueprint for the rather pedestrian 440/460, it looked and felt sporty.

The 1.7 and (from 1992) 2.0-liter engines, with up to 122 turbocharged horsepower, came from Renault but had some additional massaging from Porsche. They were mated to a four-speed automatic transmission or, in the case of this car, a Renault-sourced five-speed manual. That's not much oomph today, but the car only weighed about 2200 pounds, and the handling came in for plenty of praise. The car also had lots of then-new tech, like a fully digital information center and headlights that shut off on a 30-second delay after the car was locked.

1994 volvo 480 gt 5 speed engine
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Alas, stylish coupes rarely stay in vogue for very long, and sales slid after 1990, with plans for a convertible and a mid-cycle refresh dialed back. But Volvo didn't give up on the model and instead tried to juice sales with special limited editions, the rarest of which was the U.K.-only GT.

In the 1990s, limited-edition cosmetic specials were all the rage in the U.K., and the GT really did stand apart from the other 480s. It came only in burgundy pearl or racing green, and exclusively with the 2.0-liter engine and 15-inch Vesa alloy wheels. It also had a special leather interior with patterns unique to each car. On the Continent, 480 buyers could get the exterior pieces as options, but not the interior. This one is probably the only GT in North America.

1994 volvo 480 gt 5 speed interior
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The 480 didn't enjoy the best reputation for reliability, but the vast majority of its issues were sorted out long before 1994, and this one looks to be in great shape. Since it was only imported in June 2023, it's still got a couple of months left on its U.K. Ministry of Transit (MOT) test certificate. That's no guarantee of quality, but the MOT test is tougher than most U.S. inspection regimes, and you can look up this car's test history back to 2006. It has only done about 4000 miles since 2014.

The same aesthetics that made the 480 so captivating when it was new are still the stuff of Radwood dreams today, and this car's rarity means you're likely to be answering questions about it constantly. It's fun to drive and probably won't break the bank, either.

The forbidden fruit can now be yours; the auction ends on March 12.

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