With Volvo beginning a new chapter in its design history with the Concept Coupé, it's interesting to look back at another Volvo coupé concept from 1979 – the Tundra.
At the time, the Swedish manufacturer built large and relatively pricey cars that were neither really luxurious nor real 'people cars'. The 340 series began the brand's expansion towards more affordable models and proved to be very successful worldwide. Still, it was not distinctive enough, nor attractive, or really Swedish. Aware of the problem, Volvo supplied Bertone, who just delivered the 262C, with a 343 platform to give a fresh vision on a mid-sized hatchback.
Chief designer Marcello Gandini led the design research and, as always, created a car way ahead of its time. Rather than looking for beauty, the Tundra innovates with geometric graphics and a brown/beige paint job that epitomizes the Atari days.
It seems Gandini hadn't paid much attention to Volvo's brand image and heritage. In fact, the Tundra's silhouette is an evolution of another Bertone prototype from 1977, the Reliant FW11, but the Tundra took these proportions to a much higher level of refinement. It now features a 360-degree wraparound DLO, with large glazed areas and a floating roof that looks like a distant ancestor of the Mini Coupé roof.
A horizontal waterline splits the car in half with sheet metal on the top and plastic claddings on the lower. At the front, the radiator grill is unusually placed on the lower left part of the bumper, asymmetrically, matching the position of the radiator itself. Pop-up headlamps at the front and a strip of lamps at the rear provide a futuristic – for the time – ‘80s touch.
Inside, the dashboard carries the same geometrical elements as the exterior with the party piece being the digital Cartesian plane vector linear speedometer.
But it wasn't what Volvo was after. They believed the Tundra was too modern, would be be too difficult to sell and so rejected the project. Convinced of the potential of its creation, Bertone presented a very slightly modified design of the Tundra to Citroën. After a design competition also involving Citroën's in-house studio, the project was selected for its new model, the BX, which sold over 2.4 million worldwide.
Designer Marcello Gandini
Engine In-line four-cylinder, 1397cc, 70bhp, from the Volvo 343
Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.