Volvo 264 TE by Bertone

The Volvo 200-series is a fantastic car.

I've driven a number of them, and each one carries a distinct feel that is unlike any other car. For years, it was the beloved choice for people sensible enough to consider an alternative to offerings from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, and other luxury makers. 

In my experience, and despite what you may think, there is no Volvo "type". Having worked at a Volvo dealership in my formative years, I can safely say that the customer base was varied in every way except one: they were the sort of people who seemed to make considered choices.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, even drivers who were indifferent to driving (and there were many) knew at least a little bit about the company's reputation for safety and durability, and could tell you exactly why they'd chosen a particular car. Even those who bought cars with little consideration, like my late mother did, could at least tell you why they'd chosen a Volvo.

In my mother's case, her 1999 Volvo C70 Convertible (with light pressure turbo engine) in teal green over beige interior—complete with the very rare 17-inch two-piece BBS alloy wheels—was the perfect car: she wasn't the most confident driver, and wanted something safe. She also had always wanted a convertible, liked the way our local dealership did business, wanted to get rid of her van, liked how it drove, and liked the way it looked. Deal.

Before my stint at a Volvo store, I worked at a Toyota dealership. And? There were a surprising number of customers who were truly shocked they'd managed to find the one place in town with a sign that matched the oval and stylized 'T' on their steering wheel.

Anyway, back to Volvos. When vehicles are produced for a long time, there are always a number of interesting variants, and the made-for-19-years 200-series is no exception. 

For considered East German dignitaries and businessmen, procuring sensible daily transportation was a problem. After the East German-made Sachsenring P240 lost out to the Tatra T603, Germans who were lucky enough to be given access to a luxury car were faced with no option from their homeland.

Importing a West German-made Mercedes-Benz or BMW was impossible, as were all other vehicles in the West—except one.

Sweden's relative proximity to Germany and its status as a more neutral world player saw an appetite in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik for a stretched sedan that was both cosmopolitan and comparable in quality to a German-made luxury car. The Volvo 200-series was the only choice. 

A major problem, however, is that in stock form the car wasn't offered as a limousine or was particularly luxurious—but Volvo had a plan. It shipped mostly two-door 200-series cars to Bertone in Italy to be chopped in half, extended in the middle, and fitted with a new interior. (The gap between the rear door and rear wheel should be a giveaway that many were originally two-door cars.) It also came with two additional seats (for a total of seven) and a number of other luxury items that included stereo controls in the rear armrest, rear reading lights, air conditioning, rear telephone, and a wider rear door opening. 

This first collaboration with Bertone led soon after to the company's first V6-powered two-door coupes, the Bertone-built 262C and later 780 Coupé.

Equipped with the lethargic PRV V6 engine (which seems to keep popping up on #bcotd) and 3-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment, the 264 TE wasn't exactly a 'bahnburner, but at least had the guts to equal its Russian and Czechloslovakian-made competition. Volvo had the cooler name, too: 'TE' stood for 'Top Executive.'

Interestingly, many such "top executives" resided in the secure East German town of Waldsiedlung, which was given the nickname Volvograd because of the high concentration of 264 TE sedans there.

With approximately 300 built—including two confirmed to have been delivered with manual transmissions—the 264 TE is the only way I know of to drive an Italian-built Swedish car that was the ride of choice for socialist elite.