Being the Italian importer of Volvo must have been quite the slog in the 1960s and '70s.
Before functionality and safety became virtues on which the Swedish carmaker could build their brand and sell cars, the world was still most interested in sporty cars—from hopped-up Minis to full-bore Ferraris. This is most true in Italy, a country filled with enthusiastic drivers, great roads, and the world's best carrozzeria. What more can I say? Sports cars are at home in the big 'ol boot.
Introduced in 1961, the Volvo P1800 Coupé is an attractive car but by no means a serious contender once outright handling and performance of the slinky Swede are measured. For a Volvo, yes, it's a beautiful GT car. For Volvo, yes, it's a sports coupe. (And, of course, I'd quite like to own one.)
By Italian standards, however, the P1800 is as sporty as the ho-hum Sunbeam Venezia. For a country with Monza in its backyard, a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder Volvo doesn't quite cut it. The Volvo importer to Italy, a company called Motauto, knew this—and tried to convince Volvo to give them something hotter.
In 1965, they hired Fissore to square off the P1800 into a more edgy design for the Torino Motor Show. Volvo declined to turn it into a production car.
In 1969, Motauto brought out the big guns, hiring Zagato to not only rebody the P1800, but to do so in dramatic fashion. The 2.0-litre sports coupe was even wedgier than Fissore's—and in places looked like a slightly larger version of the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato. Volvo declined.
Surely stretching the limit of both the office party budget and Volvo's patience, Motauto asked Zagato to design one more car for Volvo's approval. Some sources claim that Volvo was considering replacing the P1800 with or adding another coupe to the lineup with a more powerful six-cylinder engine.
The introduced-in-1968 Volvo 164 and its 3.0-litre inline 6-cylinder engine were a perfect platform for Zagato's 1970 Volvo show car, which was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show that year. Motauto was confident that Volvo would at least provide them with something in the way of a new sports car—by this time the P1800 was far behind more its athletic competitors in the market.
Taking the styling cues from its GTZ 2000 a year earlier, the 164-based car was shorter, wider, lower, and lighter than its sedan counterpart, shedding 135 kg (300 lbs) thanks to Zagato's coachbuilding skills. Partially-concealed pop-up headlights up front, a huge side glass area, and simple lines makes me think that the car would have looked great parked among the rest of the Volvo lineup.
Underneath its tiny hood was a hopped-up 190-horsepower straight-6, with a top speed in excess of 200 km/h (125 mph). Tell me if you think this car would have given some BMW owners pause before placing an order for a CS coupe. I think so.
Only one car was made. The 4-cylinder GTZ 2000 by Zagato made a year earlier was sold from the auto show floor, and the GTZ 3000 by Zagato was also sold to a private buyer who is said to have driven the car regularly, before an accident sidelined the car. It's reportedly currently in pieces waiting for a restoration, if any #bcotd readers are so inclined…