The Volvo 300 series was a huge sales success for the Swedish brand from the late Seventies to the early Nineties. It was a permanent fixture in many European bestseller lists for more than a decade. While its low running costs and rear-wheel drive layout proved a draw for over a million customers, it was also a series that was loathed by Volvo loyalists. They never considered these cars as real Volvos. And they were right.
The 300 series was developed and built in Holland by truck manufacturer DAF. The Dutch brand, which had already made a series of compact cars, was keen on building a bigger model, and started work on a project codenamed P900 in 1970, intended to be a successor to the DAF 66. However, it did not have the financial means to take the project to fruition so approached many of Europe’s major automakers. Seeing that DAF’s access to Renault engines could help save powertrain research and development costs, Volvo pumped in money and acquired a stake in 1975. So when the production car was launched a year later, it was marketed as a Volvo 343.
While thousands of unsuspecting customers across Europe snapped it up those who followed the brand knew that behind the badge was a DAF with a Renault engine. While the 1.4-litre engine was itself asthmatic, it didn’t help that it was mated to a continuously variable transmission, that too mounted above the rear axle. Manual gear options and two more engine choices were introduced eventually but it was still underwhelming in terms of performance and the clumsy looks never improved. Handling was also way inferior to rivals boasting independent rear suspensions.
The 300 series was a big seller for Volvo, but it’s definitely not one it will be proud of.