Return to Sender.
A Volvo 360GLT's journey 'home' from the UK to the Volvo museum in Sweden.
© Copyright David Baddeley, Volvo Car UK 2024.
This article cannot be copied in part or whole without permission of the author.
The phrase ‘return to sender’ normally refers to a package that could not be delivered to the customer. But our “package”, a Volvo 360 GLT (PNP 209Y) was successfully delivered to its first owner on the 1st March 1983, one of the earliest 360 GLT’s imported into the UK
However, 40 years later and having covered less than 15,000 miles PNP 209Y was to be returned to the sender, or at least to the spiritual home of all Volvos wherever they are built, to Gothenburg in Sweden and its new home at the Volvo Museum. But rather than delivering it in a covered protective trailer it was decided to drive the 900 miles from its current home at the Volvo Cars UK Training Centre in Daventry.
Our Volvo 360 GLT was, like all Volvo 300 series cars from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s manufactured in Born, near Maastricht in the Netherlands. When Volvo bought its initial stake in the Dutch company Daf in 1973 the 340 was already in the development phase created by Daf’s in house designer John de Vries, who later went on to also pen the Volvo 480. The 340 gained a reputation as a safe and reliable car, if a little staid.
The 360 took the car to a new level with a more powerful 115bhp 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a gearbox mounted in the back axle, gifting the car near perfect weight distribution. Uprated suspension lowered by 1.5 inches improved the handling and styling which also benefitted from front and rear spoilers and alloy wheels.
Having covered so few miles in its life, it would be interesting to test the drivability of PNP209Y during the 3-day 900-mile drive to Gothenburg. The first leg of the journey was to the Harwich ferry port in Essex 150 miles from the start. It was a chance to get know PNP. It was also an opportunity to stop off at what in 1983 was the UK import centre at Raeburn Road, Ipswich. The inspection and office buildings have long gone and the site is mainly open storage now. But the views over the Orwell Bridge remain the same so it seemed only appropriate that PNP’s last day in the UK should be at the same place as its first day.
Onward to Harwich and the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland, reversing the journey of 40 years earlier. Thanks to the tail end of Storm Debi, it was a little rougher than when the car left the Netherlands 40 years earlier.
Next morning, motoring again the journey progressed uneventfully and quickly reached the Dutch/ German border at Bad Bentheim on the E30 motorway. Like most internal borders within the Schengen Area, it is a sad reflection of its former importance but did provide a quick comfort stop.
The 360 is a surprisingly comfortable place to spend time. The upright seating position is akin to many modern-day SUVs. The seats are softer and more springy than typical today, but with plenty of adjustment including lumber support it was already becoming clear that the hours ahead would pass in comfort.
While the seating position was relatively modern, there is no escaping the fact that PNP was missing all of the huge number of technological and safety developments of the last 40 years. There are no airbags or electronic driving aids, but surprisingly once I stopped treating it as though I was handling an antique, it felt surprisingly modern. The one exception being the steering, which without any form of power assistance is heavy.
Onwards through Germany and several torrential downpours, the wipers kept the view clear, without a squeak or a whine. Approaching Hamburg and the roadworks and traffic jams that accompany most major cities, darkness fell. It did highlight one weakness from 40 years ago, the dipped headlamps had more in common with candle power. As we headed further north towards the German port of Puttgarden to catch the second ferry of the day, the roads got smaller, less busy and darker. I was wondering if a headtorch might help when ferry terminal came into view. After a brief wait, we loaded for the 45-minute ferry to Rodby in Denmark, the third country in a day.
Day 3 dawned dry and bright with the final 280 miles to Gothenburg crossing the Oresund Bridge. This near 5-mile engineering challenge, opened in 2000, combines a tunnel to a man-made island and then the bridge section taking both road and rail traffic from the Danish capital Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden.
Turning left at Malmo there was just the final run up the west coast of Sweden to do. Testament to the build quality of the Volvo factory a generation ago, there were no rattles or squeaks and the suspension, firmer than the stock 340 but still relatively soft by modern sports standards, dealt with the road imperfections in comfort.
As we got nearer to Gothenburg, I became a little braver at pushing the car. It accelerates smoothly and quickly and could comfortably hold its own with the motorway traffic. There is even a decent throaty sound from the exhaust when pressed. All in all, this Volvo 360 GLT was a remarkably comfortable and capable car despite the years.
So, 48 hours and 900 miles after leaving Daventry we arrived at our destination, the Volvo Museum and our package had been returned to its sender 40 years after it had been delivered to the original customer via the then Volvo dealer in Worcester, John Wallworks.
PNP 209Y was mostly used by the original owner to tow a caravan and when that stopped the car was garaged with just 11,000 miles on the clock. A second owner recommissioned the car many years later and recognising how unique the history of this car was, offered it to Volvo Car UK to add to its heritage fleet in 2019.
It now joins the Volvo Museum’s fleet in Gothenburg, where early in 2024 it will transfer to a new purpose-built Volvo brand experience centre in Gothenburg city. The centre will showcase the very best of the past, present and future for both Volvo Cars and Volvo Group. PNP209Y will take its place to demonstrate an important chapter from Volvo’s near 100-year story.
Note about the author - Having been to Gothenburg many times in a 35-year career with Volvo Cars based in the UK and Ireland, driving rather than flying there was on David Baddeley’s bucket list. Having recently retired, that is one item now ticked off the list.