The Volvo 300 is First Produced
The Volvo 300 series was a rear wheel drive automobile sold as both a hatchback and (later) a conventional saloon from 1976-1991.
It was launched in The Netherlands in 1976, shortly after Volvo acquired a controlling share of the passenger car division of DAF in 1975. The series consisted of the Volvo 343 and 345 up to 1982, and Volvo 340 / 360 afterwards. The design of the body was done by Provoost / de Vries (internal design team at DAF)
The 300 series was unusual in having the transmission mounted over the rear axle (which was of the De Dion tube type), with the 360 having the driveshaft enclosed in a "torque tube". The rear-mounted transmission helped with a balanced weight distribution (automatic versions have almost 50/50) and handling, but it has the consequence of having a large transmission tunnel.
Overall, the 300 series was considered heavy and unrewarding to drive but reliable and safe by the standards of its day. However, sporty 360GLT versions are well regarded by more enthusiastic drivers, with the unusual drivetrain setup ensuring good weight distribution and unusually good balance and traction.
After building a series of compact cars, DAF sought a partner to bring its new larger model, codenamed P900, starting 1970. Several manufacturers were approached, including Audi, BMW, and Volvo. Volvo was not originally interested due to the costs, but they were later persuaded by DAF's access to Renault engines. This helped Volvo expand its model line-up without the large expenditures associated with developing a new model. Building cars in the Netherlands also helped the Swedish Volvo to access the markets of the EEC, of which Sweden was then not yet a member.
Volvo purchased a one-third share in DAF in 1973, increasing to a three-quarters stake in 1975; the DAF company's name was changed to Volvo Car BV that year. The original DAF company, the commercial vehicle division DAF Trucks, still operates today.
The Volvo 343 was introduced in 1976. DAF had developed this car as an upward expansion of its car range, until then headed by the Volvo (previously DAF) 66. The 343 was fitted with a 1.4 litre Renault engine in the front and DAF's radical Variomatic continuously variable transmission mounted under the rear seats. Volvo did not want to equip the car with other transmissions than the CVT, because at the time the marketing department considered that "their only uniqueness", despite the fact that the chassis was specifically designed by DAF to be able to mount multiple types of engines and transmissions in it. Planned were manual versions, and the then still experimental van Doorne's Transmission's CVT system with metal pushbelt. Due to Volvo's decision to put the car to market with obvious point of improvement re. quality, with only the 1.4 Variomatic, and very little choice in trim and body colours, sales in 1976 and 1977 were well below expectations. A major update of the CVT and its steering components late 1977 (model year 1978) improved drivability considerably. However, sales only really started to take off when the manual transmission from the 200 series was made available at the end of 1978. The long-awaited five-door model, branded 345, was added in 1979. In 1980, larger wrap-around bumpers were introduced.
1980 also saw the addition of an additional engine option, the 2.0 litre B19A unit, again from the Volvo 240, only available with the manual gearbox. These models were designated the DLS and GLS, whilst the 1.4 litre engine was only available in L, DL and GL form. A more streamlined bonnet, grille and front lamp arrangement and slightly different fenders, together with a new dashboard and revised interior signalled the first major facelift in 1982.
The third digit designating the number of doors was dropped from model designations in 1983. The 343 DLS and GLS were renamed the 360, which arrived that year with two 2.0 litre engine choices, the 92 bhp (69 kW) B19A, and the fuel injected 115 bhp (86 kW) B19E for the flagship model, the 360 GLT. The 360 model was available in five-door and three-door hatchback form, with four-door saloon models added in 1984, as were the 340's. The older Volvo red block engines in the 360 were upgraded to the low friction B200 unit. Capacities and outputs remained much the same. The carburettor version was designated B200K and the Bosch LE-Jet fuel injected version is known as the B200E.
In 1985 (model year 1986) the second major facelift was introduced. Amongst other small changes, wrap-around body coloured bumpers with the indicator repeaters attached to them were fitted. Instrumentation changed from Smiths units to VDO. Also, the manual 340 models were now available with the B172 Renault F-series 1.7 litre engine.
From 1987 on, incremental improvements in features and emissions control were made. Production of the 300 series ended in 1991 with special editions featuring the 360 steering wheel and different wheel trims, the last models receiving blackened door and window frames and a more streamlined glass on the hatch, despite the fact it was supposedly replaced by the Volvo 440 in 1987.
A famous advertisement for the 300 series in the late 1980s saw a crash test dummy "come alive", and drive a 340 out of a second floor factory window, nose-diving into the concrete ground.
The 300 Series had a choice of three petrol engines; a 1.4, 1.7, and a 2 litre. The 1.4 litre B14 was a 72 bhp (54 kW) Renault C-series OHV pushrod unit, and for the DLS, GLS and 360 there was the B200 2 litre engine taken from the Volvo 240, with outputs varying from 95 bhp (71 kW) to 112 bhp (84 kW) . A new Renault F-series 80 bhp (60 kW) 1.7 litre OHC petrol engine (designated the B172) was introduced in the 340 during the late 1984 range facelift.
A diesel engine was added to the 340 models in 1986. This diesel was a Renault F series like the petrol 1.7, and was available with a 55 bhp (41 kW) 1.5-litre non-turbo engine only. These diesel models were not available in the UK, but could be imported from Ireland. The diesel units were available in various countries on the continent especially Germany where diesel was one of the cheaper fuels. Volvo also experimented with LPG tanks, a feature of which was made available in 1979 with the Volvo 343 and 345 but they were limited in LPG availability.
Like other Volvos, the 340 embodied many ground-breaking safety features which have since become standard on most cars.
While the car was fundamentally robust, the detail build quality was never up to the same standard of Volvo's larger, Swedish-built models, coupled to the fact that the early Variomatic cars proved to be particularly troublesome. The Volvo badge however ensured that the car had a strong middle-class following (often as a second car) particularly in the UK in the 1980s, being the nation's eighth best selling new car in 1982 and the tenth in 1983 and 1984. They are robust and mechanically simple (and therefore easy to maintain). Even the unpopular Variomatic transmissions are very reliable given proper care. The rust protection was poorer than other Volvos, but the engines (especially the 1.4 and 2.0s) were quite durable. The Volvo 300 has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years with a number of very active websites across Europe. A strong, young following has developed, attracted by low prices, wide availability of parts and the completely different/alternative public image of the type.
An unusual feature of the car's design is the geometry of the rear axle. Two degrees of negative camber on the rear de Dion axle produces a similar stabilising effect as the expensive and complex Weissach axle launched by Porsche a year after the launch of the Volvo 343. The inherent stability of this design made the car popular with caravan owners, being voted Tow Car of the Year in 1985.
The Renault-sourced 1.7 litre engine suffers from a well-known problem that when the carburettor mounting bolts are overtightened, warping of the carburettor base and manifold occurs. Another problem is that the carburettor float is made of plastic which becomes porous over time. A combination of those problems can result in a completely undriveable car. The problems are often difficult to fix fully, but a fully overhauled 1.7 is probably the best engine for the car (performance vs consumption).
The model is featured among the top 10 most popular new cars in the UK in 1982, 1983 and 1984, and was one of the UK's most popular imported cars of the decade.