Sturdy strength is what brought the Swedish car industry into the mainstream of world interest. The homeland from which they came demanded toughness from a car as well as the ability to cope with great extremes of weather and temperature. And once they've got a good car together the Swedes were loath to change it other than in detail. It was true that the 264 GLE looked like a lumbering machine, but it possessed what could almost described as a timelessness. Its styling really was as up to date in 1979 as it was when first introduced.
Although the 264 GLE retained all the traditional Volvo safety features, and incorporated some new ones, its unmistakable all-round class enabled it to avoid the tag of being a dull “security cell” – leastwise it was boxy, safe and good looking. Problems of overpricing did not apply as much to the GLE as other models down the range, its excellent finish and lavish standard equipment making it, by anybody's standard, a luxury car.
The fuel-injected 2.6-litre six-cylinder V engine was a reliable, though hardly startling, performer which meshed well with the three-speed automatic transmission
. Maximum power was 104 kW at 5700 rpm with torque of 216 Nm at 3000 rpm, and the maximum speed was 170 km/h, while the 0-100 km/h sprint took a leisurely 15.2 seconds. Fuel consumption was quite good for a big car, affording 12.6 litres/100 km for hard dirt-road going.
setup consisted of front struts with coil springs/telescopic dampers, lower wishbones, trailing links, and anti-roll bar
, while at the rear was a live axle with coil springs, rubber-mounted control arms, and torque rods. The ride was comfortable and the 264 GLE would soak up the heavy going on secondary country roads, keepingaxle tramp to an absolute minimum.
Volvo added to their safety conscious reputation by reducing the power assist to the very precise rack-and-pinion steering, thereby helping lessen the possibility of over-correction in case of an emergency. The steering
was reassuringly accurate at all speeds. Although not a design trendsetter, the 264 was pleasantly proportioned, and the distinctive diagonal on the grille gave it a high recognition factor. Inside, the firm high seats, adjustable in all directions, gave excellent visibility all round. The dash was laid out with all the instrumentation in front of the driver, with the switch gear in the centre console.
Standard fittings included alloy wheels
, cassette player, laminated screen, rear and headlamp wash-wipers, central locking power windows, remote control exterior mirrors, and hazard warning lights. Fog-lamps, metallic spray, and a sun roof were available as options. The boot space was excellent, and its hydraulic lift system prevented the lid from springing open even when not properly closed. Volvo research at the time stated that their typical buyer was getting younger, and did not regard the Volvo as being the 'blue rinse' vehicle it has so often been called. This may have been true, and the 264 GLE went a long way in changing the perceptions of the marque.
The Volvo 264 GLE in Australia
In Australia, Volvos were more aggressively marketed under Harry Jensen. This was based on a firm foundation though, the whole range of cars by then featuring far more in primary safety than ever before. And the theme extended throughout the range, right to the top and the 264 GLE. Just as the Audi 5E was an interesting example of large car front wheel drive design, so the Volvo, along with the Peugeot 604 which shared the same power unit-showed the way for future V6 engine expertise.
Shorter by far than a V8 or a straight six, the V configuration provided far more opportunities for better space utilisation. The result of co-operation between Volvo and Societe Franco-Suedoise de Moteurs-PRV, the all alloy 90 degree V6 engine was virtually the same as that used on the Peugeot 604, save for the fact that the Swedish version used continuous fuel injection rather than carburetion. This B27 unit replaced the straight six B 30 three litre that featured on the 164 models in the mid 1970s, capacity dropping to 2.7 litres but with little fall off in power.
It could be argued that the 60 degree V6 adopted by GM and by Alfa for their later V6 engines was smoother in operation owing to the natural imbalance of the 90 degree layout under certain conditions, but the Volvo engine certainly felt as smooth as anyone could wish. The only thing you could criticise, and it was a very small issue, was that the chain driven overhead camshafts for each bank were could be a little noisy at idle. Since its inception, the engine's compression ratio rose from 8.7:1 to 9.5:1. Power went up from 103 kW at 6000 rpm (140 Bhp DIN) to 104 kW at 5700 rpm (141 bhp DIN) as the result of this and other detail improvements, not that the improved output was particularly noticeable.
The V6 drove through a three speed automatic transmission which was standard here in Australia. Four and five speed manuals were available in other parts of the world though. Even though the 264 came on the same chassis and body dimensions as the 244 models, somehow it looked and felt a lot bigger. Volvos always had plenty of interior space, and despite the extra thick cushioning of this luxury version, space was not compromised to any degree. It had the same suspension set-up too, with McPherson strut independent front end and a live axle with coil springs, four links and a Panhard rod, at the rear. Naturally, in the interests of a slightly more luxury orientated ride, the springs were a little softer, but they were not soggy.
were fitted all round, again the same as those on the 244. Even all up weight of the top line car was little more than the four cylinder, thanks to the lightweight V6 motor. Virtually every one of the luxury features within the 264 GLE's cabin was standard. The instrument panel was much the same as on the other models and to be sure, the centre vertical, console looked the same, but it was a great deal more crowded. At the top there was a line of controls for the electric windows, electric aerial, hazard warning, and rear electric window lock out, as well as the main air-conditioning
switch. All were the usual Volvo rocker type. Below was the temperature controls and the fan speed selector as well as the “floor, defrost, recirculating" selector buttons for the heater/demister system.
Behind the Wheel
A pushbutton AM/FM radio was standard, as was a stereo cassette player with four speakers and a front to rear balance control. The driver's main controls were on the two steering column stalks, the indicator and light flasher to the left and the windshield wiper/washer to the right. This had two main speeds and an intermittent selector. And of course, when the lights and windshield wipers were on, the headlight wiper/washer system worked automatically. The light selector was on the dash to the right of the steering column.
The GLE's seating comfort was excellent, the seats themselves being trimmed in a velour cord which stayed cool even during an Australian summer. The driver had fore and aft adjustment as well as backrest rake adjustment, but no seat height to play with. Even so, it appeared to be very easy to find a good driving position without one. A lumbar support adjustment was always a good thing to have, and that fitted to the Volvo seemed to have a wide range of adjustment. Storage for bits and pieces around the cabin was generous indeed. Both front door pockets were shaped to accommodate various sized items, while an ample glove-box ahead of the front seat passenger which was lockable.
There were expanding pockets in the front seat backrests for the rear seat passengers. In the rear the leg room and shoulder room was superb, with plenty of head room as well. Head restraints that were identical to those fitted to the front seats were fitted at the rear, while there was a central armrest for extra comfort when only two rear passengers are being carried. Electric window winders for the rear were not duplicated on the driver's panel, although there was a lock out which prevented their use. Boot space was impressive, both with regard to depth and width, not to mention length. Being a luxury car, the whole boot was carpeted.
Volvo stylists endowed the 264 with a far heavier look than their other models, giving the impression of solidity. It was obvious that, as usual, Mercedes was the inspiration for the design of the grille. A A$120 option was the fitment of a fibreglass front spoiler which gave the impression of a cow-catcher located at the front of a steam locomotive. That’s not to say it was particularly ugly. The spoilers came in either black or silver, so painting any other colour we assume would have been extra.
Volvo’s idea of passive safety could become a little annoying however. With the key inserted in the ignition there was a low pitched buzzing all the time the doors were open. The seat belt warning light would also come on the minute you sat down, sensors in the front seats set this in motion as soon as a passenger's weight settled on the squab. Only the fastening of the relevant seat belt(s) gave respite. We can be thankful that today, the seat belt warning chimes are usually reserved for forward speeds above 5 km/h. But, as annoying as these may have been – the important safety message was sure to get through. And that was one thing that Volvo’s were renowned for.
Generally, all round visibility from the driving seat was good. Volvo's power steering on the rack and pinion system was very good indeed. Once you became accustomed to the quick response, it made life so much easier in the rough and tumble of rush hour traffic. This excellent steering response was also a result of the Michelin XVS Steel Radial tyres
fitted all round on attractive alloy sports wheels. Sure footed was the way you'd describe it, no matter what the conditions. Handling was good, with very little roll despite the softened suspension (in the interests of ride comfort). Only the suppression of impact harshness gave any reason to criticise. Apart from that impact harshness, internal noise and vibration suppression was well in keeping with the 264's luxury character. Engine noise could only be heard faintly when the revs were well up.
Although performance wasn’t anything special, it was enough to keep you entertained. The 264 could manage zero to 100 km/h in 11.7 seconds, and for a car of its size, and for the era, this time was particularly good. The standing start 400 metres came in at around 18.4 seconds. Speeds in the gears were useful too, especially the second gear maximum of 125 km/h. At maximum torque, this provided a good overtaking ratio. On the autobahn you could wind the 264 out to a top speed of 174 km/h – perhaps not all that impressive but well more than you could ever do legally on Australian roads. Perhaps more important than any top speed figures was the cars fuel consumption, and in the case of the 264 it was respectable, but not brilliant. Around town it could climb to as high as 15.3 litres per 100 km (18.6 mpg). If you were sparing with the throttle you could drop that to around 14.4 litres per 100 km (19.2 mpg) mark. We don’t have figures for country driving, but it is safe to say that these would have been much better.
In its home market the 264 GLE had some tough competition, such as Audi's 5E (at A$15,895, or $19,795 for the luxury "CD" version), SAAB's 99 GLE (at A$16,305), and the Rover 3500 (at $19,995). While these competitive cars were also available here in Australia, there were also the locally built cars that stacked up well against the 264, but came with a lower price tag. These included Chrysler's Regal SE at a mere A$12,002, Ford's Fairmont Ghia at A$10,187, or perhaps even the Ford LTD at A$18,000, the Holden Commodore S/LE at A$10,513, and the Holden Statesman Caprice at $16,640. Compared with all of these, the Volvo offered rugged, yet refined luxury with excellent primary and secondary safety attributes and without unreasonable fuel consumption. And, perhaps, just a touch more individuality.