1980 Volvo 440

It’s 30 years since Volvo embraced front-drive tech with a five-door family hatchback that veered from the Scandinavian manufacturer’s well-established blueprint.

Work on what would eventually become the Volvo 440 began as far back in 1978.

Seen internally as a ‘clean sheet’ project designed to lead Volvo into the future and with “aiming for the stars” the name of the game, the project was dubbed Galaxy. 

By the end of 1980, the first front-wheel drive prototype – called the G4 – was ready. The prototype already resembled what would become the Volvo 440 and displayed the attributes that Volvo was looking for. It featured front-wheel drive underpinnings, was fun to drive and offered good interior space while its external dimensions remained compact. 

The first of Volvo's new front-wheel drive models was the 480 sports coupé, which was officially launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1986. niche model, it still paved the way for the 440, which was presented two years later after production began in the Netherlands. Before long, the 440 was battling in earnest for car buyers in the mid-range hatchback class. 

The Volvo 440 was a modern hatchback model with a practical rear seat that was split into two sections. The centre panel on the dashboard faced the driver, making it easier for those in front to access controls. The arrangements linked this model programme with the 700 series, with its smooth sides and low, almost vertical side windows. 

All available engines were four-cylinder in format with a single overhead camshaft, ranging from 1.6-litres to 2.0-litres, and including a 1.7-litre turbo model. 

Naturallysafety was a prime consideration and anti-lock ABS brakes were available as an optional extra as early as 1989. Seatbelt pretensioners and airbags were fitted as optional extras from model year 1991 onwards, and Volvo's integrated side impact protection system – SIPS – was introduced to the model in 1994.

The next model version in the 400 series – the 460, a saloon version of the 440 and 10 centimetres longer – was presented in 1989. Production of the Volvo 444 60 was discontinued in November 1996; its successors, the S40 and V40, had been in parallel production for more than a year by that time. 

The 400 series was never available in that most Volvo of body styles; a station wagon. Two external design companies did devise estate proposals during the course of its lifetime; ASC Detroit in the United States created a design outline, while Heuliez in France built a prototype estate for the 400 series. One of these is now part of the Volvo Museum's collections.  

The 440 also made a brief appearance in motorsport in 1992, with a rallycross version of the 440, fitted with a 533kW 2.3-litre, 16-valve engine. This car also had four-wheel drive. 

The Galaxy project actually launched two very different model series; the 400 and the big 850, which eventually surfaced in 1991. The 850 had the greatest impact and would go on to be a top seller in many markets.  

But the 400 remains a unique and rarer chapter in Volvo’s lengthy model development history that foreshadows the company’s successes with compact models in the crossover segment today. 

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