Every brand needs a performance presence to attract buyers. It’s a universal law so essential in the industry that it should be etched into the foundation of every corporate office in the auto world. Right now, Toyota is scrambling to reestablish its go-fast presence, Infiniti is trying to legitimize its S models, and Hyundai is building its N-division from the ground up. For many gearheads, Volvo’s lack of performance credentials have long been the brand’s biggest sin. How can the Safety Brand compete with BMW and Mercedes if it doesn’t have an M-Division or AMG to grab magazine covers – and more importantly – woo potential M3 buyers?
Frankly, it’s a perception that Volvo would love to put to bed. In Europe, Volvo has has been racing and winning for years – almost 90 of them, in fact. It began rallying in 1928, and by the ’50s and ’60s PV444, PV544, and 122s models were winning events in Europe, the U.S., and Africa, both on and off-road. Both 140 and 240-series cars had success in the ’70s, and in the ’80s, Volvo was the first one to exploit the performance pedigree of its turbo-powered sedans and wagons. Its V8-powered S60 sedans have long been a threat in the Australian Supercar series, and this year, Volvo absorbed tuner Polestar, and now (thankfully), it’s beginning to produce its high-performance S60 and V60 Polestar in serious numbers. It may not have the iconic red/blue/purple colorway of the BMW M cars, or the Teutonic silver of AMG yet, but once you see a Swedish blur scream by you in that unmistakable Rebel Blue, you’ll never mistake it for anything else.
So while Volvo bumps up the availability of its go-fast models at dealerships, it’s hoping to put its slowpoke image to rest once and for all on the track. On October 13, exactly 30 years since its historic European Touring Car championship season (winning with two Volvo 240 Turbos), the company announced that its Polestar Cyan Racing arm will enter the FIA World Touring Car Championship starting in 2016. And judging by the cars it plans on racing, it looks like the Swedes mean business.
From the outside, Volvo’s competition effort looks like a tarted up S60 – hell, the company probably hopes the competition will think the same thing. But this isn’t your English professor’s Volvo; the company has dubbed the car the SC1, and like offerings from BMW, Porsche, and the other likely suspects, it’s gone on a pretty intensive carbon fiber-based diet to keep the weight down. With its flared fenders and aggressive aero kit, it bears a passing resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz C63 Black Series of a few years back, and while the company says “[t]he all-new Volvo S60 Polestar TC1 race car carries the legacy of the 240 Turbo,” its 400 horsepower Drive-E inline four is enough to make your average 240 owner go weak in the knees.
But a great car isn’t always an instant success on the track, and Volvo seems to be going into this with realistic expectations. Christian Dahl, CEO of Cyan Racing, explains, “We have got respect for the task ahead of us that we take on with absolute commitment. This is a long-term effort and we have got an extensive testing programme during the winter that will continue alongside our first WTCC season in 2016 that is all about learning.”
So if the idea of Volvo making a big motorsports push is exciting, the idea that the company is locked in for the long haul means its performance cars will only get better. Who knows, in a few years, the idea of cross-shopping an M3 with a Volvo might not seem so strange anymore.
Volvo is in the beginning stages of a renaissance, and in a particularly distressing time in the auto world, it seems like nothing but good news has come out of Gothenberg lately. Deep down, almost every gearhead loves the outsider status that Volvo has cultivated, and as its lineup gets better and better, seeing it develop a successful motorsports program would be icing on the cake. Plus, we’ll call it here: If a street-legal S60 TC1 ever makes it to showrooms, we call dibs on first drive.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS