The Volvo C70 was available with both low-pressure and high-pressure, 5-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engines and manual and automatic transmissions. Although visually based on the 850, it was actually engineered by Tom Walkinshaw Racing and was a breakthrough design for Peter Horbury.
Since the Volvo 780 coupe went out of production in 1990, Volvo lacked a true competitor to Saab's 900/9-3 coupe/convertible, and likely lost sales to Saab to customers desiring a Swedish sports car.
The C70 was built in Uddevalla, Sweden in a facility separate from the 70-series sedan and wagon assembly line. The C70 also had more human involvement in assembly than the other 70-series cars since the C70 was the first modern convertible Volvo had constructed.
The car was introduced as a 1997 model in Europe, and as a 1998 model in North America, Volvo's largest market. This staggered launch was in part to ensure quality of a vehicle type that was very new to Volvo.
A series of special edition models was made in the beginning of the production run featuring a unique two-tone premium leather interior. Other optional equipment made standard in this special edition include the SC-900 (coupe) and SC-901 (convertible) Dolby Surround Sound stereo with 3-disc integrated changer unit (via a cartridge) and 12 Dynaudio speakers.
The C70 met with limited success overall due to a limited demand for coupes in general and cost (roughly US$43,000 for convertible and US$39,000 for coupe). The coupe model has a smoother roof line than the convertible due to the ribs necessary in a soft top. The second generation C70 remedies this by using a three-piece retractable hard top.
The C70 has developed a cult following of Volvo enthusiasts due to its groundbreaking design and its touring car performance. The C70 is a heavy car for its size due to numerous safety features. The car performs best at high speeds, overtaking traffic with power bursts from its turbocharged engine. The manual transmission makes the most of the T5 engine, but is rare in North America.
The C70 was introduced to the press in saffron orange metallic paint. The 1997 movie The Saint featured a C70 finished in coral red metallic paint. As with most Volvo models, paint colors changed throughout the C70's years of production.
Production of the coupe ended in 2003 due to lack of demand, while the cabriolet/convertible continued until the introduction of the second generation C70. Several special edition colors and trim options were available to commemorate the end of the first generation C70.
Volvo and Tom Walkinshaw Racing have had a tumultuous relationship, with threatened shutdowns of the Uddevalla factory occurring during contract disputes. As a result, Volvo and TWR parted ways and TWR has no contribution to the second generation C70.