The Volvo fit for a dictator

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When Germany was cleaved in two in 1949, the apparatchiks of the newly formed Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR, aka East Germany) may have overlooked one small detail. It didn’t have a car industry.

Sure, VEB Sachsenring started churning out the loveable little plastic-bodied Trabants in their droves from 1957. And yes, VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach revived the unfortunate Wartburg name in 1956, bringing back the frumpy 311.

But neither were really suitable for senior party officials who instead ferried themselves around in the Horch P240, built by VEB Kraftfahrzeugwer Horch Zwickau. It was hardly the luxury saloon government counterparts in democratic countries enjoyed.



But, communism is a funny thing (lolz) and in the spirit of ‘democratic’ cooperation, in 1959, following a Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) edict, only Czechoslovakia was allowed to build and supply what were deemed ‘luxury’ cars for Eastern Bloc regimes.

That left East German politburo high flyers to glide around in the Tatra 603, a rear-engine V8 and kinda cool luxury sedan with a history cloaked in secrecy and rebellion. What’s not to like? (you can read about it here).

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And for a while it served higher-ranking East German officials admirably, especially as their lower-ranked comrades had to slum it in the far less-impressive Russian-built Volga.



By the early 1970s, the Tatra 603 was no longer the luxury car it had once been, despite three updates that did little to actually update the car other than some cosmetic changes.

What to do then? The West German powerhouses of BMW and Mercedes-Benz were out philosophically, while the Russian Volgas were about as appealing as a stint in a Siberian gulag.

Something had to be done. After all, the elite of the party couldn’t be seen driving around in the same plastic Trabbis as the proletariat.



The solution, when it came, was as surprising for the Staatsrat (State Council) and the  Ministerrat (the Council of Ministers) as it was for Swedish car maker Volvo.

Sweden, of course, was neutral, and that made it an attractive partner for the East German government. And Swedish car maker Volvo had, in its line-up, a Bertone-designed limousine version of its hugely popular 200 Series sedan.

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Officially called the Volvo 264 TE by Bertone, the stretched version was, according to Volvo itself, “… the first of the special iterations of the 260 series. Aimed at governments, consular staff, leading companies and other VIPs, the 5.6-metre TE limousine was 70cm longer than a 264 GLE sedan – accommodating up to six passengers (in addition to the driver) via foldable second-row seats. ‘Exclusive elegance’ was provided by plush upholstery, deep-pile carpeting, air-conditioning, electric windows, and adjustable rear-seat reading lamps.”



Cool.

Powering the 264 TE (for Top Executive) was the slightly underwhelming 2.9-litre V6 (PRV6), jointly developed by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo. Production details remain sketchy, but it’s believed around 300 of the 5.6-metre long limo (almost a metre longer than the regular 200 Series which measured 4780mm long) were produced. But the executives and VIPs of Europe stuck with their Mercs and Volvo’s hoped-for customer-base didn’t eventuate.

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But, the Swedes found a lifeline for its luxo-barge in the DDR, the socialist state snapping up almost the entire production run for use by senior members of the Staatsrat and the Ministerrat. Even DDR honcho, Chairman Erich Honecker, enjoyed being ferried around in his stretch Volvo, although reportedly his favourite car was a stretched version of the Citroen CX.



Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the CX also enjoyed the Swedish touch, the coachwork done by a company called Nilsson which built several of the elongated and elegant Frenchy for Honecker.

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But while the Citroen was used almost exclusively by the DDR leader, such was the prevalence of the stretch Volvo on the streets of Berlin that the suburb of Wandlitz, the upmarket enclave of senior party apparatchiks, became known – somewhat contemptuously – as Volvograd. Who said Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the car industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while also writing in-depth feature articles on historically significant cars and auto manufacturers. He also loves discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.

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