The Go-Anywhere Ugly Duckling That is the Volvo C303 December 02, 2014

There was a time that Volvos weren’t known for their sleek and classy designs but instead for boxy military vehicles that could go just about anywhere. A great example of this is the boxy 1970s Volvo C303. This ugly yet amazing truck/van hybrid could drive anywhere over just about anything, making it perfect for military purposes then and amazing for off-roading now.

At first glance you probably notice the C303’s designer loved straight lines, as every part of this off-road machine is some form of box. Luckily aerodynamics weren’t too important to Volvo when the C303 was built, as it catches far more air than it ever lets pass, that’s for sure.

While we could go on about how boxy and ugly the C303 is, the truck’s off-road prowess more than makes up for any aesthetic shortcomings. For starters, the C303 comes with portal axles just like the Mercedes Unimog. It offers front and rear locking differentials to keep going through the deepest of mud, and has enough ground clearance for a dog to walk under easily.

Inside you’ll find seven seats with the front two sitting just ahead of the front axle. This placement gives the driver a great view of the road ahead and not so great comfort. Between the front seats you’ll find the 6-cylinder engine that oddly enough is powered by gasoline and not diesel. This gives the truck a cleaner, quieter feel that’s odd for an off-road monster but very much welcome. 

Top speed for the C303 is a respectable 62 MPH with 125HP and 165 lb-ft of torque. The high clearance and huge approach and departure angles give the C303 it’s high rating off-road. The truck’s age starts to show however when you look at features like braking though. You’ll find drum brakes with dual vacuum servo assist stopping you, and while not bad, not as good as some more advanced systems.

So who used this thing anyway? Well most of the Volvo C303s produced went to the Swedish Army to help protect their open border with Eastern Bloc countries. Next there’s a mix of countries that employed this truck/van for their armies including the Malaysian Army, Military of Estonia, Latvian Land Forces, and non-military uses by Malaysian Telecom and a surprising number of private owners.

The C303 saw a decline with the end of the Cold War, as Sweden lost a need for the level of protection they needed. While mostly used by collectors and off-road drivers today, the C303 represents a unique chapter in military off-road history, and if you can get your hands on one today, definitely pick it up. After you replace the hoses and do a tune-up you’ll love every minute of bouncing six friends around in this big square can.

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