If someone hadn't lost count of a bunch of chassis, it's quite possible that Volvo would never have built a station wagon and we wouldn't be celebrating the Volvo station wagon's 50th anniversary this year.
But, indeed, when the company discovered it had built an extra 1,500 chassis for its vaunted PV444 sedan in 1953, it decided to make station wagons out of them. In July that year, the first Volvo wagon rolled off the assembly line in Göteborg, Sweden, and Volvo Car Corporation was on its way to becoming the world's leading manufacturer of station wagons.
Of course, that wouldn't happen until the popularity of minivans and SUVs shrunk the wagon segment to a fraction of what it was at its peak. But, unlike the many manufacturers that halted production of wagons or cut back dramatically to focus on minivans and SUVs, Volvo Cars has continued development of station wagons, striving to perfect a vehicle type it has made very much its own.
"We have never lost sight of our original goal," says Paul Cummings, president of Volvo Cars of Canada Ltd. "In 1953, we were striving to create the essential vehicle that combined versatility, recreation and family fun. Fifty years later, both our V70 wagon and its go-anywhere cousin, the XC70 all-wheel-drive Cross Country, bring to the market exactly what our colleagues hoped to bring a half-century ago."
In truth, it wouldn't have been difficult for the company to dispose of those extra chassis back in 1953. Constructed of legendary Swedish steel, world renowned for its strength and durability, the frames were already in demand by companies that built rugged utility and delivery vans.
Wisely, as it turned out, Volvo decided the time was ripe to build its own wagon.
Many of those first wagons, as well as most of the Volvo wagons produced since then, were destined for Canada and the United States where Volvo has become something of an icon for the wagon segment.
With an engine pumping out a modest 44 horsepower, the Volvo PV445 - the official name of the first wagon - cruised into a world mad for station wagons. It was the hey-day of the station wagon, which throughout the Fifties was the fastest growing automotive segment.
Everybody called the PV445 by its nickname, the Duett, so tagged because of its dual purpose as a load-toting van during working hours and a spacious passenger car after work. Before its run ended in 1969, more than 90,000 Duetts had been sold, establishing Volvo as a world leader in building flexible, versatile and comfortable vehicles that were still fun to drive.
The Duett would be the platform from which all successive Volvo wagons would evolve.
The Volvo P122 (Amazon in Europe) wagon represented the first true Volvo wagon, designed from a clean sheet of paper. The vehicle, with its unitary design and modern construction, was launched at the 1962 Stockholm Motor Show. When production ended in 1969, 73,000 examples had been sold.
The Volvo 145, produced from 1967 to 1974, was the company's first five-door wagon with a rear section that included a one-piece vertical tailgate. The tailgate design literally opened up vast horizons in terms of cargo space and became a basic characteristic of all subsequent Volvo wagons.
A million Volvo 245/265s were produced over a 19-year span (1974-1993) and quickly elevated the Volvo wagon into the realm of cult car. On one magazine's 'wish list,' European men ranked it up there with an evening with a beautiful actress. In the United States, the 240 series was used for testing by the Department of Transport and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish future safety standards.
By the Eighties, Volvo wagons had firmly established a reputation for safety, security and responsibility.
"Our only problem was that we weren't viewed as being much fun," Cummings says. "All that changed with the introduction in 1985 of the 700-series wagon, which focused more on lifestyle, leisure and performance. Volvo wagons offered performance unlike anything that had been seen on a station wagon up until then."
The Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon was the only wagon on the market that could go 0-100 kilometres an hour in 7.4 seconds with a top speed of 195 km/h (121 mph), turn around in less than 10 metres (34 feet), tow 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lbs) and swallow 2.12 cubic metres (74.9 cubic feet) of cargo - while offering luxury car comfort at the same time.
Updated, the 740/760 became the 940/960, which ended the era of rear-drive Volvos. In all, 675,000 were built over 13 years.
With the start of production in 1993 of the Volvo 850 Wagon, the company quashed forever the notion that family wagon versatility could not be combined with true driving enjoyment. The Volvo 850 Wagon created racing history by being the first wagon -- and the company's first entry -- in the prestigious British Touring Car Championship.
In 1995, the company introduced the V40, the first wagon to carry the 'V for versatility' designation.
While the 850 Wagon was a technological tour de force, there were nonetheless 1,800 changes between it and its successor, the V70. The second generation V70, built on the company's new large car platform, followed in 2000.
The new V70 continues to challenge our notions of what a versatile wagon can be. Currently available in an R version, the V70 R boasts 300 horsepower, 295 ft.lbs. of torque, three-position adjustable suspension and all-wheel drive. This is Volvo Cars' most significant performance vehicle to date.
The flagship of Volvo wagons is the XC70. Positioned as an SUV alternative, this rugged sport wagon has garnered many awards, most recently The Best All-Wheel Drive Wagon by SmartMoney magazine..
Cummings says the first Volvo wagon, the Duett, delivered safety, comfort and performance suited to the world of 50 years ago. "Today, our wagons uphold the heritage - they're just quicker and certainly more stylish than they were in 1953," he says.
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