For immediate release
The spirit of Volvo is characterized by life. Long life. Protect life. Enjoy life.
This year, Volvo celebrates life with its 75 anniversary. And 75 years later, the company that was founded on the tenets of quality and safety is as passionate today about these values as it was when it all began.
Indicative of its Swedish heritage, Volvo started with one of the most Swedish traditions of them all: a crayfish party. On the evening of July 25, 1924, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson ran into one another at the Sturehof Restaurant in Stockholm. The two Swedish car enthusiasts ordered a huge plate of red crayfish - and a few hours later a company was born.
First model nicknamed "Jakob"
In recognition of the date in which it all began, the first car model was nicknamed "Jakob," whose name day in the Swedish calendar is July 25. "Jakob" rolled out of the factory on April 14, 1927, powered by a two-litre engine developing 28 hp at 2000 rpm. Sales manager Hilding Johanson drove it into the yard, and a handful of onlookers cheered. The open five-seater body had four doors and was covered in sheet steel on a frame of ash and capper beech. Top speed was claimed to be 90 km/h, but that was regarded as somewhat optimistic. It was daring for a Nordic company to enter the market with a convertible, and the demand for "Jakob" was limited. Only 300 cars were sold during the few years in which the model was built. A covered model proved to be more popular, and the original production plan for this version was revised to satisfy interest in it.
The safety image was born with a bang
The first collision ever involving a Volvo occurred even before the first car was sold! In 1926, on the road from Stockholm to Gothenburg, one of the nine "Jakob" prototypes collided head-on with an American car. The import became a wreck, but the Volvo emerged with just a few scratches. The rest is history.
Modest exports in the 1920s
Volvo Car Corporation's export figures were initially modest: 24 cars in 1928, 27 in 1929. Finland became the first export country; however, early Volvos were also shipped to Denmark, Cuba, the Netherlands, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Argentina. It wasn't until 1955 that Volvos were exported to the United States with the PV444. Exports to Canada began in 1958. Competing with the giant American brands was considered to be a daring venture. Or, as a wise Swede put it, "Like selling refrigerators at the North Pole." In spite of this, the PV 444 was a hit, and North America soon grew to be the largest market for Volvo cars.
Close to being American - in the late 1920s
Few people know that Volvo was actually close to becoming an American company back in the late 1920s when Volvo was still struggling financially. American auto manufacturer Charles Nash took the boat to Sweden in the Spring of 1929 to close the deal, but Assar Gabrielsson and the ball bearing company SKF made a joint effort and managed to keep the company Swedish - just a few hours before the American guests arrived at the Port of Gothenburg. In September of the same year, Volvo made a modest profit for the first time.
U.S. inspiration in the 1930s
During the 30s, inspiration came mainly from the United States. Skilled Swedish engineers, who had worked for American car manufacturers in Detroit, returned to Sweden and Volvo. They injected the company with technological know-how and design influences.
The PV36 was launched in 1935. The beautiful "Carioca" - as it was called - had a new, bold rounded shape and innovative technology, such as individual wheel suspension. The Carioca is still one of the real Volvo classics.
PV444 - the favorite of families and racing drivers
The dawn of Volvo's design tradition as it is known today came with the PV444. This was a self-confident car, smaller than U.S. models, but larger and more dynamic than European small cars of the time. The PV444 was roomy on the inside and had enough horsepower to be known as the "family sports car."
Very soon, it also became the favorite car of racing drivers. At the end of the 1940s, 444s started to take part in races. In 1958, Gunnar Andersson won the European Championship in a PV444 (as he did in 1963). In 1960, he won the world's most gruelling race, the Grand Premio International in Argentina. In 1959, Evy Rosquist won the Women's European Rally Championship. The racing and rally success of the PV444 was repeated in the 1980s with the Volvo 240 Turbo in Europe and in the 1990s with Volvo S40 Racing in the United Kingdom.
Italian inspiration in the 1950s
In the 50s, the Italians led the design world. Volvo Car Corporation appointed a chief designer for the first time. Jan Wilsgaard blended Italian inspiration with Swedish functionality in the PV120 (the "Amazon" as it was known in Scandinavia), which was born in 1956. The PV120 emphasized the typical design features that have been part of Volvos ever since: the V-shaped hood, a distinctive shoulder line and the vertical grille, proud to be Volvo. Whereas the wagon version of the PV444 introduced in 1953 - the "Duett" - was a totally functional means of transport, the Amazon became the first in a long line of Volvo wagons that blended prestige and practicality when it was introduced in 1962.
Synonymous with safety in the 1950s
The PV444 had been equipped with innovations like the laminated windscreen and the safety cage back in the 40s, but the 50s was the decade in which Volvo became synonymous with safety.
In 1959, Volvo changed the automotive world forever by introducing the three-point safety belt, invented in-house by Nils Bohlin. The three-point safety belt is one of the most important life-saving innovations in automotive history - and it is still the basis of safety in every modern car. Volvo was the first car manufacturer in the world to equip its cars with safety belts as standard fittings. The company received its first safety award in 1962, which was to be followed by many more...
A car for a "Saint"
With this life-saving image in mind, what could be more natural than the next Volvo being driven by a "Saint?" The P1800 was introduced in 1959. It was sporty, dynamic and elegant enough to be driven by Roger Moore in the British TV series The Saint.
And, being Volvo, the functional Swedes couldn't stop themselves from making a wagon version of this beautiful sports car. The tailgate of the P1800 ES has made a comeback several times since then: in the Volvo V40 and recently in the Volvo Safety Concept Car.
"Cleanest Car Sold in America"
The Volvo 140, introduced in 1966, was the first Volvo in which the sedan and wagon versions were developed side by side. With the Volvo 140, followed by the 240, Volvo introduced a timeless design that attracted customers throughout the world for almost 30 years. This was due to the simple, clean lines, which took the virtue of functionality to new heights. The most functional of them all was, of course, the Volvo 245, the mother of all Volvo wagons. These models also represent major advances in the fields of active and passive safety - as well as in the field of environmental care.
The catalytic converter with the Lambda sensor was introduced in the U.S. in 1976. It represented a major breakthrough. In actual fact, the emissions from the first cars were so low that the test equipment had to be checked very carefully. The U.S. test team thought that it was broken!
The 240 became the "Cleanest Car Sold in America." Today, the catalytic converter is the basis of emission control in every modern car.
Success in a boxy package
At a time when the automotive world was turning back to rounded shapes, Volvo Car Corporation once again chose its own path in the 1980s. The bold design of the Volvo 760 and Volvo 740 received its fair share of attention, and the new 700 Series soon became a significant hit. Volvo's sales figures reached an all-time high.
The carrying capacity of the wagon version was a direct result of the design: where other manufacturers were cutting corners, the boxy shape of the Volvo created superior loading space.
The new era of the 1990s
The Volvo 850 was Volvo Car Corporation's largest industrial project ever.
It heralded the start of a new era. Safety, reliability, functionality and environmental concern - all the world-famous Volvo virtues - were wrapped up in a dynamic package that would gradually change the image of Volvo during the 90s.
The Volvo 850 has won more awards than any other Volvo car, both for its technology and safety level and for its design. The Volvo 850 sportswagon was voted the "world's most beautiful wagon" in Italy, where good design is a way of life. The distinctive rear end of the Volvo 855 has been much copied, but, just like copies of other high-quality brands, there is nothing like the feeling of owning the original.
New models, new advantages
The new Volvo S60 and its siblings on the same platform - the Volvo S80, Volvo V70, the Volvo Cross Country and now the XC90 - are all excellent examples of the way the designers and engineers work hand in hand at a modern car company.
The basic architecture introduced in the Volvo 850 with its space-efficient, transverse, in-line engine has given every one of the new Volvos its own advantages: extra legroom in the rear seat of the S80, more luggage space in the V70, the dynamic roofline of the S60 and now three rows of forward-facing seats in the XC90 - creating seven seats in a size where competitors struggle to seat five.
Towards a bright future
So, what about the future? Because Volvo cars are designed completely through digital technology, the designers and engineers work more rapidly than in the past. Today, it's not only possible to design a car on a computer, Volvo's experts can also test drive it and perform crash tests - all before a single prototype is built.
From the simple meeting of two car enthusiasts at a Stockholm restaurant
75 years ago, Volvo has evolved into an international leader of automotive safety and design. And through this development, Volvo has maintained the shared vision of Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson to be a unique automotive company.
Volvo Cars of Canada Ltd.
MacDonald & Co.