2004 is a real anniversary year for Volvo Car Corporation. Two models are celebrating their 60th anniversaries, one will be 50 and the fourth will be celebrating 30 years on roads all over the world!
The four models are Volvo's first post-war vehicles, the PV60 and PV444, the plastic sports car, the Sport, and the indisputable Volvo symbol of the 1970s and 1980s, everyone's favourite, the 240.
Models with the same family name, celebrating important anniversaries, have rarely had such different characters – the heavy, conservative PV60, the sleek, future-oriented PV444, the open, two-seater Sport venture made of the new American material, plastic, and the car which, for almost twenty years, accounted for a considerable percentage of Volvo Cars' revenue, the top-seller, the 240 Series.
We would like to add our congratulations and now have the pleasure of presenting four short descriptions of the lives of these models.
1944 – good news at a difficult time
On Friday, 1 September 1944, a large Volvo exhibition was opened at the Royal Lawn Tennis Hall in Stockholm. The Second World War was still raging and the exhibition was naturally strongly characterised by global uncertainty. However, it also created a sense of hope for a brighter future. The exhibition saw the first presentation of two entirely new cars. The first had been eagerly awaited in Sweden, a country with a huge interest in motoring, while the second, in spite of being something of a surprise, was still more in line with Volvo's previous car models.
During the 1930s, Volvo's car production had focused exclusively on six-cylinder models. Most of the series included what were known TR cars, an abbreviation that stood for taxi, and Volvo had established itself as a well-known, popular brand among Sweden's taxi drivers. At this time, taxis were generally fairly large and frequently had seven or eight seats. In fact, a number of the smoothly streamlined models, the PV53 and PV56, were actually built during the war.
PV60 – American car in Swedish
In 1938 and 1939, Volvo's technicians had been working on a car that would fit in somewhere between the PV53/56 and the PV800 taxi series in terms of size. In August 1939, they had made so much progress that a decision was made to introduce the model as the PV60, in both two-door and four-door versions, on 5 February 1940.
However, the outbreak of war in September 1939 caused virtually every Swedish company to change its plans. As far as Volvo was concerned, the production of civilian vehicles almost ceased and orders from the Swedish armed forces rose sharply!
For several years, the situation in Europe looked really threatening, but this did not prevent a number of technicians at Volvo from working on the commercial future that was destined to materialise at some time.
A prototype of the new car, the PV60, had already been test-driven in September 1939 and, in 1942/43, a further four prototypes were built. There were all very clearly inspired by US car design and, unlike the final version, the four prototypes had rear doors hinged at the back. In the first sketches and models, the design was highly reminiscent of the contemporary Mercury and Lincoln models, but after a time GM characteristics became the dominant features. So much so, in fact, that the tail-lights in the production cars were identical to those on the 1938 Oldsmobile and the 1939 Chevrolet!
The front of the Volvo PV60 was more or less a copy of the 1939 Pontiac and the small plate in the centre of the bumper bore a Volvo emblem. A plate like this could also be found on the Pontiac, but it then carried the Indian head associated with that brand.
The American influence could also be seen very clearly in other ways. The master brake cylinder was the same type as the one on the Studebaker and the same thing applied to the three-speed gearbox, which featured overdrive and automatic engagement and disengagement. Even at this early stage, different manufacturers were using a wide range of suppliers.
One interesting modern feature was the steering-column gear change, which had also been clearly influenced by US design.
The PV60 was developed alongside the small popular car. As a result, the two models shared a number of features, such as the exterior and interior door handles and the number plate lighting on the boot lid.
When it was launched, the Volvo PV60 was a fully-developed but not particularly modern car. Under the imposant bonnet, there was an old and resilient Volvo favourite, the six-cylinder side-valve engine which had started to be produced in the 1930s and had gradually increased in size. It had a displacement of 3.67 litres and its output was 90 horsepower SAE.
The modern, independent front-wheel suspension system contrasted with a rear chassis with a live axle and leaf springs. This nonetheless resulted in a spacious vehicle offering excellent comfort on long journeys.
Deliveries of the PV60 began in 1946 and by 1950, when it vas discontinued, a total of 3,006 PV60s had been produced.
PV444 – the first small car from Volvo
In spite of modest production in the 1930s, Volvo had started to attract national interest, even though its model programme had never included a truly people's car. The idea of a small car had in fact been discussed at Volvo, but the design and production of trucks and taxis consumed all the company's time and resources in the 1930s. During the first few years of the Second World War, people at Volvo often talked about building a small car and, in 1943, work began in earnest on what was destined to become known as Volvo's peacetime car. A great deal of the initiative appears to have come from Helmer Pettersson, who had previously worked for the US motorcycle manufacturer Excelsior and, during the first years of the war, he proved to be a gifted designer of producer-gas generator units.
Since the company was first established in 1927, Volvo cars had been built according to the US philosophy: a traditional, straightforward design with good quality material and large dimensions results in durability. The small car was essentially going to be designed according to these guidelines.
There was, however, one important exception. Instead of a separate frame and body, the new car was going to have a unitary (self-supporting) design. The concept was not entirely new and, to study the method, Volvo purchased a German Hanomag 1.3, which was built in the same way.
It did not take long before 40 or so designers were involved in the project. Not only was it something totally new for Volvo in terms of size, it also indicated that a brighter future was in the offing. The work continued at a high tempo during the winter of 1943/44 and, during the spring of 1944,the time had come to build a full-scale wooden model. It was painted black and given silver-coloured "windows", which were painted onto the outside, as there was still no interior to speak of. In March, the model had been completed and was presented to Volvo's two founders. After inspecting the wooden model a couple of times, they announced their verdict: build the car!
This decision actually laid the foundations for Volvo's entire future as a car maker.
Undrivable prototype sold thousands of cars!
In 1944, at the end of the summer, the first real prototype was complete. Even if it could not be driven, this was not important at the time. The important thing was that it was ready to be presented at the important Volvo exhibition that opened on 1 September 1944.
On the first day of the exhibition, it became clear that the Volvo PV444 was the small car the whole of Sweden had been waiting for. Even if a large number of visitors crowded round the large PV60 to examine and touch it, row upon row of spectators fought to get close to the small, black car with its rounded rear.
The PV444 was a car that all 148,437 of the visitors to the exhibition really took to their hearts. Neither Volvo nor anyone else could say when the first deliveries would be made. However, a short time after the end of the exhibition, field tests finally began on the prototype, which could now be driven.
In the spring of 1945, it was still not possible for prospective customers to test-drive a PV444, but some 2,500 contracts had nonetheless been signed. This indicated beyond all doubt that it would be possible to sell the 8,000 cars that had been planned. The two founders had not hesitated to put the car into production and they were also fairly bold when it came to the production target they set. Prior to this, no Volvo model had ever exceeded a production figure of 2,000. Over the almost 20 years in which the PV444 and 544 were produced, production totalled 440,000 cars and this only goes to prove how easy it is to make the wrong calculations!
The PV444 had a four-cylinder engine with a totally new design – Volvo's first overhead-valve design in a car model. It had a displacement of 1.414 litres and its initial output was 40 horsepower, which was later increased to 44.
It might seem obvious that the engine powered the rear wheels, but this design had actually been preceded by a fair amount of discussion. The fact is that several technicians advocated front-wheel drive, only too well aware that the most successful small cars of the 1930s, the DKW and Adler, were front wheel driven. One of Volvo's founders, Gustaf Larson, decided, however, that "the new car" was going to have a conventional design in this area, one of the reasons being that Volvo would then not need to produce more components than usual. From the start in 1927, one of the fundamental principles had been to source as many components as possible from suppliers. These components should also be relatively few in number or, to put it another way, the designs should be simple.
The wheel suspension systems were fairly modern. At the front, the car had independent suspension, while there was a live axle equipped with support arms and powerful coil springs at the rear.
Eight thousand became almost half a million
At some point in 1945, it was decided that a total of 12,000 cars would be produced. The interesting thing is that, of this total, 10,181 cars had already been sold when the first car underwent type approval on 3 February 1947. The figure of 12,000 was the last one to be given – it was obvious that Volvo was on the right track and, after 1947, demand determined the rate of production.
With many small and a number of large modifications, the production of the Volvo PV444 continued until 1958. On 25 August of this year, the PV544, a highly modernised version of the PV, was presented. It had a one-piece windscreen and larger tail-lights, but the relationship with its predecessor was clear for all to see.
In October 1965, the very last PV was built. It was a black 544 Sport with an output of 95 horsepower and was number 440,000 – of the 8,000 planned from the outset. It is on display at the Volvo Museum in Volvo's home town of Göteborg.
Sport – an open Volvo with a plastic body
At the beginning of the 1950s, Volvo was already firmly established as a producer of robust, durable cars. However, the words "sport" and "flair" were probably less frequently associated with the brand. Newspaper readers were therefore taken by surprise when, in the spring of 1954, a large advertisement in the daily newspapers announced that Volvo was planning to build an open sports car with a body made of the new material, fibreglass-reinforced plastic!
The background was as follows. On one of his many business trips to the USA, Assar Gabrielsson had heard about this new and exciting material. He had also seen how interested the Americans were in European sports cars and he had naturally noted that Chevrolet had presented its sports car, the Corvette, with a body made of fibreglass. Gabrielsson travelled to California where he visited Glasspar, a company that was pioneering the construction of boat hulls and car bodies in the new material. Gabrielsson, a man who never hesitated, ordered a sports car body from Glasspar and the company demonstrated that it was just as quick off the mark as the man from Volvo, as it produced the drawings for the new body before Assar Gabrielsson left the USA. All that was now needed was a chassis on which to fit the body...
As the PV444 was a unitised (self-supporting) structure, it provided no assistance. Nor was the frame of the 445 (the Duett) particularly suitable and so Assar Gabrielsson wired an order for a new chassis and waited for things to take their course. When he eventually disembarked from the America boat in Göteborg, the designers had already made a fair amount of progress on a powerful tubular frame. It had crosswise reinforcements and was designed for the mechanical components from the PV444.
The wheels, brakes, steering system, clutch, gearbox and rear axle were carried over directly from the family car. The engine, on the other hand, was far more powerful. It was given the designation of B14A, it developed no fewer than 70 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and its compression ratio had been increased from 6.5 to 7.8.
The inlet valves were larger, the camshaft was sharper and the engine was fed by double SU-horizontal carburettors. The gearbox was the same three-speed unit as the one in the PV444 and it was operated using an extremely long gear selector.
Swedish car buyers were not thought to be interested in a sporting marvel with a top speed of 155 km/h. So the idea was that the Volvo Sport, the name originally given to the car, would only be sold outside Sweden. Volvo was just about to embark upon an export offensive, so a cool sports car would definitely fit the bill when it came to attracting attention!
On 2 June 1954, the Volvo Sport was given its first public showing. Three cars had been lined up for inspection at Torslanda Airport outside Göteborg. Later the same month, the cars were sent on a tour, together with two of Volvo's new truck models. Interest in the Swedish sports car was enormous. The fact that it was in no way ready for series production and sales appeared to be totally unimportant.
Gruelling test drives in 1955 resulted in countless design modifications and improvements and the following year, 1956, it was decided that the design was ready for production. At the same time, the decision had also been made to sell the Volvo Sport in Sweden.
It would be no exaggeration to say that there was a shortage of buyers. In 1956, only 44 of these cars were built and, in 1957, the number increased by just 23, illustrating all too well the Volvo Sport's lack of commercial attraction for people interested in sports cars at that time.
After Volvo's newly-appointed president, Gunnar Engellau, had test-driven one of these cars over a weekend, the verdict was announced. As the car still lacked so-called Volvo quality, production would be terminated. In addition to four or five test vehicles, a total of just 67 cars had been produced as part of Volvo's "plastic venture". It would take almost forty years for the next open Volvo model to make its appearance on the market. This car was the C70 Convertible and it had an advanced steel body with reinforcements made of high-strength boron steel.
240 – the safety car put into production
The successor to the volume vehicle, the Volvo Amazon (P120), was the 140 Series, which attracted attention among other things for its high safety level. This model series immediately became very popular and production eventually totalled 1.3 million cars, twice as many as the P120.
In August 1974, the time had come to present yet another new generation of Volvo cars, the 240 and 260 Series, which complied with truly rigorous safety standards. The appearance of these cars aroused a variety of feelings, but there were good reasons for the design. The front had been carried over from the safety vehicle, the VESC, and was 13 cm longer than the one on the 140 Series. The large bumpers on the 240, like those on other cars at the time, were dictated by the new US safety standards, but at the same time they helped to give the model its special character.
The Volvo 240 was very largely a product of its generation. The beginning of the 1970s was a very difficult period for the automotive industry. The car and its future were the topic of lively discussions; in fact, some people went so far as to question the future existence of the car. Car sales declined at global level and, at the same time, the cost of producing cars continued to rise. As a result, Volvo, like every other manufacturer, had to keep an eye on the pennies and prioritise two areas – function and safety.
In a difficult period like the 1970s, it could almost be regarded as an advantage to have only 0.8 per cent of the world market, as was the case for Volvo.
Six different versions of the Volvo 240 and two of the Volvo 260 were launched, making an extensive programme of safety cars to offer to customers. The most important characteristics of these new cars included the marked improvement in road performance and the reduction in crosswind sensitivity. The steering had also been given an entirely new level of precision, following the introduction of rack-and-pinion steering. The turning circle was almost on a par with that of the famous London taxi.
Some of the most striking small yet pleasing refinements in the interior were the fact that the safety-belt locks between the front seats were illuminated and the handbrake had been moved to a position between the seats, thereby preventing people tripping over it.
As an alternative to the well-known B20 engine, a 2.1-litre engine with an aluminium head and single overhead camshaft was presented in the 240 models. The B21, as it was called, was available in a carburettor version with an output 97 DIN horsepower and a 123 bhp version with continuous fuel injection and a transistorised ignition system.
The Volvo 240 had 14-inch wheels, as this was the most common dimension at the time, and three new colours were also on offer – light green, copper metallic and silver.
240 – safety standard and racing car in one
In 1976, the Volvo 240 was chosen by the US traffic safety authority, NHTSA, as the so-called standard car for future safety programmes. This was undeniably a feather in Volvo's cap and it was to be followed by many more. Few, if any, other car models have received so many awards.
The Volvo 240 was also a wonderful racing car, perfect for gravel and asphalt and it crowned its racing career in 1985 when a 240 Turbo driven by Lindström/Brancatelli became the European Champion in racing for Group A standard cars.
Since the days of the Duett, Volvo had been famous for its spacious, durable estate cars. This tradition continued with the 240, as almost one-third of the cars that were delivered were estates.
The 240 Series eventually developed to became a problem of a pleasant kind. It seemed as though the demand would never subside! Both new and used Volvo 240s were equally popular and in fact Volvo even advertised in 1983 for well-kept 240s for the used car showrooms!
The model series was constantly refined and many large-scale modifications were also made over the years. Towards the end of its life, the model experienced a renaissance and, at the beginning of the 1990s, the estate was a true cult car, a trend-setter, among people on the move in Italy, where it was known as the Polar. It took almost 20 years and 2.8 million cars before the production of this true Volvo favourite ceased on 7 May 1993.
As one stage in these four anniversary celebrations, Volvo Cars will be participating in the world's largest exhibition of classical cars and motoring nostalgia, Techno Classica, in Essen, Germany, between 31 March and 4 April 2004.
The stand at Techno Classica will include H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, beautifully renovated PV60, together with the Volvo Museum's PV444, Volvo Sport and 240.
These famous cars will also take part in the VROM exhibition, the main meeting of the different Volvo Clubs, in Göteborg on 6-8 August 2004.
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