|Date of issue||Feb 04, 2010 | ID: 31625|
Arrival of the future, in 1935 - Volvo PV36 celebrates its 75th anniversary
Visually different from most of its contemporaries, and totally different from every other Volvo car. The Volvo PV36, perhaps better known as the Carioca, is an exciting chapter in the Volvo history. It is also quite famous in automotive history if you consider how few examples were actually built and by such a small manufacturer like Volvo Car Corporation.
The history of these cars is yet another version of the eternal question about whichever was first, the chicken or the egg. What is the truth? Yes, Chrysler was first to put its Airflow on the market in 1934, but that does not automatically mean that Volvo copied its styling. That could not have worked from a timing point of view since the Volvo made its debut less than a year later. Such short leadtimes do not exist even today, and definitely not 75 years ago.
At the beginning of the 1930s, annual sales of Volvos amounted to less than 1,000 cars. They were conventional and rather similar models; six cylinder engines in sturdy frames, steel panels on wooden body framework, separate wings and running boards, outside luggage trunks, upright radiators and separate headlamps. They looked like most cars did at the time, however unusually well designed and built. Responsible for the restrained styling of the first Volvo cars was artist Helmer MasOlle*.
One man's work
From where did Ivan Örnberg get his inspiration for the PV36, and how? At around 1930, aerodynamics and streamlined vehicles had become the objects of many a thinker and progressive engineer. This was the age of the large airships and their shape is maybe the most concrete example of these theories, plus a number of early locomotives, airplanes and car prototypes.There were several different prototypes around, but no car manufacturer dared to put anything in production until Hupmobile and Chrysler Corporation did it, almost simultaneously.
In 1933, however, Volvo did show a streamline car, but afraid of the reactions of the public used a private person as responsible front figure - Gustaf L-M Ericsson of telephone company fame. Ericsson was named designer of the car and the project was his brainchild. "Venus Bilo" used a Volvo 655 chassis and had a full-width body with a front not unlike that of the Hupmobile Aerodynamic a year later. Its smooth shape was rounded at the rear with the spare wheel slotted in horizontally and acting as rear bumper. The idea of the car was to cut fuel consumption and prevent the creation of swirling road dust by using a streamlined body with a fully covered underside. Interesting and daring it was a prototype and as such it stayed, disappearing in the 1950s.
To conceive, design, style and manufacture a car takes a lot of time and effort today, and did so also in the 1930s. To proceed from idea via drawings and scale models to a real car with all that is needed in terms of tools, components and production development, is a process that takes several years.
The first streamliners
The body was streamlined with rear-wheel covers and a rear end matching the front end. As opposed to the Hupmobile, and later the Volvo, the Airflow was of unitary design with a very sturdy welded body construction that did not need for a separate frame. But those who did the Chrysler body pressings, however, were not yet capable of such a large pressing as the roof, which meant that this had to be filled up in the usual way with wooden rafters, chicken net and wadding, covered with fabric***.
This was also how the PV36 was going to look a year later. Even the Olofström press plant was not capable of such a large one-piece pressing as the entire roof. Still, the PV36 was Volvo's first car with a pressed-steel body. It rested on a separate frame with substantial cross-bracings but with a relatively short wheelbase. Both Hupmobile and Chrysler had long wheelbases, over three metres, which gave them a much slender look well in harmony with the styling. The PV36 had a 290 cm wheelbase which gave the body a round and chubby look that couldn't really transmit the feeling of flowing speed that the styling was supposed to do. It is interesting to toy with the idea of what the car would have looked like if Örnberg had used the 310 or 325 cm wheelbase instead, both of which were standard at Volvo at the time and used for other models.The artist who did the drawings for the sales brochures and other promotional material did his best to stretch out the car in order to improve its looks but the reality was still there.
But, the Volvo PV36 had a technical upper hand over both the Hupp and the Chrysler, unfortunately not to be seen from the outside but felt when driving: it used an independent front suspension - with the front wheels moving independently of each other during vertical movements - which greatly improved handling and ride as opposed to a beam axle.
It is in fact the position and look of the headlamps that really make this car what it is, and remind the observer of the Chrysler Airflow. But calling the Carioca a copy cat would be wrong. The differences are too big and too many between these cars. And regarding the Hupmobile, there is virtually no resemblance at all.
Volvo PV36 had both front and rear doors hinged to the B-pillar, like the Hupmobile, whereas the doors of the Chrysler and the De Soto were hinged the opposite way around: front door to A-pillar and rear door to C-pillar with the B-pillar used for locking both doors. Like the Airflow, the PV36 also had rear wheel spats with a small chromium decor. These decors, admittedly, are virtually identical at a quick glance. Maybe Örnberg saw it on the Airflow in 1934, was inspired and hurried to order something similar, or bought it from the shelf from the same supplier as Chrysler.
The rear end of the Volvo body was sloping with a split rear-window, and a built-in luggage compartment (the first on a Volvo) with the spare-wheel on the outside of the lid in its own steel casing. This was also roughly how the other streamline cars looked, but their luggage compartments could not be opened from the outside like the Volvo's.
The car of tomorrow - and yesterday
Of course all this new thinking could not come cheap. The price for the PV36 at the time of its introduction was SEK 8,500**** - 1,000 more than the De Soto Airflow and 1,000 less than the more exclusive Chrysler - which disqualified most car buyers straight away. Secondly, the high price in conjunction with the looks of the car scared off the potential Volvo buyers who could afford a Volvo but also wanted a Volvo to look like one. Other Volvo models at the time were priced between SEK 5,000 and 6,000. For the same price as the PV36, you could buy an American Packard 120 straight-eight or a six cylinder German Wanderer W50, the mini Horch. Beautiful luxury cars both of them. No wonder sales of the PV36 were slow. The following year the price was considerably lowered.
Gustaf Larson, one of the Volvo founders, drove one - it still exists in private hands in worn but original condition - and the Swedish police force bought eighteen patrol cars. Most PV36 customers were, however, according to the delivery book people who could afford a pricey car, people like company executives, industrialists, businessmen, lawyers, doctors etc.
As for special commissions, not much happened. Only one single car with a convertible body, made by the Nordberg Coachbuilding Co in Stockholm, was built on the PV36 chassis and commissioned by a wealthy businessman. The car had a two-door body, painted in a two-tone colour scheme, where most of the original details had been kept except for the roof. It would have been most interesting to have seen the price-tag of this car at the time. Like many other high-class and exclusive cars in Sweden during these years it had a short life and was unfortunately scrapped after some years only.
It the autumn of 1938 the last PV36 Carioca was sold*****. By then, the Volvo PV51 and PV52 had already been on the market for two years, founding the basis for all other Volvos to enter the market during the rest of the 1930s. Viewed from behind, these cars showed resemblance to the PV36 but they featured the traditional Volvo front; separate headlights and an upright radiator grille leaned slightly backwards. Meanwhile, the Olofström press plant had developed new tools and solved the problems with large one-piece pressings; these cars had all-steel bodies.
A common fact for all these cars is that they were built in relatively small numbers since sales never really took off. They were expensive adventures for the companies with regards to tooling and production equipment and at the same time very interesting from a technical and historical point of view.
Let us also once and for all on the 75th anniversary of the PV36 determine and agree that it is not a copy of the Chrysler Airflow. The Adler Autobahn which arrived in 1937, on the other hand, is more or less a miniature Airflow. The same front, the same profile, only slightly smaller
Volvo is neither a copy of the Airflow, nor the Hupmobile Aerodynamic. When Örnberg left for Sweden in 1931, there were no models or tools to look at. What could he have seen and where? On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that great minds think alike, and quite often at the same time. For instance, messrs Daimler and Benz built their respective cars only 100 km away from each other, knowing nothing of each others existence and they never actually met.
For more information on classic Volvos, try www.volvocars.com/heritage or contact Claes Rydholm, Volvo Cars Heritage +46 31 594526
** Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) is most famous for the Coca-Cola bottle, the Lucky Strike cigarette pack and the late 40s/early 50s Studebaker cars. He also designed everything from pencil sharpeners and stamps to restaurant interiors and locomotives.
*** Weatherproof (at least initially) fabric, i.e. leather imitation, called pegamoid was often used for covering roofs or even whole car bodies before synthetic materials, like vinyl, were introduced.
**** In order to put SEK 8,500 in to perspective, it would have got you almost 1,800 three-course dinners in a decent Stockholm restaurant at the time.
*****PV36 with chassis number 500 (the last one made) was delivered from the factory on June 16, 1938. The car that was the last one to be sold was chassis number 450 and it went to Teheran in Iran, to be used by the Swedish ambassador there, von Heidenstam, the last week in September 1938.
Director Volvo Cars Heritage
Volvo Car Group
Phone: +46 31 3257654
Mobile: +46 31 3257654
|ID: 5491||ID: 31628||ID: 5415|
Volvo Car Group
SE-405 31 Göteborg
Phone: +46 31 59 65 25
Fax: +46 31 54 40 64
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