Volvo Concept Coupe
After a rocky couple of decades, Volvo, now under Chinese ownership, is re-asserting itself with a focused business plan and a variety of new products based on a single new flexible architecture and a family of four-cylinder engines. A recent visit to the company’s museum near Gotheburg in Sweden also reminded us that the company has a storied past. Here are 13 of our favourites. V
1927-1929 Volvo OV4
Volvo rolled out its first car in April, 1927. The OV4, like many cars of that time, was a convertible, but given the Scandinavian climate it didn’t take Volvo long to add a sedan version (duh!). Both had bodywork based on a wooden frame, but while the open car employed steel panels, the sedan used a type of fabric. In 1928 Volvo’s first truck appeared, based on the same chassis as the OV4.
1935-1938 Volvo PV36 Carioca
In the 1930s Volvo joined many other automakers by jumping onto the “streamlined” bandwagon – note the spats covering the rear wheels -- with the PV36 Carioca. The car was styled by a designer that Volvo had poached from an American automaker. But the look was too radical and controversial for its time and the Carioca was discontinued after only 500 were built
1947-1958 Volvo PV444
The small four-cylinder PV444 came to market in 1947 with a planned production run of 8,000. By 1958 production had reached 196,000. Then the very similar PV544 (a one-piece windshield and larger rear window were the main visual changes) took over and added another 244,000 between 1958 and 1965. The unibody 444 was notable for incorporating an early example of safety cage construction. Wouldn’t one of these make a stunning street rod?
1949-1960 Volvo PV445 Duetto
The original 1949 PV445 was actually a chassis-cab version of the 444, with which it shared its front end and mechanical ingredients. Pickup, van and even convertible versions were built by independent coachwork firms. But the 1953 Duetto was Volvo’s own work. Although billed as Volvo’s first wagon, it was more like a Swedish Suburban; the Duetto could seat seven, or a pair of adults could sleep in the back with the seats folded.
1956-1957 Volvo Sport (a.k.a. P1900)
If the Duetto was Volvo’s Suburban, the P1900 was its Corvette – complete with fibreglass bodywork. Under the hood, though, there was no V8 but a tweaked version of the 1.4-litre four-cylinder from the PV444. It was aimed at the American market but only 67 copies were made before persistent quality problems prompted Volvo to pull the plug in 1957.
1956-1967 Volvo P120 Series (a.k.a. Amazon)
Even while the PV444 with its prewar styling continued, Volvo introduced the much more modern-looking P121/122 (or Amazon, as it was officially called only in Sweden). Another iconic design, it was available in four-door, two-door and wagon versions. Significant mechanical upgrades in 1961 included the first application of the legendariy durable B-series engine. Production ended when the 144 came along in 1966.
Although not a roadster, Volvo’s second attempt at a sports car was much more successful, boosted in no small part by its role as Roger Moore’s “company car” in the popular TV series The Saint. Another British connection saw production initially contracted out to Jensen Motors in the U.K. Although assembly moved to Sweden in 1963, Jensen’s own Scimitar model may also have inspired the sport-wagen 1800ES version added in 1972 and 1973.
1966-1974 Volvo 144
Inspired by the motto “simple is beautiful,” the 144 was the first of the boxy Volvos. On the safety front, it was the first car to offer a triangular dual-circuit brake system, in which each circuit operated three wheels. The timelessness of the design is evident from the fact that the same basic shape continued through the subsequent 240 series until 1993.
1982-1992 Volvo 740/760/780
Taking angularity to extremes, the 700 series was a surprising sales success, especially in the key U.S. market, and was credited with saving Volvo’s bacon in a time of financial and production turmoil. The initial 760, positioned upmarket of the 240 series, was joined by the more entry-level 740 in 1984 and the surprisingly attractive 780 two-door from 1985-1990. Displaying classic Volvo longevity, the same basic rear-wheel-drive design continued through various name changes (940/960, and later S90/V90) until 1998.
1977-1981 Volvo 262C
Volvo’s boxy design language may have gotten a little too loud with the 262C, a luxurious four-seat V-6-engined coupe that was aimed squarely at the American market. Notable for its low roofline and thick C-pillar the car’s greenhouse looked like a gun turret on a tank. The 262C is often “blamed” on famed Italian design house Bertone, but unjustly so. Although Bertone built the car under contract, the styling was actually the work of Volvo in Sweden.
1975-1980 Volvo 66
Volvo moved into small cars by acquiring an interest in Dutch automaker DAF in 1972. DAF’s claim to fame was its pioneering use of continuously-variable automatic transmissions (CVTs), and the first Volvo-named offspring of the union was basically a rebadged DAF 66. Even when the Volvo-designed 340 Series came along in 1977, it continued to employ the DAF’s unusual basic engineering layout: front engine, rear-wheel-drive, with the transmission in the rear (just like a Corvette!).
1991-1996 Volvo 850
The 850 perpetuated Volvo’s shaped-like-the-box-it-came-in design theme, but its technical make-up was a revolution for Volvo. Although Volvo’s Dutch plant had started building small front-wheel drive cars in 1985, the 850 introduced front-wheel drive to its larger mainstream cars sold in North America. Other 850 milestones included a transverse five-cylinder engine and a pioneering side-impact protection system that would later be supplemented by industry-first side-impact airbags.
1996-2006 Volvo C70
The original C70 marked the beginning of the end of the reign of the box at Volvo. But aside from its curvaceous shape the C70 was notable for its blend of interior luxury, high performance, and athletic handling, the latter courtesy of a partnership with British race/engineering shop Tom Walkinshaw Racing. TWR also assembled the cars in a joint venture with Volvo – reportedly a troubled relationship that may have hastened the coupe’s relatively early demise in 2002. The convertible, which ran from 1997 to 2005, was built in Sweden.
New powertrain combination poses interesting decision for F-150 buyers
Hyundai’s all-new Ioniq comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully-electric flavours
The Bolt is a real, practical, fun-to-drive car with a few welcome surprises