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A Swedish product - A level up

The story of the Scandinavian folk wagon

The idea of building a solid car suitable for Scandinavian roads and climate conditions was a good idea. The ball bearing manufacturer SKF had the capital to start car manufacturing. The name became Volvo, a name which was actually intended for their roller bearings, but Volvo instead became the name of the first Swedish-produced car, which was also nicknamed Jacob, although its real model name was Volvo ÖV 4 “Öppen Vagn 4 cylindrar”. The year was 1927.

It was also the beginning of Volvo truck and tractor manufacturing. Yes, Volvo was the start of an unparalleled Swedish industrial adventure. But here on this page it is the Volvo PV models that we will focus on. Volvo models up to WWII were mostly large cars manufactured in small series, very reminiscent of American cars of that time. All were black in color and a bit gloomy.

PV 444/445

It was the post-war model PV 444 (later in station wagon version as PV 445) which seriously put Volvo passenger cars on the world map. The model didn't really have much to offer, either in terms of advanced technology or design, but it was useful and solid. The model only had two doors, but there was plenty of room for 4 people and some luggage. The Swedes adopted it to such an extent that it would be correct to call it the Swedish people's car.

A Swedish product

The model was equipped with Volvo's first 4-cylinder engine with overhead valves B14 (1400 cc), which produced 44 hp. The rather heavy car could withstand more power, and the B14 engine also got more and more power over time. Later, the engine was upgraded with the B16 (1600 cc). All these engine variants were solid designs with low fuel consumption and reasonable performance and, not least, solid torque. Although the model was not a sports car, already in 1956 Volvo chose to offer sports engine variants with higher compression and double carburettor following the English school with double 1 ½ inch SU carburettors. The Volvo engine variant and degree of tuning could easily be read from the engine code, - the later letter after the number, the later version and higher performance, typically A, B, C or D.

Volvo at that time mostly used English sub-suppliers such as electrical systems from Lucas. But where it was financially justifiable, the main components such as the engine, gear and rear gear were made themselves. Volvo was therefore not just an assembly plant, but a manufacturer that produced its own parts in its own factories.

One level above Folkevogen

The 444/544 models were not cheap cars, but also a level above the German Folkevogen in most areas, a sound construction with front engine and rear wheel drive. The transmission itself was solid like the rest of the car, first with 3 gears - later with a fully synchronized 4-speed gearbox. The long slanted shifter went directly into the gearbox and had a nice precise and solid feel. Not a luxury car, but a minimalist utility vehicle that could withstand rough treatment. Things like a proper heater and good seats became certain Volvo characteristics over time. Volvo was also the first in the world to offer seat belts in a standard car. It was probably a good idea, because the rigid body without any form of shock absorption meant that the G-forces in a collision could be deadly. I once saw a 544 where the driver had been killed after a minor collision, which had badly pushed the front of the car in.

PV 544

The PV 544 variant came into being in 1958 and can be recognized by the large rear window and front window without bars. The model was equipped with the fine and strong B18 engine with 5 main bearings, and the 12 volt electrical system also became standard. The model also got a van and station wagon version in the form of the P210 (Duett), which became extremely popular among craftsmen and families with a need for space. 544 went out of production in 1965, and by then no less than 440,000 of the 3 model variants had been produced in total. The model created a reputation for solidity that was to last for decades to come. Despite the model looking a little clumsy, it was far from it. The 544 was a good car to drive and quite sporty. In this country, Tom Belsø showed that an old Volvo could be tuned to become a really fast sports car. And in Norway, Tom Trana showed how good the car could be in the Rally track. Not to forget all the Swedish and Finnish rally drivers who started their careers in this car model. In many ways it had better driving characteristics than the Amazon.

Volvo Amazon

But Volvo was not on the lazy side, and they let the Swedish car designer Jan Wilsgaard draw the lines for the car that was to become the first designed car from Volvo and one of the few with a name, namely Amazon. The model designation was P120. In 1956, the new model was ready and it was an instant hit. Volvo came into conflict with the German Kreidler moped manufacturer, which was sitting on the name Amazon. But despite that, it kept the name here in Scandinavia. The model was for a number of years Volvo's bestseller and synonymous with Swedish quality at its best. Basically, the car was really just a 544 with a contemporary design. But the Amazon was more than just the sum of its parts, it took all the classic Volvo virtues to new heights and came in a number of versions over the 14 years it was in production. P121, 122, 123 as 2-door, 4-door and manor wagon. Volvo helped turn station wagon models into something stately and refined. The motorization consisted mostly of the B16 and B18 engine in a number of tuning degrees. In 1967 came the flagship 123GT, which shared the engine and gearbox with the sports model P1800, which had a whopping 96 hp. Such a person could both pull and run fast. A good 123 GT went 180 km/h.

The 4-speed M40 gearbox was available with an electric overdrive, which made it possible to run the engine at moderate revs, even on motorways. The B18 engine was characterized by a good torque at low revs.

In 1969 the Amazon got the bored version of this engine, the legendary B20 engine was a whopping 1986 cc. In Amazon it was found in 2 variants, as 82 hp and 100 hp. A total of 667,000 Amazons rolled off the assembly line, and the model enjoyed great popularity in many parts of the world and was also produced outside of Sweden. With both the B18 and B20 engines, the Amazon had enough power to pull a caravan, and it was extremely popular as such, as it could handle it.

140 series

Volvo took a quantum leap with a new and modern car series in 1966, in many ways it marked a high point in Volvo's history. It also ended an era by being the last stylish Volvo of the old school with a 4-cylinder push rod engine. The 140 series was a huge step forward in passive safety. The chassis was equipped with deformation zones. The steering column was articulated and thus no longer a spear that could pierce the driver in the event of a collision. The brakes were updated with disc brakes all around. Seasoned with a fine two-circuit brake system with a powerful brake booster. The 140 series also got headrests and seatbelts as standard, and was the first in the world with a seatbelt alarm.

The model existed in a number of variants 142 (2 doors), 144 (4 doors), 145 (5 door station wagon) and not to forget the 145 Express, which was a 145 with a raised roof.

The motorization followed what was available in Amazon as long as they were in production at the same time, that is B18 engine and from 1969 B20 engine. From 1971, the model, as the first passenger car from Volvo, got an engine with petrol injection (Grand Luxe) with Bosch D-Jetronic injection. With an output of 120 hp, it was fast, but unfortunately the engine had an unpleasant, almost diesel-like engine run.

However, the model had a less than graceful end, when the 74 model year was equipped with some absolutely hideous shock-absorbing box bumpers. It was the start of something less stylish.

When the model went out of production in 1974, no less than 1,250,000 had rolled off the assembly line.

Volvo's focus on safety made Volvo comfortable, and some would say a little boring. Many jokes were invented about Volvo cars, which led to nicknames such as 'The moose killer', 'The flying brick', 'The tractor', 'The armored box' etc. Many new Volvo owners had to put up with being asked if the car was mortgaged in the credit union. It was now often an envious comment, because everyone knew then that a Volvo lasted, also in terms of resale value. But there seemed to be a little too much Volvo, Villa and Vovse in it and it didn't get any better with the 240 series.

240 series

Volvo had hit on something long-lasting with the 140 design, the 240 series was also broadly a 140 with an extended front end. The first years of the 240 series were a flop, they were quite disharmonious cars that were out of step with the times, and the competitors that were not on the low side overtook Volvo. It seemed that Volvo was more concerned with other things than making a contemporary successor to the golden bird 140. They bought DAF and put a Volvo badge on something that had never been worthy of a Volvo badge, and it didn't get much better with the Volvo 340 with Renault engine and DAF belt transmission.

The 50th anniversary was the end of an honor

When Volvo celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Volvo PV division was entering a crisis from which they never escaped. The new petrol engines were nothing special, both B19 and B21 engines were sluggish petrol guzzlers. You were actually just as well served with the B20 engine. It is surprising that Volvo did not develop a good diesel engine for the model. Instead, in 1979, they chose to introduce the 240 with the heavy and sluggish 6-cylinder 2.4 engine from the VW LT, not a good engine for a passenger car, the head gasket was, for example, one of the engine's weak points.

The oil crisis of 1973 meant that fuel economy was important. In this country, many Volvos were equipped with gas systems, the B20 engine actually ran quite well on gas, but had to have bonnet valve seats to be able to run on gas. The B19 and B21 engines were also quite often seen converted to gas operation. Almost all gas stations could offer natural gas at the time, but this fuel was outcompeted by diesel during the 80s.

Light points in the 240 series

However, there were some bright spots, such as the 242 GT and the Turbo variant, which came in 1979, were iconic car models. The B23 engine was a major advance. The delicious short gear change with the unique mechanical feeling of quality, not to mention the small fixed switch in the gear knob for the electric overdrive. In fact, the driver's environment with instrumentation and warm defroster system in the 240 series was one of the best for its time. The seats are also worth mentioning, you sat well, and everything was made of durable materials. Of course, there were elements of the 240 series that are worth highlighting. But it was not enough, the Volvo was no longer the favorite car of the taxi driver and the driving salesman. However, the 240 series developed in a positive direction over time, and the model was facelifted several times during the almost 20 years it was in production, and the model actually ended up being a more harmonious car. The station wagon version in particular was popular and a bit of a lifestyle car for the active family. Even so, the model was hopelessly out of date when it went out of production in 1993. The model also received a bodywork in the form of the 262 and 265, which had an all-new 2.7 liter engine, which was a common European engine project used by several manufacturers by, among others, Volvo. Not a real Volvo engine and nothing to write home about.

Sporty Volvo models

Volvo P1800 Coupe went out of production in 1973, Volvo thereby lost a bit of its sporting soul. It was to that extent recovered with the 850 model and its fantastic 5-cylinder engine. These are car models we will return to on this page. Ford bought Volvo PV in 1999. For several reasons, Volvo cars after that time do not belong here on this page yet.

My experiences with Volvo

Old Volvo - Young driver

My workhorse in the late 70s was a lightly covered Volvo 145 Express, which had visible scars after many years of harsh treatment and well over 200,000 km when I took it over. But I didn't care, it was my work tool. It was just great to get out and drive a car when you didn't have to pay for it yourself, and the fact that you got paid for it on top of that was almost too much of a good thing.

Express mail on time

This van was painted in the classic blue Volvo color and a common sight on the roads here in town. It was used to deliver parts and transport cars between sales departments on a trailer. The idea behind that car was that it was not necessary to keep all spare parts in all departments. Thanks to that car, car workshops in the area could also count on fast delivery of parts. Back then, the distribution of non-original parts was not as efficient as it is today, so many independent workshops bought original spare parts. The Volvo dealer I worked for had taken the initiative for this Express service internally called "Clearing"; a service that was "masterminded" by the group's warehouse managers and car salesmen together. Parts, tools and cars could thus circulate between the departments with fixed daily departures. In the morning, the Express drove the car from the city to Kolding, where there was a fixed meeting place at 10 o'clock every morning, in the afternoon the "Express" drove to Vejen, which was the fixed exchange point for the afternoon. In between these trips, urgent trips could arise that could not wait just a few hours. It could be a truck engine at an important customer that needed new pistons and liners and be back on the road the same day. Rush jobs were not uncommon and in such situations speeding tickets were paid by the employer. The glorious old Volvo 145 had to give up a bit of everything.

People and animals and fast cars

There were many small perks of the job, funny people who had to be brought from A to B, and new and used cars that had to be brought to the department that had sold the car or to its new owner. So I have the pleasure of having driven all Volvo models that existed at the time with the 240 Turbo as a fond memory. The snowy winters of those years were some of the fiercest in living memory. But in the nature of the matter it must not hinder the "clearing", so regardless of whether the roads were passable or not, the goods had to go out. So snow drifting was no legal obstacle to not showing up at the agreed place on time.

Pigs can fly

One year before Christmas I was given the task of picking up hams for everyone from a selected master butcher in Holsted, it was a Friday. Fridays were always busy, so I had to be back with the hams so that I could run parcels to the post office and the bus station. Back then, it was very common for regular buses that ran on a fixed schedule to also take parcels with them, which could be picked up by the recipient at the station.

The trip to and from Holsted with several hundred kg of ham almost ended in disaster that year. Already in the morning it had started to snow quite heavily. But as I said, it was quite common in those years, and winter tires had also been added to "Volle", so the short trip should not be a problem. But when I drove out of Holsted with all the hams in the back of the car, the small roads had started to close. I had practiced a technique of keeping a good speed on the car and avoiding the low gears as much as possible and thus attacking the snow drifters with deathly contempt. In the middle of such a snowdrift, you were like a helmsman on a ship when you sat behind the wheel of the Volvo. The steering pressure in an old 145 was not something worth talking about, a few cm of steering wheel play was more common. On the other hand, an old Volvo could handle a bit of everything, and even if pigs can't fly, I know from experience that an old Volvo can.

Sliding towards the abyss

As I got closer to Grindsted, the weather had changed from heavy snow to a blizzard with poor visibility and fellow road users at a snail's pace as a result. I couldn't wait for that at all, so overhauls were necessary, and the self-confidence and trust in the old scoop increased with each traffic venture that succeeded. When I got to the new bypass in Grindsted Sydby, where today there is a heating plant, the plan was to force the 90 degree turn in a perfect 4-wheel skid. But the many heavy hamstrings at the back of the car had naturally changed the car's center of gravity, so that the heavy rear car stayed in the track, and the modest engine power was not enough to force a rear wheel skid, as you could otherwise on a snowy road. The car continued straight ahead, no matter how hard I pushed the steering wheel. In a split second I had to make a choice, either let the car slide sideways into the deep ditch, or right the car, hit the gas and continue straight ahead and let the car fly over the ditch. I chose the latter! The sound when the car hit the edge on the other side brought back memories of the Titanic's encounter with the iceberg. But this car was made of Swedish steel, and as I stood there in the deep snow, my thought was: "It's a shame to have to walk the last kilometer to the destination and report my accident." My boss would not take kindly to the situation. He had expressly pointed out that if I were to damage the car, anything other than total damage was out of the question.

To my great astonishment, the car had not been damaged by the flight; the deep snow had probably also cushioned the landing a bit. The car could still drive, and with the heavy load just over the rear axle, the car could also drive in the deep snow. I knew there was a small overpass at the end of what was then an open field. I drove carefully along the edge of the ditch back and onto the road again. A lot of snow had gotten into the engine compartment, and the engine stalled a bit, but we came back with our own machine, and this year's employee gifts in the form of pork ham were secured once again. My boss wondered about the jammed snow in the car's radiator grille and all 4 wheels, but nothing had happened to the car, and he only got the story a year later, when hams had to be picked up again.

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