Historic Car Brands
The Volvo brand was created as a subsidiary company of Swedish bearing maker SKF (Svenska Kullagerfabriken), but instead of being stamped into bearing races the Volvo logo appeared on the grilles of cars and trucks from 1927.
Volvo OV4 – Peter Froese
The trademark Volvo (Latin for ‘I roll’) makes a lot of sense on a type of bearing, which is obviously intended to roll. It was first registered by SKF in 1915, with the intention to use it for a special series of ball bearings for the American market, but instead it was diverted to brand automobile products.
The first Volvo car left the assembly line on 14 April 1927, with the designation Volvo ÖV 4. After this, the young company produced closed top and cabriolet vehicles, including the TV, soft-top load carrier that was probably the world’s first ute.
Volvo PV651 Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
Power came from a Pentaverken (later Volvo Penta)1.9-litre, 28hp, side-valve, four-cylinder engine and around 1000 were built before the 3.1-litre, six-cylinder PV651 (PersonVagn) model was launched in 1929. It had a seven-main-bearing crankshaft engine that was enlarged to 3.4 litres in 1934. The TR670 was a taxi version with seven seats.
Volvo PV36 ‘Carioca’ – Svennex
The streamlined PV36 was launched in 1935, with independent front suspension and a 3.7-litre upgrade of the side-valve six. It was expensive and only around 500 were sold.
1938 Volvo PV52 Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The cheaper and more conventional, live-front-axle PV51 arrived in 1936 and was powered by the 3.7-litre six. The ‘luxury’ PV52 supplemented it in 1937, with extras that included a heater. (You could be forgiven for thinking that every car made in Sweden would have a standard heater!)
A restyled Volvo taxi appeared in 1938. The PV800 was nicknamed ‘sow’ and it served as the base for Swedish military vehicles during World War II.
1946 Volvo PV60 Sedan – Lars-Goran Lindgren
Possibly inspired by Tatra or Hanomag, Volvo experimented with a rear-radial-engined PV40 concept before the War, but it didn’t proceed.
The Pontiac look-alike PV60 arrived in 1946, still powered by the trusty side-valve six that had been provoked to produce 90hp.
1957 Volvo PV444 – Charles 01
A new B4B, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, overhead-valve, 40hp engine powered the smaller PV444 Volvo that closely resembled the larger PV800’s styling (or lack of it) when it was launched in 1947.
This was the smallest Volvo yet and came to dominate Volvo production, as well as spearheading its move into the profitable American market. The company used distributors firstly and in 1956, Volvo themselves began importing cars to the US. North America has consistently provided Volvo with its main volume outlet since.
The 1953-69 Duett load-carrying van or people-mover was initially powered by an enlarged B16 engine.
1956 Volvo Sport P1900 – Double Grazing
The very limited production Volvo P1900 was inspired by the Chevrolet Corvette and combined the PV444 chassis and tuned powertrain with an American-designed fibreglass body. The chassis was too flexible for the combination to be successful.
The PV544 arrived in 1958, with subtle bodywork changes, a single-piece windscreen and a new OHV, 1.8-litre, B18 that was available with single (75hp) or twin (85hp) carburettors.
Volvo 120 – Berthold Werner
Originally called the Amazon, the PV544’s replacement arrived in 1956, with ‘pontoon’ bodywork was released initially with the B16 engine that was replaced two years later by the latest B18 engine. The ‘Amazon’ name wasn’t available globally, so the car became known as the ‘120’ and that three-digit code has been applied to every Volvo Car since, except for the DAF-derived 66 and the P1800 coupe.
Volvo’s tri-digit system started off with the first number denoting the series; the second, the number of cylinders and the third, the number of doors. Thus, a 164 was a 1-series with a six-cylinder engine and four doors.
However, as the years went by and engine variations became more flexible, there were exceptions to this rule: the 780 for example, came with turbocharged I4 and naturally aspirated V6 petrol engines and I6 diesel engines, but never an eight-cylinder.
Similarly, the 760 was often equipped with a turbocharged I4 engine; the Volvo 360 only had four cylinders and some 240GLT models had a V6 engine.
Volvo P1800 prototype – 1800 Classic
The Volvo P1800 was a 2+2 sports car that was available between 1961 and 1973. Originally a coupé (1961–1972), it was also offered in a shooting-brake configuration toward the end of its production (1972–1973). Styling was by Pelle Petterson under the tutelage of Pietro Frua and the mechanicals were derived from Volvo’s Amazon/122 series and progressively upgraded. The final iteration had electronically fuel injected B20, two-litre engine that put out a healthy 130bhp.
Volvo 123GT engine – Herr Anders Svensson
The P1800 became widely known when driven by British actor Roger Moore in the television series The Saint that aired from 1962 to 1969.
(In 1998, an 1800S owned by Irv Gordon (1940–2018) was certified as the highest mileage private vehicle driven by the original owner in non-commercial service: exceeding 5.23 million kilometres as of his death in 2018.)
Volvo 145 wagon – Stahlkocher
The 120 series was replaced by the 140 series in 1967, initially with the B18 engine and then the B20. The six-cylinder 164 arrived in 1969, by the simple trick of adding two more cylinder to the B20. This engine also powered Volvo’s military C3 vehicles.
Volvo C303 – Harald Hansen
The 140 series was modernised and restyled over its life, until the 240 series arrived in 1975 and continued for 19 years. Even then, the body shell was carried-over, with only the front panels being unique.
Volvo 240 GL wagon – OSX
However, the new engine family was overhead-camshaft, starting at to litres displacement and progressively growing to 2.3 litres. V6 engines with 2.7 litres and 2.9 litres displacement powered some variants.
Body styles included two- and four-door sedans, station wagons and a two-door coupe that one cruel Australian journalist described as being, ’aimed at the millionaire pigmy market.’
Volvo 66 – Steven Carter
In the early 1970s, Volvo acquired the passenger car division of the Dutch company DAF and marketed its small cars as Volvos before releasing the Dutch-built Volvo 340 in 1975. (Allan Whiting worked for Volvo Australia in the early-1970s and test drove several DAF360s, as part of an assessment of their suitability for the Australia market. He loved the DAF-patented, Variomatic, constantly-variable-ratio transmission that gave the little car plenty of acceleration.)
Volvo’s long-time CEO Pehr Gyllenhammar understood that Volvo was too small to survive in the future and attempted several times to merge with other manufacturers. Volvo nearly merged with Saab in the late seventies and in 1978 an aborted affair would have seen the Norwegian state take over 40 percent of the company. A deal to merge with Renault was blocked by Swedish stockholders in 1993.
Volvo 440 SE Hatchback – OSX
The Volvo 440 and 460 were small family cars produced between 1987 and 1996. The 440 was introduced in 1987 and the 460 followed in 1989. The 440 was a five-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback and the 460 a saloon.
They shared many components with the Volvo 480, including floorpan, front and rear suspension, engines, transmission and braking systems.
Volvo 700 Sedan – Ifcar
The Volvo 700 series was a range of executive cars produced from 1982 to 1992. The 700 was originally to have been a replacement for the 200 series, but production of that model continued until the early nineties.
The 700 series was introduced in 1982 with the luxurious 760, followed two years later by the lower priced 740 which capitalised on the prestige attained by the very similar 760. The expensive 780, a Bertone-designed coupé version, entered production in 1986.
Volvo 960 – Rudolf Stricker
The 700 series was gradually replaced, beginning in 1990, by the 900 series.
The most visible differences between the 700 and the 900 series were the more rounded corners on the body of the latter, and a somewhat better-appointed interior. The last of the 900s were sold in 1998.
Volvo 850 – Ksnaden
The Volvo 850 was a compact executive car produced from 1991 to 1996, as a saloon and an estate style from 1993. The Volvo 850 was a marked departure for Volvo, featuring a transverse five-cylinder engine driving the front wheels and a Delta-link rear axle.
The Volvo 850 was succeeded by the Volvo S70 and Volvo V70.
1997 Volvo S40 1.8 – Vauxford
The Volvo S40 was a series of compact and sub-compact executive cars produced from 1995 to 2012. These cars were available with a wide range of petrol and diesel powertrains, from 105hp/143Nm up to 200hp/300Nm.
Volvo cars have long been marketed as safe and the company has stressed their historic reputation for solidity and reliability in marketing campaigns, but Volvo has also dabbled in motor sports over the years.
Volvo Australia founder, Max Winkless, was prominent in the rally scene in a 123GT model, in the early days of the company (above).
Other sporting highlights were the Volvo 240 Turbo Group that won the European Championships in 1985 and the Volvo Dealer Team won the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship.
Volvo 240 – Autopics-Shannons
Not so successful was the Volvo 850 Estate that tackled the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 1994. It was the first time a factory team turned an estate car into a serious racing contender (below).
However, the winning car from the British Touring Car Championship in 1998 was a Volvo S40. In the hands of Swedish racing star Rickard Rydell, it was one of the standout cars in Volvo’s motorsport history.
In 1999, Volvo Group decided to sell its automobile manufacturing business and Ford saw advantages in acquiring a profitable, prestige, mid-size European automobile manufacturer, well renowned for its safety aspects, as an addition to its Premier Automotive Group.