Volvo’s first mass-produced car – an OV4 — rolled out of the factory on April 14, 1927. Since tomorrow marks the 85th anniversary of that joyous occasion, we’ve rounded up 8.5 of our favorite Volvos – one for each decade Volvo’s mass-produced cars – for your enjoyment.
Think the XC70 was the first Volvo passenger car to be transformed into an all-wheel-drive crossover? Think again: the TP21(and its predecessor, the TPV) beat the butched-up wagon to the punch by nearly 40 years.
In order to create a staff car for the Swedish Army, Volvo took the bodyshell from its homely PV800 taxi cab – nicknamed sugga, which translates to “sow” – and married it to a rough-and-tumble four-wheel-drive truck chassis. Power was limited – a 3.6-liter I-6 provided only 90 hp – as was production (720 units), but the Sugga was apparently quite durable – the Swedish Army didn’t start retiring them until the 1980s.
The Sugga is something of a cult classic now, though it briefly returned to public attention in 2002 during the launch of the XC90 SUV. A fully-restored, bright-yellow TP21 was given the name “Hogster” (get it?), and jokingly introduced as Volvo’s new SUV offering during a press conference at the Detroit auto show.
The Volvo Amazon was supposed to go into production in August 1956, but in reality no cars were built until 1957. The car, which eventually was offered in four-door sedan, two-door, and station wagon variants, initially came with a 1.6-liter inline-four engine good for 66 hp, and a three-speed transmission. Early Volvo marketing brochures described the Amazon as, “A fast and fiery Swedish beauty.”
There was plenty of solid engineering behind the Amazon, including an extremely rigid (for the time) body with full corrosion protection. But the car was marred by some early quality issues like water leaks, windows that fell into the doors, and rattling shifters. Other unusual touches included a horizontal speedometer and the mounting of the handbrake to the outside of the driver’s seat — the latter so that Volvo could sell bench seat models in export markets.
At the 1958 Geneva Motor Show, the Amazon Sport launched with a 85-hp engine and four-speed manual transmission. It was so quick that later that year, the Swedish National Police ordered 11 for traffic patrol duty. Subsequently, the Amazon Sport was adopted by police agencies in countries as far ranging as Greece, Chile, Nigeria, and Peru. The Volvo Amazon was unveiled in America at the 1959 New York auto show.
Production of the four-door Amazon ceased in 1967. The station wagon was killed in 1969, and the final two-door Amazon rolled off the line in 1970. All told, Volvo built 667,322 copies of the Amazon.
Volvo likes to say that the P1800 is its “most internationally renowned model ever,” and it’s true that the car’s timeless design continues to draw rave reviews. Volvo starting commissioning Italian designers to pen the car from 1957, hoping the new model would be exciting and prestigious, a halo car that would draw new buyers to Volvo dealers. The car was based on the chassis of the Volvo 121, and shared many mechanical parts with the Amazon.
When the P1800 debuted in 1961, the launch engine was an all-new 1.8-liter inline-four producing 100 hp. A 2.0-liter engine with 118 hp bowed in 1968, followed by a fuel-injected version with 120 hp in 1969. Other Volvo innovations, like four-wheel disc brakes and electronic fuel injection, were added over the years. And in 1971, a wagon version called the P1800 ES debuted.
Volvo didn’t initially have the factory capacity to build the P1800, so at first the car was produced in the U.K. by Pressed Steel and Jensen Motors. After 6000 models were built there, Volvo in 1963 moved production of the car to Sweden. Even though Volvo initially conceived of the P1800 as a relatively “niche” vehicle, it went on to sell 39,414 copies over its 11-year production run.
The Volvo 240 is something of a cult classic these days: old, beaten up models are fixtures on beater racing circuits all across Europe, and the 240 DL wagon was canonized in 2010 with its own rap song. It might be easy to forget, then, that the 240 is also a classic because it was very popular: in the 19 years it was sold internationally, it sold over 2.8 million units. It’s also important to remember that the 240 served as Volvo’s first foray into turbocharging, which it continues to use to this very day.
The 240 Turbo may have debuted some three years after Saab launched the 1978 99 Turbo, but it still had the advantage. The 240 Turbo had 155 horsepower, making it quicker than the 99 Turbo, and was also available in more body styles, including two- and four-door sedans, and a wagon. The two-door went on to compete in the European Touring Car Championship, where it won in 1985. The success of the Turbo (and the basic 240) helped propel Volvo to become the top European car exporter to the United States in 1981.
BMW pioneered the concept of a sports sedan in the 1980s with its M3 and M5 family sedans-cum-track stars. But Volvo was a more family-friendly company — so that’s why it created a performance sedan and a performance wagon. Making its debut stateside in 1995, the Volvo 850 T5-R powered by a 245-hp 221-lb-ft turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-five cylinder in both sedan and wagon forms. With its transversely-mounted engine, front-wheel drive, and all-new Deltalink rear axle, the 850 T5-R became the first car wearing the Volvo emblem to hit 155 mph.
The 850 T5-R has long been considered one of the ultimate sleeper sports cars thanks to the fact that the aesthetic differences between it and a normal 850 were very subtle (the same could be said of the later S60 R and V70 R models). For its final model year in the U.S., the 850 T5-R dropped the T5 badge, leaving the car to simply become known as the 850 R.
Volvo also fielded both an 850 T5-R wagon and a T5-R sedan in the British Touring Car Championship driven by Rickard Rydell. Rydell managed to win the BTCC in 1998 behind the wheel of a Volvo and took pole positions for 13 of his 24 Volvo-driven races.
Volvo earned its reputation on building brick-shaped wagons that were nearly indestructible. But being shaped like the box in which it came, was not about to help any of Volvo’s lineup against the stylish competition coming from the other European automakers. Thankfully, Volvo was ready, having appointed Peter Horbury its director of design in 1991. One of Horbury’s first concepts for the brand — the 1992 ECC — helped pattern the anti-box direction Volvo would soon pursue. What came to fruition six years later would turn a new page for Volvo’s design — the 1998 S80 sedan. With its curved shoulders, rounded nose, and elegant interior, the S80 heralded in a new kind of Volvo: one that was elegant, stylish, and clearly Scandinavian.
Box be gone! The new design was distinctly a Volvo without relying too heavily on right angles and lent the brand a more premium appearance with which to enter into the 21st century with. The S80 helped to put Volvo back on the luxury car map and lead the way for Horbury to bring the Swedish brand to the sinuous and sexy shapes that adorn the bodies of cars like the current C30, S60, and V40.
When the Volvo Safety Concept Car bowed at the Detroit Auto Show in 2001, one might have thought that it was just another futuristic looking concept car with insane, cost prohibitive technological features. Volvo proved both of those notions wrong.
The SCC’s standard features list from 2001 reads like the window sticker on a 2012 S60: it has keyless entry and ignition, city and pedestrian safety systems with full auto brake, a mobile phone connection and sophisticated infotainment, blind spot and lane departure warning systems, and active bending headlights. Furthermore, the C30 that debuted in 2006 looks remarkably like the concept, save for the SCC’s trick A-pillars. The C30 also earns points for being anything but slow: its 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-five-cylinder engine was the basis for the motor that powers the incredible EU-spec Ford Focus RS.
We said that the Volvo S60 concept, which previewed the production car that launched in 2010, showed that the Swedish company could build cars that were “both safe and sexy.” And while the production S60 isn’t quite as dramatic as the elegant, swooping concept car, it’s far more attractive than the squared-off S60 sold here between 2000 and 2009.
On the safety front, standard gear for the second-generation S60 includes the City Safety collision mitigation system and an assortment of airbags. Options include blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and pedestrian detection. The base S60 T5 uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five engine with 250 hp and front-wheel-drive. The T6 model gets a 300-hp, turbocharged inline-five with all-wheel drive, and the new T6 R-Design bumps that engine’s output to 325 hp.
Equipment list aside, we quickly fell in love with the Volvo S60 that we obtained for a Four Seasons test. The car serves equally well as a luxury sedan, sports sedan, and all-round attractive vehicle. The S60 continues to draw acclaim from our ranks bears due to the way in blends high-class styling cues and an excellent driving experience.
And our half-Volvo? The honor goes to…
Who says the Swedes can’t badge-engineer as good as the Americans? Volvo bought the automotive division of the Dutch DAF company in 1974 to gain a foothold in the small-car market, and began labeling and selling the Michelotti-styled DAF 66 as a Volvo the following year.
Differences between the two were limited, to say the least. Volvo 66 models gained new (and clunkier) bumpers, some revised trim, and new seats. 66s were still sold in two forms – a two-door wagon or a two-door sedan – and power still came from a 57-hp, 1.1-liter I-4. That engine was mated to a continuously variable transmission, which was a long-standing hallmark (or quirk) of DAF automobiles. Many of these characteristics would appear in subsequent small Volvos built in the former DAF plant, including the lumpy 300 series and the 460.
-By Jake Holmes, Evan McCausland, Donny Nordlicht, and Ben Timmins