Wednesday May 10, 2017
On 14th April 1927, the first Volvo car left the factory in Gothenburg. To celebrate 90 years of this great marque here is my own, very personal, list of my seven favourite vehicles to bear the Volvo badge…
PV444/544 1947 - 1966
The company’s first unitary-bodied car and the first example of the marque to make an impact on US buyers. The styling was reminiscent of early 1940s Detroit products but the blend of reliability and well-mannered handling and road holding was wholly Volvo, as was famously demonstrated by Gunnar Andersson when he won the 1958 Midnight Sun Rally in a PV444. Seven years later the PV544 of Joginder Singh Bhachu and his brother Jaswant won the East African Safari Rally by the largest margin in the history of the event. In the words of Road & Track test of 1957 ‘with a car like this, who needs a sports car?’
Amazon 120 1956 – 1970
In November 1958, the Amazon Saloon became the first Volvo to be officially sold in the UK and in 1965, the estate version became the first foreign-built police car when the first of a fleet of traffic patrol cars entered service in Hampshire. The 120s body was the creation of Jan Wilsgaard who was heavily influenced by the 'Vackrare vardagsvara' (‘More Beautiful Everyday Things’) design movement, and it perfectly balances aesthetics and practicality. As for the Amazon’s dynamic abilities, Mike Hawthorn evaluated a 122S for the Sunday Express in 1959 and found that it ‘accelerated from much bigger cars with the vigour of a man who discovered that the log he’s sitting on has two bloodshot eyes and enormous teeth’.
P1800 1961 - 1973
‘This car is out of the ordinary in being free of any vice’, concluded Autocar when they tested a P1800 in July 1962. At that time, the coupe with the Pelle Petterson lines was poised to achieve world televisual fame as the first episode of The Saint would air on 4th October 1962; unlike certain British firms, Volvo understood the value of product placement. Early models were built by Jensen in West Bromwich and an especially attractive late variant was the 1800ES.
140 Series 1966 - 1974
When Jan Wilsgaard created the styling for the eventual successor to the Amazon, his motto was ‘simple is beautiful’ and as the 140s coachwork lived for so many years that it is sometimes easy to take his achievements for granted. However, if you come across an early example of the first Volvo to sell over a million examples the 144s low-key elegance now appears to be utterly striking. My own choice is the rare and very desirable six-cylinder 164 model, the Volvo once described by Road & Track as ‘a very fine car’. Absolutely.
200 Series 1974 - 1993
The longevity of the 200 demonstrates not just its popularity but also Volvo’s refusal to bow to whims of fashion. The estate versions are already legends, while a Mystic Silver 262C is the ideal tourer for those who appreciate sheer individualism of design. I am particularly fond of the 244 GLT; partly because I happen to like the early radiator grille and also, as Autocar noted back in 1980, because it was a ‘good handling family saloon with Grand Touring abilities’.
300 Series 1976 - 1991
A result of Volvo acquiring a major stake in the DAF concern, the first 300s combined agreeably chunky three-door lines with a 1.4 litre Renault engine and the Dutch company’s famous Variomatic continuously variable transmission. The range was subsequently widened with five-door and manual gearbox options and possibly the most desirable member of the range was the 2-litre 360. In GLT guise this achieved quite a name for itself in respectable suburban circles.
700 Series 1982 - 1992
The once-controversial lines of the 700 saloon now seem to epitomise 1980s individualism and I have happy memories of how, thirty-odd years ago, a 760 Turbo wagon could glide past any would-be boy racer in his tuned-up Ford Cortina GT Mk. III. In the word of Motor in 1985, it was a ‘fast well-appointed Jekyll of an estate car that can reveal something of a Mr. Hyde when it comes to the traffic lights’. And as for the very rare 780, this truly is a coupe with a unique sense of stylistic flair.