Volvo History: 1971-1975

As the early 1970's descended on Volvo, the world was looking bright and profitable for the Swedish car company.

Sales were up in the US, Sweden and Great Britain. So good in fact, that the new Volvo 164 E was introduced with a new and improved engine that had fuel injection and could top speeds of 175 miles per hour. Prices continued to be lower than many brands on the market, too. The reinvigorated Volvo P1800 also rolled out. It's leather interior, 4-speed manual overdrive, 4-cylinder engine and 2-door, metallic finish look were popular with young and old alike. (Perhaps, the continued popularity of the James Bond franchise didn't hurt it, either.)

The environment (or "ecology" as it was known during that era) was a big concern in the early '70's. So, Volvo decided to jump in and develop a prototype vehicle that would meet certain environmental requirements yet still be visually appealing and marketable to the American car-buying public. Thus, the Volvo VESC or Volvo Experimental Safety Car. Debuting in 1972, the VESC boasted more safety and ecological accessories of any car developed up to that time. It had the following: front/rear seat airbags, concealed front seat head restraints, a “disappearing steering wheel” that collapsed in a frontal collision, headlamp washers and wipers, extra-sturdy body, optimum impact absorption for front and rear seating and anti-locking brakes among many other features.

The VESC is best know for its elongated bumpers that were its trademark look. Ironically, it may have also been its demise as it was, with all its safety and environmental hype, was an unattractive car. It never caught on with the public and remained only a prototype. It was, however, a forerunner to future Volvos, such as the Volvo 240.

1973 was a year that shook all auto manufacturers to the core and changed the car market forever. The Oil Crisis began this year, and while the lines at the gas stations were forming, Volvo was looking for a way to reduce the load and increase gas mileage any way possible without compromising its brand. It had larger, higher-up bumpers, a new dashboard, smaller steering wheel and a rectangular seat cushion.

The following year, 1974, was the "Year of the 200's" as new, innovative models of the Volvo 240 and 260 debuted. The VESC actually served as inspiration for them as the 240 was now equipped with a B21 motor while the 260 had a B27. This new 6-cylinder engine was created from a partnership with Renault and Peugeot that had actually begun three years earlier. These new 240s and 260s cemented Volvo's well-earned reputation as the safest cars in the world

Halfway through the decade, Volvo wasn't tied down due to the Oil Crisis. It brought the newly-developed Volvo 66 and Volvo 265 out of the shadows and onto the US market. The 265 had a 6-cylinder engine and was built for comfort while the 66 was a town car with a variable transmission (changes to an infinite number of gear ratios between its maximum and minimum values).

If you enjoyed this brief history of the early 1970s Volvos, check out our other Volvo History articles...
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