VOLVO HISTORY: THE PV444/PV544

 

Though Volvo began building cars in 1927, no one has ever heard of the Swedish car company on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. That changed in 1955 when a car that looked quite different than most of the cars around the country arrived on these shores. 

Some say that the PV444 and its more revised version - the PV544 - looked "out of date." "Fastback" cars were out of fashion since the end of the 1940s. It was smaller - though many fellow Europeans were smaller than the average American car of the time. It only two doors, but a thick pillar between it and the rest of the car. 

The 1956 PV444 arrived at the zenith of the American car market. However, it had a few tricks up its sleeve. Underneath that fastback coupe design was an engine that saw some rally action back in is homeland. The B14 1.4liter four-cylinder engine saw some action throughout Scandinavia with its humble motor tackling its competitors in the cold and snow. To make it in America, Volvo added two side draft S.U. carburetors for more power - just 70 horsepower. Customers in Texas and Southern California were first introduced to the PV444. The few that bought them, loved them. 

One idea that came about from Volvo was an European Delivery program. This new program was created for customers could take delivery of their new car at the Gothenburg plant and drive around Europe until it was time to take their Volvo home. This yielded a rarer model for California customers that participated in the European Delivery program - a less expensive model with a 51-horsepower engine. 

With the rest of the American car universe, there was a horsepower war. Volvo tried to keep up with its more powerful 1957 PV444. There was a new engine - a 1.6liter four-cylinder engine. The remarkable part of the new engine was not the horsepower, but the fuel economy. According to the Sociaty of Automotive Engineers, the 1957 PV444 averaged 25MPG. This was in the day when the average American car got 12MPG. 

The updated PV544 arrived in time for the 1958 model year. Other than new trim and upgraded interior, it was mainly carryover underneath. Except that the 3-speed manual gearbox on the PV544 became a four-speed unit in the PV544. 

Even though Volvo was developing a more "modern" car, the PV544 held on through most of he 1960s. In fact, it became a hit because of is ruggedness in construction, durability underneath the hood and on the chassis and became the test bed of safety innovations Volvo was gaining a reputation in. In fact, it became the first Volvo to be assembled outside of Sweden with the opening of the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada plant in 1963. 

During the early 1960s, the PV544 went through several changes to keep up with more modern cars. In 1962, the electrical system was upgraded from 6 volts to 12 volts. A new 1.8liter engine was introduced in 1962, as well. It meant more power, but it also gave Volvo fans a preview of the next model to come. 

In 1965, the well-loved PV544 ended production in Sweden and Canada. All told, 440,000 units were made made of the fastback cars for global audiences. It did a lot for Volvo. It tested the waters to see if Americans wanted a classically-styled car that was built to last...and outlast...everyone. It was a spunky little machine that became a testbed for everything Volvo is known today for. In fact, look closely at a PV544 and see some very interesting pieces of strengthened cloth and metal on the front seats. Those are called seat belts. They became standard on the PV544 before any American automaker offered them as required equipment. 

For 60 years, Volvo blazed a trail that began with a little fastback coupe. What that little 1956 PV444 did was to start a paradigm change in automobiles. It was just the beginning of America's love affair with Volvo. 

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