Swedish marque Volvo this year celebrates the launch of a car that truly put it on the world map, the PV444.
The "humpback" PV444 was introduced in September 1950, and was the car that first put Volvo in the number one sales position in its home country. It also laid the foundation for Volvo's global expansion and was praised at the time for its various safety innovations, as well as its toughness.
The Volvo PV444 A, with its avant-garde aero design, actually celebrated its world premiere in 1944 as the first Swedish high-volume model for the period of economic upswing after the Second World War. Due to a shortage of materials, series production only started in 1947 and only around 12 500 vehicles could be delivered by September 1950. Series A was followed by B, and in this and subsequent evolutionary stages, the Volvo PV444 was able to break all existing Scandinavian passenger car production records.
It took only five years for the 100,000th Volvo PV444 to be delivered and when the only moderately modernized Volvo PV544 took over in 1958, there were almost 200 000 worldwide. To better contextualize these then sensational figures: Up to the market launch of the PV444 a maximum of 2 000 units of a Volvo model had been built.
Revolutionary safe, sporty and durable family
The two Volvo founding fathers Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson presented a revolutionary new family vehicle with the Volvo PV444 - the type code stood for Personvagn (PV), 4 cylinders, 40 HP and 4 seats (444). This was represented by the self-supporting body with innovative front independent wheel suspension, the generous wheelbase of 2.60 meters and the solid construction with passive safety for all passengers that was exemplary at the time. Incidentally, this also applies to the first Swedish cult station wagon for family, leisure and business, the Volvo PV445 Duett, introduced in 1953, which scored highly as a station wagon sedan with up to two fold-down rows of rear seats and a huge, variable loading compartment.
Like the Volvo PV444 B, it was also powered by the efficient, legendarily robust and now 32 kW (44 hp) four-cylinder B4B. This was an engine that even made the Volvo PV444 fit for rallying. There the dynamic and reliable two-door car demonstrated its assertiveness both in the Monte Carlo Rally and in the infamous Tour de Belgique in 1951, where the Volvo PV444 B achieved all three podium places.
Pioneer for exemplary vehicle safety
Further successes in motorsport cemented the reputation of the iconic fastback sedan as a dynamic and safe “family sports car”, which from 1955 took North America by storm as an important export market for Volvo. As early as 1956, Volvo was the second largest import brand in California. In Germany, too, it was the Volvo PV444 that made the Swedish brand popular with its distinctive "hump shape" and completely new safety details. For example, innovative two-point seat belts were first offered in the Volvo PV444 and then the pioneering first three-point seat belt was introduced in the further developed Volvo PV544. A patented lifesaver for more than a million people, the effect of which Volvo demonstrated in a dramatic way at a safety conference in Germany in 1961: The "humpback Volvo" overturned and its driver got out unharmed. The development of rear-facing child seats to protect the little ones also began in the Volvo PV544.
Other visual safety features such as the original fixed light on the roof of the Volvo PV444 B known as the “cuckoo” were short-lived but inspired sustainable solutions. This “cuckoo” fixed light served as a highly visible direction indicator with a blue lamp in the middle and orange flashing indicators that showed the direction when turning. However, the unconventional "cuckoo" hampered the assembly of roof racks, which is why it was replaced after a short time by clearly recognizable side indicators.
Particularly durable and reliable
The safety program for the Volvo PV444 also included a new, effective rust prevention system, because only then would the body and passenger compartment remain stable over the long term and offer effective protection in the event of an accident. That is why all Volvo PV444 B bodies drove through a rotation immersion bath, which enabled a long-term protective phosphate layer - and thus laid the foundation for a later career of the Volvo PV444 as a classic car. The reliable Volvo B4B engine also contributed to this, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that achieved record-breaking mileage and, with its oil filter, new crankshaft and new cylinder head, provided the basis for sports versions with up to 38 kW (51 hp). So it's no surprise that the solid and reliable Volvo PV444 is still one of the most popular cult classics today.