Looking for an interesting, robust classic car that won't break the bank? Why not consider Volvo's PV544?
Words by: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
The owner of the neat Volvo 544 featured here is very fond of this Swedish marque. “I used to compete in rallies for the Western Province Motor Club during the '70s with a 1964 Volvo 122. That was a good car and we prepared it ourselves. Those years I often used to make an appointment with Jan Hettema. I would fly to Johannesburg and sit with Jan for two hours and quizzed him regarding the preparation of the car and what to look out for.
“My navigator used to warn me that the car was going to break because of the way I was driving it. But that never happened. When you open the gearbox you realise how simplistic and strong they are.”
The PV444/544 was Volvo’s first unibody car and has a strong following among Volvo enthusiasts in South Africa.
“I bought this car in Johannesburg on October 6, 2000. They were all left-hand drive. This model is fitted with a B16 powerplant, a 1.6-litre engine with SU carburettors, while the later models were fitted with the larger B18 motor, offering a 1.8-litre engine. You also got the 544 Sport, which offered minor changes versus the standard 544, but the most notable upgrade was the double carburettors.
“When I was young, my dad assisted me in purchasing a Volkswagen Beetle in 1958. Back then I remember seeing a 544 for the first time, and I really liked the car. I was a teacher in Karasburg, and Pupkewitz in Windhoek had the Volvo dealership. I still remember, I wrote them a letter describing my interest in a Volvo 544 and requested that they send me a brochure with the car’s details.
"I remember that in 1958 my dad paid £606 for the Beetle, and when I enquired around a year later on the Volvo... I’ll never forget this, the car costed £924! I simply could not afford it. But, they sent me the brochure, anyway. It was of a red car with whitewall tyres. When I bought mine, it was a beige colour, but I had it sprayed in this beautiful red that I saw all those years ago in the brochure.”
Somewhat later, the owner’s career path changed direction quite significantly and he ended up in charge of a Volvo dealership from 1967 up to 1973.
“The longest trip I’ve done with this car was from Cape Town to the George Motor Show, which I’ve actually done a few times.”
“This car was in a good condition when I found it. And, these Volvos generally don’t rust, they really have great bodywork. I had the cushions of the seats remade, exactly like they were originally, and I had the roof lining replaced as well. In terms of mechanical work, the engine was opened to replace the rings, but other than that nothing major. Chromed parts were also rechromed.
“Keeping the carburettors in order and correctly tuned are important. Other than that, there is nothing on these cars that need major attention. There are, however, the grease nipples on the suspension to attend to now and then. As I always say, these are no nonsense motor cars. Replace its oil regularly and put new spark plugs and points in and you can continue driving and enjoying it.”
What should potential buyers look out for?
“The 544 Sport with its double SU carburettors can become a headache for some owners as you need to know how to tune these or know someone who can do it for you. Sometimes the spindle within the carburettors wear out and then air enters, making the tuning process even trickier. If the carburettors are not correctly tuned, you will notice it when you are driving. It doesn’t matter which car you buy to potentially restore, the main thing remains rust – always carefully look out for that.”
Engine: 1 583 cm3, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 45 kW at 4 500 rpm
Torque: 116 N.m at 2 500 rpm
Weight: 940 kg
Maximum speed: 135 kph (444, tested by CAR magazine)
0-100 kph: 17,9 sec (444, tested by CAR magazine)
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Years of manufacture: 1958-1965
How many were built: 243 990 (I, II and Sport)
Where was it built: Göteborg, Sweden (from 1963 in Canada as well)
What you can expect to pay for a good-condition example: up to R140 000