Call me biased, but back in the days when Australian motor racing was at its best (the 1980s) and cars from all sorts of marques were racing – yes including Holden and Ford – there was one marque that ruled the roost in 1986. The Volvo 240T had the wood on its rivals. The debut of the new Australian Volvo Dealer Team (AVDT) was at R.3 Sandown Park in Melbourne with car 10. It was to be a good year; Volvo won the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship. The Volvo 240T also had great success racing in the European Touring Car Championship and various races held throughout Asia and New Zealand. Built like only Volvos can be, this Swede machine did the damage. I’ve got to say the Aussie V8s are great if you can’t see beyond a blue oval or a lion badge. I’d like to think they would open up the races to other marques and spice the racing up again. Or is it that Aussie cars simply can’t foot it with the best?
The story goes that Volvo was founded by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson, allegedly during a meal consisting of crayfish, in 1924. Their first car, the 1944cc Jakob, was in production by 1927. Gabrielsson was sales manager for the Swedish bearings company SKF at the time he joined up with Larson. Larson had worked for the automotive company White and Poppe in Coventry, England, from 1911 to 1913, before joining SKF in 1917. These two had the desire to build a vehicle more suited to the Scandinavian climate than other imported cars.
They had plenty of support from the SKF company members as they designed their first car. Marine engineers Pentaverken built and supplied the engines, and SKF was sufficiently impressed to fund the production run of the first thousand cars. SKF were also happy for the two entrepreneurs to use one of the company’s patented names: AB Volvo. This name was derived from the Latin ‘I roll’, with its obvious connotations of bearings in action. In 1929, a three-litre straight-six was introduced, designated the PV650, and this enjoyed an eight-year production run until 1937. The company also made trucks which actually outsold the cars up until World War II. Sweden’s neutrality during the war allowed Volvo to maintain production during WWII, although the production figure of 2,834 cars in 1939 fell back to a low of 99 in 1942.
Volvo’s first car after World War II was the stylish PV444, which had been conceived in 1942. This featured independent front suspension and coil springs at the rear. This proved an important model in that it gained Volvo a foothold in the US. Volvo invented the 3-point safety belt, considered the most important safety feature of all time.
Over the next few decades, Volvo consolidated itself and also came out with some very admirable cars. The P1800 coupe of 1961 had a very beautiful design. The 240 series was also significant in Volvo’s success. Even today, 30 years on, there are some very nice models going about their business in every day use, with the mileage well over 500,000 km. This in itself is a credit to Volvo’s engineering capability.
In the eighties, Volvo launched several new models, including the extremely popular 240, the 740, the 760, the 940, and the 960 (later the S90). These cars were very rectangular, but most were very comfortable and luxurious, even if they looked like matchboxes from the outside. Safety, however, was unparalleled. Volvo continued to be popular in car dealers’ yards worldwide, so when Swedish pop band Roxette managed to make more sales one year than Volvo, this was a sure-fire indication of the band’s popularity.
In 1992, a new car, the 850, was launched. The 850 was a big departure for Vovlo. Unlike Volvo’s previous large cars, the 850 was front-drive and used an all-new five-cylinder engine. Performance was astounding, and surprised many drivers. The 850 was the first car in the world to have side airbags, too. The car still had Volvo’s traditional angular styling, albeit updated, but had the performance of a real sports sedan.
By the late 1990s, Volvo created cars with a few more curves. In 1998, Volvo introduced two new cars. The S70; it was a coupe named the C70. This car was beautiful, and easily competed with rivals BMW and Mercedes. The S90 replacement was the S80 which was extremely good looking. It introduced two new safety features: whiplash protection and side impact curtain airbags, and proved to be Volvo’s safest car ever. The S80 recorded huge sales throughout the world markets.
In 1999, Volvo was bought by Ford. This has had no ill effect on Volvo, as the current cars are simply stunning. Although servicing costs might be slightly higher than your average Jap car, Volvos have proven reliability, safety and now sexy styling to match. And if a coupe is what you like, try the C70 that hits a very stylish 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. Or, if you like coupes slightly smaller, then the fabulous C30 will take your breath away with a 0-62 mph time sitting around 6 seconds. Straight lines are not the only thing the curvy C30 does well either. This thing is built for going around corners quickly. What fun!
The safety of Volvo cars has won the marque many enthusiasts throughout Australia. Specialist clubs are to be found in most states. The oldest of these is the Sydney-based Volvo Club of NSW Inc, which has been around for over three decades. Your local dealer will probably have more details on where to find the club nearest you if you’re interested.
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