The P1800 ES is one of the most famous Volvos and the one which really kickstarted things for the brand. Picture: LERATO
The P1800 ES is one of the most famous Volvos and the one which really kickstarted things for the brand. Picture: LERATO

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has had an interesting and illustrious history, although many know little about it compared to, say, German premium offerings.

I recently visited the company’s museum in an industrial park in Gothenburg, Sweden and apart from the obvious signage outside the building, it is a rather unassuming structure that belies the steep history of the company.

Founded on April 14 1927 by Gustaf Larson and Assar Gabrielsson as a wholly owned subsidiary of the engineering company, SKF, Volvo had rather humble beginnings. Gabrielsson was appointed the MD of the company as he had a knack and acumen for business, while Larson was a revered engineer.

The duo set out to build their first car, the Volvo OV4, under the company’s mantra — cars are driven by people — which placed safety as the core value of the company, something that still rings true to this day. The company even pioneered the three-point safety belt that is still an essential safety item.

The museum has different sections with many of the first models built by the company in the late 1920s, including the LV40 bakkie and a number of other more rudimentary models that helped to place the brand on the map after World War I.

The LV40 bakkie was built in the 1920s. Picture: LERATO MATEBESE
The LV40 bakkie was built in the 1920s. Picture: LERATO MATEBESE

However, it was arguably in the 1960s when the brand truly made an indelible mark with the P1800, which is arguably the precursor of the modern day Volvos, particularly that grille, which can be seen on the latest XC60.

There is also a section of prototypes as the YCC concept that gave rise to the C30, while other concepts that saw the birth of the C70 and XC90 looked closer to their respective production models.

Moving towards the motor sport halls, who can forget the 850R station wagon production car in Dakar yellow, which spawned the World Touring Car Championship race car that showed the series the possibility of a station wagon race car, which weighed less than a tonne and had around 185kW from its 2.5l, five-cylinder turbo. That yellow road-going specimen is arguably the car that made me fall in love with wagons.

One of the sections is dedicated to the company’s trucks and Penta engines, the latter a subsidiary of the firm that also builds aero and marine engines.

The Volvo Sport is probably not something many are aware of. Picture: LERATO MATEBESE
The Volvo Sport is probably not something many are aware of. Picture: LERATO MATEBESE

A bevy of award-winning trucks, including those that have won the coveted Truck of the Year award, are also on display. There is also a built-to-scale, previous XC90 SUV made of Lego blocks by some US university students.

With the brand planning to build hybrid and electrified vehicles only from 2019, it will be interesting to see the next chapter in its book of cars.

Its performance Polestar brand, which recently showcased its first hybrid production sportscar, the Polestar 1 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb, on a shakedown up the famous hill, was something to behold.

As it stands, the company is building some stellar vehicles such as the award winning XC40 (2018 European Car of the Year), XC60 (2018 World Car of the Year) and the XC90 (2016 SA Car of the Year).

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