Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60

| 20 Jul 2021
Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60

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The Volvo PV60 entered life with a birth certificate in one hand and a death warrant in the other.

The logic behind its creation was impeccable. Initiated at the end of the 1930s, the new car was planned for a 1940 introduction.

The aim was to replace the PV53 family of sidevalve ‘sixes’ – the models that, along with the preceding PV51 and PV52, had established Volvo as a small-volume, series-production car manufacturer.

With a more enticing specification, including independent front suspension, there was heady talk of making 5000 PV60s in the model’s first year on sale – a huge hike from the 2000 or so cars sold in 1938.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Limited chrome on the Volvo’s prow, wired edges to the front wings signify low-volume build, while the overrider strips are pure ’39 Pontiac

But then WW2 intervened. Sweden being neutral, development was able to continue, and in September 1944 the PV60 was announced.

Alongside the car in the exhibition Volvo gave at Stockholm’s Royal Tennis Court was another new model, however, the pre-production PV444.

In the constrained economic climate of the early post-war years, it was pretty obvious which of the two vehicles would be the breadwinner.

More costly to produce and to buy, and using more of Sweden’s precious steel, the PV60 was doomed to a short life – not least as a lengthy strike in the Swedish engineering industry delayed the production start-up until December 1946.

Just 3000 would be built, most in 1949 and 1950, plus 500 PV61 chassis-cabs that were bodied as vans, pick-ups, taxis and the odd cabriolet. In comparison, approaching 4000 of the ageing PV53 family were produced – most before the war and the last in 1945.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Bosch ‘Robolight’ lamps on this Volvo PV60

An estimated 50-100 of the PV60 survive, including a car belonging to the Swedish royal family.

There’s just one example in England, to which the PV60 was never officially imported, owned by Andrew Anderson.

The Peterborough GP got into Volvos 20 years ago, when he purchased an 1800S. The definitive marque history by Björn-Eric Lindh opened his eyes to the company’s rich past.

“I didn’t realise that Volvo had such a history before the Amazon,” he says. “So I started to buy other ones that aren’t known in this country – a ’31 PV651, a ’36 PV36 Carioca, and a ’37 PV51.

“It gives me a buzz when people come to a show and see something that’s rare and unusual. People aren’t aware that Volvo goes back to the 1920s.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
The 3.7-litre ‘six’ gives ample power

Put back on the road for Anderson by Tim Walker Restorations, the PV60 needed very little, beyond a brake overhaul and a retrim.

Although the seats had been recovered in vinyl, the original fabric was underneath – very worn, but sufficiently intact to show how the stitching had been carried out.

Through Volvo Heritage in Sweden, Anderson made contact with a collector in Denmark who had virtually the correct fabric – shared with early PV444s – and the car was duly retrimmed by interior furnishings specialist Margan, aided by photos that Anderson took of the royal PV60 in the Volvo museum.

Replacement brake parts came from the US, as off-the-shelf Lockheed new-old stock.

Indeed, Anderson has discovered that many of the ancilliaries are common to American cars of the time: Autolite 6V electrics are used, there is a US-made Carter carburettor, and the fuel pump – a dual-purpose AC unit that also supplies vacuum for the wipers – is basically the same as that of a circa 1938 Chrysler.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Wonderful conical hubcaps (left); this Volvo’s period decals have survived well

After the Americanisation of preceding Volvos – and of the PV444 – the transatlantic looks of the PV60 come as no surprise.

In essence, it is is a clone of the 1939 Pontiac, right down to that car’s spear-like bumper overriders with their painted horizontal bands.

That was no accident. Two former General Motors men were on Volvo’s small design team, and undoubtedly influenced the car’s shape.

More to the point, the Gothenberg firm sought to take sales from the US makes that so dominated the Swedish market in the pre-war and immediate post-war years.

Derivative it may be, but the PV60’s six-light design is pleasing enough – and arguably better realised than the slightly humpbacked PV444.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
There’s lovely stylised lettering on the instruments, with four auxiliary dials

The sloping rear incorporates a flat boot pressing and a split window, with a rib running down the boot from the window’s centre-line.

In the same way a crease accentuates the crown of the front wings and there is another over the vee of the two-piece windscreen.

The front reprises that of the Pontiac, only with the three-part grille being made of plain louvres rather than having the GM car’s chrome trimmings.

Flared sills, rather than running boards, are a nod to modernity, but the overall feel is anchored in a previous era.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
The Volvo PV60 has a spacious cabin, and there is a clock set into the glovebox lid

The cabin is low-key American, too. Indeed, Anderson reckons that the rather fine instrument cluster with its Art Deco lettering is shared with a US model.

The radio grille in the centre of the dash is another very transatlantic detail, while the horn ring and column change again evoke American practices – albeit ones that were to become commonplace in post-war Europe.

With a white plastic steering wheel and matching detailing, the ambience is sufficiently cheerful to offset the slightly army-blanket striped beige upholstery and the relatively limited equipment; there are no centre armrests and there is just a single pouch pocket in the front seatback.

Folding coat-hooks on the B-pillar are a nice touch, though, and the door tops feature ornamental plastic inserts. More importantly, there is ample lolling room in the carpeted rear – the front having a rubber floor mat, as is only sensible given the Swedish climate.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
The Volvo’s rear quarterlights hinge open

The PV60’s mechanicals are sturdily orthodox. The cruciform chassis has a coil-sprung independent front, using lever-type dampers as the upper arm and featuring an anti-roll bar.

Angled telescopics help to locate the leaf-sprung rear axle, steering is by box, and the brakes are all-hydraulic.

Carried over from the preceding series of Volvos – and in fact dating back to 1929 – the sidevalve 3670cc ‘six’ develops 90bhp, and is mated to a three-speed gearbox.

It’s not a sophisticated recipe, but it works. The PV60 is a soft-hearted easy-to-live-with old cruiser, with no obvious failings.

Fitted with crankshaft damping for the PV60, the flathead engine is gratifyingly refined, and the Volvo stooges along happily at 45mph on a small throttle opening, or accelerates strongly in second if you ask.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
Charming trafficators (left); its torpedo lamps are mounted high

With all the flexibility that you have a right to expect, the car can be trickled around in the higher gears, making for stress-free motoring.

That said, some harshness starts to intrude above 50mph, and you wish for the overdrive that was a catalogued option.

The column change itself is exemplary: having a relatively short throw, it has a metallically clunky action, and never misses a slot.

The clutch, meanwhile, is smooth and well weighted, and the slightly long-travel brakes stop the car effectively.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving the forgotten Volvo PV60
This wonderful Volvo PV60 is described as a very usable classic

The suspension is soft without being wallowy, with a slight curtsey-like motion from the front on undulating surfaces. The Volvo does lean into bends, but not markedly, so the overall feel is of a comfortable and adequately controlled chassis.

With steering that is smooth, free of play, and geared low enough not to be heavy at parking speeds, progress is always serene and untaxing.

With these tolerant mechanicals, a commanding driving position, and a proven ruggedness, it’s hard to see how Volvo could have failed to make a dent in the sales of American cars… had the PV60 been launched as planned.

But by the time it entered production it was already living on borrowed time, in a new world with different priorities. And that’s rather a shame.

Images: Malcolm Griffiths

Thanks to the Volvo Owners’ Club; Thorpe Hall Sue Ryder Hospice, Longthorpe

This was originally in our December 2014 magazine; all information was correct at the date of original publication


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