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Volvo PV544 History
by
Club member Hans-Peter Rombouts, New Zealand

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HISTORY

The 444/544 Volvo's were the last cars to carry the PV tag and as these models were the first Volvo's built in any numbers they are now referred to as the PV models. ( the designation PV, personvagn actually goes back to 1927 and many different PV models were built along with OV's, TR's and LV's).  

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1964 Tom Trana
European Rally Champion
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1965 Singh's East African Safari winner
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1965 Singh's
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While the earlier cars were built in runs of a few hundred to a couple of thousand the PV 444/544's production came to over 530,000 between 1944 and 1969. This was Volvo's first small car and subject to a lot of development including proposals for front wheel drive, a X8 two stroke motor behind the rear seat and in front of the rear axle, fully independent suspension etc. What appeared in 1944 was a well thought out but conservative little car with a 1414cc overhead valve engine, 3 speed gearbox and a well located live rear axle. The body was one piece while the Duett (van, station wagon ,pickup and basis of some convertibles) had a separate chassis, the wheelbase of 2.6m was to be carried over to the Amazon and the 144. A sign of things to come was the two piece laminated windscreen. Production started in 1947 and soon lots of small changes where made, power was increased from 40hp to 44hp then 70hp for the USA market, this was Volvo's first major export model and Americans loved it. The 70hp motor and suspension found its way into the P1900 sports car. A one piece rear window and larger front glass came in 56, In 57 the motor became a 1600 of 60hp or 85hp using twin SU's, again mainly for the Americans. PV444 styling changes were minor, just the bumpers and grill and for some reason the rear lights were constantly moved around, one year the indicators were mounted on the roof! This was called the cuckcuck which probably says it all.  

In 1958 a one piece curved front windscreen, a bigger (but still small ) rear screen and an interior similar to the Amazon were added to make the PV544, a four speed gearbox as well as overdrive became optional. In 1961 a new motor, the B18 (1800cc) was fitted which also powered the P1800, the Amazon and later the 144, power was up to 75 or 90 hp but still with drum brakes, discs were homologated for competition purposes but never fitted to production cars. The saloons stopped production in 1965 while the Duett continued on to 1969. No right hand drive cars where made which is a little surprising considering the Swedes drove on the same side of the road as we do until 1967, apparently they expected to swap over "any minute" from the 1920's.

440,000 saloons were built and as they were well constructed with decent steel lots survive, only a few made it to New Zealand however including a 1957 444 which was imported new. We know of six at the moment but only one actually goes.  

COMPETITION

In the USA, where small cars had no factory support, the PV was a winner from day one, the first 1414ce car imported was successfully raced and dominated the under 1500cc production sedan class. The PV444 was not just the fastest little sedan around but could compete on equal terms with Alfa Guilietta Sprints, MGA's and Porsche 1500 speedsters. Following this racing success Volvo sold 11,000 in the first year on the west coast alone. In 1957 444's filled the first five places in the Sports Car Club of America's endurance race at Lime Rock. They won in 58 and again in 61.

In Europe Volvo's track record would be brief but the cars' toughness made it a natural for rallying, the B14 brought class wins including the team prize in the 56 Marathon de la Route, a road race through Europe including the mountains of France and Italy as well as Yugoslavia. The pace required was such that if a car needed servicing it ran out of time, the event was so tough that the team prize was rarely awarded. One Volvo came in 8th beaten by the likes of Mercedes Benz 300SL's.

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1958 Swedish motor magazine with former motorcycle rider Basse Hvem in front of a Volvo PV Sport B16.
(Courtesy Tage Johansson)

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Swedish driver Tom Trana (R) and co-driver Gunnar Thermaenius after winning the Acropolis rally 1964 on the front page of Motorsport magazine.
(Courtesy Tage Johansson)


With the arrival of the B16 the 444 began winning major rallies outright. Gunnar Andersson got involved at this point, first as a privateer then with factory backing, in 1958 he won the European Championship and with a change of senior management in the company he was put in charge of the competitions department. The 544 was used in 59, one of the team was the most glamorous rally driver ever, Ewy Rosqvist who picked up the ladies championship that year. The next few years saw the works cars, sometimes 544's sometimes Amazon's at or near the top of European rallying. The 544 winning among others, the Acropolis and the RAC back to back in 63/64, Tom Trana used one to win the 64 Championship.  

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Nürnburgring 
Six Hours 1963.

 Right: carnage just after the start of the 2.0 litre class, Volvos everywhere, left on the photo the winners Neerpasch and Skogh's 122S Amazon

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During 62 and 63 Volvo strongly supported racing and the PV dominated touring car and endurance events such as the 6 and 12 hours at the Nurburgring in both the 1600 and 2 litre classes. Success in motor sport created demand for similar performance on the road. Attracting private racing and rally drivers was the task of local importers and wasn't controlled from Gothenburg. 

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Team Volvo 64 Acropolis Rally
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Carburettor set
Solex type 45
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2 Litre 170hp set
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2.2 Litre 180hp
set

In 1965 the 544 went out of production and the factory stopped rallying it, the car was still competitive with a suspension system better than most and 4 wheel discs homologated in 61 along with 130hp at the rear wheels from the twin Weber B18 but Volvo obviously didn't need publicity. However the PV retired with a florish, the works cars sent to Kenya in 64 had crashed and one was sold to Joginder & Jaswant Singh who rebuilt the car and led the 65 East African Safari from start to finish, the PV's most famous victory. Today the PV is a popular car for classic racing and rallying in Europe and America.  

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USA 1964
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Netherlands
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Australia
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Sweden - Customised

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Its a fun car, the handling is neutral with the engine set back further in the chassis than more modern vehicles. Power is more than enough in 100kph NZ conditions and more than the drum brakes can really handle, I've seen 150kph and it felt the same as 100kph. Good aerodynamics means the rear window always stays clean but stability in side winds is poor. The seats and rear vision are appalling while there is a surprising amount of room in the back seat and boot. Maintenance is quite simple and for a car that was never sold closer than California you can get a surprising number of parts locally while Volvo only stopped making panels in 1995. Driving this car makes you want to smile and everyone smiles back at you.

SUCCESS IN RALLYING and
RACES
1957 - first, Rally of Sweden, T.Jansson, PV444
1957 - first, Midnight Sun Rally, T.Jansson, PV444
1957 - first and second, Viking Rally, Sweden, Grondal / Bernsten, PV544
1957 - first 5 places in Little Le Mans at Lime Rock, Connecticut, Art Riley / Bill Rutan, PV444
1958 - first, Rally of Sweden, G.Andersson, PV444
1958 - class win, Daily Express Silverstone, Jo Bonnier, PV544
1958 - first, Little Le Mans at Lime Rock, Connecticut, Art Riley / Bill Rutan, PV444
1958 - first, Midnight Sun Rally, G.Andersson, PV444
1958 - third, Acropolis Rally, G.Andersson, PV444
1958 - second, 1000 Lakes Finland, Nils Carlsson / Gunnar Carlsson PV444
1958 - third, 1000 Lakes Finland, Hans Ingier / Bjorn Gundersen PV444
1958 - first, European Rally Championship, G.Andersson, PV444
1959 - first and second, 1000 Lakes Finland, G.Calbo / V.Nurminaa, PV544
1959 - first, Rally of Norway, Hans Ingier, PV444
1959 - first, European Ladies Rally Championship,
Ewy Rosqvist, PV544
1960 - first, Rally of Sweden, G.Andersson / Lohmander, PV544
1960 - first, Argentine Road Race, G.Andersson, PV544
1960 - first, German Rally, G.Andersson, PV544
1960 - first, Rally of Norway, Hans Ingier, PV444
1961 - second, Acropolis Rally, G.Andersson / Lohmander, PV544
1961 - first, Little Le Mans at Lime Rock, Connecticut, Art Riley / Bill Rutan, PV444
1963 - second, 1000 Lakes Finland, T.Trana / G.Andersson, PV544
1963 - first, RAC Rally, T.Trana / S.Lindstrom, PV544
1963 - second class, Nurburging, Eng. Herrrmuth / D.Wilhelm PV544
1964 - first, RAC Rally, T.Trana / G.Thamaenius, PV544
1964 - second, 1000 Lakes Finland, T.Trana / G.Thamaenius, PV544
1964 - first, Acropolis Rally, T.Trana / G.Thamaenius, PV544
1964 - first, Rally of Sweden, T.Trana / G.Thamaenius, PV544
1964 - first, European Rally Championship, T.Trana, PV544
1965 - first, Rally of Sweden, T.Trana / G.Thamaenius, PV544
1965 - first, East African Safari Rally, J.Singh / J.Singh, PV544


Hans-Peter Rombouts
Email: elmwood@clear.net.nz

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African Safari Rally
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Safari Rally car
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1998 Targa NZ
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USA Racing

 

 

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