A compact history of small Volvos
The XC40 arrives in 2018 as Volvo’s first compact SUV, though certainly not the company’s first small car. Here is I Roll’s quick guide to Volvo’s small wonders, from the 1946 PV444 to today’s V40.
The first small Volvo set the company’s production rolling, with its popularity shifting the initially planned figure of 8000 units to about 200,000. Featuring an extremely economical engine – the smallest Volvo had yet developed – and a world-first laminated windscreen (to make more shatter resistant), the PV444’s success was also based on an attractive price that was the same as the first Volvo ever sold, the OV4, nearly 20 years earlier.
Based on the PV444, though the Duett deserves a separate focus – as the model that started a famous lineage of Volvo wagons. There were also small lorries and vans built off the PV445 chassis, though these were built by independent coachwork companies.
Sport P1900 – 1956
One of the rarest Volvos, with just 67 built in a truncated production run – and sold mostly in Sweden despite the general unsuitability of convertibles in Sweden’s climate. The 4.2-metre two-seater sports car used many components – including the four-cylinder engine - from the PV444 though was constructed around a separate tubular frame. Twin carburettors, a different camshaft, larger intake valves and higher compression lifted the engine’s power from 40hp to 70hp.
This two-door sedan and three-door wagon was a development of a model built in Holland by DAF – a company that would become acquired and renamed Volvo Car BV. It was an important car, giving Volvo a much-needed presence in the burgeoning European small-car market. The 3.9-metre 66 was rear-wheel drive and notable for a continuously variable transmission called Variomatic. It was also awarded a gold medal by the Swedish Automobile Association for safety features such as day-running lights that are a key automotive trend today.
In 1976, the aforementioned Volvo Car BV released its first all-new car – the 343. Again focused on Europe’s small-car segment, the rear-drive, three-door hatchback featured a large tailgate accessing a flexible luggage compartment, a relatively spacious cabin, and a De Dion rear suspension. A five-door version called the 345 joined in 1979, and in the 1980s a 360 five-door hatch with a bigger, more powerful 2.0-litre four-cylinder emerged. There was a sporty GLT variant that even made it to Australia in the mid-1980s.
This wedge-shaped three-door was notable not only for a design that was distinctive for a Volvo at the time but also for its status as the first ever series-produced front-wheel-drive model from the company. The four-seater sporty hatchback remains the only Volvo to have ever featured pop-up headlights. In the late 1980s, the range was joined by a forced-induction 480 Turbo model with extra power and torque.
The 440 shared the 480’s basic architecture, though was a more practical five-door hatchback body style. It inherited the three-door’s excellent handling, which was praised by the motoring media along with the multi-doored model’s generous interior space from a length of just 4.3 metres. A 460 sedan arrived in 1989. As with the 343, the 440 came close to reaching half a million sales in its lifetime.
There have so far been two generations of the S40 compact sedan. The first achieved motorsport success in Europe, notably the 1998 British Touring Car Championship title in the hands of Rickard Rydell. In 2004, the second iteration of the S40 introduced more modern exterior styling and a new interior design language featuring a prominent ‘floating’ centre console. Both generations included wagon twins, called the V40 and V50, respectively.
The style-focused, three-door C30 hatch featured a frameless glass tailgate inspired by the P1800ES. Created with four individual seats, and powered by a choice of four- and five-cylinder engines, the C30 targeted a younger, more dynamic Volvo customer.
Five doors but a different proposition to the 1995 V40 wagon that was sold in limited markets, which included Australia. Today’s V40 competes in the premium hatchback segment, presenting sleek styling, state-of-the-art Drive-E engines, sophisticated connectivity, and advanced safety systems including autonomous emergency braking.