Volvo’s First Car, The PV444 Revisited


Published on November 23rd, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


Volvo’s First Car, The PV444 Revisited

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When the PV444 was unveiled in September 1944, work to develop the model had only been going on for a couple of years. Around 40 designers were working on developing the new car. A full scale wooden model was built and painted black, with silver paint denoting where there were meant to be windows. It was completed in March 1944 and shown to Volvo’s founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson. After having looked at the car for a short time, both gentlemen took a decision that would affect Volvo’s entire future as a car manufacturer – the car would be built.

During the exhibition and briefly thereafter, 2300 sale agreements for the PV444 were signed. But it would be some time before any cars could be delivered. During the years that followed, prototype cars were subjected to tough testing, and it was only on 3 February 1947 that the first car was signed off, with production starting in earnest the next month.

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The PV444 was not just the first smaller car made by Volvo. It was also the first model with a monocoque body. The four-cylinder engine was a completely new design and was Volvo’s first overhead valve design for a passenger car. The engine was 1.4 litres and its first version was capable of 40 hp SAE. All of the so-called A model PV444s were painted black using cellulose paint with metal parts inside the car painted in a light green colour.

Among the prominent visitors to the inauguration on 1 September 1944 were Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, Princes Carl and Eugen, and Prince Carl Johan, uncle of King Carl XVI Gustaf. They were received by Volvo’s founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson.

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When the exhibition in Stockholm closed after ten days, 148,437 visitors had passed through. The queues regularly snaked along Lidingövägen outside of the Tennis Hall. Every day a PV444 was raffled among visitors to the exhibition. Everyone who had a phone subscription in Stockholm had received a free ticket. Many paying visitors also came and paid an entrance fee of one krona. Income from ticket sales was donated in full to the Red Cross.

When the PV60 and PV444 were presented Volvo’s exports were modest. The magazine Ratten said the cars would: “make the public here in Sweden happy and even to some extent abroad once peace is reinstated”. But it was with the PV444 that Volvo would establish its historically most important export market: the USA. On 15 August 1955, the first trial delivery of PV444s arrived in Los Angeles. The year after, Volvo had made its way to second place among the import brands in California.

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Originally, it was intended for 8,000 PV444s to be built, a rather bold goal given that Volvo had previously never built more than 2,000 cars. But the “little Volvo” hit the mark just right. Almost 200,000 PV444s were produced up to 1958. If you include the modernised PV544, which was produced until October 1965, the total becomes exactly 440,000 cars. 160,000 of these were exported and 280,000 were sold in Sweden.

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