Few brands have such a strong personality as Volvo. However, some of its most iconic models are not understood without the Italian touch or the idea of entering the North American market. In fact, maybe it's the Volvo 262C Bertone the one that best reflects this characteristic. Devised based on something as foreign to the European market as are the "Personal luxury car", This huge coupe well sold in California was designed by the Turinese Bertone. A model that emerged during a visit to the Volvo factory by Henri Ford II, who was driving a brand new Lincoln Continental IV that impressed the Swedes.
However, this was not the first time that a transatlantic car inspired the executives of the Swedish company. And it is that, During a trip to survey the American market in 1953, Volvo president and founder Assar Gabrielsson was fascinated by the Corvette.
Presented that same year, this two-seater put sports leisure within the reach of the masses by incorporating solutions as innovative as the fiberglass bodywork. An element that fascinated the Swedish executive, who quickly contacted the Californian company Glasspart in order to find out what to do with this material.
In addition, for a manufacturer of sober utility vehicles like the PV444, it was exciting to jump into the world of sports cars. More so if it was with the project of a sensual convertible capable of competing in the succulent American market just in the ranks below the Corvette and its six-cylinder engine. So things, while in Gothenburg they began to manufacture a frame for the new model in California Glasspart got to work with the fiberglass bodywork. A transoceanic symbiosis from which the Volvo Sport, also known as the Volvo P1954, was born in 1900.
VOLVO SPORT P1900. A SWEDISH CORVETTE BASED ON PV444
Looking at it under the accounting eye, the truth is that it is not very attractive to market a convertible in the Swedish market. Endowed with a humid and rainy climate, the country requires cars with good traction rather than open-top two-seaters. But nevertheless, Volvo's business strategy at the beginning of the XNUMXs was to enter the American market with force. For this, the Volvo P1900 was devised, thinking as a vehicle dedicated to export. However, although this Swede that was seen in the Corvette seemed to be a revolution for the brand, the truth is that it based most of its mechanics on the familiar PV444.
Introduced a few days after the end of World War II, the Volvo PV444 it was the hope of rapid reconstruction in countries ravaged by conflict. Robust, reliable and inexpensive, this utility vehicle with a clear North American design influence ended up being a success with more than 200.000 units sold. Nevertheless, well into the fifties the new European middle class also thought about leisure and sportsmanship. Therefore projects like the Volvo Sport appeared. Mounted on a new frame of steel tubes, in reality this arrangement represented a delay compared to the PV444, which was already equipped with a self-supporting body.
Beyond this difference in the base, the truth is that the Volvo P1900 took most of its mechanical elements from the PV444. First the engine: a 1,4-liter four-cylinder that was able to get 70CV thanks to improvements such as the two carburettors, the larger intake valves or the modified camshaft. In addition, both the hydraulic drum brakes and the three-speed transmission with the lever on the floor also came from the PV444. A set of elements that was sent to California for Glasspart to assemble the first 1954 test units in 19.
I THOUGHT HE WOULD FALL OFF THE END OF THE VOLVO P1900 IN 1957
The 1954 introduction of the Volvo Sport P1900 was a jug of cold water. And, although its line was attractive, the polyester and fiberglass body had many flaws. Poor finishes, complexity in its construction and a poor dynamic behavior of the chassis began to undermine the future of this convertible. However, Volvo did not give up on the first try. That is why they applied the knowledge accumulated in California on how to work fiberglass to their own plant in Sweden. A decision that plunged them into two years of work to create only 67 -or 68, due to a chassis numbering failure not yet clarified by the brand-units before definitively canceling the model.
And, although the tenacity of Volvo workers could improve the quality offered by Glasspart, the truth is that the finishes were still light years ahead of Volvo's standards. What's more, when it comes to driving things didn't go as planned. And it is that, although the mechanics were reliable and gave what was asked of it, as regards the new steel frame it turned out to be too flexible. Something that is summarized in the sentence "I thought it would fall apart!", which Gunnar Engellau - Volvo president since 1956 - proclaimed after testing it during a holiday weekend.
In short: the Volvo P1900 turned out to be a car with no chance of competing in the international market. Its dynamic behavior was unstable due to a slightly rigid chassis on which a bodywork was mounted that did not correct this defect. And that's not to mention manufacturing costs, which soared due to the enormous number of hours workers invested in the novel fiberglass technique. With all of it on the table, production of the Volvo Sport was discontinued in 1957. Of course, having left a path of nod to sportsmanship that ended up curdling in the P1800 of 1961.
Photographs: Volvo / General Motors