History of the Volvo Car
14th April 1927
Convinced that a Swedish-built quality car had a given place in the market, the dream of Messrs Gabrielsson and Larson came true on the 14th of April 1927 when the first Volvo, the ÖV4, rolled off the assembly line. It was a four-door open tourer with a four-cylinder 2-litre engine. During the first year, 297 cars were sold, from a calculated 300 (a closed version was added later in the year) and Volvo was off on the biggest venture in Swedish industrial history. Realising from the start that heavy vehicles and export sales were vital factors for survival, trucks were introduced already in 1928 and the same year the first market company, in Finland, was established. Shortly after, a six-cylinder model - the PV651 - was added to the range, providing the technical basis for cars and trucks alike, and company also entered the important taxi market. When 1929 became 1930, Volvo had produced close to 3,000 vehicles, half of which were cars. The wheels of Volvo had begun rolling, materialising the meaning behind its Latin name, "I roll".
Volvo was born on April 14th 1927, when the first car, which was nicknamed "Jakob", left the factory in Gothenburg. The adventure had begun some years before, however . . . The 1920's was the decade when the car made a real breakthrough, both in the USA and in Europe. In Sweden, people's interest in cars was seriously aroused in 1923 as the result of a jubilee exhibition in Gothenburg attended by 97 car exhibitors. At the beginning of the 1920's imports to Sweden totaled some 12,000 cars a year, but after 1925 this figure rose to around 14,500 cars a year. On the international market it was quite common for car manufacturers to find components in industrial catalogues, purchase them and then assemble a car. The quality which resulted from this procedure was not particularly high and many of these makes quickly disappeared. Quality, however, was of paramount importance to the men who founded Volvo. The basic idea was that they should design and draw the components for the car themselves, select the suppliers to produce these parts according to their specifications and then do the assembly work with the aid of experienced car builders. This basic concept, which was formulated back in 1926, still applies to Volvo's way of making cars.
THE MEN BEHIND VOLVO
Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson were the two men behind Volvo. Gabrielsson was a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a businessman and began his career at SKF in Gothenburg. In time, he became the head of SKF's subsidiary in France and discovered that it was possible to sell Swedish ball-bearings at a lower price than the US suppliers could. One of the reasons for this was the low workshop wages in Sweden compared with those paid internationally. It seems likely that it was here in France that Gabrielsson began to wonder whether Sweden might not be a suitable place to produce cars. In 1923 he returned to Sweden to become sales manager for SKF. Gustaf Larson was an engineer and designer. He had worked as a trainee at White & Poppe in Coventry in England, where he was involved in the design of Morris engines, among other things. In 1917 Larson returned to Sweden and took a degree at the University of Technology in Stockholm. He then worked as an engineer at SKF in Gothenburg for three years before returning to Stockholm. So, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson had several opportunities to meet through their mutual employer. Perhaps it was at this time that the two of them started to develop the idea of Swedish car manufacture.
THE SUMMER IT ALL STARTED
In the summer of 1924 Gabrielsson and Larson began seriously to discuss their plans for producing cars. They came to a verbal agreement in August and a start had already been made on the design work by September. Larson, who did the design work alongside his normal job, gathered together a team of young engineers at his home in Stockholm. In July of 1926 the first chassis drawings were complete. It was Gabrielsson's job to find the money for the project, but his attempts failed and they realised that it would probably be easier if they had some test vehicles to show prospective financiers. They therefore decided to produce a test series of ten vehicles, nine open and one covered. The first test vehicles were produced in nine months and this time Gabrielsson succeeded in obtaining the financial support.
THE NAME BECAME VOLVO
Once there was something concrete to be seen, SKF became interested. The company had been somewhat cautious to begin with, but it now provided guarantees and credit for an initial series of 1,000 vehicles, 500 open and 500 covered. SKF also provided the factory premises and the name, AB Volvo, which had been used in a previous business operation. Volvo is Latin and means "I roll". So the preliminary work and the development period was over and 1927, when the first series-manufactured cars made their appearance, is officially recognised as the year in which Volvo started operations.
The first series-manufactured car, an OV4 nicknamed Jakob, left the factory on Hisingen in Gothenburg on April 14th, 1927. An epoch in Swedish industrial history had begun. The Jakob was based on an American design and had a powerful chassis and live axles with long leaf springs at the front and rear. The four-cylinder engine developed 28 hp at 2000 rpm. Its top speed was 90 kph, but Volvo recommended a cruising speed of 60 kph. The car had 20" artillery type wheels, with wooden spokes in their natural colour and detachable rims. The open 5-seater body had four doors and was covered in sheet steel on a frame of ash and copper beech. The upholstery was made of leather. The open version cost 4,800 Swedish kronor. The covered version (PV4) cost 5,800 Swedish kronor when it was introduced. Sales were slow during the first year - a total of just 297 cars were sold. One of the reasons was the high quality level and the strict controls to which the suppliers were subjected.
Interest in the covered model proved to be greater than expected and the original plan of 500 open and 500 covered cars had to be quickly revised. The Volvo Special was introduced; this was an extended version of the PV4, with a longer bonnet, a more streamlined torpedo shape, narrower windscreen pillars, a rectangular rear screen and bumpers as standard equipment. Front wheel brakes were available at an additional charge of 200 Swedish kronor. Volvo also introduced a truck, the Type 1, in the same year. A couple of small vans had already been built on the chassis of the Jakob in 1927 and the production of trucks had been planned since 1926, when the first drawings were produced. The truck venture was a success. Trucks, and subsequently buses, dominated Volvo's production during the first decades in terms of numbers. In 1928 Volvo's first foreign company, Oy Volvo Auto AB was set up in Helsinki in Finland.
Ever since Jakob, Volvo had been developing the idea of a car with a 6-cylinder engine. Manufacture of the 4-cylinder vehicles was therefore brought to an end after 996 vehicles had been produced instead of the planned 1,000. In April the 6-cylinder PV651 was presented. PV stood for PersonVagn (Swedish for car), 651 for 6-cylinder, 5 seats and 1st series. The PV651 was longer, wider and had a stronger frame than Jakob. The 650 was the same model supplied as a chassis as a chassis without bodywork. The stronger motor had a good reception - particularly on the taxi markets, which Volvo particularly wanted to get into. During the year a total of 1,383 vehicles were sold. Twenty-seven of these were exported. In Sweden, the first issue of a magazine for Volvo owners appeared. This was entitled Ratten (The Steering Wheel). Volvo showed a modest profit for the first time.