Section 1: PV 444/544
Where were you in the mid-1950s? Remember Elvis Presley, Eisenhower, Sputnik
and the Suez Crisis? How about necker knobs, suicide doors, lake pipes, baby
moons, cutouts, chrome portholes and tailfins? Sound familiar? They probably
don't, so read further. These were some of the people, events and car terms
popular back in the 50s.
If you could identify a few of these, then you also may be able to remember that imported cars were just being introduced to the American market. Many of these cars offered something different to people -- new technology, styling, comfort or economy. A tidal wave of cars, each with its own special virtues, was gobbled up by eager buyers.
Not many of those foreign carmakers are around today. Only cars that offered something special survived. The North American Volvo parts market traces its roots back to those times ...
In 1956 Volvo management in Sweden decided to carry out significant investments in other markets. Introduction of Volvos to the U.S. and Canadian markets was a bold step -- many Europeans felt that selling cars to North Americans was like selling refrigerators to Eskimos. But sell they did ...
'A five-passenger sports car!' was the theme. The PV were the first
Volvos to capture the hearts and minds of a number of customers. They provided
a blend of unique family sedan practicality and sports car performance. Just as
the first Volvos were being made ready for sale, a parts specialist much like
yourself was unloading the first shipment of genuine Volvo parts.
PV 444/445 and PV 544/210 Models
The first Volvos brought to these shores were PV 444 models. Other Volvo cars were being sold in Europe and had the IIPVI designation, but they were not sold here. Unlike many other imports, the PV 444 was not a newly designed, unproved model. More than 100,000 PV 444 models (sedans) and PV 445 models (station wagons) had been produced by 1956 for other markets. In addition, Volvo had produced a variety of cars and trucks since 1927. Thirty years of production, influenced by a demanding Scandinavian climate, resulted in very durable cars well suited to our market.
In 1958 an updated version of the PV 444, the PV 544t was introduced. The PV was officially sold in North America from 1957 through 1965, although a few 544/210 models were sold in 1966-67. How can you tell a PV 444 from a PV 544 at a quick glance? Easy -- the 544 has a one-piece windshield!
All PV Volvos are front-engine, rear-drive vehicles. Power is provided by a four-cylinder, overhead valve, water-cooled pushrod engine. These grew in size from 1,414 cubic centimeters (cc) (86.3 cubic inches or 1.4 liters) in the PV 444/445 up to 1,778 cc (108.5 cubic inches or 1.8 liters) in the last versions of the PV 544/210. All engine blocks and cylinder heads were made of cast iron.
As engine displacement increased, so did durability. Early crankshafts rode on
three main bearings. With the introduction of the 1,778 cc engine (designated
B-18 after the 1.8 liter size), five unusually large main bearings were used.
In fact, both the crankshaft journals and bearings were larger than those found
on most V-8 engines of that time! Even the camshaft rides on large replaceable
Both intake and exhaust manifolds are located on the right side of the cylinder
head, one on top of the other. One gasket is used on most models for sealing
both manifolds. All engines have mechanical valve lifters (called tappetts or
"solid" lifters), and the valves need to be adjusted every so often.
The B-18 engine also contained what later came to be known in the performance
industry as "all the goodies" -- forged steel crankshaft, special connecting
rods and pistons, high lift camshaft, hardened pushrods and hardened valve
springs. This was certainly not a typical passenger car engine.
Early cars had a canister-type oil filter cartridge to purify the oil (still available at the parts distribution center). PV 544/210 models were one of the first imports to use the more convenient spin-on type oil filter. This type is now used on all Volvos (and nearly all other cars).
The water pump circulates coolant throughout both the engine and a real working
car heater -- something that did not operate very well in many other kinds of
cars. The B-18 engine has a water pump made of aluminum instead of the more
typical cast iron found on most cars of that time.
Fuel to the engine was provided by a mechanical fuel pump on the left side of the engine block. Two single one-barrel carburetors provided the juice in nearly all models, although a single one-barrel carb was installed on a few station wagon (PV 445/210) models. Each carb has its own air filter -- early cars filtered air using an oil-soaked mesh. By the time Roger Maris hit his 61st homer in the fall of 1961, all 1962 PVs were breathing through dry, pleated-paper air cleaners. Guess who still has them available?
By combining these free-revving, strong, economical engines with a distinctive
family car body, one of the first "sports sedans" was created years before that
name became popular.
As the size and output of the engine increased with time, so did the electrical system. PVs would get a charge of six volts up until 1962. At that time, a more modern twelve-volt system was introduced in the PV 544.
The battery is located directly in front of the firewall in the center of the engine compartment. All PVs could rely upon a generator made by Bosch (alternators were never installed) and a mechanical voltage regulator to keep fully charged.
The ignition distributor contains a single set of breaker points, a condenser, rotor and cap. This conventional battery-coil ignition system requires routine replacement of these parts to function properly. A well-maintained stock system was all that Gunnar Anderson's PV 444 needed to win the European rally championship in 1958!
DRIVE TRAIN / BRAKES
The PVs began life in this half of the world with a three-speed transmission coupled to the usual dry plate clutch assembly. A new four-speed transmission was introduced in 1958 -- an early ancestor to the four-speed and five-speed manual transmissions in Volvos today. Power gets passed to the rear wheels via a driveshaft and differential. Universal joints were include to allow movement of the driveshaft assembly.
Hydraulically operated drum brakes were used on all cars on all four wheels back in the 1950s. PV Volvos also used drum brakes on all four wheels. No exceptions. All PVs had a single circuit braking system commonly found on most cars of that time. Leaking wheel cylinders or punctured brake lines usually led to interesting dinner conversation.
Body / Suspension
The PV sedans are of a unit-type all-steel construction. Most other kinds of cars were built with a separate body that was lowered onto a separate frame called a chassis. These Volvo sedans had the frame "built into" the body. This one-piece assembly is an important contributor to the PV's legendary durability. Fewer and stronger structural parts made this type of car design both lighter and more economical to build. Today most cars use this design.
The only exceptions were the PV 445/210 models. These station wagons had a
separate chassis, in keeping with their original intended design -- delivery
vans and light-duty trucks. Even a few convertibles were built using this
chassis by a Swedish coachwork company.
Volvo also gave attention to rustproofing. PV body parts were treated to a
special anti-rust process (as early as 1949) at the factory. Nevertheless, as
one popular rock star once said, 'Rust never sleeps."
The suspension is simple by today's standards, but it ran at the front of the
pack back then.
The rear axle is kept in check by control arms and coil springs instead of the more common leaf springs and shackles. High-quality wheel bearings, bushings and seats were used exclusively. The PVs were good-handling cars that surprised a few people. In the 50s and 60s, it was not uncommon to see PV 444s and 544s hustling around a racetrack or slalom course ahead of some very well-known sports cars!
A total of 440,000 PV Volvos were built. Of that, about 244,000 were PV
544/210 models and 196,000 were PV 444/445 models. These classic Volvos were
simple and straightforward, attracted practical-minded customers and started the
Volvo parts business in North America.
One can't help but wonder what that parts specialist was thinking as the first crate was unpacked.