Auto-Biography: The Volvo Safety Concept Car Of 1978

“Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is, and must remain, safety.” This sentiment was originally attributed to the Swedish automaker’s co-founders, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson, and has essentially remained one of Volvo’s primary core values for nearly a century.

As a result of their shared vision, the Volvo production line started rolling in April 1927.


Play a word-association game with ten randomly selected people on the street and say “Volvo.” I guarantee that a majority of those familiar with the brand will respond “safety” (while a minority might answer “boxy but good” –a reference to Dudley Moore’s ad campaign proposal in the 1990 movie “Crazy People”.)



A couple of years into my Volvo career, I was asked to participate in a project intended to present a variety of potential next-generation safety features, all wrapped up in a late-model Volvo 244 (in non-descript beige, of course). Since we were, for all practical purposes, tinkering with Gothenburg’s raison d’etre, I assume that the project was either quietly approved by our Swedish execs across the ocean or that we proceeded under the assumption that rather than asking for permission, we would instead beg for forgiveness after the project had been made public. Such discussions, if held at all, were far above my pay grade, so I proceeded to integrate a number of then-advanced safety features into the car. Some of these were existing Volvo accessories, while others were genuinely new ideas, which required a bit of tweaking to properly “adapt” to the vehicle.

Among the “safety gadgets”, as AutoWeek referred to them, were a seatbelt reminder system, an outside-temperature freeze warning, a low tire-pressure warning (to go along with the run-flat tire inserts we added), a rear window wiper/washer, a speed-sensitive horn, and variable brake lights whose flash rate was linked to the Volvo’s rate of deceleration. A programmable, fuel-fired cabin heater might have been one of the more questionable adds, seen from today’s perspective.  Younger passengers weren’t ignored, either, as Volvo’s Europe-only accessory child seat was also installed.

A rendering of the VSCC at midnight. Fortunately, the massive lower body-side moldings didn’t make the final cut.


Of course, the Volvo’s exterior was subjected to a few visible modifications as well, the most noticeable of which were broad swaths of reflective “glow in the dark” material along the sedan’s bodysides. Additional bumper guards and headlamp washers were also fitted, and two auxiliary lamps were mounted under the front bumper, one fog-lamp and one driving lamp (another single fog-lamp was added to the driver’s side tail-lamp array). Lastly, so-called “notice lights”, a precursor to today’s DRLs, were wired into the car’s electrical system.

The VSCC made page one of AutoWeek’s issue for the week ending April 7th, 1978.


Several of the VSCC’s features described here made it into production decades later.


The Volvo Safety Concept car made its public debut at New York’s Auto Expo in April 1978, meriting front-page coverage in AutoWeek as well as a couple of NYC-area TV news features, then disappearing into concept-car obscurity not long thereafter. Nevertheless, it’s instructive to compare the VSCC’s safety-feature laundry list with the extensive suite of “advanced driver assistance systems” (ADAS) offered in today’s new-car showrooms.

At April 1978’s New York Auto Expo, in all its glory.


Perhaps the VSCC was just a few decades ahead of its time after all…