Fellow contributor and good friend Johannes Dutch had an interesting recommendation on a previous post where I asked for suggestions on my next car – he recommended a new Volvo bus. That was an inspired recommendation – if only my parking space had the room…
While I certainly couldn’t afford a new one, I might be able to swing an older model. That got me looking and what better place to start than the 1950’s. I expected to find a series of sensible Swedish designs, but was a little surprised by what I discovered.
While Volvo’s buses over the past several decades have been fairly traditional, there were some pretty unique models during the 1950’s – some mild. some wild;
Here’s a 1952 Volvo B-617, with body by noted Dutch coachbuilder Den Oudsten – Johannes has authored several excellent posts on this company. The headlight housings blending back into the body is an interesting touch, but still a pretty conservative design.
Next is a front-engined, bonnet bus 1954 Volvo B-389, using the company’s very successful “Titan” chassis. This bus likely had the D 96 straight six diesel engine; 9.6 liters (586 cu in), putting out 150 hp. These Titan’s were legendary for their toughness – wouldn’t surprise me if this one was still on the road somewhere.
This is a 1952 Volvo B-655. Can’t get much more basic than this – flat front, flat sides, no unnecessary ornamentation – Scandinavian sensibility and simplicity…
To be fair to Volvo, quite a few of these buses used bodies constructed by the many individual coachwork builders so prominent in Europe in the 50’s – 70’s. This is a 1956 Volvo B-658 ZABO Brabena, and has an interesting high-level, step-up design. The body was built by ZABO (Zwijndrechtse Auto-Bus Onderneming), a prominent Dutch coach builder that was still in business up to the mid-80’s.
1955 Crown Bruck
Here is a 1953 Volvo B-727 “Bruck” – many US bus manufacturers built these in the 40’s and ‘50’s – Flxible and Crown come to mind. Our friends in Europe called them Kombinationsbus (German), seka-auto (Finnish), kombibuss (Norwegian) and godsbuss (Swedish) – and they’re still in use there today. They use a basic bus body with only half or two-thirds the seats, put in a back wall, then seal up the rear windows, and use the remainder as a cargo area. But this is the first time I’ve seen a small bus body mounted on a longer frame, with the rear half housing a specialized truck body. But it makes sense – even if you have a large work crew to transport to a job site, you can make the trip in one vehicle.
This is a 1956 Volvo B-560 with body by den Oudsten – which seems to have beaten the ’57 Nash Ambassador to the market by one year with stacked quad headlights.
Lastly, here’s a 1955 Volvo B-619 with coachwork by Domburg – Domburg was another Dutch coach builder with a long history. That’s quite the front end – those circular “spinners” look like they were lifted directly from a ‘49-51 shoebox Ford.
Today, with its own strong original market position, plus acquisitions like Britain’s Leyland, Canada’s Prevost and Nova Bus, and Mexico’s MASA, Volvo is now one of the largest bus manufacturers in the world. While I’m sure most CC readers are aware, for the few who might not, Volvo Group (which manufactures Volvo buses, trucks, marine engines, and several other product lines) is a separate entity from Volvo Cars, even though both use the same logo and are headquartered in Gothenberg Sweden. Volvo Cars left the Volvo Group in 1999 when it was purchased by Ford, and then subsequently by Geely in 2010.