(first posted 6/1/2014) My visit to John Johnson’s place of work to discuss his 165 resulted in another rare discovery. Sitting behind a bevy of 1800s, a 262C and some later models was an upright pre-war car with a distinctive logo on its grille. It was a Volvo PV52, one of only sixteen left in the world. John graciously agreed to start it up and park it curbside so that I could give you this mini CC
Its origins start, in part, with the Venus Bilo. Designed by Gustaf Ericsson, this was a voluptuous if awkward entry into the annals of streamlining. It was prepared on a PV655 chassis by Gustaf Mordbergs Vagnfabrik AB in 1932 and featured a completely sealed underside to enhance aerodynamics and minimise the swirl of road dust. Only one was built and came with nine specially designed suitcases that could be fitted into various compartments around the car.
The Venus Bilo was not considered a success, and nor was Volvo’s next attempt at streamlining. The PV36 Carioca was a production model manufactured between 1935 and 1938. It was the work of Ivan Ornberg who had previously been at Hupmobile. Like the 1935 Hupmobile and the Chrysler Airflow, both obvious styling influences, the Carioca never really hit it off with the public. Priced rather expensively at 8,500 kronor, only about 500 were sold in its lifetime.
But Volvo needed to sell cars, so the solution was to take the PV36 and modify it somewhat to become the 1936 PV51. The independent front suspension was replaced with a beam axle. Gone was the streamlined front clip and in its place was a more conventional arrangement with separated headlamps and more upright grille. The rest of the body was retained although niceties such as wheel spats were lost in an effort to bring the price down.
It was powered by a 3670cc flathead producing up to 86bhp which, combined with the lighter all-steel body, made for the best power-to-weight ratio of any Volvo yet. At 5,800 kronor, the PV51 was still more expensive than American alternatives but it did strike a chord with the Swedish public.
Like the first Ford Falcon, the PV51 was considered a bit spartan and the public were eager to option it up. So Volvo created a new model, the 1937 PV52, to address that need. The PV52 featured such luxuries as twin wipers, better trim, a heater and this grogeous mottled Bakelite steering wheel. Oddly, at the time the public preferred to buy the PV51 with the extra goodies rather than stump up for the 6,900 kronor PV52.
Most noticeable on this black beauty is the plethora of different Volvo logos. Notice the slab-serif ‘VOLVO’ font still in use today on the speedo in the previous shot, and the steering wheel with the stylised red’ ‘V’ on its hub. Then you have the prow insignia featured here, the reflective slab-serif ‘V’ bisected by a depiction of the hood ornament.
The mooncaps on the wheels feature this flowing cursive script. Unfortunately, CC’s readers only get half the cap; there was no way I could avoid photographing my ugly mug on that polished hemisphere so I’ve edited the picture instead.
And finally we have the ubiquitous Volvo ideogram. The circle with an arrow is the chemical symbol for iron and was chosen to create associations with the Swedish iron industry. The sash was originally a diagonal band to hold the logo in place on the radiator and first appeared in 1927. It is serendipitous that the sash also came to imply the seat belt as an apt representation of Volvo’s safety principles.
The PV51 and 52 helped move Volvo away from its earlier associations as a taxi manufacturer. It also laid the foundations for the post-war positioning as Sweden’s national car. To some extent, it’s the first modern Volvo; solid and dependable with no-nonsense practicality. But against today’s range of automobiles, this PV52 also carries with it a touch of glamour.
It is truly amazing that they used so many different logos, fonts and general ID badges on a single vehicle.
Volvo’s first world record?
Although the Carioca has always been my favourite pre-war Volvo, this is beautiful too. And I’ve never seen a PV52 in person. Thank you Don!
What a beauty. In my twisted thinking, in the side shot if I hold my thumb over the hood it looks like a four door 50’s Beetle.
Good article. That’s a beauty. Never knew that Volvo made flathead engines in the early days. This is the type of car that grabs me.
Yay something Ive not seen before nice looking car the earlier faired in model looks like a prewar Peugeot the later is an improvement.
Gorgeous car. It pains me to know so few are left.
Sweet ! .
I love the style .
Beautiful cars! Thank you for explaining the origins of the classic Volvo logo. And that steering wheel-that could be a safety hazard; I could lose myself staring at it.
Isn’t it curious how difficult it is for designers to “lead” the public eye? The streamlined Carioca is simply charming to my eye, yet for the public it was too radical-so Volvo had to go back to the upright grill and free-standing headlights of the featured car. A headlight too far.
Ok, it’s official. Don, you win my prize for the best ever Volvo found curbside. The prize is simply my lifelong worship and adulation of you, but hopefully that will be sufficient.
I fell in love with the Venus Bilo and PVs 36 and 51 back in the mid 1980s. As a child I knew my grandparents’ 164E and later 264 GL/E were uncommon choices in smalltown New Zealand, and I quickly became besotted with them (the cars and my grandparents). So I wrote to Volvo NZ to say how much I liked their cars, and they sent me a fantastic book on their history. It was full of pictures, hence I met the Venus et al at about 10-12 years of age. Other boys my age were ogling the Venus De Milo, but for me it was the Venus Bilo every time. And so a love of Volvos was cemented even deeper.
Anyway, this is a gob-smackingly awesome find , thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of us! 🙂
Thanks Scott, but I don’t want your adulation. I want your World Car Catalogue collection.
Just captured. Coming soon(ish).
*reads badge, heart skips a beat*
Not sure those badges should be placed there?
No, not at all. The leaping cat profile wasn’t on the Mk 10 I don’t think, and the other badges are from the bootlid.
Scott, I bet I have the same or similar book: “Volvo – The Cars From the 20s to the 80s.” My parents’ friends who were Volvo dealers gave us the book when I was about eight. It was actually published by Volvo. I was totally infatuated with those prewar Volvos–especially the Carioca!
Great piece on anotherncar I knew zero about. The Ford V8 of the 1930s was considered quite a hot rod in its day at 85 horsepower. This early Volvo must have been quite speedy as well. The details on the car are quite beautiful. Don’t believe I have ever seen a steering wueel like that.
What an interesting car and article. One I knew almost nothing about.
Count me in with the lovers of the Carioca. It really is a bit pathetic that designers had to go retro-grade with these first generation aerodynamic cars; they look so much cleaner.
This PV52 is quite a wonderful find, and still a lovely car, despite the that. Thanks for this excellent look at These pre-war Volvos. It makes a nice book-end to Volvo Week.
Here’s a stretch: does anybody see a resemblance to the Venus Bilo in the Land Cruiser Model 55? Maybe it’s just the two-tone with the lighter colored greenhouse, but I have always wondered where they got their inspiration for that truck-it seemed such a departure from the original.
It hadn’t occurred to me initially but now that you’ve mentioned it, I can see a kinsihip to the FJ55.
Love the Carioca–it really does look like a 7/8 scale airflow. Very adventurous by Volvo, if slightly derivative. And while far less radical, this PV52 actually looks quite modern for a 1937 model.
One last note on the Venus Bilo. I’ve never seen this confirmed anywhere, but I’ve always assumed that its name was a play on words, given that the Swedish word for car is bil.
I read something similar in my research.
Great find and writeup Don! I can only dream about seeing one of these in the metal! I don’t know if there is even one in North America…likely not.
Not sure I’ve seen this one before. Looks like a traction Avant. Not a bad thing!
What, a heater was an option on the PV51–in Sweden!!???
What a wonderful write-up! Thanks for the history.
Ok, Venus Bilo and the sculpture connection. But who on Earth came up with that Carioca name? I know it as a Brazilian word, designating the people from Rio de Janeiro and stemming from the “Tupi-Guarani” language, spoken by the natives in South América.