Curbside Classic: Volvo PV52 – Solid And Dependable With A Touch Of Glamour


(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.