Did someone say "shoeboxes?"
The year is 1955. Nils Olof Sefelt packed his family, a few thousand dollars, a little car, some spare parts and moved from Sweden to Texas. He was bucking the odds that he could become successful selling foreign cars in the USA. The car was a Volvo PV444. The rest is history. Within a few years he was selling over 2000 cars per year. The cars for sale at your local Volvo dealer today have more in common with their ancestors than you might think. Today, the emphasis is on safety with a large dose of performance available on several models. It was a Volvo engineer who patented the first three-point seat belt, first installed in PV544s and 122s. A Volvo engineer invented laminated glass. For modest performance at an affordable price, in the fifties you could not go wrong with a PV444. . In the years that followed that Mr. Sefelts foray into the unknown, it became a car that was driven, raced and loved. It got a larger engine, lost the split windows and became the PV544. Other models that built on the successes of the first cars followed it. There were the 122 "Amazon", P1800 (the Saints "first" car), and the 140 and 240 series - cars that seemed they would never get a face-lift. Volvo built the stodgy 200 series for over two decades and then began a series of rapid (for Volvo) model changes that has brought us to the present offering of upscale transport.
Needless to say, Volvo is not a marque that stirs fire in the average toy buyers heart. So it should come as no surprise that models of these cars are few and far between. Collectors of Corvettes, Porsches and VW Bugs will tell you that there are so many die cast models to choose from that it is nearly impossible to get them all. But if you collect Volvo models, it may still be impossible to get them all. Not because there are so many, but rather because they are not commonly sold and marketed as widely as more popular cars.
The PV444 has a profile that is shamelessly similar to a miniature 1940 Ford Sedan. The running gear is engineered in the same fashion as Pontiacs of the day. The rear axle is American-made. With 1.6 liters under the hood, it seemed surprisingly peppy, if you didnt compare it to a small block Chevy
The first Volvo model that I acquired was a Sommerville PV444 (type K). I have never owned a real "PV", and I am not sure I ever will, but I have always loved the lines of the car and the overall impression that it makes on me. This model faithfully captures an early version of the PV, complete with split windows, photo-etched wipers, detailed grill and wheels, killer interior details, and the kind of heft that you only get from fine scale models. At 4 inches long and one and three-eighths inches high, it is true to scale (1/43rd). It rolls so well I always have to be sure that I do not tip the display plinth carelessly. If it landed on my toes, I would be sure to regret it in more ways than one.
At about the same time that Chevy struggled with producing a commercially successful Corvette, Volvo made a brief entry into the fiberglass, two seater market. They produced the P1900; a car based on the PV chassis and developed with a fiberglass body. Unfortunately, it would not come to pass. The problems were too much for the car to see long term production. Sixty-seven cars were produced, plus a few prototypes. It is said that 22 made it to the United States, only a handful survives.
This model comes from V.H.M. in Italy. I suppose that technically this model should not be described in this column because it is made of resin. But since the original car was plastic, and we are talking about Volvos, Ill sneak it in. This model has numerous photo-etched parts. Most of the trim parts, the window surrounds, the wheel covers, complete with the Volvo logo are finely detailed works of art in their own right. The interior detail is accurate to a fault. As with all of the cars described in this months column, the paint finish is flawless. It does not have as much chassis detail as the Sommerville models it is a flat pan with only the makers name and country, and tailpipe. But this model looks so good on display that it can be forgiven. It is, incredibly, twice as expensive as the other models, probably due to the short production run and level of detail that appears to be hand done. The maker claims that there were only 67 copies of this model made, to commemorate the original. I do not have a certificate to authenticate this claim but it is a nice member of the collection no matter how many others may exist.
Amazon & 122
Volvo soon decided to add another car to their line of products. They wanted to appeal to the North American market, and so decided to produce a car they felt would be appealing to Americans. Once again the design drew upon the successful elements found in American cars of the time. When the Amazon, known in the U.S. as the 122, came out in the late 50s, the styling was certainly not cutting edge. It has elements of the 1949 Ford (most of the body, nose and tail), the Chrysler 300 (the grill) and little hints of other cars from the early 50s. It was built like a tank. Advertising of the day told prospective customers to "Drive it like you hate it"
And many of us took them up on it. I have a fond spot in my heart for the 122. My wife did not drive when we met. I set about the task of teaching her something that is best left to fathers and driving instructors. When she thought better of learning to drive a stick, we set out looking for a vintage automatic. Enter the 122, now known as "Baby." We have had it for 10 years and it is still taking abuse.
I saw my first Volvo in 1962 when my neighbors got a 122 station wagon. The head of the household is a wise engineer who no doubt spent a considerable amount of time researching the purchase. All I remember is that the car smelled funny inside and looked even stranger outside.
The Sommerville 122S model is arguably the best casting available if you want a good 122 model at any cost. It was sold in blue-gray or red and is a dead ringer for the real thing. I have had many people mistake this photograph for a full sized car. I did add some detailing in the logo area of the wheel covers, grill, marker lights and so on, but otherwise, this car comes with a level of detail that is typical of what Sommerville has to offer. Photo-etched wipers, bare metal bumpers and rear trunk latch, sharp decals with authentic numbering and rubber tires on rolling axles. I took it apart to inspect the interior and the attention to detail and accuracy is uncanny. It measures about 4 inches long and one and three eighths inches high. As with the PV444, it is modeled in 1/43rd scale
In the early Sixties, a movie production company went to Jaguar Cars in Coventry England asking for a sports car to use for the shooting of their movie. The new Jaguar E-Type was in the final stages of development and production, but Jaguar turned the filmmakers away empty-handed. Volvo stepped in with the new P1800. For the next several years, Roger Moore was to be seen driving around trouncing just about every imaginable car with his white Volvo in the popular TV series, "The Saint". As those who have driven an early 1800 know, it is quite unlikely that he would have won those races against Aston Martins and Jags.
The early P1800s were not performers. But they did provide iconoclastic styling and a comfortable touring package with reasonable storage for a short trip and carried on the legendary reliability that Volvo is known for. I have owned several variations of the venerable 1800 and continue to love it despite its quirks and shortcomings. In its final configurations, either the 1972 1800E or 1973 1800ES Sports-wagon, the car had been developed to its most advanced stage technically. It was discontinued with pride when it was clear that it had grown long in the tooth and would not withstand the mandated changes for safety and emissions regulations that came into effect in the years to follow. Less than 38,000 units of all variations were produced with the 1972 1800E and ES being the most rare and, on most counts, the most desirable. However mild a sports car it may have been, it was the last that Volvo would produce for many years to come.
This 1800S, from Robeddie is actually an early production version. I have made numerous additions to this model. I found that without them, it lacked real eye appeal. I added most of the chrome trim accents and head and side light detail. I painted the wheel cover logo details and also the interior. Brooklin makes this model for Robeddie. It is very accurate for the molded details and scale (1/43rd), but most of the trim parts are a bit chunky. This is the last year that the 1800S was made before Volvo introduced the fuel injected version of this car. On the fuel-injected versions, there are air extractors on the rear fenders and a fuel filler, new wheels and grill modifications. This casting correctly omits these details. The early versions of this model had smooth tires, as can be seem from the photograph. Most production versions of this model were released with a more realistic rubber tread pattern. Even considering the criticism, this is a still a definite must-have model if you own an 1800S, but it will not look like this example without some work. It has now been re released in red.
The "ES", as the cognoscenti refer to it, was developed from the basic coupe design by adding an extended roof and a hatchback treatment in the rear. The back window is totally glass and opens on exposed hinges. I have often remarked how similar the1974 Toyota SR5 wagon is to the overall design of the ES. Needless to say, I do not consider the Toyota as appealing, but do give it credit for carrying on the concept. It is probably very close to what the Volvo would have become if it had been modified to meet crash restrictions. When you get inside the car, you sink into what can only be described as a cockpit, bristling with gauges. How many cars came with an oil temperature gauge? This one did. One of the more interesting features of many Volvo cars, and this one in particular, was the Laycock electronic overdrive, which gives a fifth gear without the extra rowing. On early cars, it could be activated on any gear, including reverse. But it was modified to be available only when the car was in fourth gear. The seating in the ES is covered in Connally leather and the carpets done in Wilton wool (Jaguar owners will recognize these brands). I drove my ES daily for ten years and would rate it highly for reliability and practicality. The only problem that I ever had was the constant question "What is it?"
This model from Tin Wizard was available in kit form and built up by a firm in Holland. It was the only ES model that I could find, other than a ceramic one that was available at the shows. It has several elements that fall short. The nose and grill are not accurately done. The European style rearview mirrors set into the front fenders may please English owners but spoil the look of the car. The wheels are roughly cast and are not completely accurate. The axle shows where the center cap should be. On the plus side, the interior is faithful to the original. Overall it is a pleasing model even if not perfect in every way. This is another of those kits/hand-builts that will be very hard to find. The supplier that I purchased mine from (Danhausen in Germany) has closed. I did not have much success locating another supplier.
Now we are talking shoeboxes. The Volvo 140 was the evolutionary development of the 122. It was intended to update the aging looks of the faithful Amazon. Mechanically, there were many parts in common, but the look was totally new. This series continued the legendary reputation for reliability. It was the beginning of a period of bland cars from Sweden, to be sure, but the 140 and 240 series cars were some of the most practical and reliable ever produced by any manufacturer. They are now being campaigned successfully in modified form on vintage racing circuits. An original or well-restored 140 is something to see. These cars are so simple, yet so well engineered, that it often makes me wonder if perhaps cars have been made more complicated than they need be.
Tekno is a name that many die cast collectors know and love. This company produced some of the finest models available. The beauty of their products was that they could be played with and also displayed with pride. The wheels have an elaborate steering mechanism. The hoods, trunks, and doors opened. Often the seats inside the cars moved. The headlights were usually small, multi-faceted pieces of glass. These toys were just plain fun. The car shown above has all of the typical Tekno features. I took this one apart and detailed the engine compartment. What amazed me about this piece was how complex it was. One screw literally holds the whole thing together. When you remove it, all the moving parts fall away, threatening to test you to your soul, should you attempt to put it back together. Sadly, the Tekno line has been discontinued for several years. I found some castings reissued under the Joal brand, but this Volvo has not thus far been part of that line. Heres to hoping that someone will snap up the tooling and bring back some of these fine toys.
Partial Listing of Fine Scale Volvo Die Cast
A quick search of the Internet reveals that there are tons of locations to visit that feature Volvo related items. My own site features a fairly comprehensive selection of photos of Volvo die cast subjects. I also encourage you to visit a new site at martens-volvo-vw.com for more links to things Volvo. Here are some books about Volvos.
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