Andrew Miles casts his eye Northwards for a tale of marble and swine.
In historical terms, Volvo are similar to Citroen; both engineering driven, both regarded as extreme at times, both brimming with frisson and an inbuilt nature to excel and impress, even if looking a tad more internally than we might expect. This tale deals with the Swedes.
1933 was a pivotal year. Volvo was only seven years into producing vehicles, although were already seeking advancement and change. Gustaf Ericsson was an industrialist, noted for working in America and fiercely keen to build a car in the very early days of the automotive industry. You may have heard of his father’s telecoms business more than Gustaf’s car firm; he managed but ten cars before bankruptcy. Undeterred as these people are by such fripperies, he continued his passions of art, sculpture, cars and driving.
Norberg Karosserifabrik had created bodywork for the likes of Rolls Royce, Hispano Suiza, Dusenberg and Packard to name but a few. Hardly shrinking violets in design terms, this led to Ericsson beating a path to NK’s door with a one tenth scale wooden model he had knocked up.
“This is beautiful – can you make one on a full size PV 653 chassis?” A moments hesitation before a resounding “Yes!” from Gustav Norberg, the director.
Volvo paid for the job lot and within the year, The Volvo Venus Bilo was presented to the world. In February 1934, the New York Times ran a big article on “Streamlining as Embodied on a Foreign Car.” Volvo the company adored the Bilo, eager to show this concept car to all and sundry. Touring Sweden and Denmark, along with the American coverage, success seemed imminent.
Sadly however, the public thought otherwise – some aghast at the car’s design and looks. Elegant it is not. Robust. Omnibus like, miniaturised. Sculptured? Most definitely. Heavy, uncoordinated. Uncompromising and unique. Alas, I could not find any interior information nor pictures.
Seating six, three up front, same to the rear, space for ten suitcases: the longest replete for the gentleman to have unfolded pressed trousers. The car weighed in at over two tons; the Bilo used the second spare tyre as a bumper/parking aid. The first spare tyre being carried, Bristol-like in the wing-space. Ingenious, though not for everyone.
The initial euphoria soon deflated; Volvo’s baby (reputedly named after the Venus de Milo) was sold off, ignominiously forgotten save for the impressive photos taken at Villa Roskull on the island of Lidingö close to Stockholm. Presently home to the Angolan Embassy no less.
Looking more closely at the car, the panels were smooth, easily replaced if damaged, recessed hinges and handles. Suicide doors, unusually placed windscreen wipers. Huge A, B and C pillars. Now the front: the “cow-catcher” bumper, the almost barn owl-shaped face that really did the aerodynamics the power of good.
Designed with keeping that air flow as a vacuum aiding cooling and not allowing mud or dust from the road surface to sully the bodywork. As only one was ever made, it appears the chassis and engine were the same as a PV653. An in-line six cylinder engine of 3.2 litres making 65bhp. A three speed gearbox with a floor mounted shift, hydraulic brakes and options of a standard or longer deluxe wheelbase.
Rugged in construction, comfortable in use: watchwords of Volvo then and now. The Venus Bilo’s extra weight must have been the bodywork though some chassis strengthening may have occurred.
As previously mentioned, the Venus Bilo was sold off for an unknown sum, having a total of a possible seven owners for the trail goes cold in Denmark 1955. Still searched for as a Swedish Loch Ness Monster, it is known the car was purchased by a chap named Westerberg in Kalmar before the war and after in 1948 by his friend Erik Lauritzen. Here the trail of the car cools for it is undetermined exactly who owned the Bilo or where. Suggestions include the car was a farm hack, turned into a “ute” and for want of a better description, a tool shed.
The last known sighting of the Bilo was disembarking from a Danish ferry at Helsingborg in 1949, captured on cinefilm by Gottard Falk, the father of Lars, who has spent a great deal of his life attempting to find the Venus Bilo. Currently unsuccessful, still hopeful, scouring the sheds and barns of Denmark. His website volvovenusbilo.com is enlivening and is the source of a lot of background information.
Part two follows shortly…