Forty years ago Gothenburg tried its hand at an eco-car. It didn’t catch on.
Large scale manufacturers have the ability to try new technologies, regardless of their commercial non-success. On these pages we have read of countless millions budgeted for a non-starting project or concept, at the time heralding new automotive beginnings, only to forever reside within the confines of a museum. A historical artefact from a less well informed period.
One such previously unsung example being Volvo’s LCP2000 project. The Light Component Project for the year 2000 started life in 1979. After an exemplary twenty five career with fellow Scandinavian carmaker, SAAB, where he had input with the Sonnet, in addition to rally-driving and engine development (tied with being an executive), the ever genial engineer, Rolf Mellde sought a new challenge at Volvo.
The simple brief being to conjure up a vehicle for the future. One made from modern, lightweight materials, being ultra fuel efficient with typical Volvo traits – safety, and everyday usability. No science fiction here: more science fact. Limitations were set at a maximum weight of 700 Kg, using no more than four litres of fuel per 100 Km with accommodation for at least two people, preferably four. Difficult in 2020, unheard of forty years ago. Mellde drafted his team together, taking nearly four years for their hard work to come to fruition.
A distinct wedge form, three door hatchback was taken to the 1983 Stockholm environmental seminar. In total, four cars were made. Wheelbase measured exactly one hundred inches (2540 mm) within an overall length of 156.7” (3980mm). The scales tipped at 707 Kg, impressively close to the stipulated maximum.
Power came from two variants of three cylinder Diesel engines; the first being co-developed by British company Ricardo and made from magnesium. Rated at 1.3 litres, this 98 Kg block produced 50hp. The alternative being an iron block, 1.4 litre 130 Kg mill which could run on anything oil-based. One experiment used rapeseed oil, entrancing anyone downwind of the exhaust to a sudden desire for fish and chips. With no cylinder head cooling jacket and using the engine oil to act as coolant, this model developed ninety horsepower.
Both engines could see the LCP reach sixty two KMH in around eleven seconds and record excellent fuel figures of 56 mpg. Acceptable then but hardly ground breaking today. Top speed was a nicely rounded 110mph. All varieties were front wheel drive whereas the gearbox was either that of a traditional, manual Volvo five speeder or, slightly later into the project, a DAF derived CVT unit was installed.
Body wise, materials used featured aluminium, plastic and magnesium along with the almost (then) mythical use of carbon fibre for the door frames. Volvo claimed only 150Kg of standard material such as steel was used in the entire construction, substantially helping toward the 700 Kg goal; the floor being a single piece of plastic that the aluminium or magnesium parts could be glued to. The lightweight wheels were co-developed with Italian bicycle componentry supremo, Campagnolo.
Remaining with the body, we can see the unusual passenger set up. Driver and front passenger were presented with the status quo. Those consigned to the rear on the other hand were forced to endure the view of the road travelled. Deemed a safety feature, the rearward facing seats defined the rather sharply squared off end – the plastic tailgate being your means of in – and egress with some room for luggage.
Whether your Heinz beans tins or golf paraphernalia tickled your toes is unknown but I for one would not relish a journey of any length facing oncoming idiots. Especially when a common or garden hatchback from any other given manufacturer could handle that remit without question.
And that dilemma heaves the inevitable weight behind such an otherwise exceptionally conceived engineering task, the baying hoards of potential customers not only unconvinced when shown such science, they ignored it. Power and performance were (as now) far more saleable than anything concerned with the environment. The project certainly caused interest and helped inspire the shape of the 480 three years hence.
Of more benefit to the manufacturer concerned with whole-life costs was the study of not only the used materials but their recyclability when the car’s serviceable life ends. A modern Volvo can recycle some 90% of its parts, broadly attributable to the LCP project of some forty years past.
This is by no way of criticism toward Mellde and his team, who created a whole new vision, using (in the car business at that moment in time) unheard of materials, producing an admittedly odd looking although perfectly functional car, that given better circumstances may have caught the imagination of the public. For their labours they deserved more than just a museum piece, though realistically a museum piece the LCP2000 has to be.