Swedish Cliffhangers

More lost prototypes from Volvo’s cutting room floor.

1952 Volvo Philip prototype. Image: Secret Classics

Measuring the strength of any influence can prove difficult. The film and TV industries revel in suspense, from those early monochrome Flash Gordon and Zorro weeklies to today’s greedy multi-franchised big-screen sequels. Leaving the audience wanting more invariably guarantees success, but do these eleventh hour on-screen nail-biting endings have much in common with those created within the car industry? More so than it might appear: that most conservative and safety-conscious of Swedish carmakers had several instances of the will they, won’t they?  cliffhanger, the first being named, of all things, Philip.

Whether Jan Wilsgaard was partial to watching Rawhide or gaining ideas from powerful American advertising remains unknown, although one fact seems quite clear, the Volvo Philip, which was intended to be the PV444’s replacement, could as easily have been introduced to the world as hailing from Detroit rather than Gothenburg.

Aged just twenty-two, Wilsgaard brought forth his 1952 proposal with added Americana; white wall tyres, long flanks, rear-wheel-drive, along with hefty chromed bumpers, wheel spats and the mere swish of fin to the car’s tail. Looking under the hood (sorry, bonnet), we find a power source Bo and Luke Duke could easily fix come the next episode, a brand new 3,559cc V8 (designated the B8B) making 120 bhp.

Volvo B8B V8 engine. Image: Secret Classics

In Sweden at the time, each day of the year was given a name, the second of May being dubbed Filip. Gazing westwards and keen to make an impact in the new world, Volvo anglicised the name, but nothing else. Automatic gearbox, servo-assisted brakes, power steering and seating for six with spritely performance for its 1,567kg weight.

Created in total secrecy, modern theories hint at the use of Henry J. and Kaiser Manhattan parts – the widow’s peak windscreen, doors and bumpers for example. The Philip was tested enthusiastically, primed for production and then halted an hour before noon by Volvo CEO, Assar Gabrielsson, for entirely pragmatic reasons. The home market did not after all care for such luxury, nor for the Philip’s prodigious thirst. For the time being then, the lure of the dollar was put on hold. The B8B engine went on to power Volvo’s other staple, its trucks, for many years.

1952 Volvo Philip. Image: oldconceptcars

Meanwhile the Philip – the first and only – resides in the Volvo museum, after certain board members of Bolinder-Munktell (BM) in Eskilstuna used the car for a brief period.

The next Wilsgaard episode followed swiftly, code named PV179. Ditching saloon for coupé styling, the two door created enough of a stir for it to be considered for production. Chassis elements would be adopted by the eventual design winner, the 120 Amazon. Coil springs supported each corner with the front suspension employing ball-joints instead of kingpins. Engines were the B4B of 1.4 litre capacity. A single-carburettor unit with overhead valves, it unleashed around 50bhp. 

Design tropes resemble the elegance of Bentley’s R-Type Continental – hardly a bad start. A short front overhang led into gently angular recessed flanks (facilitating duo-tone colour schemes, as seen in some photos) and a longer rear than first anticipated. The distinctive and sportive theme continued with prominent off-square grille and Bentley-esque lights. Tune in next week, folks, to see if this will be the new Volvo to take on the USA!

Volvo PV179 prototype. Image: Silodrome

Gabrielsson was immensely pleased by Wilsgaard’s design, enough to show Swedish artist Helmer Masolle, who was quite taken by the fastback’s aesthetic nature. Plans were made for a 1954 release. Tor Bethelius, the chief engineer and his team had everything set, just when the cellists sounded an ominous refrain.

Gabrielsson decided to show the prototype to Danish photographer and consultant, Helmer Petterson, for the final decision. Petterson considered the car overweight, believing it would cause undue engine strain. The photographer suggested that the PV444 instead be re-bodied. Gabrielsson acquiesced and had Wilsgaard attempt to shorten the coupé, but to no avail. The lead character lost interest in the project while the credits played out. 

Worse was to befall the PV179. Journalists nicknamed the car Margaret Rose in keeping with the British royal family and Philip connections but the end came abruptly while undertaking comparative cornering tests with the PV444. Observing the rear wheel movements, engineer Raymond Eknor recalls the triple four doing well but the 179 rolled twice and, unusually for a Volvo, was written off. Considering the similarities between variants, was the 179 jinxed from the outset? A lead character unexpectedly meeting their demise in a crash during the final episode? We’ll probably never know.

Today’s final instalment concerns not a car but its engine. With the S80 flagship model about to be released in 1998, tests were conducted using a purpose built V10 engine. Created by Martyn Roberts at Cosworth Technology, with inputs from Volvo engineers Ove Backlund and Peter Keen, its expense appears to be in keeping with a prime time weekly television show. Straining the belt at around 200kgs, the 4.3-litre mill, referred to as the P2X, is said to have produced 325 bhp. Mated to a five-speed auto, it was capable of an autobahn-munching 155mph.

Five prototypes were hand-made in Torslanda for high-speed testing around Volvo’s secret Hällered test track. For everyday traffic conditions, two engines were installed in converted 850 bodies. One wonders if any passers-by, or audibly astute enthusiasts spotted the disconnect between the familiar car shape and the (presumably) somewhat distinctive exhaust note? 

The trail of information then goes quite cold. Consider at this time that Ford was keen on purchasing Volvo and placing them into its Premier Auto Group (PAG), itself an out of control vehicle aiming for the hard shoulder. Was the decision to use an external engine supplier a means of burning up cash, definitive research or to leave those interested dangling by a thread upon a precipice?

Volvo’s 4.4 litre V8 unit. Image: in4ride

The P2X’s engine warning light came on – project cancelled. Whilst the S80 became Gothenberg’s flag-bearer, the largest engine fitted to the first generation model was a 2.9-litre six-cylinder making 193bhp. The second-generation model, launched under PAG control, featured for a short time a 4.4-litre V8 co-developed with Yamaha that made a shade over 300bhp. This author’s ears have heard neither of the above, sadly.

The machinations of the car world blend seamlessly with the fictitious outpourings of the film set. Can the track-tied heroine be rescued seconds before the oncoming train? Will the bad guy win? One thing is certain: with these games, you really never can tell.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

28 thoughts on “Swedish Cliffhangers”

  1. The 60 degree V8 in Volvos is apparently completely unrelated to the 60 degree V8 in the Ford Taurus, even though both were made by Yamaha. There was some potential for growth in capacity but the time for V8s was seemingly over.
    There was a Volvo team in the Australian V8 Supercars racing championship in 2014-2016 and the rules stated that they had to use a V8 engine from the same manufacturer, with a maximum capacity of 5.0 litres, so Team Cyan ran an S60 with a 5 litre version of the 60 degree V8 producing 650 bhp. The team won a few races in that time, more than the AMG Mercedes team, but never enough to trouble the usual Holden/Ford fightout, (Somewhat ironically the current championship is being led by a Holden, even though the brand no longer exists elsewhere)
    V8 Supercars Volvo V8

    Volvo S60 V8

    1. That Ford paid Yamaha to develop two unrelated transversely mounted V8s is madness. They took said madness yet further by not spreading the costs by using those two engines in other production cars. The 3.4 SHO from the Taurus was a lovely, although fragile, engine and could have powered high-performance versions of the Cougar and the X-Type. The Volvo 4.4, turned around ninety degrees, would have been a fine successor to the then 10 year old Jaguar AJ8.

    2. The Volvo engine had a die cast open deck block, the Ford was a sand cast closed deck design. The bore centre spacing was identical as were crankshaft bearing diameters. This is pure madness.
      If I remember correctly Yamaha based an outboard engine on a heavily modivied version of the Volvo with 5.6 litres and exhaust ports facing inwards to the centre of the V. An outboard unit cost around $30,000.

    3. Dave, isn’t it nice to know that Yamaha didn’t waste Ford’s money?

  2. Volvo’s oddly named Philip was doubtless heavily inspired by the 1951-1953 Kaiser, although I don’t believe any actual Kaiser parts were used in creating it- the windscreen for example looks very similar but is one piece instead of the Kaiser’s split affair. Here is a comparison between the cars:

    What has always puzzled me is why Volvo and Kaiser did not agree to some kind of deal- Kaiser could allow Volvo to produce a “Volvo-ised” version of its Manhattan, and Kaiser could use the Volvo V-8 in their cars- something they desperately needed to stay in the fight with the big three. Not offering a V-8 engine was certainly one of the contributing factors to Kaisers demise a few years after the Philip was presented.

    1. …and while we’re on the subject of stateside inspiration: Over the years, Volvo has looked to the USA on several occasions; compare the PV36 Carioca to the Chrysler Airflow, the PV444 to the early forties US Ford and the Amazon to the 1955 Chrysler/Imperial. Even quite recently, the T6 Concept looked quite similar to the Plymouth Prowler:

    2. The windscreen of the Philip reminds me of the rear window of the 1951-53 Kaiser Dragon, but I also think the two parts are not identical.

  3. Interesting stuff, thank you Andrew. The Philip immediately put me in mind of another barrel-sided stillborn 1950s prototype, the 1954 Porsche 542, designed for Studebaker:

    Meanwhile, the PV179 looks like it has borrowed the DLO from the VW Type 3:

    Isn’t the Type 3 a rather pleasant looking thing?

  4. Good Morning Andrew. There seems to be a common theme running at the moment. The apparent wastefulness of car manufacturers who start something with good intentions, spend lots of money and then chuck it all in the bin. What a strange approach to running a business. I do like the Volvo PV179 prototype though!

    1. VW alone must have wasted the BNP of a smaller country by developing cars to or nearly to production readiness and then cancelling them. At least they could use them to fill a museum.
      Manufacturers like Peugeot, Fiat and Ford must have lost incredible sums when they had to write off their lean burn engine developments when German manufactuers successfully lobbied for making catalytic converters mandatory.
      On the other side you have to ask how and why developments like the Rover P8 managed to make it so far that the nearly production ready car was scrapped because of a failed crash test.
      Or think Citroen GS Birotor where they had to buy back nearly thousand vehicles to scrap them because the project was stopped after production had started.

    2. It is interesting, these expensive flights of fancy, particularly from brands as conservative as Volvo (or VW). Part of the “unfathomabiliy” of it might simply be incomplete recording of events: there were probably reasons for many things that manufacturers spent money on (not necessarily good reasons, mind).

      The recent foray around these parts into Vauxhall’s aborted projects comes to mind, both in the American inspiration for the styling of some (that lasted in Europe – I think – until about the early 1970s?) as in a certain megalomania or at least an unwillingness to face financial realities.

      Recent events at Jaguar come to mind also, with the scrapping of an apparently nearly complete XJ just before it entered production.

      They are fascinating and good-looking what-ifs, though. I’d imagine either car would have caused quite a stir had it come to market.

    3. It’s (relatively-speaking) okay to produce concepts like this and then decide not to proceed. It’s examples like the Rover P8, Maxi saloon and, I guess, Jaguar XJ EV where the tooling is being / has been ordered that things get really scary.

      The real masters of designing attractive cars and then producing something else entirely were, of course, BMC/BL/ARG/MG Rover. It’s worth a trip to AROnline to take a look at MG / Marina / Metro / Montego / Rover 800 facelifts and replacements, to mention just a few, to see what could’ve been.

    4. One of the most prominent last minute cold feet actions must have been the VW EA266.
      Had it become a production reality it would have killed the company.

    5. That VW and parts of AROnline are proof that it can certainly be the right decision to stop a project even at a very late date. Particularly the AROnline pages on prospective Montego facelifts (or rather: reskins) seem to me to be full of missed opportunities, though. As I understand it the Montego wasn’t that bad a car and redesigning it to resemble the Honda-sourced Rovers – which were, I think well recieved – might have helped the model a lot. By that time, though, AR had too little money available to make sensible product decisions based on long term strategy instead of short-term savings.

      It rather beggars belief, though, that a marque that’s been in trouble for a long time – Jaguar – let a development project process so far as it did the XJ. If any brand can’t afford such things, it would be Jaguar.

    6. Ford went even further and put the same air in the tyres of the cheapest Fiesta as in the most expensive Aston.

  5. The Philip was never intended to replace the PV444 but an upwards extension of the line replacing de defunct PV60 of 1946-50.

    The PV444 was their first four cylinder car in twenty years, they had only been known to make quite large cars in the mean time, mostly powered by their venerable side valve straight six.

    The PV60 was a full size car comparable to the Ford V8, and the PV800-series was only made for the taxi trade in small numbers until the late fifties. So much so that Volvo “owned” the taxi trade in Sweden for the better part of thirty years, and never really got it back. But the 800-series was never a car for the general public, and for twenty years until the 164 Volvo didn’t have anything larger than the 444.

    But it sold very well despite its age and like Volkswagen with the Beetle slow evolution seemed to be the way forward. Remarkably, the updated post 1958 PV544 sold in as many numbers as the PV444 until it was laid to rest some ten years later.

    The 444 was a unibody, but they also made a straight ladder chassis version for the coachbuilding trade, where most of them were made into pickups, ambulances, and before they produced their own Duett, many were made into station wagons. But amongst those specials some were made into convertibles and some were sent to different varieties of coachbuilders in Italy where they got their own special handbuilt bodies. I would guess all of the prototypes were also made from the chassis version as it was very easy to adapt.

    1. Is it any wonder that car prices are as high as they are when they carry on like they do. I think it might purchase a Dascia Duster and drive to the end of its life…

    2. Have read claims regarding the Volvo B36 V8 ranging from being heavily influenced by the US V8s designs of the period up to actually receiving a V8 production line from the US (in spite of being related to the , though there is some dispute on how true the latter is.

      Am rather curious though to find out more about the 1955 Wood Rocket scale model by Volvo that was planned to replace the PV444 and slot below the Amazon before Volvo decided to develop the PV544. Had the Wood Rocket been approved would it have likely carried over the B4B engines or despite its smaller size compare to the Amazon, have received some version of the B18 engine provided of course it was capable of displacing below 1778cc (if not a more compact 4-cylinder design)?

    3. Wikipedia has this to say about the B36;

      “Because the B36 had exactly the same bore and stroke dimensions as the later B18 and the two engines also have some valve-train parts in common, some suggest that the B18 is one-half of the B36 V8. Significant differences between the B36 and the B18 include different crank lengths and piston heights. Also, while the V8 engine has crossflow cylinder heads, the four cylinder has a reverse-flow cylinder head. Due to these differences others assert that the engines are for the most part separate designs.”

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_B36_engine

  6. Hard to believe that Volvo thought about fitting a FWD car with a V10 engine.

    Also hard to believe that Ford had so many engines in the turn of the century and failed to fit the right ones into the PAG cars…

    1. All the high power versions on that platform are AWD, which is partly why Ford bought Volvo. They wanted the platform for the Taurus and related vehicles.

    1. You’re not kidding, are you Charles?! The front looks like when you take the Mr Potato Head and put all the pieces on at once.

    2. Lokks like Michelotti just used some parts from the Alfa Romeo 1900 for the front, the Scudetto is just upside down.

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