More lost prototypes from Volvo’s cutting room floor.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.