Volvo Car History 1944-1975

Volvo Car History 1944-1975

444 / 544
Volvo created a new model near the end of World War II called the 444 . The “44” was for the model year. This was a new era for Volvo which was part of a tide of little cars that came into the United States in the mid to late fifties. Among the lot were Fiat, Renault, Simca, Borgward, Peugeot, etc and the best of the lot in my opinion were the VW Beatle and the 444’s follow up the 544. The 544 was an obvious step above the VW because for one thing you had a decent heater. With a B16 engine and 4 speed transmission the 544 was a hot rod, even more so when it got the B18 engine.

122/ B18B
In a few years Volvo introduced the 122 series with choice of two or four door sedan or four door wagon. People loved the 122s. Service and durability really improved. An example was the front suspension with ball joints instead of kingpins, disc brakes in front. A B18 engine with HS6 SU carburetors and an M40 transmission and finally the Borg Warner BW35 automatic transmission. (Link to transmissions)
If you worked on these early Volvos you worked on SU side draft carburetors as they seemed to always need adjusting, balancing, loose spindles sucking air or they leaked gasoline onto the exhaust manifold. Overall the carburetors were a minor negative because they were simple.

140 series
Many fond memories developed from these 122 cars leading to an enthusiastic response to the 140 series for the 1967 model year. With the 140 series began the numbering system of the 2nd digit for the cylinders and the last digit the doors, hence the 142, 144 & 145 models. 1967-68 140 series had the same engine and transmission as the 122S but many new features like disc brakes for all four wheels and more room. For the 1969 model year came the B20B engine with Stromberg carburetors. Emission standards made the Stromberg’s a pain as the government was putting an end to adjustable carburetors.
The 1971 model year saw more elegance to the 140 series. An updated rectangular grill and larger front fender opening brought style to the exterior and inside it had carpet. Very well made carpet and interior. The fly in the ointment was the carburetors. A new SU model HIF6 had to be closed to the atmosphere to meet new restrictions and much of the time when they were hot they wouldn’t start. When hot you had to have them in gear and let out the clutch when you turned off the ignition or they would just run on and ping and clatter away ... kind of embarrassing for such a nice car.

Fuel Injection
The 1971 142E pointed to what was to come: Fuel injection. Bosch and VW had combined efforts to make what came to be called D Jetronic. Solenoid operated injectors. It was a milestone that changed almost all of the European cars.
An example of mixing a rock solid car with some goofiness was the wing windows. The glass was glued to the posts and the latch with what I would call super glue. One drop holds a ton, right? Wrong. They fell out like crazy just driving down the road. A friend went to open the wing window one summer day and the glass fell out and disintegrated, “O my!” he didn’t know quite what to say. Most of the time what was said was less civil. But not to worry, just go to the wrecking yard and find another wing window right? You wish. They had all been stripped.
So what did Volvo do to fix the wing windows? Ah yes, a window with a screw through it into the post. But the screw with a phillips head went in from the outside. No problem breaking in, just take the screw out. ... Hmmm.
By the 1973 model year all Volvos for the U.S. market were fuel injected, the B20E motor. The ‘73 models had a new plastic grill, much larger tail lights and a completely new dash and heater system. That basic heater AC system would be used for years through the last 240 in 1993. At the time of writing this I’ve probably changed 200 of these heater blower motors. You would smell burning plastic then the heater blower would quit. Improvements to heater blower came in 1981 model year.
1974 models had different doors with no wing windows and the 140 series had a completely new mechanical style fuel injection called K Jetronic, the B20F engine.

Luxury 164S 164E
The first time I saw the advertisement for the 1969 164 it was obvious Volvo was moving into Mercedes’ market. It was grand, or so we thought at the time. It should have been wonderful but they simply had to many weaknesses. This new B30B engine was designed for premium gas for customers who wanted to buy regular and then the octane ratings were changed. The result was a car that pinged terribly. Low compression kits were designed which helped but knocked down the performance. The working parts of the oil pump were the same as for the 4 cylinder cars. Too soft cams without enough oil went flat and these engines weren’t holding up. The leather seats fell apart far too soon. This 6 cylinder car had basically the same automatic transmission the 4 cylinder cars had and were a source of problems.
The fuel injected B30E engines were better but overall the 164 series was a disappointment and 1975 was the end of them. The 164E kept the D Jetronic through their last model in 1975.
Despite these issues I will remember the 164 series with fondness, having owned several of them. The best one I had was a 1971 164S with a 4 speed that I drove from Portland, Oregon to Weiser, Idaho in a snow storm.

1975 240
The 1975 model year brought the first 240 series cars with McPherson struts, rack and pinion steering but still with the B20F pushrod engine with K Jetronic fuel system from the 1974 140 series. From the firewall back it was basically the same as the 1974 140. It was a good car but an orphan in a way because from the 1976 model year forward came some of the best engines and cars ever built.
So we had a lot of fun and fond memories so far with these cars. At the same time, the real glory years for Volvo were yet to come. Stay tuned.

Charles /