Track magazine said in 1963, “the Volvo PV544 is such a practical car. Volvo’s most attractive appeal lies in its solidity and its quality in every single respect. There is nothing slapdash or under-dimensioned about any part of the car and that is more than enough to compensate for any perceived lack of glamour.”
Volvo (the company’s name is Latin for “I roll) was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1927 and quickly won a reputation for building sturdy, safe cars. After World War II, the company unveiled the PV444—between 1947 and 1958 it sold more than 200,000 of the diminutive cars—and it introduced the PV544 in August 1958. The two cars were virtually identical—both were slightly humpbacked and dowdy—except that the PV544 had a one-piece windshield in place of the PV444’s divided one, a larger rear window and a bigger flip-out side windows, all of which brightened up the car’s interior considerably. Neither model ever had four doors, right-hand drive or an interior clock.
Despite the cars’ anachronistic appearance, people loved them. A PV Volvo might have looked stodgy, but it did not drive it: it could go from zero to 60 mph in 13 seconds, could cruise comfortably at 70 mph and got 27 miles per gallon on the highway. The PVs were great family cars but they were also powerful, sturdy racers: In 1965, for example, Kenyan brothers Joginder and Jaswant Singh won one of the toughest road races in the world, the 3,000-mile East African Safari rally, in their 1964 PV544. (Among other things, drivers in the safari had to negotiate falling boulders, mud puddles, errant herds of buffalo and giraffes blocking the road.)
Of the 440,000 PVs built, 280,000 stayed in Sweden. Most of the rest were exported to other European countries. In 1966, in place of the PV-series cars, the company introduced the 144 sedan, the car that is the ancestor of the boxy Volvos seen today.