1958 VOLVO PV444



It’s hard to imagine Volvo deciding that small cars were its future, but that’s exactly what it did it the early 1940s, thanks to the devastating effects of WW2. The Swedish firm knew that steel would be in short supply for years to come and that money would be tight, so it designed its first monocoque bodied car – the PV444.

This was make or break for Volvo, a firm which had previously concentrated on large cars with separate chassis, coach-built bodies and six cylinder engines. But there was only one basket, and Volvo’s eggs all went into it.

The need for a small car had been discussed at the company since the late ’30s. Volvo engineers Olle Schjolin and Carl Lindblom built a wooden mock-up of a small car with a rear-mounted engine known as the PV40, but it never reached production. However, a design by Helmer Petterson in 1943 was liked by the two Volvo-bosses Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson, who took the brave step of putting the PV444 into showrooms. The name, incidentally, is said to mean four seater, four cylinders, and 40 horsepower, although the car’s replacement, the very similar PV544 throws a bit of a spanner in these works.

Engineers Erik Jern and Helmer Petterson proved themselves well ahead of the game when they discussed the possibilities of a front-wheel drive (inspired by the German DKW) layout for the 444, because they sensed more car companies would use the layout in the future. It was a bit of a false dawn though - there were doubts about the costs and complexities of building front wheel drive cars - so Volvo plumped for a conventional front engine, rear-wheel-drive floorpan.

As the PV444 was the first car Volvo had built without a separate chassis, the firm bought a 1939 Hanomag two-door saloon to study and learn from, as the German manufacturer had plenty of experience with unibody vehicles. But the 444’s looks drew inspiration from across the Atlantic, and despite the old fashioned looking split windscreen, both panes were laminated glass – a characteristically ground-breaking safety improvement at the time.

The PV444 gave way to the 544 in 1958, although it was essentially the same car with a slightly wider rear seat, a one-piece windscreen and minor design updates – a bit more of a facelift than a new model. The original 1300cc 444 engine had by now given way to a 1600cc unit, and the gearbox gained an extra cog with four forward speeds. By this time the car was looking seriously out-dated, especially bearing in mind that Volvo itself had launched the sleek new Amazon in 1956.

By the early 1960s the PV's looks were decidedly anachronistic but as Road & Track magazine in America said in November 1963, 'If the Volvo has a single most-attractive feature, it is sturdiness and overall quality. There is nothing slap-dash or flimsy anywhere on the car, and this is, in our opinion, more than enough to compensate for any lack of sheer glamour'.

In 1965 Joginder Singh won the East African Safari in a well-used PV with over 42,000 miles already on the clock, the same year the PV was finally laid to rest.

The Vehicle

And if classic rallies are tickling your fancy, this could very well be the Volvo PV for you. It’s been a road rally car for a long time and has proven itself in events all over Europe. Looking at the associated paperwork file with the car, we think it was transformed into the competitive machine you see before you in the early 2000s, as there’s a picture of it looking totally standard dating from September 2001.

The owner says:

The car is essentially an Historic Cat 1 road rally car, and has been used for this prior to me owning it. It has competed in the past on many national and international rallies. I have got the car back on the road, replacing many parts, and completing many works as I believe it spent over 10 years off the road.’

The rally spec includes lots of modifications, the biggest being the 1600cc Volvo B Series engine and four speed gearbox.

On the Outside

The history file with the car also includes an invoice for a bare metal respray 20 years ago so, given the car’s competitive nature, it’s hardly surprising that it’s starting to look a little battle-weary these days. That said, this amounts mostly to small dings and dents, and they somehow suit the car, emphasising the fact that this is a motorsport machine.

The red paint still has plenty of shine in it, but there is a slightly unsightly split in the nearside door skin (actually the driver’s door on this left-hand-drive car). We suspect this is a common stress point, and if a small welded repair and localised paint refresh were carried out sooner rather than later, it shouldn’t prove too expensive or difficult.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of paint chips towards the car’s front end, and if the new owner was intending to exploit the PV444’s competition potential, we’d be inclined to leave these as they are.

On the Inside

Expertly adapted for road rallies, the PV444’s cabin may seem spartanly appointed but nonetheless is comprehensively kitted out for the job at hand.

The car’s original front seats are included in the auction but it currently has much later items fitted, in the interests of safety and comfort. These are accompanied by four point safety harnesses.

In addition, a new Brantz trip meter and rally clock have recently been fitted, so although the car hails from 1958, it has up to the minute timing kit included.

There’s a roll over protection cage fitted in the rear and a fire extinguisher in the front, both additions we feel the 444’s designers would have approved of, given Volvo’s legendary reputation for safety.


Under the bonnet the 1600cc Volvo B Series engine has a 280˚ high lift camshaft fitted, along with a pair of SU carbs sporting foam air cleaners – there’s a nice induction snort to it when you blip the throttle. The vendor has also had a custom exhaust made and fitted from the down pipe back.

The car’s underside is pretty scruffy, as you’d expect from a road rally machine such as this, but we couldn’t see anything that worried us – except for a lack of some decent wax-based rustproofing, which we’d apply if we were going to buy and operate this classic competition car.

History Highlights

The car comes with a stack of historic invoices for work carried out over the last 20 years, some old MoT certificates, and a picture of it in 2001 before the motorsport conversion was carried out. The owner says the car was off the road for 10 years or so before he bought it, and adds:

‘I’ve had it recommissioned for the road by a professional rally preparer, he has replaced many parts and I’ve spent £5k having this work done. This includes a new head gasket, head skim, valves lapped and new seals fitted.

‘In addition there’s a new water pump, new wiring, distributor serviced, new points, condenser, rotor arm, cap, leads and coil. Plus a new radiator and all hoses. New engine mounts. New steering control rods. New discs, hubs and bearings on the front. Replaced and upgraded rear shoes, cylinders, adjusters, new flexi hoses and rear axle brake pipes.

‘The UJs in the rear prop have been replaced. New filters, spark plugs, alternator belt. Fitment of a new Brantz Tripmeter and Rally clock. New gearbox and diff oils, Panhard rod bushes, and the fitting of a new sump guard.

‘That sounds like quite a lot, but it’s what we needed to do, and now it has been done, it obviously won't need doing twice. Mechanically the car is now very sound. The body work could do with a little bit of tidying in places, but all damage that can be seen is superficial. Again it is essentially a used rally car.

‘As well as it being a ready to go rally car, beyond standard for the PV is the fitment of twin front shock absorbers, this was first done by Joginder Singh on his 1965 winning Safari Car and is essential if anyone wants to compete seriously in these cars.

‘I have done three rallies last year, finishing with the Dansport rally, the stickers for which are still on the car. We finished 11th overall. But now I don't really have time to drive it and prepare it for rallies, so it sadly has to go.’

What We Think

No motorsport could really be considered cheap, but action-ready classic motorsport cars don’t come much cheaper than this one - we expect it to sell for somewhere in the region of £6,000-£10,000. Not only is it ready to go, it’s quite likely you’ll have the only PV444 on the event too, which is worth the entry price on its own.

Viewing is always encouraged, and this particular car is located with us at The Market HQ near Abingdon; we are open weekdays 9am-5pm, to arrange an appointment please use the Contact Seller button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

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  • Location: Bonhams|Cars Online HQ, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
  • Seller Type: Private
  • Odometer Reading: 7721
  • Chassis Number: 180932
  • Engine: 1600
  • Gearbox: Manual
  • Steering position: Left-hand drive
  • Colour: Red
  • Estimated Price: £6,000 - £10,000

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