Volvo as a car maker has been around since 1927, but was established as a subsidiary of the SKF bearing company in 1915. That helps explain why the name Volvo translates in Latin to "I Roll." Instead of using the name for a bearing company, SKF settled on using its initials. Volvo as an automaker became the project of SKF sales manager Assar Gabrielsson and engineer Gustav Larson in 1917. Ten prototypes later, the company launched its first car, the Volvo ÖV 4, in 1927 and its first truck in 1928. We won't focus on the Volvo Trucks subsidiary here, but it's worth noting that it's still a huge part of the company and the Volvo umbrella still includes the brand's Mack Trucks and Renault Trucks.
Volvo Cars was spun off in 1978, but since the beginning has focused on safety as a key attribute of its cars. As early as 1944, Volvo was leading the way by building the first passenger car to use a laminated windscreen. We're not going to beat the safety drum here, though, because Volvo is more than a company that just builds safe cars.
1. The Saint's Volvo P1800 S
Before Roger Moore took over from Sean Connery as James Bond, he was already playing a suave spy in the 1960s with a car that became iconic as a result. The Saint TV show wasn't as globally successful as the James Bond movies, but it made the sleek 2+2 Volvo P1800 touring car widely known throughout Europe. The P1800 was designed by Swedish sailor and yacht designer Pelle Petterson under the tutelage of Italian car designer Pietro Frua. It was powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with twin carburetors to make 100 horsepower, although later fuel-injection models made around 130 hp. A modern version created by Cyan Racing makes a lot more power.
2. Highest Mileage Ever Recorded In A Single Car
Amazingly, the highest mileage ever recorded on a single car isn't a 1990s Lexus. It's on a 1966 Volvo P1800 that has survived its American owner, Irv Gordon. Unfortunately, Gordan died aged 77, but not before putting an astounding 3.2 million miles through the odometer. His Volvo and commitment to driving it earned Gordan a Guinness World Record. The middle-school science teacher just loved to drive and reportedly clocked the first 1,500 miles in his first weekend of ownership. If you add up the 3.2 million miles, that's around 12 trips around the earth. At the 500,000-mile mark, Volvo took notice, and he became a brand ambassador for Volvo Cars, which allowed him to clock up mileage all over the world. When parts wore out, he replaced them and rebuilt the engine to keep it going, but the car still runs on its original engine block and transmission.
3. Heartbeat Sensor
Before we mock this, let's first remember that Volvo has given us a long list of safety innovations, including laminated windscreens, three-point seatbelts, and child booster seats. However, the heartbeat sensor was pure post-9/11 style security theater. Volvo actually advertised on TV for the feature that detects if someone is lying in wait for you in your car, then notifies you through the key fob if someone is detected. Of course, if you are genuinely worried about kidnappers, murderers, or rapists sneaking into your car, then you can still buy an older S80 with the technology.
4. Touring Car Racing
Racing isn't something you would naturally associate with Volvo, but it has had various factory teams over the years in Europe, including the always entertaining British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). The most successful car was the Super Touring Volvo S40 model, but other standouts include the TC1 Volvo S60 that made 420 hp while weighing just 2,425 pounds; a Polestar-prepped, V8-powered S60 for the Australian V8 Supercars series in 2014; and factory-supported C30s and S60s run by the American team K-Pax Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge.
Our favorite is the bonkers Volvo 850 wagon raced in the BTCC in the mid-1990s. Volvo contracted Tom Walkinshaw Racing to run the entry with Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers driving. The sedan version was more successful, but it was a trip seeing a fast wagon competing in BTCC.
Polestar gets mentioned a lot when it comes to Volvo, but it wasn't started by Volvo. It came about when Volvo wanted to enter Swedish touring car racing and teamed up with the Flash Engineering racing team. Jan "Flash" Nilsson then sold the team to Christian Dahl in 2005, who renamed it Polestar Racing. Volvo bought Polestar Performance, the production car tuning division of Polestar, along with the Polestar brand. Dahl then rebranded the racing team as Cyan Racing. Volvo still uses Polestar for performance versions of its cars, but in 2017 announced Polestar would produce high-end electric performance cars under its own brand name. At the same time, Polestar also continues to work as an experimental innovation lab for Volvo.
6. Geely Ownership
In 1999, Volvo Group sold Volvo Cars so it could focus on commercial vehicles. After a little wrangling, Ford bought the automotive arm to have a premium and safety-focused European brand under its umbrella. Long story short, it didn't go well, and Ford sold the brand to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the Chinese holding company for Geely Automotive. The holding company is owned privately by the Chinese billionaire business magnate Li Shufu. Geely's focus in the western world is to scoop up troubled brands, like Volvo and Lotus, and finance them back to health. In Volvo's case, Geely effectively gave the automaker a blank check to do what it does best, but do it better. Geely and its money is a whole other issue, but it injected new life into Volvo.
With its new lease of life, Volvo refocused its product lineup, developed new engines, a new vehicle platform, and continued its focus on safety and sustainability. For the first time in its history, Volvo sold over half a million vehicles in one year, 2015, and peaked again in 2019 with almost three-quarters of a million vehicles sold. Currently, Volvo is pushing hard into its promise to phase out gas-only cars and only sell electrified vehicles.
7. Volvo's Logo Isn't The Male Gender Symbol
The symbol used for Volvo's logo first appeared in 1927 and is the obsolete alchemy symbol for iron. The intent was to associate Volvo with the Swedish iron industry, but the alchemical symbol and the male gender symbol are the same. It's also the astrological sign for Mars, the planet with a color that's is created from the prevalence of iron oxide on its surface. Curiously, Mars was a Roman god, but the typography on the badge initially used the Egyptian font. The current logo font appears to be a variation of Clarendon Text Bold.