The 1955 PV444 was the first Volvo imported to the U.S. During 1955, Volvo sold 26 cars. The following year Volvo’s U.S. annual sales grew to 5000 vehicles. Fast forward today and Volvo North America delivers around 60,000 vehicles. The newly announced manufacturing plant in South Carolina hopes to push sales above 100,000 vehicles, starting with the all-new SPA-based S60. Volvo Cars North America chose to celebrate their 60th anniversary with a special gathering of celebrities and vintage cars at Paramount Pictures Studios.
When the 60th anniversary event invitation arrived, I knew I had to make the trip to the West coast. Traveling across the country on a five or more hour flight is not typically enjoyable in an era of overbooked flights. However, this trip was different. I departed on a Virgin America direct flight from Washington DC to Los Angeles and it was superb. I was able to watch a couple movies, enjoy a pack of chocolate chip cookies and the flight arrived 45 minutes early. This was a sign of good things to come for the rest of the historic weekend.
Upon arriving at LAX, I was able to secure a new Volvo S60 Inscription. The S60 was equipped with Volvo’s Sensus Navigation and it performed flawlessly the entire weekend; better than the Google Maps app on my phone. On several occasions, when the system recommended alternate routes around traffic jams, not only saved time but provided an opportunity to view some of the more interesting parts around Los Angeles.
The 405 around LA is known for its traffic but I also noticed that 20+ mph over the posted speed limit was common for most drivers. I wondered if the Drive-E four-cylinder in the long-wheel based S60 would be up to the task. I was pleasantly surprised by the 2.0L 4-cylinder’s power in Sport mode. The S60 had no issues keeping pace. I found it interesting that none of the vehicles on the 405 had working turn signals as they swept left and right across six lanes. Thankfully, the combination of Volvo’s external communications devices, and my own hand signals and audible feedback prevented any misunderstandings.
East Coast roads are notorious for challenging low profile tires, but California offered its own variety of mixed pavement, grooved concrete and expansion joints on the major interstates to test the dynamic suspension of the S60 Inscription. The ride quality was sporty yet comfortable in spite of road surface conditions. There was something different with this S60’s handling characteristics; different in a good way. I have driven numerous S60 across the trim range from base models to the S60 Polestar and the extra wheel base of the Inscription not only improves rear seat legroom but the ride is better than previous FWD S60s. I have heard the concerns and complaints regarding this being an imported vehicle from China and I challenge those complaining to take one for a drive and tell me where the quality is lacking. After four days and a couple hundred miles of driving, the S60 Inscription is equal, and possibly better, than its Swedish-built stable mates.
The S60 Inscription drive enabled me to truly celebrate the 60th Anniversary in a Volvo and the team from Volvo Cars North America put together a great weekend for enthusiasts. The newly opened Mission Viejo Volvo dealership (http://www.volvomv.com/) hosted a morning event with delicious Swedish cuisine and several classic Volvo models on display. Notable cars on display included a 1928 PV4, Volvo’s first covered car; a 1955 PV444, the first Volvo exported to the U.S.; the 1967 P1800S driven by Roger Moore in the hit sixties’ television series, “The Saint”; and the all-new, award-winning XC90 sport utility vehicle.
Here are additional details on these iconic models on display:
1928 PV4 Special – Volvo’s first saloon car appeared in the summer of 1927, not long after the company was founded. There are believed to be just four PV4s remaining out of 694 built.
1955 PV444 – The first Volvo to roll on American roads made its entry in 1955. In September of that same year a stunning maroon coupe with whitewall tires was unveiled to the public in the Swedish pavilion at the California State Fair & Exposition in Sacramento. Many more would follow, including this one.
1957 Volvo Sport (P1900) – This sporty, chic convertible paved the way for the more popular and now very collectible P1800. Volvo Founder Assar Gabrielsson commissioned the California-based company Glasspar to make prototypes of the Sport’s fiberglass body. Only 67 units were made with just 20 sold in the U.S.
1967 P1800S – In 1961 Volvo introduced this new sports car and made an indelible mark on the auto world. With Italian-influenced styling and a peppy 100 horsepower engine, the U.S. quickly became the car’s biggest market. No prior Volvo created a greater impression, and perhaps none has since. The P1800 got an extra boost because of its role in the sixties’ TV series “The Saint” starring Roger Moore, who played hero Simon Templar. The exact car he drove in the series was on display.
Volvo raffled off a trip to Sweden and as luck would have it Mission Viejo’s first customers pulled my name from the bucket – a very unexpected moment. During the next 12 months, I have an opportunity to visit Sweden and tour the Volvo factory. The Mission Viejo store services Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Santa Ana and Irvine California.
Volvo’s second enthusiast event took place at Galpin Volvo (http://www.galpinvolvo.com/). Galpin Motors serves Los Angel based in the San Fernando Valley since 1946, is a world-renowned, award-winning automotive enterprise with ten franchises, along with Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), a full in-house customizing and aftermarket center; Galpin Rentals; the Horseless Carriage Restaurant, America’s first full-service, in-dealership restaurant; and Galpin Starbucks. Volvo had their second drawing of the day for a trip to Sweden. Volvo towed several of the classic models from Mission Viejo to Galpin with the all new XC90.
The highlight of the weekend was Saturday night at the Paramount Studios’ backlot. Volvo executives dressed in vintage 1950s attire and guests explored Volvo’s rich past and bright future by visiting a series of Volvo branded shops created in the facades on Paramount’s City Streets back lot. A local Volvo club provided many excellent Volvo models for guests to enjoy.
In the Volvo Cars Art Gallery, for example, was a collection of Julius Shulman-inspired photos starring Volvos past and present taken recently by Ann Street Studios at iconic locations around Los Angeles, where the very first Volvo was imported in 1955. Shulman was an American architectural photographer whose work spread California mid-century modern around the world.
Comedian and vintage Volvo owner Jay Leno entertained a crowd of more than 300 Volvo owners, executives, retailers, and media amongst an unprecedented collection of new and historic Volvo cars, live music, and Scandinavian fare. I had an opportunity to chat with Jay for about two minutes, which was a long time given the barrage of guests shuffling for a quick selfie with him. I asked Jay if the rumor was true that he had imported one of the 500hp Polestar S60s and he said “no, it wouldn’t get past federal regulations. However, I am building a 1966 Volvo 122S wagon with a four-cam, flat-plane Polestar V8 with a little over 600hp.”
Guests perused the collection of vintage Volvo advertisements in the Volvo Cars History Museum, and in the Bowers & Wilkins Listening Room, audiophiles appreciated the high technology powering the 19-speaker, 1,400 watt entertainment system available in the all-new XC90 sport utility. The simulated Drive-In allowed guests to sit in Volvo models and watch the television commercials and shows the featured Volvo models. Who can forget the Lamborghini pulling the trailer giving shoppers the “basic idea behind the Volvo 740 turbo wagon.”
“Volvo has had a special place in many Americans’ hearts for generations,” said Lex Kerssemakers, President and CEO, Volvo Cars of North America. “Maybe they grew up riding in a Volvo, or were saved by one, or perhaps they learned to drive in one. Whatever the case, we are celebrating those experiences and now our version of luxury for generations to come.”
The 60th Anniversary celebration was a historic milestone for Volvo and one this Volvo enthusiast will not soon forget. Since the celebration in LA, the all-new XC90 was named MotorTrend’s SUV of the Year, the Drive-E T6 was named one of Ward’s top 10 engines for 2016 and Volvo revealed the all-new S90. Reflecting back to the 60th Anniversary weekend, it was full of activities and several members on the swedespeed forum were in attendance. It was fantastic to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Thanks to George at ViVA Performance for snapping a picture of me with Jay Leno to make the weekend complete. Or was it?
Volvo enthusiast and Volvo car show product specialist, stunt driver and model, Jessica Rogan made certain I enjoyed Sunday and put the S60 Inscription to the test. We carved up Stunt Road, and Mulholland Highway with a break for lunch at The Rock Store. Now the weekend was complete! Thanks Jessica!
Throughout the past 60 years, there have been many ups and downs for Volvo Cars North America. The Ford years were challenging but now Volvo Cars is benefitting from the recent investment of $11B to develop an entirely new lineup of luxury vehicles. The company has experienced nine months of consecutive year-over-year growth and is aiming to increase sales to 800,000 cars globally. The accolades for the all-new XC90 set a new benchmark for vehicle design and quality. The all-new S90 will be on display this January at the Detroit Auto Show and I hope the S90 is equally as disruptive as its larger sibling. Volvo is setting a very solid and exciting foundation for the next 60 years and with continued success, the latest generation of vehicles will continue to have that special place hearts of American families.
Check out my gallery of several hundred photos.