Please note that the cars or exhibit items shown in this database are part of our collection but may not be on display when you visit.
Former SKF Bearing executives Gustav Larson and Assar Gabrielsson saw an opportunity to build cars in Sweden after WWI, and approached their former employer about using an underutilized factory. SKF liked the idea, and backed the pair for years, even allowing them to use a trademarked name, Volvo (Latin for “I roll”) for the new venture.
The period of austerity and raw materials shortages following the Second World War saw Volvo steer away from the large sedans they were known for, towards a smaller, more fuel efficient, yet strong and durable range of 2-door, four passenger coupes. American style and European efficiency made for a winning combination.
First shown in 1944 but not produced in quantity until 1947, the 444 was quickly recognized as strong, rugged, and frugal, with surprisingly brisk performance. While its outward appearance, heavily influenced by pre-war Hanomags, Fords, and Chevys, was outdated from the beginning, the 444 shone in both daily life and on the international rally stage. Originally envisioned as a front-wheel drive, flat-four engine coupe, Larson voted to keep the car conventional: inline-four and rear-wheel drive.
The 444 was Volvo’s first unibody car, and also saw Volvo return to 4-cylinder engines – first the three main bearing 1.4 liter, 39hp B4B, while late model 544s with B16B engines had up to 100hp and a top speed of 100mph in the 1960s. The car seen here is #1037 off the line, easily recognized as an early example with its split front and rear glass and four-bar grille.
Volvo made constant improvements almost every year – displacement, power, 4-speed transmission, larger windows, a better heater, etc.; enough running changes eventually resulted in the very similar, curved-windshield 544 model. A range of body styles was also available by the late ‘50s – a van, the Duett wagon, and bare chassis were offered alongside the Coupe. The 444/544 Series cars were popular imports in the US, offering double the MPG of the typical American car (25 vs 12), and Volvo’s popular European Delivery option almost paid for an overseas vacation.
Manufacturer: AB Volvo
Country of Origin: Sweden
Drivetrain Configuration: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: 1414cc water-cooled inline-4, single 1bbl carb, 3 main bearings, 39hp
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Top Speed: 76 MPH
Years of Production: 1944-1954 (444 model); 1944-1969 all derivatives
Number Produced: 12,505 444A; 196,005 444; exactly 440,000 all derivatives
Original Cost: Approx. $1350 (1950)