The 1920s was a period of rapid progress for trucks and truck transport. In the early years of the decade, trucks were very old-fashioned, often fitted with chain-drive systems and solid rubber tyres. Drivers were all too often exposed to fluctuations in temperature and the elements. When the first Volvo truck rolled off the production lines in 1928 it was, however, shaft-driven, had pneumatic tyres and the driver sat in a fully enclosed cab.
Even at this early stage in truck development, Volvo trucks were built to a very high standard in terms of their reliability and quality, especially compared to non-Swedish trucks, which had not been designed with the poor Swedish climate and poor Swedish roads in mind.
Now follow the pioneering steps and read more about the early Volvo Trucks of the '20s.
Volvo began operations in late 1926, preparing for the production of cars which started in April 1927. It was soon clear that there was only modest demand in Sweden for a Swedish car.
As early as December 1926, design of a medium-duty truck (named 'Series 1') had started, and, in February 1928, the very first Volvo truck left the factory in Gothenburg, Sweden (at this early stage the production of cars and trucks took place on the same assembly line).
The first truck - an unexpected success
In contrast to the modest demand for Volvo cars, the first Volvo truck was an immediate success. The original plan was to produce 500 four-cylinder 'Series 1' trucks, and later introduce the more powerful six-cylinder truck. The first 500 trucks were, however, sold out in very short time. A second series of 500 trucks - 'Series 2' - was planned and manufactured.
The Volvo 'Series 1' truck was not a powerful truck, having a modest four-cylinder petrol engine delivering only 28 bhp. The official payload was limited to 1,500 kg (half of the GVW) but the basic design of this early truck was very sound, so people frequently used it to carry loads up to double that of the legal figure.
Three-speed gearbox and ergonomics
The speed of the Series 1 Truck was always limited to 40 or 50 km/h (less with payload, especially in hilly surroundings). Driving was, however, facilitated by the three-speed gearbox and the reasonable ergonomics, including a fairly low level of sound for the driver.
In this truck, like in other trucks up to the mid 30s, heating was limited to the engine heat, which entered the cab through the metal sheet that separated the engine from the cab.
Complete design by Volvo
The Series 1 Truck was a modest attempt which succeeded well above expectations thanks to rugged and simple design. In contrast to many other trucks from this era, it was completely designed by Volvo, including the engine and the gearbox. It was delivered without a cab, but a standard cab produced by the independent body manufacturer, 'Åtvidaberg' (who also produced the car bodies) could be ordered and fitted in the Volvo factory before delivery.
Most trucks of this type, however, were delivered without cab to the customer who then ordered a cab to his own specifications from any of the many local cab manufacturers. Surprisingly many Truck Type 1 have been preserved to this very day, proof as good as any of its high quality.
The second truck - built on high demand...
After the slow sales of the four-cylinder Volvo cars during the initial years, it was certainly a very pleasant surprise that the first Volvo truck became a success. The first 500 Series 1 trucks (stocks of which were originally expected to last for up to two years) had found customers within 6 months. Another batch of 500 four-cylinder trucks had to be produced due to the demand.
...with hardly no time to rest
The first two years were a time of frenzied activity at Volvo, with several different types of vehicle being designed from scratch. After this, it was possible to calm down a little, which made it feasible to make several modifications to the new Series 2 Truck in relation to the very first Volvo truck of February 1928.
Despite the fact that trucks were now becoming more and more powerful, Volvo was, in the short space of the first six months, given no chance to create a more powerful engine than the existing (original) four-cylinder engine with a mere 28 bhp. The previous two rear axle ratios were, however, reduced to a single one, the 'slower' axle resulting in a slower top speed but improved driveability.
The first truck had a track dimension identical to the first Volvo car (only 1,300 mm), and this created serious problems when driving on the roads of the day. These roads were very often nothing but a pair of tracks left by horse-drawn carts, which were about 1.5 metres wide, creating problems for the first, narrow Volvo truck, which did not 'fit' into the cart-tracks.
For this reason the Series 2 Truck was given a wider track of 1,460 mm. The wider track was created by moving the rear springs to the outside of the frame rails (on Series 1 the springs had been attached directly under the frame rails) - constituting a sound way of distinguishing the Series 2 Truck from the earlier Series 1.
Suited to series production
In many respects, the second truck was better suited to economical series production. The beautiful wooden steering wheel was, for instance, exchanged for a more standardised 'bakelite' steering wheel.
The Series 2 Truck became quite successful, and found favour with several truck owners, as well as other groups like bus companies, which started using this truck as the basis for a simple but reliable little bus. These small buses had a truck chassis, with a wooden-framed bus body covered by sheet steel.