The 1930s was a decade of growing success and improved products for Volvo. Although its first generation of trucks looked old-fashioned, Volvo soon caught up with more well-established manufacturers.
Volvo started to produce trucks that ran on diesel fuel, trucks with steel wheels instead of wooden spoke wheels, trucks with efficient hydraulic brakes and heavy-duty Volvo trucks soon became commonplace on the roads of Sweden and selected export markets. After a modest start in the 1920s, by the mid 30s, Volvo had become the dominant truck manufacturer in the Nordic countries. Now fasten your seat belt and get into the fast innovations of the Volvo trucks of the '30s.
In the early 1930s, Volvo had suddenly become an established manufacturer of (reliable but old-fashioned) light and medium-duty trucks, and also a recognised manufacturer of heavier trucks (in small numbers) of modern design.
The LV-series - small modern trucks
The light to medium-duty trucks from Volvo up to 1932 were not very modern, having two-wheel brakes and wooden-spoke wheels. It was obvious that a more modern smaller truck was needed.
The resulting LV71 and LV73 series proved to be very popular, to such an extent that these two truck series can be said to have established Volvo as a major exporter of trucks, often to countries remote from Sweden (which was to be expected, since European countries in those days normally had national truck manufacturers of their own, creating extremely fierce competition for import vehicles).
Designed for different transports
The differences between LV71 and LV73 were mainly in the chassis, to cope with various transport applications. (LV72 and LV74 were identical to the LV71 and LV73, but with a longer wheelbase). The more popular truck series of these two was the (cheaper) LV71/72, which was primarily intended for distribution transport on roads, while the LV73/74 had a larger margin for overload, and was for this reason more suitable for off-road construction purposes.
The mechanical components of the LV71 and LV73 were conventional, with a side-valve engine, four-speed gearbox and single reduction rear axle. The performance was ample but perhaps not more (if more power was needed, there was always the option of the LV66 and the LV68 trucks, with more powerful overhead valve petrol or Hesselman engines).
Even if trucks with a bonnet covering the engine in front of the cab are called 'Conventional' trucks in e.g. the USA, the truck with the engine placed under the cab/seat has always been an natural alternative (in fact the first truck in the world of 1896 was a truck of this type, with the driver´s seat placed over the engine).
Moving the engine, removing the bonnet
In the early 1930´s with increasing number of trucks using the fairly bad European roads of the day, the permitted axle pressures had to be rather limited due to the severe demands put on the road system. The problem of creating a more even axle load between the axles of a truck, with the engine placed over the front wheels and the cab behind the engine, helped the development of F-trucks, i.e. without a bonnet in front of the cab.
Volvo was interested in using this basic principle and as a result of this the LV75 was presented and introduced at the Amsterdam Motor Show in Holland early in 1933. The LV75 soon became a rather popular truck for special applications like garbage transport. Its most common use, however, was as a chassis used for light- to medium-duty buses in rural traffic.
Fitting the chassis and front axles
The design of the LV75 was made in a fashion which sounds very much like the design method of the 1990´s, i.e. as a 'family concept'. In general, the chassis was identical to the LV74 truck, i.e. with a side-valve petrol engine of 65 bhp. To compensate for the increased share of the GVW being over the front axle, however, the designers chose to use the front axle from the heavy-duty LV68-series of trucks.
The LV75-series trucks, however, was bound to become a single example of series produced, up unto Volvo F-trucks in the mid-1950´s. When it came to buses, however, the fashion soon changed. The Volvo buses from 1935 on normally featured an engine which was placed in or under the bus body.
After having continuously upgraded Volvo trucks to higher and higher GVWs, it was decided to design a really modern light-duty truck with modern components, to expand the annual production of trucks and try to take over market leadership in Scandinavia from the (cheaper) American light-duty trucks.
A light-duty truck that lasted
The resulting LV76-78 series was one of the best light-duty Volvo trucks ever made - at least according to the long service life they enjoyed and the surprisingly large number of trucks of this type which are still preserved in good shape (though one of the reasons why this type of truck did last long was of course because they were used for light-duty transport and could be used for all types of practical transport even in private use or on farms etc.)
The LV76-78 series (the only difference between the three types was in the GVW, the type of suspension and tyre dimension, while even the wheelbase was the same) resembled Volvo cars of the period. The front of the trucks, for instance, was the same as on the Volvo PV653 and PV658 cars, although the fenders were wider due to the bigger tyres needed even for these small trucks.
Suited for small service missions
Mechanically, the LV76-78 series was quite simple and rugged. No serious problems were experienced by owners and drivers, probably due more to simplicity than to sophisticated design.
The main use of these trucks was in light-duty distribution (a common use for these trucks was as a multi-purpose vehicle at market gardens) and as a service vehicle for fire brigades in smaller communities. In 1936, a slightly more powerful version, the LV79, was introduced, with heavier chassis components and double-mounted rear wheels. This truck was suited not only for distribution transport, but also for heavier use such as in buses and even for light construction use.
The LV76-78 was superseded by the LV10, while the LV79 was superseded by the LV11, both types having (like their predecessors) similar bonnet design to the concurrently produced large Volvo (taxi) cars.
In the mid 1930s, the exterior design and basic engineering design of trucks were changed in some important areas. The LV8 and LV9 series of truck were two important steps towards Volvo's position as a major truck manufacturer.
Moving the engine forwards and upwards
Distribution of Gross Vehicle Weight between the axles has always been a very subtle matter. The most radical step towards improving the front/rear axle load split is of course to move the engine under the cab, creating an 'F' truck. For various reasons this principle did not gain many followers until the mid 1950s.
Instead, the engine, which had normally been placed behind the front axle, was moved forwards and upwards on top of the front axle, thereby greatly improving the axle load distribution. The result was the LV8 and LV9 trucks, two very popular truck series which were to become Swedish 'Standard trucks' during the late 1930s.
The steel cab - comfortable and heated
Compared with the previous Volvo trucks (and other trucks) the LV8/LV9 had a much more aerodynamic shape with rounded curves (in contrast to the previous truck models which had had vertical and horizontal lines, combined with 'razor-edge' styling).
Before the LV8/LV9, most of the heavier Volvo trucks had been delivered without a cab. With this series, in the mid 1930s, the norm was to have a steel cab (often still with a wooden framework and a canvas roof) with a reasonably aerodynamic shape, all of which drastically improved comfort and ergonomics. At this time, an important novelty, the heater, became much more common, providing a more pleasing driver environment.
One truck family for many different tasks
Previously, every single truck model differed greatly from other models, size being the governing factor. With the LV8/LV9, a single truck family was available for a great variety of different transport applications, from light-duty distribution to transport over longer distances or for construction operations.
This was possible due to different engines being available (including side valve or overhead valve petrol engines, Hesselman engines and even, during WW II, producer gas engines). Due to various suspensions, axles, wheels and tyre dimensions, there were huge possibilities for adapting the LV8/LV9 to a variety of various tasks.
The LV8/LV9 became very popular primarily as a truck, but in the longer production runs it was also quite efficient as a light to medium-duty bus.
Not until the 1950s would Volvo be a major supplier of heavy-duty trucks. From the very start up to WW II, Volvo was, however, a major producer of medium-duty trucks, which sometimes were used for heavy-duty purposes due to the rugged design.
The influence of international trends
Sweden is nowadays the base for two major truck producers of global scope. This was by no means the case in the late 1930s. By then, countries like the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany were major 'truck-producer countries'.
For this reason, the design of the Volvo trucks of the mid and late 1930s was very much influenced by major design trends of other countries, and also by Volvo cars, which were to a very great extent designed by engineers who had been trained and had been working in American automobile companies.
A major sales success
Typical of the late 1930s is the generation of Volvo trucks which have become known as the 'Sharpnose', which consisted mainly of light to medium-duty vehicles. They replaced the LV76-78 vehicles of 1934/35 and became a major sales success, especially considering that the total number of vehicles produced during WW II was fairly limited, and that very few civilian customers were permitted to obtain a new truck and new tyres for it.
The first presentation of these trucks took place in 1938, when the LV101 was introduced. This was a light truck, which bridged the gap between the light pickup vehicles (derived from the Volvo Taxicab chassis) and the heavier trucks like the LV79 and the LV8 series. A little later the slightly larger LV102 and LV103 trucks were introduced - these were vehicles which were to a true extent real 'trucks', but still being used mostly for distribution purposes.
Simple, but very well-designed
The mechanics of these trucks was rugged and simple, with a side valve engine of 75-86 bhp (running on petrol, but also available during WW II in a producer-gas version with an output of about 50 bhp). The transmission was a three-to-four-speed mechanical unsynchronised gearbox and the chassis components were in general simple but well-designed. The 'Sharpnose' trucks were loved by the customers, and the general design should (with design changes) be carried over to new generations of Volvo trucks
The late 1930s was a dark period in Europe. It became clear that a new major war was getting closer and closer. Under threat from the growing German forces, most countries started to increase their defence capability to protect themselves against a possible invasion.
Supporting the Swedish defence
The management of Volvo, being in the lead of an international company, naturally saw the signs in the sky and started to consider the design and production of military cross-country vehicles intended for the defence of Sweden in the event of a war.
In 1937, a very skilled designer was employed by Volvo to design a heavy-duty high-mobility vehicle.The design of the new vehicle was completed in two years, in spite of the fact that the new off-road truck was radically different from any previous Volvo truck.
Six wheels - for off-road towing
When the 'TVA' was presented to potential customers in various parts of Europe, it proved to be a very rugged 6x4 truck intended mainly for the towing of artillery and anti-aircraft guns. In addition to six 'normal' wheels it also featured two (smaller) wheels between the first and second axle, which lowered the pressure on the ground in circumstances where the vehicle would tend to dig itself down into the soft ground..
Mechanically, the new TVA vehicle was very powerful. It featured for the first time a two-axle drive, together with extremely strong tyres of thick rubber and an off-road tread. It was powered by an extremely powerful and large petrol-engine, similar to the one used in the LV29 'Longnose' trucks but with a sump adapted to improve lubrication even when this terrain vehicle was climbing at great angles.
A unique adhesion to the ground
The most radical departure from traditional practice, however, was the use of a central frame formed by a tube, to which independent axles were attached. This design gave the vehicle a unique adhesion to the ground. Despite the front axle being non-driven, the TVA had extremely good cross-country mobility. This was, perhaps, due to the fact that a relatively limited part of the vehicle weight rested on the front axle.
Since most countries in Europe had their own national truck production, no TVA trucks were ever sold outside Sweden. A slightly improved version, the TVB, was however chosen by the Swedish Army for production in 1940, and served well in the Swedish armed forces for about two decades. Some of these TVA vehicles are still in service today as basis for cranes, operated by civilian companies who have bought these off-road trucks as surplus material from the Swedish Army.
The expansion of Volvo truck operations was extremely fast in the mid 1930s. By then the annual production of trucks was nearly 5,000 units. Obviously, there was sufficient customer demand to offer Volvo trucks for every type of transport, including even the most demanding operations.
The emergence of heavy power
There was still one thing missing in the Volvo product programme: a really powerful engine. But by now there were plans for a heavy city bus and a powerful new truck, which would even have sufficient engine bhp for snow-plough operations; both of these were to be introduced in 1937.
The LV290 series of trucks (which would be nicknamed the 'Longnose' for obvious reasons) was an impressive vehicle, which would successfully be produced into the 1950s, more or less without changes. Compared with previous heavy-duty trucks from other Swedish manufacturers, the LV29 series of trucks (and the concurrent LV18/19 series) were efficiently produced in large numbers.
The LVs - updated and modernised
The basis for the LV18/19 and the LV29 was a very strong heavy-duty chassis which was to some extent related to predecessors LV66 and LV68, but naturally with updated and modernised specification. In fact, two versions fairly similar technically to the predecessors were presented at the same time as the powerful LV29, namely the LV18 (with single reduction rear axle, replacing the LV68 series) and the LV19 (with double reduction rear axle, replacing the LV66).
These two versions, however, did differ visually from the more powerful LV29 series in having the same (shorter) bonnet as the LV9.
Suited for excessive loads
The chassis of the LV18/LV19/VL29 was extremely strong, with strong axles and wheels and a frame suitable for the most excessive loads of the day. Even if these trucks were available with high GVW in three-axle execution, it is as two-axle trucks for snow-plough service that they are most remembered today.
Even if the 'Longnose' LV29 petrol/Hesselman truck had a very long bonnet, it was not the most powerful of all the LV29s. In 1946, the diesel version LV29 C/V was introduced, basically identical to the petrol-engine version but with an even longer bonnet to house the very powerful diesel engine.
When Volvo started the sales of trucks in 1928 it immediately became profitable, but not only for the customers but also for Volvo.
It was obvious to the management, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, that profitability was better for production of heavy-duty commercial vehicles than for passenger cars and small trucks. These light-duty vehicles sometimes had to be sold at loss due to fierce competition from manufacturers of (mostly American) cheap cars.
Larger trucks with special truck-components
In the 1930's, the major Swedish truck and bus manufacturers were Tidaholm and Scania-vabis. The number of trucks manufactured per year from each of these stall manufacturers seldom exceeded one hundred. It was, of course, tempting for Volvo to start the production and sales of large trucks.
In 1929 (when the LV Series 3 was presented, and design capacity was available for larger vehicles) Volvo started the design of larger trucks; the LV66- and LV68-series. Previous trucks had been based to a large extent on components which were used also on the Volvo cars. For the new trucks (the first heavy-duty vehicles made by Volvo) stronger components were needed. The design of special truck-components, including engine, gearbox, rear axle and chassis components, was started.
Choosing the right engine
In the early stages of the planning for the new trucks, two different engine configurations were evaluated', either a six-in-line or a straight-eight. In the end, the more traditional six-cylinder engine configuration was chosen, in combination with an unsynchronized four-speed gearbox. Since the new trucks series spanned a rather large GVW range, in two- and three-axle versions, alternative rear axles were offered, with either single (for LV68/69/70) or double (for LV66/LV67) reduction.
The demanding task of snow ploughing
The new LV66- and LV68-series of trucks were introduced in 1931. They became quite popular, especially in the lighter version LV68/69/70 (the three different designations indicated different chassis wheelbases). The heavy-duty LV66/67 types did not obtain the same popularity, for two reasons. The number of heavy-duty trucks sold annually was limited in those days, and the 75 bhp overhead-valve petrol-engine was not powerful enough for snow ploughing during severe Swedish winkers, a rather important source of income for the truck owners in those days.
Initially, two-axle trucks were introduced, but in 1933 super- heavy three-axle vehicles were presented. These were used e.g. as tanker trucks or heavy-duty construction vehicles.
The Hesselman engine
Due to the fairly high fuel consumption, customers wanted to decrease the fuel cost. This was the reason why Volvo introduced the 'Hesselman' engine. This intelligent engine alternative to the petrol engine, and to the diesel engine, was designed by the Swedish inventor Jonas Hesselman.
The Hesselman engine was based on the petrol engine and had the same (1ow) compression ratio as the petrol engine, but thanks to an injection pump in combination with spark plugs of a powerful type it could be run on diesel fuel (or any other fuel). This engine became quite popular, but was not at all as efficient as the high-compression diesel engine. If run very hard and by an experienced driver, however, it was a good and reliable power source.
From truck to bus
The LV66- and LV68-series of trucks were used for many different transport applications. The LV70 also played a major role for Volvo as a bus manufacturer. Many LV70 trucks (sometimes in lengthened version) received a bus body. In 1932 a special 'LV7OB' version was developed. This became something of a standard bus in Sweden.