Perhaps no other decade has contributed more to the development of the truck than the 1950s, despite the fact that truck design had changed relatively little.
Petrol engines and rudimentary pre-chamber-combustion diesel engines were superseded by efficient direct-injection diesel engines. Volvo acted as a pioneer of the turbocharged engine and the emergence of stronger, more efficient engines contributed to heavier and longer truck combinations.
The introduction of sleeper cabs and power-assisted steering made life easier for the driver and as a whole the importance of truck transportation increased.
Now get into the diesel-injected innovations of the Volvo trucks of the '50s
Volvo was a fairly conservative company for a long time. That was not without reason. Since laboratory resources were limited in the old days, it was safer to continue using tried and reliable solutions, rather than trying to incorporate novelties which had perhaps not always been thoroughly tested.
This was completely in accordance with the honest principles set by the two founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, who did not want 'the customers to have to act as test drivers'.
A well-tried truck...
A typical example of the conservative design of Volvo trucks in the old days was the L34. This medium-duty truck was a direct successor to the 'Sharpnose' trucks and was very similar (in fact nearly identical) in technical respects to the previous 'Sharpnose' L20 truck. As a result, the L34 was a well-tried truck, a fact which was most certainly popular with the customers (often firms like breweries and local delivery companies).
...but quite modern-looking
The exterior design was very modern, being very similar (but on a larger scale) to the famous PV444 car (and also to the PV83 taxicab). This Volvo design (which was probably influenced to a great extent by American cars of the era) became popular with the customers, and was of course quite modern-looking, with its headlights embedded in the fenders.
The L34 was primarily intended for local delivery work, a task which was very much facilitated by the low frame/chassis height, helping the driver to load and unload (the driver of the era had to make do with his own body strength for loading and unloading, since help devices like cranes and forklift trucks were more or less items of the future).
Favoured by the breweries
Perhaps the most famous L34 trucks were those used for the introduction of Coca-Cola soft drink products into Sweden in 1953. In contrast to other companies of the era, Coca-Cola actively used the trucks for spreading their product message, both by an ad message on top of the special superstructure (influenced by American brewery trucks) as well as on big posters on the rear of the trucks.
The L34 trucks were superseded by the L42 Snabbe in 1956, and it was in fact the last N type distribution truck from Volvo, i.e. with a bonnet. Later distribution trucks would all be of the F type.
Despite the success of the F truck in both Europe and other parts of the world, especially in the medium-duty segment, Volvo decided to carry on the development of reliable traditional conventional trucks, based on the existing generation of trucks.
A generation of modern trucks
When the L36/L37 family of trucks was introduced in 1954-56, it was a modern truck generation with numerous different components under the skin of the different versions. Side valve petrol engine, overhead valve petrol engine or diesel engine were obvious choices.
With the modest GCWs and the fairly modest quality of Scandinavian roads, around 100 bhp was more than enough for the intended transport applications, especially as these trucks were rarely used with a trailer.
Medium-duty class - heavy-duty performance
The mid and late 1950s was a time of fairly short daily transport distances when it came to medium-duty trucks, so a surprisingly large proportion of petrol-engine versions (L360 and L370) of this truck family was made, in relation to diesel engine trucks (L365 and L375).
Strictly speaking, this family of trucks belonged to the medium-duty class, but often the trucks were used in heavy-duty applications.
There were numerous tipper trucks based on chassis from this family, and L36/L37 trucks were often equipped with a crane, making them independent of loading tools and thus suitable for a large number of applications.
The most famous Volvo truck ever was undoubtedly the 'Viking', probably for two reasons: firstly due to the two 'V' letters forming the first letter in both the make and the model name, secondly because of the genuine 'Scandinavian' origin of both the ancient Vikings and Volvo vehicles.
A very Scandinavian truck
The Viking was originally a slightly updated model of the L24 diesel 'Roundnose' truck with a new bonnet and new fenders, but was constantly updated with new, stronger engines and modernised chassis components. Since the GVWs needed for most transport in the 1950s were modest, there was no need for the brutal power of the 10-litre engine, L39 Titan truck for the majority of tasks in areas where a single truck was a natural transport tool.
Technically, the Viking was a relatively simple and straightforward truck, which was probably the reason behind the popularity of the Viking truck, making it famous over large parts of the world.
Reliable direct-injection engine
The heart of the Viking truck, in both early and late models, was the 7-litre direct-injection engine (initially of just over 6 litres) with fairly modest output but total reliability. In the first year of the L38 truck production this engine had an output of only 100 bhp, but this was gradually increased with the help of turbocharging to 125 bhp.
This family of trucks was always called the 'Viking', but in fact this designation did not come about until the 7-litre engine arrived in 1954, along with wider fenders (identical to the fenders used on the L39 Titan).
Powerful upgrades and design
Initially presented as a very basic truck without a standard cab, with a naturally aspirated engine of 100 bhp and without power steering, it was continuously upgraded with turbocharging and power steering together with a fairly comfortable Volvo safety cab. The 'L38' designation was changed in 1959 to 'L48' and included instrumentation in front of the driver (the instruments had initially been placed in the middle of the cab to facilitate the production of both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive Viking trucks).
The Viking was produced in both 2 and 3 axle versions (the 2-axle being by far the most popular). Unlike most other Volvo trucks of the era, the Viking also featured quite frequently in an all-wheel-drive version, being popular for military duties as well as occasional use as a timber or construction truck with (for its time) extremely good terrain mobility.
Between 1954 and 1962, a forward control truck was also produced (without a standard cab) under the designations L382/L3851. This truck was not only produced with the 7-litre diesel engine from Volvo but also with a 5-litre petrol engine. This F truck (with a fixed cab) was produced in limited numbers, mainly for use as a tipper truck but also sometimes for other transport missions.
The L38 (1953-1962) and the L48 (1959-1965) was succeeded by the N86 truck. This had a similar appearance, but had been further developed in numerous areas, and was never known under the famous 'Viking' name.
In January 1933, Volvo introduced the forward-control 'LV75' truck at the Amsterdam Motor Show. It became quite popular as a basis for buses, but the number of F-type trucks demanded by customers was small in the 1930s.
For this reason, it would take more than 20 years before another Volvo truck of this type would be offered as a standard model (in the intervening time, conventional trucks were sometimes modified into F trucks).
"Snabbe" gets famous
However, in 1956 (actually at the same time as the Amazon car), the L42 'Snabbe' was presented and immediately met with a great deal of success. The reason was not only due to the F model, but due to the special qualities of the new truck series (and its parallel slightly heavier sister model, presented in 1957).
The L42 truck succeeded the L34 truck introduced in 1950. Compared with this model, the forward-control cab model offered a much shorter wheelbase and total length within a given (needed) platform length, offering very good manoeuvrability even in confined city areas, favourable axle loads and perfect vision from the drivers´ seat.
Easy to load, powerful to drive
Thanks to the design of the frame (which was not straight but lowered between the axles to decrease the load height of the truck platform), the L42 'Snabbe' was extremely easy to load, even without help devices like cranes or fork lifts.
Performance was extremely good thanks to the V8 (!) engine designed and produced by Volvo in Gothenburg/Skövde. Fuel efficiency was, on the other hand, very poor, but this was of lesser importance since trucks of this type were normally used only for a limited distance of transport per day.
The birth of "Trygge"
The L42 truck series was a light-duty truck. Slightly later the heavier medium-duty L43 'Trygge' truck was introduced. This had, however, a straight frame which contributed to a higher platform height, perhaps not a great disadvantage since the heavier loads carried on the L43 made loading devices like a crane or a forklift necessary anyway.
Fuel consumption in focus
With increased driving distances per day, and thereby increased transport efficiency, fuel consumption and fuel prices became more important in the early 1960s. For this reason a diesel version was offered on both the L43 (1963, named 'L4351 Trygge Diesel') and the L42 (1964, named 'L4251 Snabbe Diesel'). The '5' in the designation indicated a diesel Volvo truck, while '0' indicated a petrol truck (the complete designation for the L42 Snabbe petrol truck was thus, for instance, the 'L4201', the fourth digit '1' indicating a forward-control truck).
The L42/L43 trucks have a special place in the history of Volvo trucks, since they were the first Volvo trucks to feature a standard Volvo cab, which was made from steel (not produced in Umeå like today's Volvo truck cabs, but in Olofström).
The very famous designer, Nils-Magnus 'Måns' Hartelius, was the father of many successful cross-country vehicles designed and produced by Volvo. One design, which proved to be very efficient, was the 'Laplander' vehicle developed in the late 1950s.
A first-class successor
The Laplander was designed in response to a design competition created by the Swedish armed forces, who wanted a first-class successor to the 'GP' ('General Purpose') vehicle which had been purchased as surplus material after WW II and was now growing old and less efficient for new tasks.
The 'Laplander' was presented to the Swedish Army in 1959, when a number of pre-production units were produced for testing under the designation 'P2304'.
The new vehicle was of the forward-control type, in order to decrease the total length, to increase the handling quality in terrain and to improve the weight distribution between the axles. This configuration also presented extremely good vision for the driver.
The final version 'L3314' was presented after very careful testing and was very similar to the early 'P2304' units. It now featured the more powerful 'B18' engine (at the end of the production period both the final version of the L3314/L3315 and the C202 were propelled by the slightly more powerful B20 engine with increased capacity).
Built from car components
The L3314 (as the final version's basic version was called) was an ingenious cross-country light-duty vehicle which was based to a fair extent upon components which were used also for Volvo cars like the 'PV544' and the 'Amazon'. Apart from the engine, the gearbox and the rear and front axle transmission units were also identical to the cars, even though an intermediate reduction transfer gearbox had been added to transfer the power to both axles and to reduce the speed at normal engine rpm in terrain.
One of the most important factors behind the extremely good terrain mobility was the large tyres, together with a generous ground clearance. A differential lock on the rear axle added traction under muddy conditions.
The basic version for military use was presented as an open vehicle with canvas roof. Somewhat later a 'Hardtop' version with steel superstructure and room for eight people was also introduced and produced in parallel with the canvas version.
A multi-purpose vehicle
The Hardtop version became the basic model when the civilian Laplander vehicle was introduced. A third version with pickup body, with room for two persons in the front seats and a small platform, was also available. This became popular for community service functions like snow-ploughing and for forest fire-fighting.
The Laplander was a genuine multi-purpose vehicle which was intended initially for transport of personnel and for intelligence scout duty by the Swedish 'Cavalry' troops (which did not use horses any longer...). Very soon a version for mobile radio-transmission was developed (on the basis of the Hardtop body) as well as ambulance models.
Qualified for combat duties
The Laplander, however, also proved its qualities on active combat duties, including its role as an anti-tank gun light-duty vehicle, in use in both Norway and Sweden. The Norwegian anti-tank vehicle was based on the normal forward-control version, while the Swedish special 'L3304' anti-tank vehicle had a unique body with a bonnet and a very strong roll-over-bar for improved safety for the crew.
A special version was also developed serving as a launch vehicle for very efficient anti-tank robots. This generation of vehicles became very popular for both active military service and civilian service. The production of these vehicles stopped in 1970, since it was to be superseded by the more powerful (and much more expensive) 'C3' generation of high-mobility vehicles.
Production starts again
There was, however, a constant demand for the efficient and slightly less advanced 'Laplander' vehicle from various civilian customers. After constant requests for several years, production was re-started, this time in cooperation with a Hungarian manufacturer 'Csepel Auto' where production capacity was available (no suitable building was available for the production of these vehicles at the rapidly expanding Volvo factory in Gothenburg, Sweden).
The C202 was improved in several ways, in relation to the previous 'Laplander' version, including revised transmission components, new safer door-locks, etc). In total, about 3,000 C202 vehicles were assembled before production finally stopped in 1981.
Volvo trucks are always optimised. Normally, the truck is adapted in terms of such factors as maximum payload, low fuel consumption, high average speed or a very comfortable workplace for the driver. Sometimes, however, trucks are optimised to perform tasks, which require other qualities than the above.
Adapted to special military tasks
The TL11/12 and the TL22 were examples of Volvo trucks adapted to special military tasks. These vehicles were all-wheel driven and propelled by the reliable A6 petrol engine with an output of 105 or 115 bhp. The areas of use were, however, different between the TL11/12 and the TL22.
Cross country driving...
The best-known of these vehicles is the TL22. This was a rugged light-duty truck with three axles, with a payload of just 1.500 kg. The terrain mobility of the TL22 was outstanding, thanks to six driven large wheels with large tyres together with differential locks on all axles. The quality and terrain mobility was in fact so outstanding that this truck was used in military active duty for four decades.
...and hauling heavy jet fighters
The TL11 and TL12, on the other hand, were all-wheel driven but not intended for driving cross-country, but to haul the fairly heavy supersonic jet fighters of the Swedish Air Force, a task, which it performed well for about a quarter of a century.
Volvo has always been a main supplier to the Swedish Armed Forces when it comes to vehicles in different segments, from staff cars, station wagons and high mobility cross-country vehicles to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, in standard execution or in all-wheel-drive execution with very good mobility also in terrain.
Cross-country all wheel-drive
The TL31 is a typical example of a series-produced cross-country all-wheel-drive Volvo truck with extremely high reliability and very long service life.
In the early 1950´s, the Swedish Armed Forces needed a new generation of heavy-duty all-wheel drive vehicles for e.g. towing of guns. In response to this, Volvo developed the TL31. This truck has a unique design and appearance but was, in fact, closely related to the L39 Titan when it came to the technical specification.
Still in use - after 40 years
The TL31 was (and is) an all-wheel-drive truck with a 9,6 litre diesel engine, which is normally naturally aspirated with an output of 150 bhp, but sometimes (e.g. when it came to the fire-fighting version of this basic truck) a turbocharged engine version of 185 bhp was utilized.
The TL31 became widely accepted by both military officers and the military truck drivers. The popularity of this truck, in fact, has been so great that these trucks are still in use in the Swedish Armed Forces today, more than 40 years after the start of the production...!
The TL31 trucks have been, however, modified for a wider range of use than originally intended and some components have been modified or exchanged, not due to inferior function but due to lack of spares, having made a change to more readily available spare parts necessary.
The TL31 will be entering the 21st century in good shape, preparing for its 50-years-anniversary in active service.
One of the most famous Volvo trucks of all time was the 'Titan', which was introduced in 1951, intended mainly for long-distance transport and demanding construction site operations.
"Titan" - the name for a big truck
The 'Titan' name actually came about slightly later than the introduction in late 1951 due to legal problems with Volvo's use of this name in marketing and sales. These problems were resolved, however, and the 'Titan' became one of the more famous model names in truck history.
The Titan was not a radical new design, but more an adaptation of existing and tried components to the rounded design standards of the 1950s, a trend basically begun in America.
The early L39 Titan was very much an updated L29 C (the diesel 'Longnose') but with improved driver environment and with a more efficient direct-injection VDF engine of 9.6 litres capacity (compared with 8.6 litres for the predecessor's VDB pre-combustion-chamber diesel engine).
Pioneering the turbocharged engine
The new VDF engine was an advanced power source, which was to some extent the result of Volvo's experience with light materials obtained during the design and production of piston aircraft engines. Soon, however, this relatively expensive engine was superseded by the more conventional D96 engine, manufactured from steel.
The Titan has, of course, been made very famous due to the pioneering role it held when, as one of the first trucks in the world, it was presented with a turbocharged engine in 1954. This was not a new idea - it had been used in ships, railway locomotives and aircraft engines - but the legendary team at Volvo, led by John Stålblad and including the famous engine designer Bertil Häggh, managed to incorporate a relatively small turbocharger under the bonnet of the Titan truck.
The result was astonishing: with an increase in kerb weight of just 25 kg, the engine output was increased by 35 bhp (from 150 to 185 bhp).
Filled with the most modern features
But it was not only the engine, which was developed during the 14 years of continuous production of the L39/L49 Titan.
In many respects, this truck family received many of the new features of modern trucks, like the air-operated brake systems (which facilitated the safe braking of a vehicle combination with a trailer), the power steering (which was important for driver welfare) and the Volvo Safety Cab, which was introduced in 1959/60 after rigorous design and testing by both the inventor Gösta Nyström (the founder of the Volvo Cab Plant in Umeå, Sweden) and the Swedish national safety administration.
The Titan grew during its production period into a very powerful heavy-duty truck, which at the end of production in 1963-64 made available a tandem-driven 6x4 Titan with turbocharged 230 bhp engine, power steering and air-operated brakes.