Trucks join the army

Volvo Trucks in 1940s

The first half of the 1940s was, of course, dominated by World War II. Volvo's production of vehicles for the private sector fell sharply, but sales of advanced cross country vehicles to the Swedish Army more than made up for the absence of private customers.


The experience of developing cross-country military vehicles would prove to be of great long-term benefit in the design and production of other forms of rough terrain vehicles that would be used in areas such as construction. During the late 1940s, production of old-fashioned pre-war vehicles increased dramatically.

Now put on your helmet and read more about the Volvo trucks of the '40s.

L29C and V

By the mid 1940s, there was a clear trend for heavy-duty trucks to have diesel engines. This was something fairly new to Volvo, which had been concentrating on Hesselman engines due to the lower development costs needed for the Hesselman engine compared with the diesel engine.

The first heavy-duty diesel truck - on demand
Today, it is perhaps necessary to stress the fact that the number of heavy-duty Volvo trucks made up to and including 1945 was rather small, the majority of Volvo trucks being light-duty and medium-duty trucks, which were made at a good profit (which helped to finance the future-oriented car production of Volvo, which was unprofitable until the early 1950s).

The L29 range of trucks was extremely rugged and powerful, but was made in rather small numbers. It was natural to take this range as a base when the first powerful heavy-duty diesel truck was introduced in 1946, initially very much in response to demands from the National Swedish Road Administration, which needed a very powerful vehicle that could carry out snow-ploughing in the heavy Swedish winter as well as being a basic vehicle for construction of roads (the post-war era was a period when there was a great deal of renewal of the road network in Sweden).

Built on simplicity and efficiency
The design of the L29C/V vehicles (C=Civilian, V=' Road Administration vehicle', i.e. truck for use by the Road Administration) was simple and efficient. The existing L29 heavy-duty trucks were improved, reinforced and acquired an even longer bonnet to house the big powerful Volvo diesel engine, which was initially of the pre-combustion type (but in the later part of the production period of this series of trucks, it was replaced by the modern 'VDF' direct-injection engine).

The LV29 C/V, which was really a successful compromise, was superseded by the modern-looking L39 Titan in 1951, and was to a great extent based on the L29 C/V components - at least during the first years.

In the absence of power steering, driving a L29 C/V was tough work, and in those days a truck driver really had to possess brutal physical strength.


The design of the 'Sharpnose' trucks soon became accepted and loved by the customers, since it was both functional and well-suited to the design trend of the era.

When a slightly heavier version of the Sharpnose truck was developed in 1940 as a successor to the LV79, it was natural to use an existing design rather than new one for the lighter, modern truck, especially since the LV79 had had an identical design to the LV76/LV78 trucks. This had been superseded in 1938 and 1939 by 'Sharpnose' trucks.

The bridge between light-duty and heavy-duty
The LV11 series of trucks was the bridge between the light-duty Volvo trucks and the rugged heavy-duty Volvo trucks. In reality, the chassis of the LV11 vehicle was very similar to the heavier trucks in the Volvo family, and the driveline components (all made within Volvo, of course) were slightly old-fashioned but well-tried components which had been used for several years in, for instance, the LV8 series of trucks. The latter was also to some extent superseded by the LV11.

Despite the rather modest (legal) Gross Vehicle Weight of the LV11, pictures from the 1940s often show this range of vehicles in heavy applications like construction work, where chassis components such as frame, suspension and axles were subject to great stress, especially considering the overloads which were normal in those days.

A standard Swedish truck
The LV11 became a standard Swedish truck (not many were exported, due to the rugged design and the resulting relatively high price compared with cheaper and less strong foreign competitors). It was revised on two occasions, in 1947 (when the succeeding LV105 series was presented) and slightly later, when the LV105 was superseded by the L20 series of trucks. The changes were, however, rather small.

The popularity of this generation of trucks and its components meant that, when it was superseded by the L34 range of trucks, the chassis and the components of the L20 trucks were used once again, more or less without changes, but with a bonnet, wings and cab of modern design.

LV15 and LV24

Despite the fact that Volvo was a fairly progressive manufacturer, Volvo was one of the later truck producers to introduce diesel trucks. That was not by mere chance, but due to the fact that Gustaf Larson, one of the co-founders of Volvo, was a fellow engineering student of Jonas Hesselman, the inventor of the Hesselman engine.

The first Volvo diesel engine...
The original plan was to introduce the first diesel engine in 1940, but World War II delayed the introduction of the Volvo diesel truck. The first Volvo diesel engine was called 'VDA' ('Volvo Diesel engine type A') and was of the pre-combustion type like most of the diesel engines of that era. Originally, the VDA was planned to be of the more efficient direction-injection type.

At tests performed before the introduction of the direction-injection type VDA, it was found, however, that it was very difficult to start this version of the VDA in cold weather. So, in order to guarantee perfect reliability and long service life, a new version of the pre-combustion type was introduced in 1946. This was presented in the autumn of 1946 and very soon became the most popular truck in Sweden.

...and the first Volvo diesel trucks
The LV15 series of trucks was fairly similar to the petrol 'Roundnose' trucks which were originally presented in petrol-engine versions in 1939/40, but the larger and heavier diesel engine demanded a longer bonnet, which means that the diesel trucks are easy to distinguish from the 'Roundnose' trucks with petrol and Hesselman engines.

Despite the output of only 95 bhp (100 bhp from 1949), the LV15 series trucks (and the L24 series of similar appearance which succeeded it) could perform heavy transport tasks, including construction transport and long-distance operations, sometimes even in a three-axle model and with a trailer.

Introducing direct-injection
An important step (engine-wise) was taken in 1950, when the pre-combustion chamber VDA engine was superseded (initially as an alternative at a slight extra-cost) by the direct-injection VDC engine, offering much improved fuel consumption. This engine is very much the ancestor of today's efficient Volvo diesel truck, bus and marine engines (actually the VDC engine was used for all these purposes, as well as for other Volvo vehicles like road-scrapers!).

The LV15/L24 series of trucks were superseded by the L38/Viking truck in 1953.


The 1930s had been a very expansive period in the history of Volvo trucks. From a very modest beginning with old-fashioned trucks, the product programme grew into modern vehicles with highly efficient engines and huge payloads, sometimes with more than two axles.

Similar look - different transport applications
These 'Roundnose' consisted of a wide range of trucks that looked similar but covered a large number of transport applications. At a glance, they looked much the same, but in fact they were different. The front, for instance, was available in at least three distinctly different lengths, of which two were available in early models with petrol (or Hesselman or producer gas) engines.

The visual appearance seems unique nowadays. The fact is, however, that the appearance of the 'Roundnose' trucks was very much influenced by both American, British and German truck styling of the era. This is not very strange, since the 1930s was a decade when design was a prominent part of product design and when trends spread from country to country, influencing the design of nearly all makes of trucks from almost every manufacturer.

The main choice of the army - and others
The advent of this range of trucks was not a very promising one. The introduction of the first version took place in late 1939, at the same time as the beginning of World War II. This meant that sales of civilian trucks soon went very slowly. Fortunately, military customers turned up and Volvo became a main supplier to the Swedish armed forces. During WW II, thousands of 'Roundnose' trucks were delivered, in a standard model, with simplified design, and also in an all-wheel-drive model.

After WW II, this family of trucks became very successful. More than 10,000 units of the most successful range, the 'LV125 series', was sold, an enormous number at a time when the truck was accepted but was far from the main means of transport (the railway still playing a major role).

A wide variety of power and strength
Despite a rather similar appearance, the power and the strength of the 'Roundnose' trucks was very varied. The basic engine was a modest side valve engine of up to 90 hp, while petrol engines with overhead valves offered up to 105 bhp. Normally, there were Hesselman options which used the less expensive oil fuel, while producer-gas engines were used during WWII, giving very limited performance but being able to run even in times when petrol was available only for the most needed (military) use.

Overall, this range of trucks was produced from 1939 to 1954, i.e. for 15 years, with more or less no mechanical changes apart from detail modifications. More than 40,000 'Roundnose' trucks were produced and sold, an enormous number considering the limited use of trucks in that era (compared with today).


World War II was radical in one particular way; for the first time in a war, self-propelled cars, trucks and fighting vehicles (often with good off-road-capability) took over much of the role that the horse-drawn vehicle had previously played.

Progressive vehicles for military use
Volvo, being a progressive company with vast (for the day) resources, naturally played a major part in providing the Swedish armed forces with transport equipment during the period 1939-45. The most advanced vehicles were the TVA/TVB and the TVC, all these three vehicles being heavy towing vehicles for the artillery and anti-aircraft troops.

The TVC was the first all-wheel-drive vehicle ever produced by Volvo. It was based on the TVA/TVB, but with two major changes, forward-control design and the addition of front-axle drive.

Designed for the off-road
Since the TVC was intended for extreme off-road-capability it was natural to try to restrict the total length of the vehicle and also distribute the GVW as evenly as possible between all three axles. For this reason, a very roomy cab was designed to go on top of the engine, also adding perfect vision for the driver and the rest of the crew as well as the other advanced features of this unique all-wheel-drive truck.

The roomy crew-cab was an absolutely necessary feature for this vehicle since it was intended not only to tow heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns but also to bring the complete crew to the site in question. The chassis design was virtually identical to that of the TVA/TVB, being based on a central tube and independent axles, with all six wheels driven and equipped with large off-road-tyres.

A long time servant
The engine of the TVC was identical to the engine of its predecessor TVB, a 7.6 litre petrol engine with 140 bhp. The TVC became quite popular for its intended duties, and had quite good cross-country mobility, despite the fact that it was heavy in the front, sometimes causing the steering wheels to dig themselves down into soft ground, a disadvantage that was, however, compensated by the very good traction of the two driving rear axles.

The TVC was used for a very long time by the Swedish armed forces. It was revised on more than one occasion, with, for instance, an improved cab with larger windows and even better vision for the crew. The 'FBT' engine was also replaced by an extremely powerful 10-litre petrol engine, which had been developed from the diesel engine used for the 'L39 Titan' heavy-duty truck.

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