The Volvo and the French Farmer
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
At Autostory our passion is attention to historical detail. It’s not difficult to discover who the first and subsequent owners of your car are, although admittedly in the UK official records are often very incomplete, particularly pre 1979. In addition, the heritage certificates now supplied by the larger companies such as Jaguar Heritage Trust, Mercedes Classic and Ferrari Classiche are a useful artefact for any owner, for sure.
But we pride ourselves on finding out more than the bare bones about a particular vehicle. We like to get at the nuggets that may reflect something individual about a previous owner, or the way in which its owner came to find it. Cars that are exported, and then possibly re-imported, have often had very colourful careers. Take the example of our Volvo PV444 commission, part of a client's large collection.
The PV, or 'little Volvo', was Sweden’s first people’s car, a very reliable and practical four seater that held its own in the harsh Scandinavian climes. Its styling cues came from the early 40s American teardrop designs, although its main inspiration was actually the Hanomag 1.3 saloon that came out in Germany just before the war. Production began in 1946, eventually switching to the more well known PV544 in 1958 (a very good rally car), and the last beetle-back model rolled off the production line in 1965. Only left-hand drive models were ever made – even though the Swedish drove on the left hand side of the road (same as in the UK) until September 1967. The reason for that is the subject of another blogpost!
Our particular car is a PV 444 KS, a 1956 ‘special’ model that was exported to France. Now in 1956 Volvo had not really got this arm of their business firmly off the ground. It would take them two more years to establish a Volvo showroom in Paris, to showcase the new Volvo Amazon.
We discovered that our car was sold to its first owner, a French farmer, by Bolinder the tractor company. There was a small brass Bolinder nameplate riveted to the glove compartment lid, for starters. We found out that "Bolinder’s" were the official importers of Volvos into France at that time, and that, surprise surprise, Volvo owned the company. First established in 1844, Bolinder was by 1900 a leading producer of marine engines, It then merged with Munktell in 1922, and by this time sold 80% of the farm machinery in France. That’s some market share! The concern was bought up by Volvo in 1952. So if you were French, and you wanted a new Volvo in the mid 50s, you went to Bolinder's. Just imagine our French farmer from Epinouze, south of Lyon, coming up to Paris to buy a thresher and a tractor and thinking, I think I'll have one their cars too, pourquoi pas?
The company was based in a beautiful building designed by the Modernist architect Robert Mallett-Stevens, in Puteaux just outside Paris. Unfortunately their HQ was later pulled down and a glassy office block erected in its place.
For our Autostory the original sales document came eventually to light, on Bolinder headed notepaper, along with a free ticket for the new owner to the Paris Motor show that year, the 43rd Salon de L' Automobile. A graphic of the entry coupon, and a small sketch of the Bolinder's HQ will be included in our design of the Autostory. Details like this make the story of this PV Volvo all the more exciting to tell, and all the more unique for its owner.