Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
After the style of Cinderella, the Volvo PV 544 Sports developed from a rather ordinary family runabout into a fast and comfortable touring saloon, able to show its rear wheels to most cars then on the Swedish roads. With an emphasis on safety as well as speed and sheer acceleration, the Volvo PV 544 Sports was a reasonable financial proposition in its home country back in 1959 at 12,250 Kroner tax paid. Cars in the same price range included the Riley 1.5 and the German Ford Taunus 17 M.
The PV 544 was introduced in August 1958, and was the logical development of the Volvo PV 444 first presented in 1945. A 40 b.h.p. o.h.v. engine powered the first Volvo; it was later developed to give 44 b.h.p. and eventually 51 b.h.p. A 60 b.h.p., o.h.v. four-cylinder unit of 1,580 c.c. replaced the previous 1,480 c.c. engine in 1957. This engine was carried over and offered in two versions: the normal 60 b.h.p. unit, and the sports, which gave 85 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. It was the latter that powered the Sports PV 544.
Standard, Special and Sports
The PV 544 was produced in three series: a Standard, a Special and a Sports. The Special offered the choice of a three or a four speed all-synchromesh gear box. The Sports had the four speed box as standard equipment and a final drive ratio of 4.1 to 1. The PV 544 85 b.h.p. engine was fed by two SU H4 carburettors with simple pancake air filters. The compression ratio was up to 8.2 to 1 and there was a "hotter" camshaft. The combustion chambers were quite normal and the valve gear was conventional with pushrods and rockers. The generous power output was developed without fuss apart from a healthy intake roar to please the enthusiast.
Driven briskly, the PV 544 Sports was noisy, but driven gently as a normal family saloon the engine was not much noisier than a normally silenced unit of the era. It was smooth at all speeds and running was sweet apart from some slight roughness at tick-over. Response to the accelerator was instantaneous and the cold starting device made for easy starts on frosty winter mornings. With the radiator blind in its closed position, the engine quickly reached operating temperatures. Fuel consumption was modest.
The body of the PV 544 represented the last stage of development of the basic Volvo design. Previously, criticism had been centred around the limited view from the interior, and the shallow rear window came in for plenty of criticism. Even after the increases in window areas for the 1958 models - both windscreen and rear window - the PV 544 body was still unable to merit highest marks in this department. True, the windscreen was sensibly enlarged and the old V-screen was replaced by a one-piece affair with an excellent wiper arrangement. The pillars, however, were on the thick side and the side windows remained somewhat small.
Behind the Wheel
The seating in the PV 544 was good. In front there were separate seats with the handbrake mounted on the transmission tunnel. At rear, a comfortable bench offered room for three at a pinch. The elbow rests were built into the body sides and there were two large ashtrays for the rear passengers. Safety belts were standard equipment for the front seats. In the back, fitting points for belts were provided. And in a time when seat belts were rare, the "across the chest" type used on the PV 544 were a step above almost all other cars then on the road, and went a long way to helping establish Volvo as a safety conscious automobile manufacturer.
Other changes made in 1958 included a new facia covered with non reflecting p.v.c. which was neatly finished and designed to provide some cushioning in the event of an accident. Similarly, the sun visors were of a shock absorbing material. There was a reasonably large glovebox (lockable) and an ashtray as well as a lighter. Space was provided for a radio. The instruments were grouped in front of the driver. The speedo was of the "thermometer" type, not popular these days but the height of fashion back then, and the coolant thermometer and the fuel gauge were grouped under the speedometer. Four warning lights gave information about ignition, oil pressure, indicators and main beam. A trip recorder was standard on the Sports.
The pleasantly shaped steering wheel had a full circle horn ring with a lever controlling the indicators protruding from the steering column housing. If moved towards the steering wheel, the lever flashed the headlights. The electric wipers covered a large area and an electric windscreen washer was controlled by a second pull of the wiper switch. A comprehensive heating and demisting unit was also one of the standard fitments.
On the Road
On the road, the well thought out seating was appreciated by most owners. It was possible to adjust backrest rake. The wheel was near vertical and the honest floor mounted gear lever gave excellent control of the four speed box. Legroom in front was plentiful and the pedals were well placed. The accelerator was of the pendant type. The gear box with its four all-synchromesh speeds gave a special charm to the PV 544. Apart from a prominent whine in reverse, the box was silent. Second could be used for starting but bottom gear was the natural choice. As full torque was delivered at 3,500 r.p.m., frequent use of the box brought out the full virtues of the power unit. Top speed was an honest 95 m.p.h. and some road testers of the time recorded a genuine 100 m.p.h.
The brakes were reported to be both smooth and perfectly even, inspiring confidence and giving strong and satisfactory retardation. For Swedish Winter roads, they had a slight resistance to act too fiercely which was important in preventing unwanted skids in an era long before ABS and Stability Control. But there were some downsides to the PV 544. While the brakes, clutch and gearbox were good, the headlights were, strangely, not. Many road testers noted that too short a distance ahead was covered by the lights to allow the performance of the car to be used at night. It was somewhat surprising, too, that Volvo missed the opportunity of providing headlights with asymmetric dipping; after all, this was a European innovation already well received and able to give more light along the near side with dipped lights.
Roadholding of the PV 544 was as near perfect as possible bearing in mind the dual qualities of the car. Damping was just about right and understeer was very slight. On gravel roads, the rear axle was perhaps a trifle too lively when the driver was enterprising but the PV 544 was easily corrected when the rear end did inevitably break away. At speed, the front end appeared a shade too vague, but the car steered well even if a conscious effort was needed - although rack-and-pinion steering may have improved things even more. Noises from road surfaces were well damped and wind noises at speed were eliminated if the rear windows were opened an inch or two and all fresh air was taken via the heater - hot or cold. The tyres were quiet and squeal was difficult to provoke.