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Swedish for Kaiser – Volvo’s 1953 Philip prototype

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Photos by Per-Borge Elg.

[Editor’s note: This story, by Per-Borge Elg, Editor, Motorhistoriskt Magasin, Sweden, comes to us via Michael Lamm. We extend thanks to Motorhistoriska Sallskapet i Sverige, the Swedish club that publishes Motorhistoriskt Magasin.]

Wealthy Swedes have long preferred American cars. Sweden’s largest auto manufacturer, Volvo, capitalized on that fact with such series as the postwar PV 444 and PV 544, which looked a very much like  7/8th-scale 1942-’48 Fords.

Another Americanized Volvo was the 1953 handmade prototype named “Philip.” The Philip, which resembles the 1951 Kaiser, is on permanent display at the factory-owned Volvo Museum in Gothenburg.

Here’s a little background: The PV 444 used unitized body construction, engineered and built along principles developed by the Budd Manufacturing Co. in Philadelphia. Volvo had worked with Budd since 1938. Even so, the PV 444 was styled by Volvo engineers who’d previously been employed in the United States. Volvo did not have a formal styling section until 1950.

That year, to head this new department Volvo hired a 20-year-old novice, Jan Wilsgaard, who’d come to them straight out of the Gothenburg School of Applied Arts. Wilsgaard’s first project became the Philip—so named after a particular day, May 2nd, in the Swedish calendar. In Sweden, all days carry names. My own name, Per, is August 1, for example.

The Philip was to become the successor of Volvo’s larger PV 60, a car manufactured alongside the PV 444/544 and whose inspiration had been the 1939 Pontiac. The Philip was to become Volvo’s even larger, more luxurious, upmarket vehicle, and it, too, was very much inspired by American styling trends, not only in its exterior design but also by having a V8 engine and automatic transmission.

1953 Volvo Philip prototype

The Philip project was presented to Volvo management in September 1950, and work on the prototype began immediately. The engine was developed by Volvo—a 3.5-liter (217-cid) ohv V8 that delivered 120 hp at 4300 rpm. The automatic gearbox was developed by a Danish-born engineer at Volvo who’d previously worked at Chrysler. The Philip´s wheelbase was 114 inches (4.5 inches shorter than Kaiser’s), with a total length of just over 197 inches, about a foot shorter than Kaiser’s. The styling was certainly inspired by the 1951 Kaiser, but aside from that, there seems to have been no formal link between Volvo and Kaiser-Frazer.

The Philip had a rather unusual hood arrangement. Both the front fenders and hood were hinged at the bumper, and the rear lifted upward. In the rear view, you’ll notice a parting line stretching from the front wheel arch toward the door.

This one-off prototype was shown to the press on May 22, 1953. Despite that introduction, the car was considered too large and costly for Volvo to build, so the prototype was sent to a sister company, Bolinder-Munktell, which manufactured farm tractors and was later renamed Volvo BM. There the Philip served for several years as an executive limousine before being brought back to the Volvo Museum.

The V8 engine did go into production and was used in a series of light trucks, introduced in 1956-57 under the very Swedish model names Snabbe (”Quickie”) and Trygge (”Safee”). The V8 remained in production until 1966, but by 1963-64, most truck buyers opted for diesel engines instead, which Volvo bought from Ford.

Jan Wilsgaard remained the head of Volvo Design until his retirement in 1990. He was responsible for many now-classic Volvos, including the 121/122 Amazon series, the 140/240 and the 760/740. He passed away in 2016 at age 86.


Our thanks to Motorhistoriska Sallskapet i Sverige, the automotive history society of Sweden.