Tough as Nails: 1959 Volvo PV544

Volvo has a history of producing cars that can survive the sorts of torture that would see lesser cars waving the white flag of surrender. There is no better example of this philosophy than that which is found in the PV544. From a styling perspective, this was a car that looked outdated when it was new, but the fact that it marched on from 1958 until 1966 is an indication of the regard in which they were held. This 1959 PV544 is a complete car that is in need of some restoration work. It has a few dings and marks, but it also has plenty of potential. It is located in Racine, Wisconsin, and is listed for sale here on eBay. I honestly can’t believe that I’m about to say this, but bidding has dragged its way to a paltry $102, and it should be no surprise to learn that the reserve hasn’t been met.

This is the only rust that the owner identifies in the Volvo, and it doesn’t look to be too bad. Of course, the PV544 is a unibody car, so this will need to be checked to ensure that it hasn’t encroached upon the floor bracing. If it hasn’t, then you would be good to go. If it has, then that will mean that a bit of extra specialist work will be required to ensure that the car maintains its structural integrity. There is also a dent in the passenger side front fender, but this doesn’t appear to be that bad. The owner also believes that the Maroon Red paint is original. It is pretty heavily oxidized, but he has polished it in a couple of spots, and the paint itself looks like it will really respond nicely to a buff and polish.

There are no clear photos of the engine, but if it remains original, it will be the 1,582cc B16B 4-cylinder engine, which produces 85hp. This is sent to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. That might not sound like a lot of power, but this engine’s great strength is its torque delivery. With 80% of the engine’s torque being delivered at a mere 1,500rpm, the Volvo can get along at surprisingly low speeds in high gears and can climb some fairly steep hills without the need to row the shifter. It was the car’s robust nature, combined with this smooth torque delivery, which allowed it to enjoy ongoing success in rallying. In fact, a second-hand PV544 won the grueling 1965 Safari Rally, and the model is still enjoying moderate success in domestic Scandinavian rallying today. What you can see in this photo is where the owner has polished a spot on the car, and how well it has revived. That holds a lot of promise for the rest of the vehicle.

The interior of the Volvo is a bit of a mixed bag. The dash, pad, and the seats all look pretty good. The door trims also generally look okay, although the driver’s side trim is warped at the top. However, this might be able to be straightened without the need to source a replacement. Two items that will need to be replaced are the carpet and the headliner. It isn’t clear how healthy the rest of the trim is that we don’t get to see, but being a relatively simple car, replacing trim is not a hard job. In addition, replacement trim items are actually quite plentiful, and fairly affordable.

Normally this would be the moment where I would discuss whether this car was a good deal, and how much work would be required to whip it into shape. However, I want to look at a slightly different option with this car. Yes, it could be restored into a nice classic road car, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who chose that path. An alternative would be to transform the car into a historic rally car, in a similar vein to the one that was successful back in 1965. It might not be an outright contender in most rallies, but its rugged mechanical components should see it remain reliable, and that sort of competition usually provides loads of fun and camaraderie. It’s just a thought.


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  1. Gaspumpchas

    Love the shape and style of these. I’ll take a hit but a small block in one of these would make a cool traditional rod. Good luck to the new owner!!


    Like 9
    • RayT Member

      Years ago, I had a friend who worked for Volvo’s U.S. operations. We discussed the street-rod value of 544s, and he advised me a conversion popular among some Volvo staffers was the installation of a 289 Ford engine, just was it was for later models (up to and including the 700-Series cars, as I recall).

      A fairly simple swap, he said, without too much fabrication or weight penalty. Plenty of nice horsepower.

      I think I might go that way, if I didn’t find one that needed to be kept stock.

      Like 6
      • Stilbo

        I helped stuff a 302 in one of these in the early 1980’s. It definitely was a sleeper. It took a LOT of modifications though. There were still a lot of low compression big block GM F Bodies to pick on.
        These days I’d love to find a salvage Eco Boost and six speed top loader and stuff it all in a 122.

        Like 2
  2. Will Fox

    Ah! The 3/4-sized `47 Ford 2dr.! Forgot all about those.

    Like 9
  3. Chuck

    I currently have a ‘66 544 and a Metropolitan as shown in the first pic

    Like 6
  4. KEN TILLY UK Member

    A friend of mine owns a PV 444 and swears by it.

    Like 3
  5. Bob C.

    Robin Williams drove a white one in The World According to Garp.

    Like 5
    • Jeff Weir

      Was just thinking the same thing!

      Like 2
  6. DRV

    I still have mine which I got from eBay in 2010. I drove it today. The same day I won bidding I saw it here. I’ve been on this sight every day since then.

    Like 5
  7. JOHN Member

    I always liked the looks of these things, as Will Fox says a 3/4 47 Ford. I often thought about street rodding one. Some minor body mods, an aluminum LS, and you would have a reliable quick little car that you don’t see every day.

    Like 5
    • Tim Wasson

      NO…LS crap…….. SB Ford all the way !

      Like 4
      • JOHN Member

        Hard to beat a LS… LS2, 6.0 for example, 400 hp bone stock, all aluminum, incredible aftermarket support, even a 5.3 LS out of a Suburban will give you 300+ HP, and the weight savings on the front end… But hey, obviously not a Ford guy, but if there is a similar Ford engine package, go for it! These are still cool cars regardless.

        Like 2
  8. Bob S

    These are great, tough, little cars. Back in 1962, my buddy bought one new, and installed a Latham blower. The car was a rocket, and the car withstood all the abuse of the hard driving and the extra horse power without one major breakdown. He wasn’t one to hang on to cars, so he sold it two years later to buy another new car.
    Volvo used the same motor to power their marine stern drives, and I owned one. I can attest to the quality and reliability of the motor and the high quality of the construction. My marine engine was equipped with twin SU carbs, and it was a great combination.
    I think it will be a great purchase for someone, and as far as the style goes, it is something like owning a mid 40s Ford, it grows on a person.

    Like 5
  9. Wayne

    Hey guys, this is from a guy that installed a 5.0 Ford in his wife’s Volvo 265 wagon. ( that made it a 285?) Although I have not tried it, I am pretty sure a small block Ford would be a very tight fit in one of these. And the steering would need to be changed ( like it would be on a 122, 142 Volvo) to probably a rack and pinion in order to clear the oil pan. ( an oil pan modified to clear the steering on one of the PVs, 122s or 142 would leave no room for oil or a pick-up) So, just dropping in a SBF would take more than a weekend. BUT, I agree that a SBF would be a fun project. If you just want more horsepower with a minimum of effort. Install a 740 Turbo engine. Other than the additional fuel injection stuff. You use the original 544 pan and pickup, as they just bolt on. That would get you about 160 horse power and if you can find a twin cam head and use the turbo. That might get you in the 225 horse power range. This could be a very fun car to play with providing a minimum of rust. ( the Wiscinson address scares me though .


    Like 2
    • David Lee

      I installed a 289 Ford V8 IN A 1962 Volvo 544 and would never do it again.You need to cut the firewall and also fabricate the transmission tunnel.Today I would go the v-6 route,that way you would not have to cut the firewall.David Lee

      • Richard Alvis

        i put a 289 in a 59 pv544 back in the early 70’s, it worked out great.

        I just bought another 59 pv544 and I will be installing a crate 340 hp 302 roller B 303 with a light weight flywheel, with a Lakewood scatter shield bell housing, followed by a close ratio Top Loader close ratio transmission followed by narrowed 8.8 posi track 4:56 rear end. the 1970’s car would turn 10.5 at 134 in the quarter mile, in street trim. a corvette killer

  10. Wayne

    The reason for the SBF is because of the width available in the engine bay. Nothing against SBCs or Chryslers or LS engines. It is just a packaging issue. You can make anything fit in anything if you have the time, engineering
    skills and the wallet. In fact a 215 Buick or a Rover derivative would even work better than the SBF.
    Just sayin’.

    Like 3
  11. Wayne

    This is a bucket list car for me. Went to go look at a ’62 6 years ago, it was too far gone, so I came home with a ’71 142S instead, and yes, it came out of a barn! Some day though,……

    Like 2
    • On and On On and On Member

      I had a 64 544 with the B18 engine I think. Bought it for $400 in 1972ish….. great car, put a am/fm stereo radio in it out of a 1966 Chevy Caprice. Awesome sound for then. It was a great car, I learned how to adjust and balance SU carbs on that thing. It really ran strong and spunky. Needed king pins. Was battleship grey with red vinyl, still miss it, traded it for a 1972 142E…………buy one, you’ll love it. My favorite part was the radiator curtain you could pull up from the dash chain. Great in Chicago winters. Good times.

      Like 2
  12. Gavin Smith

    The best car I ever drove on gravel roads. You could swing the tail out and do a controlled drift through any corner. It’s hard not to smile when you are driving oner of these.

    Like 3
  13. Willowen Member

    @Gavin – When I was in the Alaska SCC in Anchorage during the ’60s, the club’s “wild man” drove a beautifully finished 544 – okay, beautifully and repeatedly finished, since he managed to wrinkle it every so often. I got to witness his actually very smooth style during a day of Pioneer Day street races up in Palmer, marking some anniversary or another. The home straight was several blocks of the main street, ending with a 90º left and immediately up and over RR tracks, then another 90º left to the back stretch. Kenny’s attack was putting the car sideways in the last block, catching it for the left-and-over, and another quick drift-and-catch onto the stretch. It looked wild as (heck), but every move was made at precisely the same point every time.

    When I had a 544 of my own in the Santa Cruz Mountains of northern California some years later, I had a good notion of how to use it, based on memories of Kenny’s demonstrations, and it was not only surprisingly easy but a ton of fun. What great cars those are!

    Like 2
  14. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    My father had a red one of these when I was very young, probably ’65 – ’66. I vaguely remember riding in the back seat, holding onto the little strap on the B pillar.

    I would love to take him for a ride in one.

    Like 1
  15. jimmy the orphan

    My friend Jack had a 59 or 60 PV544. We always had our heads stuck under the hood of one hotrod or another. Jack would come by to drink beer and watch. Jacks hood was never up. Break down ? Who to call? Jack ! Rain, shine snow here comes Jack. Never let us down. Jack was a professional student. By the early 70’s he had been in collage at least 9yrs. Lived off grants. Had it down to a science.Had degrees too. One master that I knew of others as well. As life goes I saw less and less of Jack but still driving the Volvo. finely lost track. He’d be 71 now. Probably still in school. If he is I know one thing for a fact he’ll still be driving that same PV544. Later………………………JIMMY

  16. Kenneth Carney

    Bought one for $25 back in ’69. It was all beat to hell and was painted 5 different colors, but it still cranked, ran, and drove great! I got it from our local
    Ford dealer who was tired of seeing it parked on his back lot. We took it back
    to my house where it made a great winter project. Almost every night after
    school, I’d go out and do the body work to make the car at least presentable
    enough to sell when spring came. Got the body work done and painted it
    Tropical Turquoise with the original black interior. I wound up selling it to an
    upper classman for $750. It wasn’t long before a lot of the kids who made fun
    of me in school were buying cars from us. Dad jumped in where he could to help
    me out when I needed it. We made enough cash to pay the difference on our new house, and still had money in the bank. It’s just amazing what a $25 Volvo
    can do!

  17. John

    Great cars. Don’t need V8s, just get them tuned up and go forever.

    Like 1
  18. Quentin Henderson

    Swedish Rally driver Tom Trana, twice won the British RAC Rally, driving a PV Volvo. 1963 & 1964.

    Ironically this robust model of Volvo was never offered for sale in Britain,
    unlike the tiny ”tva tack” Saab’s of that era, which were also dominant in the Rally scene.

  19. Willowen Member

    One thing I can’t forget about my daily commute down La Honda Road and back in the 544: I had a co-worker who spent most weekends working at his brother’s tire shop in (I think) Redwood City, where they sold retreads for $15 each, mounting included. I was in there buying front tires every two or three weeks! Bias-ply, of course … Ten or fifteen round trips down and back up that road would scrub most of the tread right off, unless traffic had been unusually heavy.

  20. Frank M

    My first car was a 61 PV544 that I paid $200 for in 1973. I had just turned 15. I learned to drive on the dirt roads in eastern Arizona. Drifting was called “broadsiding” back then.

  21. Hasse B.

    Seems like a nice project car if the bottoms not gone. As for the original mechanics, the B18 engine (developed with marine use in mind from the start, the engineer was a danish marine engine builder) is virtually indestructable with a forged crankshaft. I´s important, though, not to set the valves too tight – a bit of noise is just normal. Only weak point I can think of at all in those cars is the kingpins in the front suspension. They CAN pop out in hard cornering causing the wheel to collapse, odd to imagine when you see them coming out fast of a curve on a gravel road.

    As for the hotrodding aspect, i´ve talked across the web with a guy who built a hot rod out of an original PV 444 (in most aspects the same car but with a smaller 1.4 liter (B4B) or 1.6 liter (B16) engine with just 3 main bearings and perhaps not so strong rear axle). He put it on Volvo 140 axles (fairly easy work to install, he said – the rear is an undercover Spicer 30, Dana if you like, lso found in post-66 Amazon/121´s) but selected Volvo 850 wheels with a slightly negative offset so as not having to widen the fenders. Brakes was swapped for vented, as I remember it Ate parts for the 164 and 142 injection models. The engine was swapped for a Rover V8 (GM´s BOP 215″ aluminum V8 in the Buick version, slightly updated – late common versions are 3.9 liter but there was some built with larger displacements for special purposes). This made sure that it didn´t became heavier in the nose than originally, I believe it stayed just about the same. I´ve forgot what was used for transmission, but a Borg-Warner slush box comes to mind. Might also have had the steering changed for a rack-and-pinion, not sure. If so, it could have been one from a Volvo 360 which is said to be a rather easy install on the 100-series front axles (might ad that the 164 is strengthed with some plates and as I recall a bit thicker parts compared to the 140´s). Hmm… the 300 series wasn´t sold in the US, I guess? Well, at least if you read this in Europe you´ll know about that one.

    Besides that one, some years ago I saw a PV 544 litterally straight out of the barn turning up at the local racetrack with a bunch of young guys from the village down the road. Jaws dropped when they passed a hot small block Chevelle ca ´69 or so in a heads-up dragrace and made a couple of rather impressing laps around the small circle track. When they popped the hood it revealed an ´80s B23 SOHC turbo engine, ripped the week before from a rusted-out 244 Turbo. Ehm, only problem was that it was still to be inspected before being legal on the road, but it passed inspection for the track without issues.

    Practically a bolt-in operation, as they described it as these 4-cylinder engines starting with the B18 line up to the B230 series have just about the same external dimensions. The B18/B20 also share some parts with the B30 straight 6 found in the 164 and a small V8 called B36 that never made it into cars but found use in small Volvo trucks. The fours are all usually referred to as “red engines” by swedish volvonatics to separate them from the aluminum-blocked successor family that debuted with the 6-cylinder in the S90 and the transverse-mounted straight 5 in the 850 (later version rebadged as S/V 70 – oh, and those run on 4-lugged wheels if you go hunting for rims for that PV…).

    Or go for the 5-cylinder “white engine”, it´s a fairly common swap here in Sweden in many older Volvos, the 2.5 liter is a nice little modern engine with good enough responce in it´s original place and plenty of potential in a lighter car. Hmmm… just hope I haven´t given this rant in another thread already… :p Oh, well, can´t hurt to repeat if so.

    Like 1

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