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How the 1950s Defined the Evolution of Volvo Trucks

The 1950s was an important time in automotive history. We saw the first Japanese trucks developed with diesel engines, as was becoming the trend. Transmissions were improving, allowing for smoother rides. Truck manufacturers also started paying more attention to driver comfort and safety, regularly improving the cab area. For Volvo, the 1950s marked a period of significant innovation and growth, leading the way in truck design and innovation in European truck parts.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the key advancements Volvo made during the 1950s, many of which still impact the way we operate today.

Direct injection engines

While the 1950s is often heralded as the birth of diesel engines in trucks, this is misleading. Manufacturers had been experimenting with diesel engines for decades before this, and Volvo even had its first diesel-engine truck on the market in 1946. But it’s certainly true to say that diesel engines became a trucking norm during the 1950s.

Going one step further, Volvo started replacing traditional pre-chamber combustion engines with more efficient direct-injection diesel engines. The engine appeared in arguably Volvo’s most famous truck, the Viking, which was a breath of fresh air for owners facing rising fuel prices in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Incorporating turbochargers

When the Volvo Titan was introduced in 1951, it marked a key innovation in automotive and Volvo history. The truck was mainly designed for long-distance hauls and work around construction sites. It also became extremely popular, being one of Volvo’s most famous models.

Importantly, the Titan was one of the first trucks to receive a turbocharged engine. In 1954, Volvo’s research and design team pioneered a revolutionary change to heavy-duty vehicles. Turbochargers had been used in aircraft and other much larger vehicles, but rarely in trucks. Ultimately, the addition of a turbocharger only added 25kg of kerb weight to the vehicle, but the engine output increased by 35 bhp.

The Titan was also popular because it kept a fairly basic design. With Volvo truck parts easily accessible, the Titan offered a long working lifespan.

Forward control trucks

During the 1950s, forward-control vehicles became more popular. Volvo had actually introduced a forward-control truck at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1933, but demand was low. In 1956, however, Volvo introduced the L2 truck, essentially an upgrade from the L34.

The forward-control, or ‘cab over engine’ design surged in popularity, as the short wheelbase offered much better manoeuvrability in cities. Importantly, this forward-control design offers much better visibility for the driver.  

The L42 served as a light vehicle back in the 1950s, but it was converted to a medium-duty truck known as the L43 Trygge. While it featured a higher platform, this was rarely an issue because forklifts and cranes were required to load the truck, since it had a greater loading capacity.

Volvo has always been known as a pioneering automotive company, but the 1950s were a period of great change. Across the entire automotive industry, manufacturers implemented design changes and new technology, even building specialist vehicles for military operations. With the introduction of turbochargers, coupled with direct-injection diesel engines and an increased focus on safety, Volvo certainly changed the face of the trucking industry during the 1950s.

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