Born out of a need to keep up with market demands, Volvo's first purpose-build estate car was an instant hit in 1953 that started the everlasting tradition of the Volvo wagon. Meet the classic Duett.
When Volvo introduced the compact PV444 in 1944, it transformed them from being a small-scale Swedish car manufacturer into a player on the international car market. But after they put it into production three years later, it became obvious that people also want small commercial vehicles with different body styles. The problem was that the PV444's unitary construction didn't allow significant modifications. Therefore, Volvo came out with the PV445 using a light but strong separate chassis frame.
The PV445 had 1.4 litre OHV four with 40 hp and could carry loads up to 1,100 pounds, or even more if you pushed your luck. It was delivered in driveable chassis form without bodywork behind the driver's seat. Instead, there were over 30 different coachbuilding companies in Sweden offering wooden frames with sheet steel panelling or all-steel bodies and cabs.
The PV455 was a true workhorse with an utilitarian interior providing "low cosiness factor". It also lasted way too long, so by the early fifties, Volvo found itself with 1,500 unsold 445 delivery chassis parked outside the factory. Meanwhile, other manufacturers started selling purpose-build estates instead of relying on the coachbuilders. At Volvo, a young engineer called Erik Skoog got the task of coming up with their own wagon. 15 months later – on July 4th 1953 – the first 445 Duett was delivered to Volvo president Assar Gabrielsson himself.
The Duett was able as both a commercial van and slightly more luxurious family wagon. Volvo's last body-on-frame car got a one-piece windscreen and a four-speed gearbox in 1960, but kept its '40s looks until production ended in 1969 due to the introduction of new crash regulations. The total Duett production came to just over 97,000 units and with the separate chassis versions added, the total number was 101,492.
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Photo credit: Volvo