Like almost every carmaker, Volvo has its own set of typefaces, logos, badges, and other aesthetic bits that contribute to its identity as a brand. One of their most iconic details is their diagonal grille bar. That bar has a history and origin story that’s so mundane, it’s actually interesting again. Want to hear it? Too bad, I’m going to tell you.
Volvo’s actual logo, the thing they call the iron mark, is the circle-with-an-arrow symbol that’s also the symbol for Mars, males, iron, and sort of looks like the little guy Winkie you’d control in the old arcade game Venture.
In Volvo’s context, though, the symbol was chosen because it represents iron, which, in steel, is what Volvo makes cars out of.
But what about that diagonal slash? I’m getting to that.
Volvo’s ÖV 4, built in 1927, was nicknamed ‘Jakob’ and was the first vehicle to bear the Volvo name. Jakob had a sort of flawed birth; when the first one was to be driven out of the factory, it went backwards, due to an incorrectly installed rear axle gear. Also, as a convertible made for the Swedish climate, it may not have had the best body style for its target market.
Still, it was the first Volvo, and as such it wore the Volvo iron mark, designed by the painter and designer Helmer MasOlle. MasOlle wanted the badge to be centered in the open square air-intake area of the radiator housing.
The radiator housing had no proper grille or screen in front of the radiator itself, so the logo, not being able to defy gravity, needed a support of some sort. In order to most easily locate it at the center, it was decided to use a diagonal bar from one corner of the radiator shell to the other, and mount the badge on that.
That’s it. That’s why Volvos to this day have that diagonal bar—because it was the easiest way to locate the badge in the center of the radiator.
I suspect that once they had the badge-supporting bar in place, someone must have decided that they rather liked the look of it—otherwise, you’d think they’d have painted it black to let it blend in with the radiator behind it.
The diagonal bar soon transformed from a simple, practical support to a design element of its own. It was used on Volvos pretty regularly until around the introduction of the Volvo PV444, and then disappeared until the Volvo 164 brought it back in 1968.
So, there you go. An essential component of a major automobile company’s brand identity is all thanks to the easiest way to stick something in the center of a square hole.
Now you know.