When Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson founded Volvo in 1925 they had considered producing a Swedish built car for several years. The business idea was basically that a car made of the world class Swedish steel would be of higher quality and successfully be able to compete with the American cars on the market. The roads in Sweden in the 1920s were miserable and many of the imported cars were simply not built for these roads, for the Swedish winters and especially not for the combination of the two. This is where the gentlemen Gabrielsson and Larson saw a business opportunity, and Volvo’s trucks and cars eventually built a reputation to be robust, safe and reliable. Simply put, they were dimensioned after different circumstances than the competition.

Responding to criticism from resellers of Volvo’s cars regarding overdimensioned constructions that made the cars more expensive, and also because of poor sales, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson wrote a sales manual to Volvo’s resellers in 1936. It was to be treated as confidential and each issue was numbered. In it, Gustaf Larson writes: ”An automobile is driven by people. The fundamental principle for all construction work is and must therefore be: Safety. Each single detail must be dimensioned so that it withstands every strain, with the exception of collisions. If, for instance, a front wheel spindle breaks it could cost human lives”. Gustaf Larson, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology, is obviously discussing the safety in a car’s fundamental mechanical strength rather than the today so important occupant safety. The safety work as we recognize it today was hardly in anyone’s mind during the 1920s when collisions were rare and speed considerably lower, mainly due to poor roads, and therefore also lower risk of personal injuries.

It is not until 1956, when Gunnar Engellau resumes the seat as CEO in AB Volvo from Assar Gabrielsson, that safety as we relate to it today starts becoming a concious profile for the company. Gunnar Engellau understood probably better than most the importance for a company to profile itself and found in safety something that Volvo already excelled at, that Volvo already distinguished itself with and that Volvo from now on would become best in class at. When the Volvo Amazon was introduced in 1956 it came with fittings for static two-point seat belts in front, while the belts were sold as accessories. Already during the model year 1958 the belts are included as standard equipment. Same time extensive experience among medical doctors univocally showed how unnecessarily extensive personal injuries were as a result of people being exposed and unprotected in cars during accidents and collisions, while the general interest among car owners for buckling up were virtually non-existing. Several patents for different seat belt solutions existed on the marked, the first from as early as 1885, and Volvo’s two-point static belt solution for the Amazon was not their own solution.

The belts are not factory installed by Volvo but many resellers choose to install them before selling the cars to customers and they are also available as accessories (part numbers 279281 and 279282 respectively).

Below is an advertisement from Volvo for the accessory seat belt (note the fitting behind the seat) and also a sketch from a 1958 service bulletin.

As a step in profiling Volvo towards safety, Gunnar Engellau hires a certain Nils Bohlin in 1958 from SAAB’s airplane division to the role as Volvo’s first safety engineer. Bohlin had, among other things, constructed the ejector seat and its surrounding equipment in the fighter jet J35 Draken. The two-point seat belt was not entirely successful in its design, often causing significant injuries on the body’s soft tissues with the belt buckle aligned with the chest.

Nils Bohlin patents a static three-point seat belt already in 1959, which has a fitting next to the seat instead of behind it and which was simple enough in its design that it allowed buckling up with one hand. The big advantage with the construction was that the body was not allowed to move by the belt during strains, which significantly improved survival rates and reduced injuries with 50-60%. The invention has later been recognized as one of the most important for mankind during the 20th century.

”I realized that both the upper and the lower parts of the body must be firmly fixated, with one belt over the chest and another over the hip. With a static fitting for the buckle placed low and to the side of the occupant’s hip so that the belt lies tight towards the body during the entire collision. The challenge was to find a solution that was both simple and efficient to use as it must be possible to use it with only one hand.” – Nils Bohlin

Volvo starts to include Bohlin’s three-point static seat belt as standard equipment in the Volvo Amazon towards the end of the production of model year 1959 (from ch.-no. 24039) on some markets (not USA) and thereby becomes the first car manufacturer in the world to equip a series produced car with three-point seatbelts as standard. Volvo quickly realize the importance of the three-point seat belt and later chooses to release the patent for all car manufacturers. No other single safety detail has saved more lives than the three-point seat belt.

Fittings for static three-point seatbelts in the rear seat are introduced on all three bodies with model year 1967 and the belts are sold as accessories. Factory installed rear seatbelts are first introduced on 1968 cars for the North American market, then in the shape of a two-point lap seatbelt, and in 1970 cars for the Swedish market in the shape of a three-point seatbelt. See picture below.

Safety Details in Volvo Amazon

Below are a number of safety details in the Volvo Amazon, listed per model year. Typically, but not always, a detail first appeared the previous calendar year. Some details are the result of legal demands on a particular market, why cars intended for that market got the detail earlier than cars for other markets (some of which may have never gotten it). The prime example is export cars for USA 1968. The detail is listed on the model year when it first appeared on the Volvo Amazon, regardless of market. Further, some details first appeared on other Volvo models than the Amazon, such as the dual circuit brake system that came on the 140-series in 1966. Some safety details were first available as accessories but were later fitted as standard equipment (this also varies between different markets). Some details were only available on a certain edition on a particular market, for instance four-way emergency flasher in Sweden (only on the Police edition). The list below is not necessarily complete and is in no particular order within the model years.

Model YearSafety Detail
1957Laminated wind shield
Padded instrument panel
Fittings for static two-point front seat belts (belts sold as accessories)
Hydraulic drum brakes on all four wheels
Wind shield washers available as option
1958Static two-point front seat belts are standard
1959Brakes with wheel cylinders of duoservo type
Wind shield washers are standard
1960Export cars for the USA are fitted with the classic front bumper guard
Static three-point front seat belts are standard
1961New anti-dazzle rearview mirror
Limited slip differential for the rear axle (”anti-spinn”) available as option (also fits earlier model years)
1962Asymmetric headlights
Front disc brakes on the 122 S
The Estate is fitted with extra external mirror on right fender as standard
Power assisted brakes available as option
Automatic reverse lights available as option
1963Automatic reverse lights is standard
1964Glued brake linings on drum brakes
1965Front disc brakes on all models
New horns with better penetration capability
Power brakes (without back pressure valve) standard in the P 220 (option on the P 120 and P 130)
Headrests are available as option
1966Back pressure valve on rear brakes
Glued brake linings with better wear tolerance for rear brakes on the Estate
1967New seatbelts (changed fittings, locking mechanism, adjustment and hangers)
Attachements for static three-point seatbelts in the backseat
Power brakes standard on the 122 S
Volvo sells rear facing child seats as accessory, which fit Volvo Amazon and the new Volvo 144
Volvo presents statistics from 28,700 accidents, which clearly shows that seatbelts save lives
1968New shock absorbing steering wheel (not the 123 GT) and collapsible steering wheel pole for better driver safety
New choke and heat levers, rounded for better driver safety
Power brakes on all models
Non-reflecting windshield frames and wipers
New door locks of security type
New, rounded knob for ashtray (some markets)
New and rounder window crank handles, same as 140-series and P 1800 (some markets)
Knee protection pad is fitted under the instrument panel (some markets)
Four side reflectors on the fenders, yellow in front and red in the rear (some markets)
Dash-mounted four-way emergency flasher unit (some markets)
Protective moulding for the feet on the lower rear end of the front seats (some markets)
Front seat headrests are standard (some markets)
Opening mechanism for ventilation windows is changed for increased occupant protection
Seatbelts in rear seat are standard (some markets)
Dual circuit triangular brake system (some markets)
Warning light on instrument panel for parking brake and brake failure (some markets)
1969New windshield of ”high impact” type
Direct acting brake servo (same as 140-series)
Three-point inertia reel front seat belts sold as accessories