Imagine you’re in charge of 20th century Volvo marketing. The key selling points are durability and safety—how in the world, you ask yourself, do you make practicality sexy? Short answer: You don’t. Instead, you build a sensible brand that’s likable.
Its seems the family-oriented vehicles in vogue today are determined to be something they’re not. Sure, a sculpted CUV can seat five and rides multiple feet off the ground—but at heart, it’s a supercar. Some of them succeed to a shocking degree, yet these vehicles multitask to the extreme.
Volvos, on the other hand—much like their exterior styling after 1970—just embraced what they were: boxy, for one, and predictable. Volvo’s print ads in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s were utterly unpretentious, and that’s the key to the Swedish brand’s vintage charm.
So take a brief break from SUVs pretending to be supercars or off-roaders and enjoy these 10 simple, wholesome Volvo ads from days past.
We’ve written about Volvo’s handsome 120-Series wagons (also known as Amazons) before, but the hero of this 1966 advertisement showcases the 120 line’s two-door coupe body style. It’s more normal for modern ads to lean on a car’s novelty than its longevity or for a dealer to advertise a can’t-miss finance opportunity to spark an impulse purchase. Volvo plays the long game here, and the best part is its anticipation of the token suburbanite husband’s Fear of the Joneses’ Judgement: “Your neighbors won’t notice its age any more than you will. Volvos aren’t given a new look every year. So you’re not stuck with an older look every year.”
Here’s the boxy build we know and love. Though, as previously noted, Volvos didn’t indulge in the frivolity of frequent facelifts, the Swedish product planners decided that over a decade of of 120-Series cars was sufficiently respectable. Enter the 140 line. Volvo also introduced one of the most logical nomenclature systems ever: The sturdy 1971 144 models in this ad were first-series, four-cylinder, four-door cars. They were kept company in showrooms by six cylinder sedans (164s), four-cylinder wagons (145s) , and four-pot coupes (142s).
For a brand synonymous with safety, this is an arresting image choice. Especially because Volvo didn’t crash this particular one in testing. Crash-test dummies had become a mandatory part of safety standards in 1973, the year before this ad appeared, so the safety of the very human driver of this vehicle is a powerful move by Volvo: “But we’re happy to report that the driver of this Volvo was able to go out and get another one.”
It’s currently fashionable to plug fuel efficiency’s benefit to the environment, but 1977’s Volvo understood the pragmatic nature of family finances. “How much power do you really need” is, to an enthusiast audience, a ridiculous angle. For cash-strapped parents, however, who truly needed something that worked cheaply and reliably, Volvo held up the 264 GL. (Second-series, six-cylinder, four-doors … yep, you see the pattern.) To those busy saving dollars to feed little humans, the cost of consumption was probably a highly relevant analogy.
If you peered into the fine print on the first ad, you’d read that the average life expectancy of a Volvo stood at 11 years in 1966. By 1980, this statistic was up to a grand ol’ 17.9 years—both relative to Volvos residing in Sweden, of course. Not all of American’s teenagers thrilled to the thought of inheriting their dad’s fifth Volvo, but we’re very happy for the Mozers that the arrangement turned out so harmoniously.
Investment purchases are fashionable at the moment—handcrafted leather shoes that will outlast any pair of Flynit Nikes—but it’s the rare consumer who commits to that philosophy wholeheartedly. Mr. Irv Gordon of Pachogue, New York, is one such shining example—and his 1966 P1800 proved the buy of a lifetime. Or, more specifically, 21 years, since that’s how long it took him to surpass the million-mile mark on this gorgeous P1800.
Flip through the gallery for more delightful vintage Volvo attitude.