When Volvo first showed the new Volvo 144 in August 1966, the car was sensational. It featured clean angular lines, designed by Jan Wilsgaard, and contained new safety technology. A future million seller had just seen the light of day.
With the PV discontinued after 21 years of production, and an Amazon now in its 10th year, Volvo needed a new model in the larger format. The 120 Amazon had shown that this type of car was a hit for Volvo. On August 17, after years of hard work in design studios, development laboratories and test facilities, it was time to reveal the new car.
Volvo's CEO at the time, Gunnar Engellau, put it like this: "This is really a great day for us here at Volvo and it means that we will now start the production of a new car, the biggest passenger car business venture so far in the history of Volvo. The costs for getting the car under way have been 150 million Swedish kroner. Add to that the investments in the production facilities."
That these words were said 40 years ago is best illustrated by the size of the investments. Those SEK150 million would not even pay to develop new tail lights today.
Engellau also stressed that the 144 was to continue in the same direction as its predecessors, with an emphasis on safety, quality and economy. Just as Volvo had been first with standard-fitted three-point safety belts, the new 144 was the first car to feature a dual-circuit brake system.
The Volvo 144 proved that function and elegance could be combined. Wilsgaard's motto was "simple is beautiful". The straight body sides provided a spacious interior. Large glass areas enhanced this impression, as well as giving an all round view.
Large parts of the body, such as doors, wheel arches and the glass and roof, was carried over to the 240 series. With small modifications, the design was to be kept through to 1993. And the design still holds well.
The interior followed the exterior's simple lines, with uncluttered surfaces, safety padding and a recessed steering-wheel centre.
The new Volvo 144 may have been conventionally designed with front engine and rear-wheel drive, 85 hp four-cylinder B18 engine (115 hp with twin carburettors), the same gearbox as the Amazon and a well-functioning yet simple suspension, but underneath its shell, the new car featured technically advanced solutions.
Body and chassis had been designed with safety in mind. There was a safety cage around the passengers and crumple zones front and rear. The steering-column was split and collapsible in the event of a crash. Four-wheel disc brakes brought the car to a standstill.
The most revolutionary solution was no doubt the design of the brake system; two triangularly-split separate circuits, ie three wheels (approximately 85 per cent of the force available) were always engaged in braking even if one circuit failed.
There were also twin pressure-relief valves to prevent the wheels from locking under heavy braking. This was a first on the market.
As was the case with the Amazon, the 144 (internally designated the P1400) was initially available only in a four-door version, but during 1967 a two-door version, the 142, was added.
The year after, an estate version, the 145, was also introduced. The 140 series were the first Volvos to use the new three-digit designation system. The first digit was for the series, the second stood for the number of cylinders in the engine and the third indicated the number of doors.
One newspaper wrote about "the safest car ever built", another about "a car of the highest international class". Swedish bi-weekly magazine Teknikens Varld named the 144 Sweden's Car of the Year for 1966, and the Swedish equivalent of the Automobile Association awarded the car its gold medal for "from a traffic safety standpoint the most important innovation in any standard car on the Swedish market in 1966".
The 144 illustrated Volvo's ambition to lead automotive safety technology development.
Like the previous PV and Amazon models, the 140 series also became a long-runner in production, continuously improved with models being added. The B18 engines were replaced by the B20 2 litre engine which in its most powerful version, in the sporty 142 GT, produced no less than 140 bhp.
The 140 series cars could also be had as specially built taxis or as a delivery van with a raised roof called the 145 Express.
Pioneering work introduced front seat head restraints, inertia reel belts and safety belt reminder. Big energy-absorbing bumpers became the 240 series' "trade mark".
1974 also marked the last season of the 140 series. Reworked and modified, it emerged as the 240 series in the summer of 1974 as the new 1975 Volvo, although much of it still looked like the 140.
Along with the 140, the simple pushrod iron engines disappeared and so did the 2600 mm wheelbase which had been carrying Volvo car axles since the introduction of the PV 444 in 1944. And Volvo's first model had sold more than one million cars. Between 1966 and 1974, 1,251,371 cars of the 142, 144 and 145 models were made.