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World of Volvo Is a Swedish Shrine to Safety and Design

Swedish car fans will have a new pilgrimage to make starting April 14th.

byMaddox Kay|
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On April 14, 1927, Swedish entrepreneurs Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson produced the first example of their first car, the Volvo ÖV4. The open-topped car rolled off the assembly line, an engineer put it in first gear, and… the car rolled backward.

The official explanation was that someone had installed the rear differential the wrong way; the unofficial one: a young, ambitious company, perhaps moving a little too fast. Though Volvo got off to an inauspicious start, by the company's third year it was already turning a profit, and since then has established a reputation for durability, design, and most of all, innovation in safety.

Now, Volvo is celebrating its 97th birthday with the opening of what it calls "World of Volvo" in the company’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. I was invited to visit this joint venture between Volvo Cars and Volvo Group—those are the guys who build the semi-trucks, diggers, and other fun stuff. It’s a part corporate museum, part pine-filled event space that the company calls a “brand experience center.” Think BMW Welt, but with mass timber and more natural light.

For those of us who geek out on cars and engineering, the most interesting part of it all is the exhibition, which starts out with an interactive portion before walking through Volvo’s history. In the interactive hall, you can simulate distracted and drowsy driving, dock a virtual reality boat (remember, Volvo makes more than just cars), and walk through some of Volvo’s inventions, from three-point seatbelts to the lambda, or oxygen, sensor.

But I was there for the cars. There are roughly 50 of them, spanning Volvo’s archives from that very first ÖV4 design to the present day. Some of the most significant include Irv Gordon’s three-million-mile P1800, the Environmental Concept Car that previewed the P2 S80’s design with a wild turbine-hybrid powertrain back in 1992, and the Iron Maven, a PV544 that a team of female engineers painstakingly swapped the drivetrain and interior from a modern S60 T8 into.

Then, there are things you’ve never heard of—an electric concept from the ‘80s designed to carry urban mail, the King of Sweden’s car that he uses once a year in a vintage rally, and the 1972 Volvo Safety Concept that featured a reverse camera in the form of a giant lens where the license plate would go, hooked up to a Mitsubishi display in the dash. Yes, back when car companies were just getting around to implementing three-point belts, Volvo showcased impact bumpers, a frontal airbag, and a working rearview camera—albeit a very analog one—in a concept vehicle.

The exhibit isn’t huge, but each car represents a chapter or footnote in the company’s story and tells part of a compelling story in a way that’s equally accessible to serious enthusiasts and those casually interested. The 50 cars here represent a small fraction of the classics Volvo owns, and the company promises to rotate them with themed exhibitions.

Given the enormous investment, World of Volvo isn’t just for car geeks. The five-story structure includes an airy conference center, an events hall, and even a restaurant by award-winning chef Stefan Karlsson. (I’m pretty sure this is the only car museum that can add “Michelin-star chef” to its resume.)

Notably, it’s also where U.S. customers who opt for Volvo’s popular European delivery program will come to receive their cars, enjoy a meal, and perhaps explore the company’s history before setting off on the European road trip of a lifetime. For that purpose, it’s the perfect venue.

World of Volvo opens to the public on Sunday, April 14. If you find yourself near Gothenburg, it’s definitely worth a visit. Until then, enjoy some more photographs.

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