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Pistons & Pivots

Merrill the 1960 Volvo PV544

Photos Deniz Merdano
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1960 Volvo PV544

Volvo's creative genius arrives in waves. My obsession with the Swedish started in the 90s when I first laid eyes on the 850 T5R in Cream Yellow. One of the fastest bricks on the road, it had ruler-perfect lines that were undeniably un-aerodynamic but I still fought the kid who told me so. Hey, we were in elementary school, and no elementary schooler should be talking about the aerodynamics of the BTCC cars.

In 2000, we bought a lame and horribly slow S40 and the upkeep on that abomination was the final nail in our Volvo coffin. We still loved what the company did, especially in the fast Coupe market in the 2010s and finally the V60 sled that was recently discontinued. The love for Volvo came in waves, just like their strokes of genius. So when our greasy-handed friend Saris( Sah-reese) Mercanti offered up the 1960 Volvo PV544 for the article. It was a no brainer.

pistons pivots volvo 544 saris ibis 6

There he is.. Merril the PV544

Hello Saris, please introduce yourself briefly, (where do you live, what do you do, and have done that is cool and exciting.)

I live in California, I ride bikes, have busted my knuckles while wrenching, and desperately want my pilot's license.

What is your car and motor history? Who got you stoked on Internal combustion engines?

When I was a little girl, I remember wanting to be at preschool early so I could play with the cool monster trucks. I had no interest in dolls, but I was obsessed with firetrucks. I've always been fascinated with mechanical things.

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The 60s styling is undeniably cute. From Morris Minors to MGs to Saabs to Volvos

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Sitting pretty amongst the perfect California Redwood backdrop

What is in the fleet at the moment?

With four wheels?

We have a long-travel 2nd Gen Tacoma with 35” tires, 4.88 gearing, Fox 2.5 resi’s, front and rear lockers, 4.0 V6, stick shift, and ‘glass fenders. We also have a unicorn 98’ 3rd Gen 4Runner with sleeper stock 32” tires, mid-travel suspension, rear locker, the 3.4 V6, and stick shift. And, of course, the car we’re discussing today - the 1960 PV544.

We just sold a 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo. Don’t worry, it stayed in the family! We're now looking for a replacement, preferably something more reliable than an aging German car. Suggestions welcome!

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This Volvo logo remained fairly unchanged for 4 decades.

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Absolutely perfect mudflaps

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There are disc brakes hiding behind those wheels

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and 85 hp under the bonnet!

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The PV544

Tell us how Merrill ended up in your driveway.

Merrill is my mother-in-law Linda’s dream car. I wasn’t sure why she was so enamoured with this particular model, so I called her. Linda said, “I don’t know why I’ve fallen in love with this car, but I love the look of it. I almost bought one back in the 1980s named Waldo. This car [Merrill] is special because we were both born in 1960, so we’re the same age”

Linda has been forwarding us PV544 ads for years. This particular car she found through a Craigslist post with zero photos—you know the type. It belonged to a gentleman named Merrill, who bought the car from his parents. They had purchased it brand new from a dealer in Oregon. Merrill forwarded her some photos of what appeared to be a rust-free car with pristine paint, a perfect interior, and a too-good-to-be-true price.

Merrill (the person, not the car) is now in his 80s and can no longer drive. He had parked the car under a cover and knew his kids weren’t as passionate about it as he was (sorry for ratting you out, Merrill!), so he wanted to sell his baby to a Volvo family.

My partner’s family fits the bill perfectly. His father still owns his first car, a 1972 Volvo 145. The odometer stopped working at some point, but it has over 400,000 miles on it (643,000 km).

Jim took his girlfriend, now wife, to prom in that Volvo 145. It’s the same car he brought his son home from the hospital in. For nearly twenty years, 145 was his daily driver, adventure wagon, family hauler, and sometimes truck. It would eventually become his son’s first car.

Wrapping this back around, Ryan bought the PV544 to restore for his mom. It showed up in my driveway on the back of a car trailer towed by the Brota. Turns out, when you rent a car trailer, you need to indicate the weight of the vehicle to ensure you can legally tow it. Naturally, the PV544 is so old, it wasn’t in the UHaul system. If they ask, it’s a weird-looking VW bug…Nothing to see here.

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When I asked Saris to turn the headlights on for the photo, the driver's side came on first in a leisurely fashion, and the passenger side lazily debuted a second after. Perfection!

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One of the first examples of laminated windshield glass

How often does she run and usually to where?

Merrill is actually a he…. And you’ll need to define “running,” because I’ve learned there’s a difference between “running” and “driving.” Since we purchased the car in 2022, Merrill has mostly been “running” on blocks in my carport.

Ryan would like to point out that over the past year, we’ve performed a disk brake conversion, completely revamped the drivetrain, fuel, and cooling systems, and had the gearbox rebuilt. The car is basically new again, which means it's almost ready for an epic mother-son road trip along the California coast to its new forever home. Let the record show, that he also claims this will be our last “ran when parked” project, but I don’t believe him.

When Merrill is driving, he’s wonderful for cruising backroads spiritedly. Compared to our previous ‘68 Bug, the PV is a class apart with a much nicer interior. It’s spacious and quiet, doesn’t feel like a complete death trap, and the suspension performs flawlessly - especially on rough roads.

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Candidate for favourite dash ever

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the PV544 typewriter logo gets me!

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plenty of gears for the twisty California Roads

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It's no coincidence that the door handle and the window crank line up

Unless your only frame of reference was a Prius, you’d be hard-pressed to call it fast…but with a 1.6 liter 4 cylinder that produced 80hp when new and a 2,200 curb weight, it goes pretty good for a 64-year-old.

The PV series was unveiled in 1944, long before the US Federal Highway System was built. Cars from the pre-highway era, like the PV, weren't designed for freeway use. In other words, this car doesn’t like being revved up over 55 mph, but it will do 65 with the stock 4.55 rear diff gearing.

The four-link rear suspension, more commonly found on trophy trucks, makes it perfectly suited for cruising along Swedish farm roads or winning rally races. So, it’s perfect for our crappy mountain roads.

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The vitals

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third type of logo on this car

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Sliders

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The beginnings of a safety revolution. This version may be cumbersome but it paved the road for today's seatbelts

What are some cool details about Merrill?

Fun fact - did you know you run MTB tire pressures in a PV? The factory recommends 21 PSI front, 24 PSI Rear.

The original PV was called the 444 because it was a 4-seater, 4-cylinder car with 40 horsepower. The updated PV544 was essentially the same car with seating for 5 and about double the horsepower. So, the later nomenclature makes as much sense as BMWs does today.

Developed during the war, the PV was intended to be a practical and affordable car to help Sweden in the post-war recovery period. It was the first Volvo sold in America and Volvo debuted the first ever European delivery program with this model.

Other European marques, like BMW and Mercedes, would follow suit. For those that don’t daydream of custom ordering a Porsche, these programs allow American customers to pick up vehicles directly from the European factory, take them on a vacation, and then save on taxes when shipping them home.

But the main thing to remember about PV cars is that they were pioneers in safety. They were the first cars to feature a laminated windshield. Laminated windshields consist of two layers of glass with a layer of plastic resin in between. In a crash, this keep the glass together, preventing shards from flying everywhere. It also improves impact resistance, so the windshield is less likely to crack from a rock strike.

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Twin SU carbs are hilarious and awesome at the same time. you have to balance them and top them up with damper fluid periodically

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Saris and Ryan also have the original Factory Service Manual

The PV544 is known for being the first car to come standard with 3-point seatbelts. Volvo invented this technology in 1959 and believed it was so important, they made the patent free to use. The seatbelt is credited with saving at least a million lives. The version in Merrill is miserable to use. The belt is difficult to adjust, not stretchy, it doesn’t self-retract, and the clip looks like something a hipster messenger company might spec.

One of my favourite features is the unique “thermometer” style speedometer, where a red strip moves outward as speed increases. Did I mention the car averages 25 mpg (10.6 km/l), which was twice as efficient as most American cars of the era?

So, um, Merrill is all those things, plus he’s got a bitchin front disc conversion. The original PVs had hydraulic assist drum brakes, but the later Amazon 122s featured discs. The “disc conversion kit” we purchased should have come with a “warning: fabrication required,” but it’s on there now! We had to add a brake proportioning valve to keep the rears from locking up before the fronts, but it’s solid now. In the process, Ryan also added a hydraulic brake reservoir, since the car didn’t originally have one.

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Love a front-hinged trunk

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secure enough

What's your bike background?

Is that your way of asking if I have a BMX background?

*Kind of but not really. It's like asking for your licence and registration for the bike, cause, you obviously can ride the shit out of it!

What bike are you most hyped on at the moment?

Due to a recent spinal cord injury, I have reduced mobility and power in my left leg. The Ibis Oso has helped me get back out there. Mine is built to be extra moto, with a 190mm dual crown fork, a 170mm coil shock, a number plate, hand guards, and fenders.

Before my injury, the Ripmo was my ride-or-die. I know it’s not trendy, but I prefer mechanical drivetrains because the shifting action is faster and you can click through more gears. Also, no batteries to fret over, which is nice.

The only custom bits on my bike are the We Are One The Package bars (because they look so freaking cool), an O-Chain, and I subbed in XTR brakes. I can’t be the only one who prefers Shimano brakes and SRAM drivetrains.

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The extent of computing power on this 60s machine..

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Hey we sent people to the Moon with this technology

Is there a project vehicle on the horizon?

Every car is a project car.

Desert or the Mountains?

Why not both?

What do you have in mind for me to drive back from Sea Otter next year?

A Buick Roadmaster. It has a Corvette engine, classy wood paneling, and extra cushy suspension—perfect for navigating our pothole-ridden American highways

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The Ripmo is the perfect twisty singletrack driver, much like Merrill

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Saris usually opts for the OSO E-bike since her injury, but the Ripmo in this California Green was too pretty not to pair up

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O-Chain is making it's rounds in the bike industry

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While I appreciate the original metal Ibis Badge, I like this design better. Maybe this in metal then?

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Scan the flea markets for some tunes in the Merrill

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Saris, and her crew

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Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you Merrill

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Don't mind the highbeams in that mirror, they can go around

denomerdano
Deniz Merdano

5'8"

162lbs

Playful, lively riding style

Photographer and Story Teller

Lenticular Aesthetician

www.blackbirdworks.ca

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Comments

Znarf
+4 Fat_Tony_NJ bishopsmike Raymond Epstein Timer

Wonderful car and wonderful bike! And I also liked the old Ibis logo much better.

Reply

UMichael
+3 bishopsmike Christian Strachan Pete Roggeman

Oh, superb, another Volvo for me to be obsessed with.

That dashboard is one of the best I've ever seen. Great pictures, I'm a big fan of this series.

Reply

denomerdano
0

Could not agree more!

Reply

Jason@Abbey
+3 Mike Ferrentino BarryW Timer

Long live the Prancing Moose! 

I've got some respectable modern cars but I'll be damned if driving around the dirt roads of Oregon in our 1988 lifted 240 doesn't bring a massive smile every time.

Reply

craw
+2 DanL Velocipedestrian

Die-hard Shimano mechanical drivetrain fan checking in.

Reply

denomerdano
+1 Jotegir

Love the Shimano cassette and chain commandeered by the AXS derailleur.. best of both worlds

Reply

craw
0

The rear derailleur looks cabled?

Reply

denomerdano
0

I was bragging about my own setup, not Saris's bike.

Reply

rigidjunkie
+1 BarryW

Ooooo the running vs. driving comment is perfect.  My project moved under its own power for about 2 miles this week... then it decided to spit a ton of green venom I mean coolant out :(  This was its first move under its own power in 4 years so major excitement followed by more disappointment.  

I have also always loved the speedometers in the thermometer style.

Reply

denomerdano
0

My 77 Delta 88 ran out of numbers at 120.. loved burying the needle on that one.

Reply

rigidjunkie
0

I got pulled over in college for going 90 in a 65.  I argued with the cop because the Ford Taurus I was driving had an 85 MPH speedometer and there was no way the needle was pegged.   He ended up not giving me a ticket because after saying "I have to give you a ticket." I replied with "Ohhh F we forgot the tickets!" We were going to a baseball game and I left our tickets at home.  The cop thought it was so funny that he let me go.

Reply

heckler
0

You have engine coolant?  Fancy!  Mine’s aircooled.

Reply

tmoore
+1 Deniz Merdano

This brings back good memories.  In 1972 I had a red 1961 544, coolest car I've owned. Check out the throw on the stick shift.

Reply

denomerdano
0

So cool! I'd love to see this in red! Post some photos if you can

Reply

tmoore
+1 Deniz Merdano

Found a photo of my brother's red 60s something Triumph Spitfire but none of the Volvo.  I'm with you on the Austin Healey 3000s!

Reply

bishopsmike
+1 BarryW

Awesome car, awesome album.  But those headlights make me happy for modern standards.

Reply

denomerdano
+4 bishopsmike tmoore PowellRiviera taprider

Except for when I am blinded by led projectors on Teslas on the road. Those things can die

Reply

XXX_er
+1 Deniz Merdano

A buddy in HS had one of those with an 1800 with a shaved head dual webers motorcycle muffler they had road raced it until they couldn't compete with the guys who trailere their cars to races so  then they just stoplight raced TR6's and 240Z

Reply

denomerdano
+1 tmoore

I may have a TR6 or a Healey 3000 in my "it's ok to die now" years

Reply

cooperquinn
+1 Pete Roggeman

That's it, folks. Pistons & Pivots is done; there's no way to top this.

Reply

denomerdano
0

Challenge accepted

Reply

earleb
+2 BarryW Sven Luebke

The bikes not even attached to the car in any way? Nice car, but now way this closes it out.

Reply

BarryW
0

As good as the car is, this did get me a little. Lol.

Reply

taprider
+1 justwan naride

I thought that after last years BMW pick up

Reply

skooks
+1 NealWood

Awesome article Deniz!  I had two different PV544's way back in the day. One of them never ran and the other (my daily driver) had holes so big you could see the road below your feet. Exciting when driving through puddles!

Reply

dubxion
+1 PowellRiviera

I'm just waiting for pops to relenquish his '63 122 Amazon Wagon to his son, ahem, who is pretty sure he could figure out tuning dual carbs with a little practice.

Reply

Fat_Tony_NJ
0

Cool car, cool bike, but I'm glad I go my Ibis before they adopted the new logo. The new one makes it look like the bike is made by Singapore Airlines.

Reply

ackshunW
0

Awesome car and bike check! YES those yellow T5 wagons!!!!!! I had to settle for sometimes being allowed to drive the family 1991 940 turbo wagon, the turbo boost had its own gauge on the dash. Loved it.

Reply

denomerdano
+1 ackshunW

Lucky to drive a 940 turbo. Those things are fast!

Reply

BarryW
+2 ackshunW Deniz Merdano

I had one of those T5R's in yellow on my teenage bedroom wall. 

Never owned that one specifically, but I used to have a 98 T5 wagon and I loved that car. Especially as it kept 4 of us safe getting rear ended by a Ford Expedition at 65mph...

Now I rock a Ford Flex with the Ecoboost and get my turbo fix that way. 

Good article Deniz.

Reply

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