Many historians mistakenly call the 1938 Buick Y-Job the world’s first concept car. In reality, the honor goes to the Volvo Venus Bilo, a highly aerodynamic family sedan that was presented to the public five years before the Y-Job.
In the early 1930s, young Volvo wanted to test the public’s reaction to an aerodynamic car but it was reluctant to associate its name with the prototype in case it was poorly received. As a result, the project was handed to Gustaf L-M Ericsson, a well-known engineer who was part of the Royal Swedish Automobile Club. Ericsson was perceived as the perfect man for the job because he had been toying around with the idea of an aerodynamic car for over a year.
Swedish coachbuilder Nordbergs Karosserifabrik was tasked with building the prototype. The firm started with a bare PV655 chassis and moved the straight-six engine forward in order to accommodate a vast storage compartment right beneath the windshield. The left side of it was used to haul luggage while the right side was designed to carry a spare tire, a jack, tools and a fuel can. The Venus Bilo’s body panels were designed to be cheap to manufacture and easy to replace. To reduce dust, a big problem on period Swedish dirt roads, the car’s underbody was entirely smooth save for a set of small slots designed to release the heat generated by the engine.
Visually, the car featured a full-width body, headlights that were largely integrated into the bodywork — a shocking styling cue at the time –, a tall and heavily-curved grille, and a front bumper that curved upwards. The back end was upright and rounded, and the rear bumper was replaced by a second spare tire that stuck out from a horizontal slot. There was no trunk lid, but the passengers benefited from a second storage compartment behind the rear seats.
The Venus Bilo made its first public appearance in November of 1933 at an event held at Ericsson’s luxurious mansion on an island located outside of Stockholm, Sweden, called Lidingö. While many guests were impressed with the car and liked the idea of an aerodynamic body, the public generally thought the Venus Bilo was hideous and Volvo quickly stopped the project in its tracks.
Following its debut at Ericsson’s house, the Venus Bilo was displayed in the showrooms of major Volvo dealers in Sweden and, later, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon returning to Sweden it was briefly driven by Ericsson himself before going through a series of different owners over the course of the 1930s. Its precise path is not known, but the car ended up in the hands of a scrapyard owner in the Danish countryside who converted it into a pickup truck and used it as a work vehicle. It was last seen in the middle of the 1950s and it is believed to have been destroyed shortly after.
Designer Ivan Örnberg integrated some of the Venus Bilo’s aerodynamic styling cues — including the flush headlights — into the PV36 Carioca that was launched across Sweden in 1935. The 36 was an even middle ground between the aging 650-Series and the futuristic Bilo, but it was not particularly successful because its design was still too striking so production ended just three years later. It was replaced by the PV51, which reverted back to a more classic style that featured headlamps that popped up from the front fenders.
Photos and all information cited in this article were kindly provided by Volvo’s archives department.