"Ok, so Volvo’s P1800 was a cool car. But, by the end of the decade that gave it birth, it’s was looking outdated. It was cramped, a little slow, and couldn’t keep pace with its rivals in "
Eleven Ice-Cold Scandinavian Cars…
Top 11 Scandinavian cars
Where do you start with the Zenvo ST1? With the fact this it is Denmark’s first and only supercar? With its extreme, angular, ground-breaking looks? With its equally extreme power and torque figures, both of which are in four figures? With the fact that its top speed has to be electronically limited to 233mph, at which speed it will cross its home country in just 18 minutes? Whichever way you look at it, the ST1 is a staggering new sportscar from a brand – and indeed a country – with no automotive heritage. Zenvo’s Nordic logo incorporates a shield with the name at the top and a stylized drawing of Thor’s hammer, intended to represent “massive cars with plenty of strength”. Just 15 units are scheduled for production.
Although its HQ is officially in LA, we think the Fisker Karma deserves inclusion here. The firm’s founder and chief designer Henrik Fisker is Danish; previous credits include most of the current Aston Martin range, so he has form. His radical, gorgeous £80,000, 400bhp plug-in hybrid Karma will be built by Valmet in Finland; it can cover 50 miles on emissions-free electric power and give an average of 100mpg.
A relatively rare example of a Swedish car company producing an iconic car while under foreign ownership. On its launch in 2003 the XC90 was so popular that there were waiting lists a year long in the UK – and this for a Volvo, remember, not some new Ferrari. Early versions had a lethargic diesel engine-gearbox combination but apart from this, the firm’s first SUV was pretty much flawless in concept and execution. The seven-seat cabin layout is its strongest suit, with a usable third row that folds fully flat, a genius integrated child-seat that slides forward to within reaching distance of the fronts, and a front cabin almost without equal for comfort and ergonomics.
Sweden makes dull, safe, dependable cars. Italy does the outrageous supercars with unpronounceable names, right? Not entirely. In 1994 Sweden added a third automaker to Volvo and Saab, and it makes rather different cars. In 2005, a Koenigsegg CCR broke the McLaren F1’s long-standing record as the world’s fastest production car at a test at the Nardo high speed circuit deep in southern Italy; home territory for its exotic rivals. Two other cars have since bested it, but Sweden’s only sports car maker had finally arrived. Founder Christian von Koenigsegg founded his firm at the age of 22. Owning a supercar by that age would be impressive; starting your own supercar maker and creating a new model that bears your name seems barely credible. He sketched the original design and two years later he had a prototype. His first client took delivery of his car at the Geneva Auto Show in 2002. Top Gear famously binned one at its test track and criticized the aero package, but your correspondent did 214mph in one and found it pretty composed.
Eh? What’s more German than a Porsche? But since 1997, over 220,000 Boxsters and Caymans have been built for Porsche by Finnish coachbuilder Valmet at its near-unpronounceable factory in Uusikaupunki, Finland. It is the only company or factory licenced to build Porsches outside Germany, and a sign of real confidence from a company obsessed with build quality. Other than a letter on the VIN plate, you just can’t tell the difference between a Finnish and a German-made Boxster or Cayman.
Volvo Venus Bilo
The first concept car is generally thought to be the sensational Buick Y-job of 1938, created by Harley Earl, head of General Motor’s famous ‘Art and Colour’ section. But Volvo would disagree with that claim. In 1933 it built the one-off Venus Bilo, intended, like the Y-job, to test public reaction to futuristic, streamlined styling. The production car it spawned, the radical-looking 1935 PV36 wasn’t a great success, but it didn’t put Volvo off making mad concepts.
If space constraints mean we could only include one ‘standard’ Saab, I guess it would have to be the 900 Classic, though plenty of Saab anoraks will argue. But this car lasted 15 years and united all the attributes that we now think make a Saab a Saab, from the wraparound, helmet-visor screen to turbocharged engines. There was a lot that was odd about it, like the combination of front-wheel drive and longitudinal engine that was so space-inefficient you could fit a couple of suitcases in lengthwise between the motor and the wings. But much was brilliant too, like comfort, space, ride, torque, quality and reliability. 900 Classics are rightly going up in value.
Oh, okay, one more Saab. You can’t really leave out the 96, which although it didn’t sell in such big numbers as the 900 has a madder and more distinctive and recognizable shape, and which opened up Saab’s most important export markets in its 20-year production run. Erik Carlsson’s three RAC and two Monte Carlo rally victories in the early sixties in the 96 had the same effect on Saab’s image and acceptance as Mini’s exploits in the Monte.
If the 900 is the definitive Saab, then the 240 is definitely the definitive Volvo, with almost 3 million made over nearly 20 years from 1973. Unlike the Saab, its super-square looks owe nothing to aerodynamics but everything to Volvo’s seminal early ‘70s Experimental Safety Car concept. It unquestionably saved lives, but the hearse-like styling looked like it was better suited to carrying those already deceased. But if Sweden had a national car, this would be it. British designer Peter Horbury, asked to style the later Volvo V70 estate, said it was ‘like being handed the Swedish crown jewels’.
Proof that the Swedes can do cool as well as cold when they try. The P1800 was designed by a Swede working for Italian styling house Frua, and its launch at the ’61 Geneva motor show was overshadowed by Jaguar’s lissome E-Type with its claimed 150mph top speed. But the P1800 won the public’s attention back by providing Simon Templar’s wheels in the original run of The Saint, making it one of the iconic shapes of the sixties.
Nineteen years of developing electric cars, including a flirtation with Ford which cost the bigger firm $150m might finally be about to pay off. Think is putting its 60mph electric city car with a 100-mile range on sale in its native Norway, Austria and Switzerland, is eying other markets and planning to start production in the US too. Buyers are desperate for usable electric cars, governments are keen to encourage them, and the falling cost of batteries will soon make them more affordable; expect Think to capitalize.
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