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1948 Volvo PV61 Hearse – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Is it a bit morbid to select a hearse for this week’s Project Profile? Possibly, yes, but an old hearse has just as much right to be called a classic as any other old car, so why should we ignore such a vehicle? While its role in life may have been on the darker end of the spectrum, there is no denying that the hearse is an important part of, well, life. They offer solemn dignity and a strong, stoic presence. They offer a means to carefully and considerately take our loved ones to their resting place. The hearse, really, should be applauded, but instead we speak of them in hushed tones and dismiss them as being bona fide classics. And that’s a bit mean. 

If you look at a hearse on paper, it actually makes for a brilliant classic car. There’s the fact you’ve got a LOT of space in the back for… things. Then there is the other stuff. Hearses generally have low mileage, and the miles that are on the clock are usually earned via years of calm, sedate driving. Then there is the fit and finish. You don’t want to leave this earth in poverty, do you? Hence hearses are full of wood and leather, electric everything and all manner of toys. A hearse is a very well appointed car indeed. And they’re hand-built to an incredibly high standard, which again is great for us.

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So yes, the life of a hearse may be a tad morbid, but that doesn’t mean the vehicle itself should be left to die after its working life. We restore vans, police cars, fire engines, ice cream vans, ambulances, the list goes on. Why should the hearse be any different? 

What is it? 

What you’re looking at here is a 1948 Volvo PV61 hearse. The PV61 was Volvo’s first offering after the end of the Second World War. Development of the car had actually started back in 1939, but the war delayed things and the project was shelved until a later date. 

Volvo positioned the car against the smaller Volvo PV444 as a large, luxury sedan. And large it was, with a length of nearly five metres and a curb weight of 1,600kpg – hefty for the time. It was powered by a mammoth 3,670cc straight-six engine mated to a three-speed manual with optional overdrive. All told, it packed 90bhp, which was a lot for the 1940s. 

Interestingly, the PV444 proved to be a far more appealing prospect for post-war car buyers. As such, the big PV60 (on which the PV61 was based) didn’t perform perhaps as well as Volvo would have hoped. It may have been down to the dated American styling, or perhaps it was simply too big for many. Either way, it was good for Volvo to get the car out into the public, but it really was just a placeholder until something more contemporary could be made.

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The PV61 was the rolling chassis version of the PV60, which Volvo sold to coachbuilders and the like, to the tune of 500 units. Most became trucks or vans thanks to their heavy duty foundations, while a select few went the way of the afterlife. The conversion to hearse makes this an exceptionally rare car. The vendor is actually of the belief that this is one of five or six that possibly still remain. 

Why is it a project? 

In a nutshell, because everything needs doing. The vendor, who is based in Sweden, says the hearse was “last in traffic in 1967” so you can bet your bottom dollar that every nut, bolt, screw, pipe and fixing will need some kind of attention. This is, make no bones about it, a full on, nut and bolt restoration in the making. 

The engine no longer turns, but the vendor states that the car comes with a spare engine block. It does roll though, which is something. Other than that, it looks like everything needs attention. The screen is smashed and missing on one half, as is a headlight. There looks to be some heavy corrosion at the rear, especially on the outer panels. The interior, um, space is flaking and cracking and the glass on the dash has been smashed.

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It’s all very, very tired. But then, so would any car be had it been holed up in a barn since 1967. Crucially, it looks to be largely all there, which is the main thing with a car so unique. The headlight and screen being smashed is problematic, but the headlight should be a standard size and the screen looks to be flat, so a good glazier should be able to make something up. 

Five things to look for: 

1) Everything

We can’t really give you five individual things on this car, as you need to look at everything. You need to see underneath it, you need to check that you have a complete engine between the two that come with it, you need to check the paperwork if you’re going to import it to the UK. You need to spend a good while going over every detail on this car. 

Does something look like it needs to be replaced rather than repaired? If so, that’s going to mean bespoke fabrication. Engine and mechanical parts should be out there, but forget getting any body panels. They will have to be fabricated from scratch. Make no mistake, this is a big, big job.

What should you do with it?

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If it were our car, we would restore it back to original condition. And by original, we mean everything, get the old machine back to being funeral ready. That’s what it was built for and it’s how it should be recognised. If you want to build a camper out of an old hearse, there are plenty of cheaper, more commonplace options out there. No, this old Volvo should go back to standard specification.

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