Volvo Venus Bilo: The First Concept Car
Most enthusiasts view Harley Earl’s 1938 Buick Y-Job as the first concept car. While that really launched companies officially using a futuristic design to gauge public reaction, Volvo beat General Motors to this idea by five years. The 1933 Venus Bilo was Volvo’s timid attempt at streamlined styling. The Swedish company was not sure how the public would react to a closed sedan with no fender lines or running boards. So they asked Gustaf Ericsson to design a car and gave him full credit. Instead of being a Volvo, it was given the name Venus Bilo (a word play on the Venus de Milo.) RELATED: See More of the 1933 Volvo Venus Bilo
The Volvo in disguise was based on their 655 chassis. At over sixteen feet in length, Ericsson’s blue and yellow car could carry six passengers and nine specially designed suitcases with ease. The Bilo’s streamlined body and completely sealed underside were intended to create improved fuel mileage and prevent the creation of swirling road dust. Another multi-functional piece was the spare tire mounted horizontally in the rear with a small portion protruding to act as a bumper.
While Volvo had to initially distance itself from the Bilo, it has since become a useful tool in the company’s timeline. When they introduced the PV36 “Carioca” in 1935, it looked an awful lot like the Chrysler Airflow that premiered the previous year. By adopting the Venus Bilo into the family, Volvo could show that they had been in the streamlining game for a year before Chrysler’s infamous folly.
Aside from being presented as a defense argument, the Bilo went unloved during its youth. Just like the Airflow, the Hupmobile Aerodynamic, and the Carioca, it would be decades before this car’s design contribution was truly appreciated. But by then it was too late. By Volvo’s own admission, the Bilo completely disappeared in the 1950s.
For many of us, the internet and the allure of lost vehicles has turned weekend downtime (and slow workdays) into our own version of cold case cops. There’s a glimpse of YouTube footage that has the car spotted in 1949 leaving a ferry from Denmark. The owner has been promising for a while now to show the full Bilo clip, so hopefully enough people looking at it will get him to actually share the footage.
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This is the last known shot of the world’s first concept car. Rumor has it that the ‘50s were not good to this custom build. While in Denmark, the Bilo is believed to be converted into a pickup truck and used as a work vehicle until being scrapped.
The common belief is that the Bilo is gone forever. Still, the enthusiast heart in all of us always has hope. It's a longshot, but for those who can search the junkyards and straw fields of Scandinavia, the ultimate barn find is perhaps waiting to be discovered. Because just like the Venus de Milo, even with a few parts missing, the beauty of the Bilo’s sculpture remains.
Words: Myles Kornblatt