Front and rear impact-absorbing bumpers, 4 wheel anti-lock disc brakes, automatically retracting safety belts, centrally located fuel tank, and even a rear facing camera that projected the car’s surroundings to a large screen placed in the middle of the dashboard and even gave the driver proximity warnings when they were in reverse. That sounds like a pretty modern car, but the car I’m describing was built in 1972. Meet the Volvo VESC, a Volvo-built Experimental Safety Car (get it?) meant to showcase the kind of ultra-safe cars that could be built using the best of the day’s technology and a “money is no object” mindset.
1972 Volvo VESC Safety Car Innovations
As you can see from the diagram, above, the VESC made use of high-strength steel beams in this prototype side impact protection system (which wouldn’t be required in the US until 1997- a full twenty-five years later). It also made us of pop-up headrests- which predicted a similar system that would appear again in the late 90s on BMW cabriolets.
In Volvo’s own words, “The VESC also served as mobile test-benches for other technical solutions such as a modified front suspension system. What is more, the four-cylinder fuel-injected B20 engine was further developed to meet the 1974 US exhaust emission requirements. With what is today known as EGR (Exhaust Gas Re-circulation) and a catalytic reactor, the VESC concept can be regarded as a forerunner of Volvo’s subsequent catalytic converter with Lambda sensor, which was a sensational innovation at its introduction in 1976.”
The VESC concept also laid out a course for Volvo’s design into the late 70s and early 80s, with many of its innovations eventually showing up first in the iconic Volvo 200 series that was produced from 1974-1993. Still, the VESC is very much its own thing, and I invite you to check out the photos, at top, and watch the (subtitled) video, below, to get a sense of just how much of the present day (future?) that Volvo predicted nearly fifty years ago!
1972 Volvo VESC Safety Car Concept | Video