Behind the wheel of Volvo’s mid-engined success

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BUS 653K, the pioneering Volvo B58 chassis in the UK, and originally fitted with an Alexander Y body for demonstration purposes. VOLVO PRESS IMAGE

As Volvo celebrates its centenary, Richard Sharman takes a look back at some of the most versatile products built on the Swedish manufacturer’s mid-engined chassis

If you grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s, or even the early 2000s, and someone were to ask you what was the most iconic chassis and mid-engine combination of that era, then unless you’re a lightweight chassis fan, your answer would most probably be the Volvo B10M.

If you didn’t grow up during this 10-litre engine era, then you might be wondering what all the fuss is about! Well imagine a chassis and engine that can be used in everything from a midi-coach to a double-deck coach and pretty much every type of service bus in between.

Where it all began

Volvo has been selling passenger carrying vehicles (PCVs) in the UK since 1971; prior to that the marque had only been seen on heavy goods vehicles as tractor units, and this was all thanks to Jim Keyden and Jim McKelvie who had started importing them in 1967 under the Ailsa Truck brand, the PCVs coming later under the Ailsa Bus brand. Hence the front-engined Volvo B55 double-decker service bus being known as an Ailsa, with the first of those being registered in March 1974.

However, prior to B55 the first sign of a mid-engined coach from the Swedish manufacture was announced as the B58, with Volvo coining it as a luxury coach/ dual purpose express bus chassis.

On 6 June 1972 – after some months in storage – Volvo registered the very first B58-56 in the UK as BUS 653K. This initial demonstration vehicle was bodied by Alexander with a Y-type body and built to Scottish Bus Group (SBG) specification. It was fitted with a K19 five-speed gearbox (more on this later) with an interior built to dual purpose specification with 49 seats.


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