A Journey that started with a 'Click'

By Dan Johnston

On July 14, 2010, our simple life saving device, the three-point seat belt, will forever be a part of American history. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History will officially accept Volvo's three-point seat belt into their collection. On that day, with a press event for media, business, government and Smithsonian officials, a little bit of Volvo will forever be a part of Washington, DC.

About 18 months ago we called the Smithsonian to ask if they were interested in acquiring our three-point seat belt for  their collection. After all, 2009 would mark the 50th anniversary of this invention. Calling them was kind of like rolling dice and hoping you connect all the dots in one easy phone call.  I should know that by now, nothing is ever easy..  As luck would have it, the Museum was working on a collection of automotive safety "firsts" and our seatbelt would be a key acquisition for the collection.  However, first we had to document and they had to verify that we were first. Then we had to prove it was fitted as described, and that it was standard in our cars. What we finally agreed upon was that after 1961 all our cars were fitted with that seat belt.

Originally we were just going to give them a seat belt but since the process took so long, we finally had a belt mounted to a mock-up PV 544 driver side seat with floor pan, seat attachments and 'B' pillar for auto shows. We couldn't authenticate the seat or belt came from a 1961, which is what the Smithsonian needed, so we bought a '61, took out the original equipment and mounted it on a display stand. The Smithsonian then back-tracked the original car to its previous owner, authenticated that it rolled out of the factory with standard-fitted three-point belts, and I thought we were good to go.  I felt like I was watching CSI, they were so thorough in their background searching. Thanks to a long time friend and Volvo restorer, Alan Prosser (www.alanauto.com)  tracked down what we needed, got it packed and sent down to our Rockleigh headquarters. It turned out that finding a good, original seat that's 50-years old was a tougher task than I could have ever imagined.

For over a year, our display sat, packed, ready to ship, on our loading dock, right next to our trash compactor.  Yeah, can you feel the fear I had, almost daily, that someone would consider it trash and we'd be back to first base. I thank the Swedish Viking gods for protecting it from our compactor.

Finally late last month we got the call to ship. The display was repacked, shrink wrapped and sent on its way with kisses from all of us.  

I doubt that Nils Bolin would have ever thought his invention would save more than 1 million people's lives and that it would become standard  in all cars, mandated by law in 1972. Through the years, Nils has received many awards and accolades, but I think this one simple donation would stand out as his crowning achievement, aside from personal thanks from people whose lives were saved by his invention.

Today we like to say there is a little bit of Volvo in all cars.

This July, we will be heading to Washington to present our three-point seat belt system to the Smithsonian, a very good day for Volvo.