Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nils Ivar Bohlin

The next time Lindsey Lohan smashes 
into you, say thanks to this guy
Nils Bohlin (1920-2002)

Volvo, as we know, have never been considered a sexy car brand. 

Safe? Yes. Reliable? Definitely. Sexy? Not by a long shot.

They make extremely tough rally cars, though, they run forever, and are constantly made fun of by the film industry.

That's okay, because those Swedes at Volvo have thick skin. They have to. Nobody has trusted them since King Harald attacked Pearl Harbor in World War Two, while trying to promote his Blue-Tooth technology.

The guys at Volvo quietly took the ribbing the world has thrown at them, however, hunkered down - and concentrated on making really good cars.

I'm going to honest with you here. All Swedish men are mega-intelligent engineers, have beards, smoke a pipe and wear tweed jackets. They aren't an exciting bunch, but occasionally they do step outside the box when a new idea is needed.

Nils Bohlin, an expert with jet fighter ejector seats, was no exception. He thought up the brilliant three-point safety-belt while employed at Volvo...thus changing the auto industry forever.

Umm...yes. I know. Safety-belts are boring. 

Until you're in an accident, at least. Then they become very interesting.

How do I know this? 

Most of my readers know that I collect and restore military vehicles. I don't do this to let them set around gathering dust, I drive the things. And my daughter, Ivy, loves to go for a ride.

But there's a problem.

American military trucks don't come with seat-belts, at all, so during my last project I ordered and installed the same belts used in a military Hummer. Bad move. These were only lap belts, and the thought of a front-end collision - and my daughter's head smashing into the metal dashboard - scared the crap out me.

So I installed the same safety-belts that were in my Volvo. And this got me thinking.

I bet, at some point back in the 50s, Nils Bohlin had the exact same thought I did. That lap belts are for shit.

You see, Bohlin had come up in the aviation division of Saab, building better and better ejection seats. Most people don't realize how far ahead the Americans were in this area of fighter aircraft technology - but Saab caught on quick.

Optional lap belts were introduced to the world by Nash and Ford in 1955. Why did they do this? An American surgeon named Hunter Shelden had gone before Congress with his emergency room findings, and proposed collapsible steering wheels, seat-belts, and reinforced roof structures for all new cars. Thankfully, Congress listened.

Meanwhile, Nils Bohlin had gone to work for Volvo, and found to his dismay that nearly all accidents in Sweden with unbelted passengers resulted in death...while belted passengers survived all crashes below the 60 mph mark.

So Bohlin perfected the retractable three-point safety-belt, which Volvo introduced on their incredibly tough 122 Amazon in 1957. 

Bohlin, I think, saw the same thing I did concerning the metal dash on my military jeep. It was just plain unsafe. 

That same year that three-point safety-belts became standard on the Amazon, a padded dash was offered as well. 

In 1968, Volvo provided the patented safety-belt design free to the world. I personally find this admirable. The company was well within their rights to charge mad stacks of cheddar for Bohlin's design, but simply didn't.

Bohlin moved up in Volvo, and became the head of Central Research in 1969...the same time my first Volvo was being built.

Most of you never give the safety-belts in your car a second thought. That's fine. It may not be a sexy subject, but it's an important one.

If you have ever been in a bad collision, or had a loved one walk away from an accident, I'm sure you'll agree.

This is sorta like the tires on an airliner. You never gave them a thought, have you? I know next to nothing about airplane tires, but I'm glad they work without problems. And I bet you're glad the manufacturer of those tires did tons of research and testing to make sure they are safe when your flight lands.

I will let you in on just how important the world thought Nils Ivar Bohlin and his mind for safety was.....

In 1974, Bohlin received the Ralph Isbrandt Safety Accommodation. In 1989, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Safety and Health. 

In 1995, he got a gold medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering. In 1999, Bohlin was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. 

Bohlin died of heart failure in 2002, and was later posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

You handsome man, you

And to think, Bohlin achieved all of this just trying to keep you safe in an accident.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the photos