Classic corner: Is this the ultimate ‘value-for-money’ Volvo?

It was in the 1970s that Volvo decided to get out of the agricultural tractor business and concentrate on trucks and construction equipment.

It had held talks with International Harvester, which came to nothing, before bundling it all off to Valmet. This decision was announced in 1979 – 25 years after it had entered the wheeled loader market with the H-10 (pictured below) – a joint collaboration with the Lundberg Brothers (an engineering partnership that specialised in Volvo conversions).

The H-10 loader was based on the Bolinder Munktell 35 tractor. This tractor was also available in red – badged as the Volvo T35. At the time, Bolinder Munktell had just been sold to Volvo (at the behest of the banks) but both were still operating as two different companies – selling the same tractors from different floors within the same building.

However, it was Volvo that pursued the embryonic construction equipment market and started developing specialist machines which were all – at first – built around agricultural vehicles.

Embryonic market

Over 2,400 H-10 loaders were built between 1954 and 1962, demonstrating a strong market for this type of equipment. Up in the Volvo offices, the management obviously realised that there was a future in this type of machine. That led to the design of BM-Volvo LM 218 – a purpose-built loader that was based on the same format as the H-10 and shared its engine with the immensely popular BM-Volvo 350 tractor, or Boxer, as it was known.

The LM 218 was a significant machine in that it represented the birth of Volvo Construction Equipment. It might have shared many components with the tractor range, but it was clearly an industrial vehicle.

For the first time, it was painted yellow to distinguish it from the farm machines.

Volvo went on to make several models of this type up until 1978 when it revamped its loader range completely – in favour of articulated units.

However, there must have remained some demand for the rigid, forward-control units pioneered by the H-10; Volvo BM kept two in its brochures. These were the Volvo BM 622 and 642.

They were both, in fact, much the same loader – the major difference being that the 642 had a wider wheel track.

By now, Volvo was well on its way to shedding its agricultural machines completely – but not all connections were severed.

The early Volvo BM 622s were still powered by an agricultural engine – the 4.2L D42 which churned out 80hp at 2,300rpm. This motor also powered the Volvo BM T650 – the company’s last four-cylinder tractor. In the latter half of the loader’s production run it was bored out to 4.48L and was re-designated the D45.

The enlarged version produced little in the way of extra horsepower, but torque was raised from 251Nm to 286Nm. This bigger unit was never installed in a tractor.

Over its four-year lifespan, 3,039 examples of the 622/642 were built – one of which still earns its keep in a sawmill and wood yard run by Patrick and John Forristal of Kylemore, Co. Kilkenny.

Patrick (pictured below) purchased this loader from a UK dealer in 1999 and brought it back to Ireland to load bark mulch that was then becoming popular with landscape gardeners. It still performs this task faultlessly today.

Naturally, the years have tried to take their toll but Patrick is not one to allow the loader’s age let down either its appearance or performance. Mechanically, it is as sound as the day it arrived – thanks to him keeping on top of maintenance.

When new seals were needed (on the various rams) then new seals were fitted. When an oil cooler cracked, then a new one was installed. There has been no cutting of corners in a bid for false economy; this policy seems to have paid off.

The engine and transmission have never been worked on, other than regular servicing.

Parts are still readily available, either from Pat O’Donnell – the Irish Volvo importer – or from specialist websites in Sweden.

In 2015 the 622 was given its first respray – a job that Patrick undertook himself; there are various other ‘personal touches’ evident around the machine. For example, the grab handles at the rear are rather neat bars of stainless steel; the battery tray is now of the same material.

Both items are well finished and blend in nicely with the whole. It is little surprise, actually, to learn that Patrick is a time-served fabricator; he made these himself during quieter moments in a busy yard.

Closer inspection

A closer inspection of the vehicle shows just how far this late example of the forward-control loader has departed from its ‘tractor’ origins. The Volvo BM T650 tractor, with which it shares its engine, weighs in at 3.8t. The 622 loader is over twice that – at 8t.

Most of this weight is carried in a very sturdy cast frame, which sits low down in the machine. With a 3t lifting capacity, having that amount of ballast is reassuring – to say the least.

The T650 tractor had eight mechanical gears plus two in reverse; the loader has just two ‘conventional’ gears, with another two on the forward-reverse shuttle lever (mounted on the steering column).

This offers four speeds in either direction; it will pull away in any of them thanks to the torque converter. Top speed is a manageable 30kph.

As mentioned above, this loader is a working machine – used in the preparation and loading of bark mulch. The fact that it can happily cope – all these years later – with its daily chores is not only a tribute to the original design but also the way it has been looked after while in Patrick’s care.

To the untutored eye, it may appear to be just another old loader. However, as we have seen, it represents the last link between what we now know as Volvo Construction equipment and its farming heritage.