(first posted 3/30/2013) How exactly did the Volvo 122 “Amazon” achieve its mythological stature? Naming it after the eponymous nation of all-female warriors was a good start. Legendary ruggedness and durability solidified its status. Sporty performance burnished it further. Then there’s the magic belt: one of the twelve labors of Hercules was to secure the girdle of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. Giving up her belt ended up costing Hippolyta her life. But it was a worthy sacrifice, because the Amazon’s first-ever three point seat belt has saved untold others theirs, and established the Volvo safety myth. That may now have run its course, but the Amazon’s status on the automotive Mt. Olympus is secure.
The Volvo 120 series was built from 1956 through 1970. When you think of the stereotypical Volvo driver from that period what comes to mind: college professor, engineer, writer? Well, one of each of those informed my early experiences with the 122, so we’ll start with that before we get all factual and historical. More probably, we’ll just mix it all up.
A professor uncle in Austria was driving one when I was there visiting in 1969. Now that was less predictable than for an academic counterpart in the US; Volvos were none too common in Europe outside of Scandinavian countries back then. But he tended to drive odd-balls; his previous ride was a Skoda 440, which had a passing resemblance to the Volvo.
He was ready for something faster than the 42 horsepower Skoda, and the 122S fit that bill. With its twin SU carbs and 115 horsepower, it was a brisk machine in its day. He took me for an exhilarating drive through some of Austria’s more spectacular mountain passes. The B18 engine got a good workout, and I got acquainted with Volvo’s built-in torque meter: that long whip of a stick shift which moved sideways in direct proportion to the engine’s torque curve.
With the twin-carb B18 engine, which appeared in 1961, the 122S was the BMW of its time, especially in the US. BMW’s presence here didn’t amount to much until the late sixties, and really started to gel in the seventies. The Amazon’s most direct competitor was probably the Peugeot 404, which rivaled it in ruggedness, but had that famous plush ride and was less overtly sporty. Alfa sedans were for the hard core Italianophiles, and those on good terms with their mechanic. BMW saw a gaping hole in the market for a car that covered all those bases, and never looked back. And Volvo’s sporting rep began its long decline.
Back in Towson, my junior high buddy’s engineer Dad bought a 122S, a white one just like this one. He ordered his with the overdrive, which made sense for our long, flat freeways. Volvo’s B-Series engines were not exactly noted for their smooth and quiet manners, especially in the upper ranges. They were raucous but tough as nails, as has been all-too well proven by the guy (a science teacher, of course) who’s driven over 2.5 million miles in his 1966 P-1800, with only one rebuild. Does he use Marvel Mystery Oil?
Anyway, my friend’s Dad, the engineer, is the one who finally unveiled the mystery of overdrive units to me. For you young-uns, we’re talking about the accessory units that were mounted to the output shaft of manual transmissions. Volvo used the British Laycock de Normanville box, a version of which is still being built and supported by Gear Vendors in the US today. It’s an epicyclic gear set that, when activated and engaged, reduces rpm by a certain percentage on whatever gear it is available on. I seem to remember that the Volvo units worked only on fourth.
I’m a big fan of overdrives (everything about overdrives here); my old ’66 Ford F-100 has one, and it turns the three-speed into perfectly spaced five gears, with 1900 rpm at sixty, in top. There’s the thrill of free-wheeling, which also lets me shift gears without the clutch; a good way to impress riders, if they have the guts to get in with me. And I’m freeweeling off topic again.
My third driver association with the Amazon is the writer; Warren Weith, specifically. He had a regular column in Car and Driver, way back in the day. As a kid in that resource-poor era, I literally sucked up every word in car mags, cover to cover. But Warren Weith was a bit of a challenge to my fourteen-year old brain; his articles were thousands of words long, and he wrote in a rambling style that wasn’t exactly kid-friendly: lots of free-associations, references to women and youthful memories (does that remind you of someone?). And there were pointed references to his battered Volvo 122, which had a name, Olaf.
It’s a challenge to see any old Volvo genes expressed in today’s IKEA-Geelys: they were straight-forward, firm-riding, sporty, noisy, and made of the finest Swedish steel forged with Thor’s own hammer. Well, there is that safety angle; in 1958, the 122 was the world’s first production car with three-point seatbelts, the Amazon girdle. But unless you’re a sucker for stale myths, does anyone really think new Volvos are safer than a Honda or Toyota?
Always loved the baby-Chrysler-300 styling of these, and the combination of overt sportiness and the ribbon speedometer.
Call me a heathen, but I would love one of these with the engine and drivetrain out of a Honda S2000.
Given the “baby 300” looks, which I’ve also always appreciated, I was thinking Dodge Red Ram Hemi.
Along with its 544 and 1800 siblings, probably the most durable car of the ’60s. I’ve seen many examples of these with astronomical mileages.
Paul, if/when you get a chance are you planning to do a CC on the 1800? By the way, the 2.5-million mile guy you referred to is Irv Gordon of New York – I happen to know him through my Volvo club. I have seen his 1966 1800 and it is in mint condition. He is actually 7,500 miles away from turning 3 million. Also, the car has had two engine rebuilds: one at 680k and the other at 2.65 million. You should do a CC on it if he comes to Eugene.
Not a bad-looking car; the Peugeot 404 is a good comparison. BTW, those red-button seatbelt buckles don’t look period.
It’s not so much that Volvos have been stodgy, but that they stood still for many years while the rest moved on to newer looks. And I’ve always respected that, but now, I have to look at the grill to tell Volvos apart from other makes.
I have a retired engineer friend (there you go!) who is what I call a Volvo Survivalist. Which is to say, his Volvo survives a long time under his care.
When I have the time? So many cars to write up; so little time. I’m building a house, and trying to have a “life” too. Hard to juggle it all.
We had neighbors who owned a pair of these. They really stood out compared to the Cutlass Supremes and Country Squires in the other driveways. Over time they were replaced by a couple of 144s and then later by 240 DLs.
I don’t remember Mr. E’s exact occupation, only that he was some sort of federal bureaucrat. He was an opinionated and loquacious man with whom it was impossible to have a brief conversation. Given the opportunity, he could expound comprehensively on the cars’ virtues.
Whither the loyal Volvo owner today ? Well, I was in the old neighborhood last week. I was not surprised to see a Prius in the E.’s driveway. I’m sure it’s owner will be happy to explain its superiority to any passer-by who stops to chat.
In addition to the qualities you mentioned, it helped that the 122 was a good looking car. It was modern looking, by the standard of the day. Somewhat cute, w/o being cutesy. It had a bit of flair, but it was understated; not the finned 3 tone “flair” of Detroit.
My father bought a new 122 Amazon in 1968. He paid around $3,000 for it, and he gave it to me in 1973. (When I was 17 years old.) I still have it. I have 2 other cars so I have not driven it in a few years, but I can’t really imagine my life without that car. It has 230K miles on it. Not so many compared to modern cars, but a lot for a car built 45 years ago.
The first thing I did when I got the car was to get rid of that huge truck like steering wheel. It was easy to steer with such a large wheel, but it was just too damn big. It seemed to dominate the entire interior.
The second thing I did to it was to install an AM/FM radio. Dad had bought it with just an AM radio and I wanted to hear some music instead of just news and talk.
I read someplace that the front grille was inspired by the air intakes on the jet aircraft being designed and flown back in the early 1950s.
The Amazon is a classic design that will forever be timeless.
Ray, I could have bought my parent’s 122S when my mom finally sold it in 1986, but I wanted nothing to do with it (though it was in great shape and she was able to sell it for the same price as the original invoice … $2600). Now I look longingly at them by the curb or occasionally on Craigslist. When I had my ’65, I too replaced the steering wheel! And, my parents’ came with no radio at all, just a color-matched painted steel blocking plate. Thanks for re-kindling some old memories. Enjoy your 122 and don’t sell it!
Ray; we should re-run your post on your 122 here sometime.
Nicely done. This car deserved a right and proper writeup, and you sure gave it that!
Thanks Paul! My first car was a 1965 2 door 122S, influenced by my parents’ ownership of a 1964 wagon for 22 years (the last ten after I had already sold mine). I know Tom Klockau mentions coming from a Volvo family; in 57 years of car ownership, my parents owned just four cars, and their two Volvo wagons comprised 46 of those years. The cars pictured seem to have some mix-and-match of trim parts. As far as I know, the slotted wheels shown on all of the curbside sedan shots were introduced in 1965, along with slightly changed hubcaps. The wagon shot shows the earlier, solid wheels with chrome hubcaps that featured a painted red Volvo symbol. Those earlier cars also had a multi-piece grille with a bold chrome horizontal divider, and gold badging on the grille and front fenders, which is visible on a couple of the cars despite the newer rims. The last profile shot of the two-door shows the later, shield-like fender logo just ahead of the front door. The ’65 refresh also introduced the perforated vinyl seating surfaces, which are shown in the tan interior shot. The previous seats are shown in the seatbelt photo. In my experience, the newer seats, while looking quite modern for 1965, were of much lower quality: both the upholstery and padding on mine were shot when I bought it in ’75, while my parents’ wagon seats looked and felt nearly new after 22 years, despite what I think must have been a rough life of kids and dogs (though we did spend a lot of time in the “way back”; despite my parents having and using the front harnesses, standards were looser in those days and in fact the wagon came from the factory with no rear belts).
Two more comments: My parents bought the wagon in early 1964 in the UK on European delivery. From day one, it leaked in heavy rain, of which there’s a lot in a British spring and the local dealer couldn’t fix it. Our summer travel plans included driving all over the Continent, so when we were in Sweden, my mother drove to the Volvo headquarters in Goteburg, walked in the lobby and demanded it be fixed. And it was, on the spot! Also, Paul mentions that Volvos weren’t too common in Europe outside Scandinavia in the ’60s, but the attached picture of our car on the Simplon Tunnel train from Switzerland to Italy, shows another 122S right behind ours.
The other Volvo probably belonged to another American owner touring Europe after picking it up there!
My perspective is from my visits back to Austria; Volvos were very uncommon. Maybe a bit less so in other countries. But they weren’t exactly common anywhere on the continent, especially in certain countries like France, or Italy.
Well, as for the last sentence, the answer is yes, Volvos are still most likely the safest cars on the road. . In 2001, my parents chose a Volvo S80 over a Saab 9-5. The deciding factor was the safety, for at the time the S80 was pretty much the safest car for sale (according to various crash tests). The new Volvo S60 was the first to employ several safety features such as the City Safety system which automatically stops the car if it gets too close to another one under 20 mph. It has also aced every single crash test thrown at it in the United States, including the IIHS’s new small overlap crash test which many cars fail. The XC60 aced this test as well. The S60 also got 5 stars in the Euro NCAP crash test. As for Honda and Toyota: Hondas on the whole are very safe, according to crash tests probably second to Volvo, but Toyotas…not so much. Both the Camry and the new Prius V scored “Poor” in the small overlap crash test, leading me to think it might be a development problem prevalent in many Toyotas. Finally, in 2012, Consumer Reports conducted a survey in which they asked people to name the safest car brand. 49% chose Volvo. That can’t all be marketing. Volvos are still safe.
As one who drives a ’66 Ford F-100, I tend to see current passive safety improvements/differences as very incremental. In relative terms, anything newer than 15 years old looks extremely safe to me 🙂
Well, incremental as compared to airbags or seatbelts, yes. But the difference in safety between even fifteen-year-old cars and the ones coming off the production lines today is quite large.
I remember a UK car mag once repeating the testimony of their police that they rarely encountered fatal Volvo accidents. But here’s the rub: Is it that Volvos are therefore inherently safer, or merely that British Volvo drivers are more careful & thus get into fewer accidents?
I think something similar was said elsewhere about Oldsmobiles.
It was probably a bit of both, sensible types in the UK bought a Rover or a Volvo, but Volvo did take safety seriously which must have contributed to the survival rate.
Volvo opening the patent for the 3 point seatbelt, arguably the single most important safety feature of all time, was a sign of real integrity and commitment.
How unlike the criminal attitudes of GM with the missing Corvair suspension component and Fords attitude to the Pinto fuel tank just to save a few dollars
I do believe that others have caught up with Volvo, perhaps even surpassed them regarding safety, but they did it earlier than most if not all
My first Volvo was a 1974 145 wagon. My year old rotary Mazda wagon was rear ended by a 4 door Amazon. The Mazda was totaled. I was in the hospital. The Volvo drove away. Was something trying to tell me something?
In talking to Volvo dealers, one told me that no one wearing a seatbelt had ever been killed in a Volvo a speeds of less than 56 mph, but people not wearing a seatbelt had been killed in Volvos a speeds less than 30 mph.
Sales talk? I dunno, but it sold me. I’ve had four Volvo wagons in the last 40 years, bent a few, totaled one, always wore my seatbelt and survived them all!
This car has an undeniable appeal. I believe that this is one of the few Volvos that has not touched my life, even tangentially. Where I differ with some of the current and former owners above is that I am absolutely enthralled by that steering wheel!
BTW, the first picture in front of the Lutheran church is simply perfect – what else would a good Scandinavian Lutheran drive?
Being Lutheran and part Scandanavian, I would drive one of these.
Lutherans drive Fords. Catholics drive Chevys.
(“Bless me, Father, for I have driven here in a Deadly Sin.”)
Sounds like I need to convert. Quickly.
What do you drive then?
I am the son of an engineer though & have always had an odd affinity for certain European makes and Mopars.
I don’t get the Protestant Ford/Catholic Chevy stereotype. Not that I don’t believe it, but by what logic should church affiliation drive auto brand preference?
Chevrolet may be a French (thus Catholic-ish) name, but Louis’s family emigrated from a Reformed Swiss Canton. And Ford attended the Episcopal church during his childhood, but I doubt either biographical detail was publicized; why risk alienating potential customers?
Yet here we have Chevies being identified not only with Upper Midwest German Catholics, but Mexicans as well; here, I don’t see many Hispanics driving Fords.
I think it is from Garrison Keillor’s stories of Lake Woebegon. Catholics bought Chevys from Krebsbach Chevrolet while the Lutherans bought Fords from Buns on Motors.
In real life, the big one was probably Jews who eschewed Fords due to Henry’s antisemitism.
But what prompted Keillor to make that association in the 1st place? While reading his book, it sounded “right” to me, so I don’t think he originated it. Ford, like Oldsmobile, *always* seemed like a WASP brand to me, long before Prairie Home Companion.
Henry’s “The International Jew,” competing with the “The Protocols of Zion” as the most dangerous idiotic nonsense, indeed couldn’t have helped his company’s rep among Jewish buyers. But OTOH, I’ve known Jews who were impressed by & purchased German makes, despite that industry’s association with the Reich. So I can’t make sense of any of this.
I think it was Lee Iacocca who said that he stopped worrying about cars’ national origins when the VW bug became a best-seller in Israel.
As for Keillor, I think he must’ve either based the split directly on the place where he grew up and/or assigned the makes at random.
simple, Carl Krebsbach is a catholic and Clint Bunson is a lutheran
I finally made the connection on this a while back; in the public mind back in the day, Ford was always seen as Henry Ford’s personal project while General Motors was seen as large, bureaucratic and mostly impersonal with influence extending everywhere. Henry Ford is Martin Luther. GM is the Vatican.
I believe Weith called his Volvo “Olaf.”
Yes; that’s what it was. Thanks.
The 122 really was on the cusp of “sport sedan.” They made a sharp turn away from that with the introduction of the 144 in ’68 (IMO) even though the whole running gear was pretty much lifted from the 122. I had a 144 MANY years ago (staid and strong, B-18) and had a 240 2-door between Peugeot stints.
I only drove a 122 for the first time much later and was enamored with it. I had never realized what a blast it was to drive. [note: the example I drove had DCOE weber side drafts and some kind of cam work] I guess the 1800 was there to take care of the “sporting” thing in the absence of the 122, but now you needed two separate vehicles!
I was a Warren Weith fan too…I totally agree with his idea that you don’t really know the car until you’ve washed it.
I have very little experience with the Volvo Amazon, and that was in a loaner station wagon with an automatic transmission that we had during one of the Rover 2000’s frequent stays at the dealer shop. It seemed heavy and slow to me.
I only drove an auto once and it transformed the car – and not in a good way. Despite its thrashy sounds, the B18 loved to rev. Ours got taken to valve spring bounce more than once, though probably not by my mom. After I sold mine to a friend, he did the twin Webers, 2 litre overbore, milled head (maybe 10.5:1 compression), cam and headers, etc, and it was quite a bit quicker than a stock 2002, and would pull an honest 120mph in fourth. The handling wasn’t bad, responding well to proper alignment, lowering and a fat front swaybar. After lowering, mine would drag the outside mudflaps in hard turns.
Here’s another old car that I wish I had now. Problem is, in Seattle, people don’t sell them, they keep them. Great article Paul. I love the photo of the pretty Swede fastening her 3 point belt. It emphasizes her…safety assets.
Today I happened to comment while my girl friend was driving… “Honey, you look great in a seatbelt”. Being from NJ she fired right back, ” I’ve created a monster”.
Did you stop short?
Warren Weith! I’d almost forgotten, one of my favorites from the golden years of Car and Driver. Google came up with this fine story, about an early adventure with the other Swedish marque.
He also wrote this book I wish I had.
Being 6’1″ maybe I should have one!
I should have gone with my hunch on the clue… I’ve always liked the Amazon but never had any association with one. I posted a wagon I found in a carpark under a supermarket to thee Cohort a while back.
Although the gap is no longer what it once was, I think Volvo is still up there for safety, not only have they pioneered quite a few innovations in recent years, but I believe that they (along with Mercedes) are more thorough in their safety engineering of a car’s bodyshell, looking at a much wider range of scenarios with higher standards than just what is required to get a good NCAP score. There was a tv show featuring their crash test facility was quite impressive, with a section of building able to rotate to enable testing at a full range of impact angles from 0-90 degrees, with one or two cars.
I probably could have avoided the long list of VW’s I owned by buying one volvo. Seriously, they weren’t very expensive to buy if you were overseas. The VW’s taught one the art of simple maintenance mechanics. I’m not sure what the volvo’s taught. Possibly they taught you to expect to get where you were going. In the VW’s I never was sure about that.
2.5 million miles? You fell for that? What teacher drives 55,000 miles a year? hahaha!
Thank you for mentioning Warren Weith. I read all of his columns starting in 1961, until he left Car and Driver. As I was a Fiat freak at the time, I always enjoyed his comments on the Fiat Topolino. It would be great if all those old Car and Driver columns were available today. I don’t know how many would buy them, but I certainly would. I raced a Fiat 600 that had a VW engine installed. Ah, to be young again.
Thank you for the post Paul, reading pleasure as usual.
As for your question re. the safety of modern Chinolvo… A friend of mine is an estimator/inspector for one of the major leasing agencies here in AB. Once we discussed what he sees on his inspections and how cars withstand abuse and accidents. His claim is that Swedish steel in Volvos and SAABs appears to be the strongest and most resistant to corrosion too. He was not very impressed with VAGs, domestics make up in thickness what they lose in quality, and the Asians are “made of paper” (his words).
But the playing field is so much more even these days, that is true. Just one look at old and current Folksam report (largest insurer in Sweden that keeps track of real-life accident results) will prove it.
I have to agree on the current Volvo’s being safe cars. Much of teh technology is crash avoidance electronics instead of airbags and seat belts of old.
I can’t afford new Volvo’s for the Mrs and myself with 3 kids in college (so I bought 5 star crash test Honda’s). But when the kids are driving used cars I have 94, 96 and 97 850’s for the kids fleet. My youngest tested the crash worthiness of the 850 two years ago and totaled one while walking away with no injuries.
Go to the government crash test sites and you will see the old ones still do well in tests like the offset (not sure why they had that data on 850’s) and of course the new models are at the to of the scoring every year.
When college is paid for I plan to put the Mrs in an XC60 and I will be in a V60 R design. And I am keeping one of the 850’s so I don’t have to read Craigslist ads years from now searching for one:)
Loved this article, although if it came down to a choice between a 122 and a Peugeot 404, I’d take the Pug because of my slightly decadent streak. And Paul, thanks for remembering Warren Weith. One of my fave “muttering rotters”, he seemed to know everyone from Chuck Daigh to Gregor Grant. Boy, did this bring back happy memories of the Sixties.
The first car I bought was a “well-used” 122, white, a 1966 model with who knows how many miles on it. The broken odometer showed 77-thousand-something, but whether that was the second or third time ’round was uncertain. Didn’t know much about car repair, but what I could work on was handled with the two screwdrivers and double-ended wrench that came with the thing. I guess I got 18-months’ use and fun out of it, which was OK for a $220 car in college.
My next car was another white Volvo, a ’65 1800S. I got a LOT of fun out of that one, and made a good profit when I sold it. Meanwhile, I’d acquired a wife, and she replaced her old Chevy with a white Volvo, a ’72 142. We made a profit, though smaller, when we sold that and she got a red Volvo 1800ES. And we made a profit (and let someone else replace the expensive, to us anyway, tires) when we sold it.
Meanwhile, I’d replaced my 1800 with a lovely burnt-orange 145. I did not make a profit when I got rid of it… and I’d spent an AWFUL lot of money just keeping it running. That car must have been cursed, or perhaps it was that had been built in Belgium. Who knows?
She’d replaced the ES with an ’89 Honda Prelude. And shortly after I’d replaced my wagon with a new silver ’84 Volvo wagon, I got kicked to the curb and that was the end of the Volvos.
I remarried, and the new wife had a Toyota. And that’s all we’ve had since (same for our son). The marriage, and the cars, have been pretty trouble-free. Did you really have to run that CC on the Duett recently? Because I recognize that itch…
A few comments on the Amazon. Firstly, they wern’t uncommon in the UK, indeed for they’re age they are still easy to obtain here now. Secondly Amazons and indeed 140/160 series and P1800 cars used a lot of British parts, infact I’ve read that 200 series Volvos were made of British steel and not Swedish. One article I read mentioned that the gauge of steel used for the roofs of Volvos was equal to that used for the floors of most other cars- having owned Fiats I can believe it!
Also, although Volvo pioneered the use of three point belts they didn’t invent the design. Where Volvo scored on safety was their use of four wheel, dual system, disc breaks (although Im not certain early Amazons had them) Later safety points were early use of roll bars and side impact bars, also collapsable steering column and padded safety dashboard/inset switchgear.
Many people see the Amazon as the last classic Volvo and the 140/160 series as the first of a new, bland ‘safety car’, whereas, Volvo always followed a route of slow, continuous improvement to their products. The Volvo brand really is a paragon of good design, I believe without compare in automotive design. The cars have a timeless quality that is largely due to Jan Wilsgaard’s appreciation of good industrial design over faddish styling.
Thanks, Paul for a eloquent reflection on a most stalwart and reliable car.
My 122 was a ’66 2-door sedan, which was a tireless, indefatigable machine. I’d acquired it during my college years, while working full time and pursuing my studies. It faithfully served me during that time and I erroneously traded it off to accommodate a growing family. Some years following in the late 90’s, I ran across the last production of the 122 – actually a ’68 123GT – on a used car lot in Boulder, Colorado and came within a hair of buying it but didn’t because of other commitments.
In the end, that’s the manifestation of the phrase “everything that lives, laments.”
I’ve always liked the front grille of the 1960-1964 Volvo 122S. I’d love to eventually buy a Volvo 122s station wagon.
“….as has been all-too well proven by the guy (a science teacher, of course) who’s driven over 2.5 million miles in his 1966 P-1800, with only one rebuild. Does he use Marvel Mystery Oil?”
No – more than likely just a drill. B20’s dont last 3M miles with just 2 rebuilds. His story gets more bogus by the day – especially when a certain Finn has well over 2M documented/legitimate miles on his and counting.
A TV ad for the Volvo Canadian, as the Nova Scotia-assembled 122/Amazon was known in Canada. The tag line ‘You can drive a Volvo like you hate it.’ was well known at the time.
“Drive it like you hate it, cheaper than psychiatry.” Great advertising.
Talk about overdrive, in 1978 I purchased brand new corolla hatchback from a Toyota Dealer distributor (talk about luck), ordered it with the larger Celica engine which fit right into the then chassis of the corolla; I wanted power &didn’t have too much money, they charged me I think $485.00; three months later I received my car from Japan & the rep called me a thief, showing me the car’s export documents. Japans QC added the larger Celica suspension front & back, steering box (rack & pinion) transmission, drive shaft AND it came with an Overdrive button; to end this story I remember the state trooper
in front of my car on his knees looking underneath, he the ordered me to open the hood, of course the valve cover only said TOYOTA, He then told me he never had a car “JUMP” away from him, he had a giant Plymouth, with one of those 400+ size engines. I only stopped because he was the LAW, I was doing about 93MPH when he got behind me so I pressed the button, “C YA”…thanks for reminding me about overdrive.
I’ve always liked the early Volvo 122S, from 1960-64.
Funny isn’t it how perceptions are made ..
I first went to university in the fall of 1963, and the following year my best pal had acquired a year-old PV544 with only a few thousand miles courtesy of doting and well-off parents. Already car nuts, we became Volvophiles.
Now sorry, Paul, but the B18D in the 544 and 122S had 90 bhp gross. The B18B in the P1800 had 115 hp. How we schemed to get the parts for that 25 hp upgrade. All for nought, but the dreams were great!
After a visit to my parents’ home, my mother became enamoured of the 544 and bought a new one for herself in July 1965. I still have the pristine brochure. Hers was made just down the road in Dartmouth, NS, the one and only year it was made in North America alongside the 122S.
Anyway, to get back to the college connection, we really didn’t like the 122S because it was slow! It weighed a good 200 pounds more than the 544, 2465 versus 2250 lbs. So it couldn’t keep up, but stopped much better as it had front disc brakes. Also, it just wasn’t as cool as the old ’49 Ford look of its forebear. It was the stodgy family man’s car, we thought.
My pal became an expert on tuning twin SU carbs, courtesy of much practise, a Floyd Clymer book, and a see-through glass spark plug. Remember those? And I learned too. Sprites and MGBs were now tuned up as the word spread among students. Later, during a 4 year stint in the UK, I found the Brits had no idea how to tune twin SUs either, so made a few friends by performing this service. 122S’s were all over the place there, so only the Continentals suffered by not embracing them!
In 1967, Volvo brought out the 144 with the 115 bhp engine and yet another 300 lbs for the poor old B18 to lug around. Being young college kids with fully two whole winter rallies behind us, that thing killed our Volvophilia. In fact, my pal’s parents awarded him a new Barracuda 340 when he finished his 5 year Honours program in 1968. Yes, it was a mite quicker, er, to say the least.
People talk about B18 thrash at high revs. Huh? All you could hear was intake roar through those pancake air filters. Redlined to 5800 as shown on the dash-mounted Smiths tach every day several times, my pal’s B18 needed new valve guides at just 47,000 miles as the blue smoke was getting a bit thick. No other problems with the car at all, not a one, despite the gear lever being used as a whip during gear changes. Man, you could shift fast if you were brutal, and the clutch was smooth. Tough old birds.
The bloke above who says Volvo didn’t invent the 3 point seat belt needs to exercise his search engine, because he’s incorrect. They did.
1962 to 1967 were Volvo’s golden years for me. My poor old 1960 with the B16 did not compare.
If I could buy any classic car, I’d buy a Volvo 122s (Amazon) or a Volvo PV544. I’m also interested in the Volvo Duett. 🙂
Found this stunning 123GT today (badged as a Volvo Canadian). Some more pics in Cohort.
Sweet looking car. I’ve always liked this generation Volvo.
I have owned 7 Volvos; 2 544’s, 4 122’s, and a 145. I still have one 122S and I cannot visualize life without it. It was bought on Ebay 11 years ago with only 127k miles and presently has 132k. It has great compression and runs like a raped ape but I wish it had an OD unit. I have a car buddy who has 3 Shelby Mustangs who hates all foreign cars and I threaten him that I’m going to will the Volvo to him. It’s worth it for the desperate look I get from him. The 122 looks great and it’d be in original condition if not for the repaint when frontally damaged in a minor fender-bender with a prior owner but she has no rust, which makes it a rarity. Even if it is stodgy in appearance compared to most other cars, I still get many thumbs up when on the road. I have no plans to sell her and take her to shows and cruises all during the show season.
I purchased a new 1966 Volvo 122S on January 23, 1966. Medium Blue with blue seats, 4 speed. Price $2,600.00 plus the new New York State sales tax of 2% $2,652. I was 20 and working full time at IBM. I had at 1957 444 and loved it. Thought it was time to update. Friends were purchasing GTO’s 442’s and other muscle cars. They couldn’t understand why I was buying such an uncool car. (That is a toned down description). I loved the car. Drove to Florida and back, New England states. Sadly the draft nailed me and I had to sell the car in October 1966. As it turned out I probably could have afforded to keep it but a trip to war was just ahead and I disposed of much of my property in case. 49 years later I yearn for the car. It was just right size, economical, fun to drive. I purchased a 1976 244 DL, 1979 245 DL and a 1982 245DL. The prices for the Volvo’s are more than I can justify now. A retro version would be great without all the fancy stuff. Attached is a blurry picture taken in 1966 of Left To Right Austin Healy Sprite, 1954 Chevy P/U, 1963 Ford Galaxy 500 Convertible, 1966 Volvo 122S and 1952 Jaguar XK120. All of us were drafted within a year. Our fun was done.
Haha, the top silver-blue image is my car, dents and all. =)
First I was Never Volvo fan but As Classic collector now upon reflection I very much like add 1978 Volvo 262C Bertone to my collection !!
This. Will always be. The DEFINITIVE Volvo.
If I had to own one, the Amazon is the one I’d own.
The 122 had NO fresh air vents at all…all you could do was just turn off the heat and turn on the heater fan. Not too comfortable in the summer! On my honeymoon in ’67, we got stopped for speeding in Florida, I was playing tag with a ’66 Fleetwood at 100+. The trooper had never seen a Volvo and, after asking for particulars (HP, radial tires, disc brakes), told me not to try to keep up with the Fleetwood, just hold it below 80 (limit was 75). He was really surprised the 122 could go that fast. A decent guy.
Never liked them. They are relatively large (for Europe), but to me they just do not have the “big car look” (massive, dignified) – always looked like a stretched Mockvitch-407 to me, or, really, a scaled-up Skoda 440 (although I still get why people call it a “baby-300”; but the similarity ends with the grille, IMO).
Must be a good car, but sorry, I just can’t find anything good to say about it. Saw a bunch of them at car shows in Russia & Sweden, and felt nothing towards them. To me, Volvo started with the 140… and the 240 was really the cornerstone… errr… corner brick ?
Well, wait. Now I know how positive crankcase ventilation looks on a two-carburetor setup, thanks to the photo of the engine bay ! And yes, by the way, having a factory version twin SU carbs surely is a good thing…
The styling of these is pleasant enough, and the interior looks pretty well-finished and liveable. Better than the Beetle I guess, but that’s not saying much!
Wow the pic of that woman fastening her 3-pt seat belts – great in a crash to keep her from going thru the windshield, but the seatback is so low it offers no whiplash protection whatsoever! What were they thinking?
What kind of driving gloves were those she was wearing?
I notice the relatively high mounting points of the door handles here, similar to the current Lincoln Continental. I still think of these and the “boxes” ranging from the 140 through to the 850 when I hear the name Volvo; can’t relate to the new ones yet.