When Perry spread the word about Volvo week, it was the perfect excuse for me to chase up a mythical creature, the Volvo 165 wagon. I first read about it in ‘Volvo Down Under’ by Pedr and Tony Davis and since then, my interest has persisted, especially since my grandfather owned two 164s and my father had a 145 wagon that eventually became my first car. I made contact with John Johnson from the Volvo Club of Victoria and tentatively asked if he could point me to any special-bodied Volvos. Well, he responded, I’ve got a one-off 165 wagon if that interests you…
Let’s start with a bit of pre-history. The first Volvo to officially enter Australia was a PV444 brought in during 1954 for a Swedish trade promotion. It was put through its paces over here, with Volvo’s Sales Manager Ture Gustaf Andersson racking up 10,000 kilometers in ‘testing for Australian conditions’. Nothing eventuated from this trip, but this unrelated promotional photo serves as a reminder of what could have been.
In late 1960, Volvo imports started to enter the country. A dealer in Melbourne and one in Sydney brought in a small number of 122 and P1800 models. Sales uptick was slow during this decade, but the durability of the Volvo became popular within the racing and rally fraternity, particularly when combined with local engine-modification know-how.
Meanwhile, back in suburbia, the first 144 was imported into the country. It was ordered in 1967 by businessman Eric Nordling to be delivered with 36 ignition keys. When asked why 36, he replied that his wife had a habit of losing her keys and that he wanted a one for each of her 36 handbags. Volvo complied.
In 1971, Volvo Australia struck an agreement with Motor Producers (owned by Volkswagen Wolfsburg) to assemble Volvos at their Clayton, Victoria plant alongside VWs, Datsuns and the odd Mercedes Benz truck. Ownership of the factory shifted to Nissan Australia in 1976, and Volvo continued to produce vehicles here; starting with the 140/160 series, through the 240/260 series and culminating in the 740/760 series.
Volvo Australia sold 1646 units in 1973. For 1975, Volvo the annual sales figure had surpassed 6500. That was the year of the 240/260 series launch (245DL pictured), and at that point Volvo had nearly thirty percent of the luxury car market in Australia. By the time local production ended in 1988, Volvo Australia had produced and sold around 66,000 vehicles.
But back to the 165 Volvo wagon. Its genesis begins with the Managing Director of Volvo Australia, believed to be Jo Wedde, summoning ADR Engineer John Ousey (left, with John Johnson) to his office. By the end of the meeting, Ousey was under instructions to build a 165 wagon for the MD’s personal use.
There was a problem, however. The 165 wagon did not actually exist. The 164 saloon was the flagship of Volvo’s product range. Designed alongside the 4 cylinder 142/144/145, the 164 was the company’s six-cylinder prestige model and a wagon version had thus been deemed inappropriate by the powers that be. (For clarification here, it must be noted that the last digit in the model code denotes the number of doors: 2 for a coupe, 4 for a saloon and 5 for a wagon.)
The solution? Take two complete knock down (CKD) kits, a 145 wagon and a 164 sedan and marry them up. Both variants shared the same architecture from the A-pillar back, but the front end of the 164 sat on four inch longer chassis rails to accommodate the larger engine. So for this task the marriage of two kits was one of necessity as well as convenience.
The 165 came off the Clayton production line in February 1972, painted Kansas Red (aka Nissan Orange) with black leather interior, B30A engine with twin Strombergs, M41 manual with overdrive, aircon and power steering. It was spot-welded as per every other car on the line and had its own 165 Vehicle Identification Number. There is even a Volvo Australia Body Drop schedule verifying the car’s provenance.
Then another problem popped up. Headquarters in Sweden had done an audit and wanted to know where the missing CKD kit was. It appears that Volvo Australia’s response might have been an ingenious ruse. ‘Why, the two kits were used to develop a prototype 165 wagon to explore the possibilities of export to the US in return for increasing import numbers into Australia. Unfortunately the idea was rejected by the Australian Government.’ No-one can actually verify this. The export plan comes from the book ‘Volvo Down Under’, whilst John Ousey’s genesis account came from the man himself. Whether true or not, the export angle does sound like a great cover story.
So is this the only factory-built Volvo 165 in the world? Well, yes and no. Volvo Australia built another wagon from two cars damaged in transit, but even though this vehicle has 165 badges, its VIN classifies it as a 164. It is rumoured that there was another 165 built in South Africa or South America, however there is no evidence of that car either in any document.
Volvo Sweden built some unofficial 160-series wagons back in the day, but they were subsequently destroyed. There is also the much longer wheelbase 165 Transfer wagon which is rumoured to have been built for an executive of Volvo Sweden. This seven seater curiosity has a wheelbase of 131.5 inches and appears to be based on a Volvo Special Vehicles offering designed for, you guessed it, airport transfers.
Of course, there are some coachbuilt versions. This particular 1972 example was recently found and purchased by Swedish classic car journalist Fredrik Nyblad. It was originally put together by Yngve Nilssons Karosserifabrik of Laholm, Sweden and featured a sun roof, roof rails, fuel cap door, custom-built stainless trim, black leather interior and Jaeger instrumentation. There are also claims that UK Volvo importer Lex Brooklands built 3 or 5 examples from flood damaged cars. And a quick perusal of the web reveals some home-made versions.
All of which makes John Johnson’s wagon a truly unique vehicle; the only factory-built Volvo 165 extant. It is a car that would be desired by many enthusiasts around the world, and perhaps even by Volvo itself. At present, it’s undergoing a complete overhaul. I hope to bring you part 2 once it’s complete. Many thanks to John for sharing his story with CC.