The Volvo 122S (named the Amazon in European markets) was the mid-sized entry for Volvo to compliment the PV544, the manufacturer’s passenger car of the era. “Mid-sized” had a bit of a different meaning back in 1956 as the car’s size would be comparable to modern compact, if not smaller. The 122S stayed true with the early Volvo method of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” because this bad boy had a run from 1956 to 1970! During that time the only changes to the model involved paint, engine size (increasing from a 1.6L to a 2.0L at the end of its run), and a few interior upgrades in dash appearance and electronics. But compared to current models who at least get facelifts every two years, fourteen years is a long run without much for changes.
Some fun anecdotes about this car and Volvo, it's a popular opinion that Volvo’s have a huge reputation for safety. Well, this is the car that started the manufacturer’s prestige. In 1959, the fine engineers in Gothenburg thought that due to the poor road conditions found commonly in Sweden (and the dreaded moose crashes), the new-ish Amazon should have seatbelts standard in the front seat, the first car to do so. Then not more than five years later, they added three-point seatbelts as standard. The simple addition of these seatbelts drastically reduced the death and serious injury of occupants during the 1960’s when most domestic cars did not have them until it was mandated. This is what initially started the reputation that the Swedes engineered safer cars; truth is the car wasn’t any safer than similar ones on the road, other than the addition of the seatbelts.
YAWN! This isn’t a IIHS museum. The real greatness of this car is hidden underneath its classic body styling……
THIS CAR CAN DRIVE.
A car weighing slightly over a ton; rear-wheel drive; a low center of gravity, an engine who not only eats RPMs and abuse, but lasts forever; built in a country at the time where over 70% of the roads were dirt and gravel, and spent 5 months under snow. That’s a simple math equation for rally racing. As early as 1958, independent racers entered with the Volvo and came out victorious. All those mentioned in the ad above, and even coming in first in the 1965 Acropolis Rally in Greece.
On top of this, the engine in this car currently holds the world record for the most miles on a car without a rebuild. A retired school teacher in New York drives a 1966 Volvo P1800, which contains the same B18 (1.8L, 4 cyl.) that was in the 122S, and currently is driving almost daily with over 3,200,000 miles!
My Volvo currently has a slight upgrade. The car houses the Volvo (not Honda) B20, 2.0L engine from a 1969 model, and came with a healthy bump of torque and horsepower over the original B18 (rated at 118hp versus 95hp); a four-speed M41, manual transmission; and approximately 320,000 miles on the body and drivetrain. She still drives tight and true! The only major repairs it’s gone through in my ownership is the replacing of its floor pans. When purchasing it, I took a huge gamble on a craigslist ad in Ft. Collins, CO and bought a one-way plane ticket to Denver; got a ride from the airport directly to see the car; took a 15 – 20 minute test drive; and then dropped the cash for it then and there. I proceeded to drive it on a 10-hour back road drive to my house, only having issues with leaned out fuel mixture from the altitude change.
Currently, the Volvo rocks the exhaust from a Volvo 140 of the 70’s vintage and an IPD sway bar kit as ‘aftermarket’ upgrades. I currently have some small things to tweak and fix. Replace a few old bushings and seals, before I really begin on the rally-fication of the car.
Driving the car is comparable to anything of that vintage. It smells like old carpet and vinyl. It sputters and jolts to life like any normal, carburetor-fed engine. It has rack and pinion steering, which makes it an arm workout while driving around in town. But driving it is a truly beautiful and visceral experience. The power-to-weight ratio feels close to perfect. It corners better than most modern cars and gives a fun flick of the tail when you punch the gas out of a sharp turn. Take it out on a gravel road and you can feel why it cleaned shop in rally races. Narrow tires, rear wheel drive, and a rev-happy engine make for more fun on a Saturday afternoon than quite possibly anything.
Soon, this Swede will relive the glory of its racing pedigree. But for now, there is nothing wrong with driving it almost daily to work!
Shout out to Forrest for sharing the love in some vintage Swede’s.