Recent Prime Finds have featured dependable saloons from Germany and Japan, but for dependability with a dash of style I’m going to turn to Sweden.
The Volvo 120 Amazon is a favourite of mine and still affordable enough to be used as a daily driver. Spares support is strong and tuning parts are readily available. A good Amazon will have no problem keeping up with modern traffic and having departed the road backwards in one, I can confirm they are strong too… I was a passenger on that occasion, so can’t claim credit for that episode of automotive ice dancing. For a 1950s design, they are remarkably competent to drive and when equipped with an overdrive you can storm the motorways with ease. It may actually be the perfect practical and usable classic saloon car.
The 120 series debuted in 1956 and replaced the old hunchback PV. The Amazon nameplate nearly didn’t happen and was the subject of a legal wrangle with Kreidler motorcycles, meaning the moniker was only ever officially used within Scandinavia. Initially only available as a two-door saloon, the four-door saloon and estate variants followed as Volvo broadened their appeal both at home and in the global export market. Penned by Jan Wilsgaard, the unashamedly American influenced rounded shape, complete with small tailfins, is far removed from the slab sided boxy direction that Volvo would take ten years later. The transatlantic glamour was underpinned by sensible Swedish quality and the reassuring clunk of an Amazon door tells you it was a car built to last. How many other 50s cars had more than passing attention to rust proofing built into design and production? Safety was high on the agenda too and in 1959 the Amazon became the first production car to feature standard fitment three point seatbelts. In a rare example of compromised design on the 120, the handbrake can be found between the driver’s seat and the door as there was originally an intention to offer a column gearchange and a bench seat, but that was abandoned and all cars retained a floor change. This is no good for handbrake turns, but maybe that isn’t high on your agenda. A better piece of design can be found at the rear of the estate variant in the form of the split tailgate, pre-dating the Range Rover and scoring high for practicality. Being a true Scandinavian, comfortable seats and an effective heater came as standard for those long trips across the tundra. Although Swedish to the core, Amazons were also built as far afield as Canada, South Africa and Chile. By the end of production in 1970 around 700,000 of them had found homes, establishing Volvo as a new world player.
In the British market, import duties meant the Amazon was never a budget choice, but its inherent quality ensured it could compete as an aspirational alternative to the Rovers and Triumphs of middle class, middle England. An early road test confirmed Grand Prix World Champion Mike Hawthorn as a fan and by 1962 Volvo had become the third best selling continental brand behind Volkswagen and Renault. Volvos had long been campaigned in racing and rallying in their homeland by local heroes such as Gunnar Andersson and Tom Trana, winning the 1963 European Rally Championship with a 122S and taking second in the European Touring Car Championship, but now even non-Scandinavians were seeing the potential. Ruddspeed were making significant horsepower gains from the B18 engine and offering kits of parts or turn key re-engineered cars. The factory 123GT of 1967 offered a well appointed solution straight from the showroom complete with twin carbs and a limited slip differential. For a while, Volvo seemed to be establishing themselves as the source of the thinking man’s sports saloon, further emboldened by Roger Moore’s selection of the P1800 for the Saint television series. The 120 series carried on until 1970, overlapping for a few years with the 140, its boxy new successor. However, the new 140 paved the way for suburban respectability in preference to excitement and the association of Volvo with performance faded somewhat. Let’s pause our time machine then, and look at a sports oriented Amazon for this week’s Prime Find.
We’ve found this 1968 122S in the lot list for CCA’s sale on 2ndJune in Warwickshire, and while it’s not completely original it’s a fine example of a sympathetically upgraded and tweaked Amazon. The sale particulars advise it has the two litre B20 S twin carb engine reportedly producing a healthy 120bhp. The Amazon isn’t as heavy as you might imagine with a curb weight of around 1,089 kgs so this is sufficient to give lively performance, and the addition of new Bilstein shocks, coil springs and sports exhaust promise a usefully brisk backroad car. The 5.5 inch wide steel wheels look nicely purposeful and although the Cibie Oscars aren’t wired up, they are present and it’s not a difficult job to complete. It comes with plenty of service history and receipts that indicate care and attention and there’s confirmation of a respray undertaken by a previous owner. Looking inside, the red interior contrasts well with the black and white paintwork providing a welcome splash of colour. It appears to be complete and lightly patinated, and although the dash padding is split a new part is included in the sale. The large period steering wheel is quite welcome for town driving but the dash top rev counter indicates some potency and greater sense of purpose. Just pause for a moment and look at that dash, with its strip speedo, painted panel and functional switchgear; it’s a masterclass of period style. Here you have a few pictures of the Amazon:
If this Volvo is as good as it looks, the estimate of £6,000 – £8,000 could be exceeded so you’ve got a month to empty your piggy bank and check for spare change down the back of your sofa. For more information on the Volvo, or on the CCA auctions in general, here’s a link: 1968 Volvo Amazon 122S
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
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