The last few years have been rough for Volvo, the Swedish car maker that was sold to Ford for $6.45 billion back in 2000. After a decade as Ford’s vassal, Volvo was unloaded to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group for a paltry $1.8 billion. What a deal! That corporate upheaval seems to have messed with Volvo’s focus on the US, traditionally its biggest market. Subaru has, clearly, taken over as the car favored by those concerned with safety, the environment and appearing vaguely responsible. Volvo sold merely 61,233 cars here last year while Subaru moved 424,683 units.
The fact that Volvo didn’t even offer a traditional station wagon for the past few years and ceased production of its small C30 hatchback last year couldn’t have helped matters. There’s talk of a renewal at Volvo with new models — including a station wagon — in the offing but we’re prone to looking in the rear view mirror at what made Volvo so special.
The 122S, introduced to the US in 1959, made Volvo a serious contender over here with its upright, non-controversial styling, rugged running gear and emphasis on safety. It was the model that made Volvo a serious contender in this country. Volvo, essentially, introduced the notion that safety sells and equipped these cars with front seat belts at first and then with three point over-the-shoulder belts as standard equipment. This was a very radical departure in the era of tail fins and fender skirts.
Volvo’s P1800 sports car was, in essence, a re-bodied 122S, just as the Karman-Ghia was a VW Beetle in sports car drag, though the P1800 was much more of a sporting proposition thanks to its relatively gutsy motor. Initially, the most famous P1800 was the one driven by Roger Moore as Simon Templar in the British spy series The Saint. That car has been supplanted by Irv Gordon’s 1966 P1800 which he purchased new and went on to drive more than 3 million miles on the original motor! Talk about a reputation builder!
A glass hatchback wagon version of the car, model designation P1800ES was produced for a few years, the idea being a bit more utility would be welcome even in a sports car. Hey, it’s a Volvo and station wagons are the signature model of the marque.
We’re kind of inspired when we see a 122S or P1800 in daily service these days, more than forty years since the last one was built. Only time will tell if we’ll ever see a 40 year old Subaru trundling up the freeway someday but we doubt it. Volvo, on the other hand, used to build cars for the ages. Literally.
It was during a drive through Alaska this past September that Irv Gordon’s ’66 P1800, made it to the 3,000,000 mile mark as documented here. Inspired? Don’t just sit there! Get yourself something undeniably real and enduring. There are several hardy 122s available on Ebay so get clicking and buy yourself a car that could outlive you — even if you’re only in your 30s or 40s.
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