Volvo 122S: Göteborg-built goer

Long runner

Long runner

Irrespective of condition, it’s always inspiring to encounter a Volvo 122S in the wild as happens quite regularly. Volvo had been selling cars in the US for a few years prior to the 1959 introduction of the 122S, badged Amazon in its Swedish homeland. The 122S was a more mainstream offering than the PV444/544, its humpbacked predecessor the design of which recalled a 7/8 scale ’47 Ford.

122S: you take care of it and it will take care of you

122S: take care of it and it’ll take care of you

Rust buster

Rust buster

Seems that Volvo continued to adhere to an implicit policy of offering styling appreciably behind the times as the 122S looks like a ’52 Ford to our eyes though we’ve been told its design was inspired by the Kaiser — the car, not the German with the pointed helmet.  The “pontoon” look notwithstanding, the 122S, like all Volvos made before the company’s acquisition by Ford  (who, in turn, sold it to current Chinese owner Geely),  was built for the long haul.  Our gallery offers real testimony to that undeniable fact.

Wagon for the ages (photo by Feral Cars Field Scout Peter "Petey" Andres)

Wagon for the ages. Photo by Feral Cars Field Scout Peter “Petey” Andrews

Byron Laurson, best-selling author and certified Feral Cars Friend, gifted up with this catch phrase that most certainly applies to these great cars that are the embodiment of vehicular sustainability.

To boldly go on when other cars no go no mo’. Volvo, the official vehicle of genteel poverty.

"That should buff right out"

“That should buff right out”

What makes these heroic Volvos, the very newest of which is now more than 45 years old, wear like iron? For one, they were made out of it.  Well, steel, actually, but not just any steel.  Car bodies were built of phosphate coated steel that made the paint stick better, ergo keeping rust out.  They were factory undercoated and not that fake-o goop that domestic car dealers used to foist on customers justifiably concerned that their new Plymouths, Pontiacs and Ramblers, fresh off the showroom floor, could soon turn to dust.  An anti-corrosive oil treatment was also part of the Volvo deal.

Unbreakable B18 keeps things rolling along

Unbreakable B18 keeps things rolling along with dual carbs

OK, so the bodies were built to last but the legendary B18 motor is — and there’s empirical proof of this —  the most durable in automotive history.  It’s the same motor that has propelled Irv Gordon’s P1800 over 3 million miles with only two rebuilds, one at 680,000 miles and another 1.32 million miles later.

High miler

High miler

Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fact that while one can pretty much count on the car surviving a long time the same is true of its driver and passengers.  Volvo was the first car maker to provide front seat belts as standard equipment and the first to equip its cars with three-point seat belts.

Surf's (literally) up, 122S style

Surf’s (literally) up, 122S style

You’re going to love this 122S commercial from 1962, the tag line of which is “You can drive a Volvo like you hate it. Cheaper than psychiatry.” This seems like pandering to a neurotic consumer base to us. Note that the car wears New Jersey tags. Volvo of America was established in Newark in the mid ’50s and later moved to Englewood Cliffs so we’re thinking that long before “Bridgegate” this was shot somewhere in Bergen County. . Why not buy a low mileage 122S for the fraction of the cost of a new car?  It’s sure to last another 30 or 40 years so this seems like a value proposition of the first order.  We found this swell ’67 with only 56,000 miles in nearby San Diego, CA for only $14,995.  It’s wearing those evocative original equipment Volvo mudflaps making it an even sweeter deal.

Certificate of authenticity

Factory fresh!

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5 thoughts on “Volvo 122S: Göteborg-built goer

  1. Rip Masters

    don’t see much Kaiser influence, but there is a good deal of similarlty to the Willys Aero-Lark compact especially the front and greenhouse …..

    1. feralcars Post author

      Point well taken. The Willys Aero-Lark did, indeed, had a very straight forward Volvoesque design but we suppose it’s more fitting to suggest the 122S had a Willysesque look about it.

  2. Byron Laursen

    To be included in a Feral Cars post, in italics and with attribution, makes me both proud and humble. Not an everyday sort of humility, but the magnificent humility of a world-beater.

  3. feralcars Post author

    Happy to have acknowledged your contribution and we still have some italics left for future posts so all is well.

  4. Brewster Thackeray

    Thank you for the tribute to the Amazon! I drove my parents’ 122S to Hackley high school in the 1980s when it was 20 years old, and I have a sweet twin of that car today. It gets as much attention at local shows as cars worth ten times as much, and it’s pleasant to drive as well. I’ve been in love with its look since I was a kid; the inspiration I see most is from the larger but also clean and stylish mid-1950s Chrysler family of cars.


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