Category Archives: Volvo 122S

Bittersweet Hershey Scene

Malaise Era Buick Reatta and a Brass Era Model T

A visit to the Antique Auto Club of America’s annual fall meet in Hershey PA presented this site’s gate keepers with a dilemma.  Our focus has long been to highlight cars as they are — uncurated, so to speak — in their natural environment.   That means that auctions and car shows are removed from our consideration set.

’60 Olds wears a full body condom

Just the same, we’ve decided it would be OK to offer a look at some of the sights experienced at  Hershey. On the day we were there rain fell in torrents and the setting was one of poignancy that compelled us to share the resulting photo essay.  Both gleaming show cars and beaters under plastic sheeting or left on their own to endure the elements offer, at the very least, a soupçon of feralosity (feralousness?)  There’s a real sadness in this circumstance: works of rolling art and heaps, alike, are vulnerable. Indeed, as are we all.   The sun will eventually shine again and melancholy will ultimately turn to joy.  That’s certainly our hope.  Have a look…

Rainy day sale and it even “runs and drives”

If have to go to the hospital, go Packard style or “ask the man who is prone in one”

Don’t call it “Hank”

If the shoe fits, drive it.

We’ve never seen a dry Kurtis before, let alone a wet one.

Bird sanctuary

So nice, they had to do it twice

Styled by Pininfarina in Turin, built in Kenosha by American Motors

Big ol’ wet kitty from Coventry

Back to the past

Best guess is Mustang or a big hunk of roast beef

Even wet it’s better than the band of the same name

One piece at a time..

Drenched Sport Fury is still freaky and fabulous

“Help! I’m stuck on the hood of an old Cadillac and drowning.”

Moist Cosmopolitan

Like a private railroad car but tracks are not required

Isetta got wetter

You call it rust, we call it patina

Packard didn’t make a pick up but somebody did

Speaking of pick up trucks, there’s not much to talk about here.

Yes, we can all get along

“Needs some work”

Race called on account of rain

“Heckflosse” in chains

Upright elder

Mix ‘n’ match



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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Stolid Swede

Gothenburg-built brick

Torslanda-built brick

We were thoroughly taken by a buttercup yellow Volvo 142 the other day.  This is the big box that proved Volvo wasn’t mired in the look of the ’40s as suggested by the pre-war Ford-styled humpbacked PV544, or, for that matter, the look of the  the ’50s, as seen in the ’52 Ford-replica 122S.

Yellow peril

Yellow peril

The 140’s look came from Jan Wilsgaard, Volvo’s in-house chief designer whose motto was “simple is beautiful.” No argument. This one is a ’73 that would be supplanted by the refreshed 240 for the ’75 model year.  Mudflaps on all four wheels?  Check! Shaped like a brick? Check! This is a real Volvo with stand-up styling, rear wheel drive and a resolute attitude.  European luxury without the luxury!

Crowning number

Crowning number

This close-up of the far from flashy ‘142’ badge speaks volumes.  An American car of this era would have four-inch-high script on its flanks, a spoiler on the trunk lid and, possibly, opera lamps on the c-pillars.  It’s no wonder that these often doubled for Soviet sedans in any number of low-budget Cold War spy thrillers.

Square biz

Square biz

Despite the dowdy stance, the 142 (and four-door 144 and station wagon 145) was quite modern for its era. Bosch fuel injection was introduced in ’71 and Volvo built on its reputation for safety with three-point shoulder belts, front and rear.

Wheel deal

Wheel deal

Basic yet refined transportation was the caused served by the 140 series.  It was the most contemporary Volvo of the company’s first 40 years and far less derivative of American styling than its predecessors.  Thought to be bland in its day, its straightforwardness makes it a stand out in this day of flowing, organic and look-alike car design.

Snow White's coffin.  Really?

Snow White’s coffin. Really?

We couldn’t resist including a photo of an apparently leaky P1800ES which shares most of its mechanical components with the 140.  It’s swoopy look made Volvo showrooms of the time to be studies in contrast. It is, however, a kind of station wagon so there’s that Volvo practicality once again.

The 122S was the predecessor of the 140.  It had an inviting roundness to it and presented perhaps as pleasingly plump but certainly not on an Anita Ekberg scale.

Swedish curves

Swedish curves

Volvo’s reputation for safety was well-deserved but the company may have, ahem, “burnished” it somewhat with this commercial depicting a literal stack of 140s, the bottommost of which resists being crushed under the cumulative weight of six cars.

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Volvo keeps rolling

122Sxpress yourself!

122Sxpress yourself!

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.

'Saintly' P1800

‘Saintly’ P1800

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.

It won't die

It won’t die

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!

Volvo = wagon

Volvo = wagon

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.

Glamorous grocery getter

Glamorous grocery getter

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.

Beauty is skin deep

Beauty is skin deep

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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