Category Archives: Volvo

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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Car of future passed

Flux capacitor power!

Stainless steel deal

The year was 1981 and John Z. DeLorean, “Father of the GTO,” having gone rogue after an heroic career at General Motors, finally launched his dream car that he modestly named after himself.  Stainless steel body. Check.  Gull wing doors. Check. Mid-engine. Check.  What could possibly go wrong?  As it happened, most everything. Turns out that DeLorean’s Tuckeresque quixotic windmill tilt-a-whirl was squeezed out for numerous financial, technical and, perhaps, pharmacological reasons, coupled with his own hubris and the inclination of the entrenched auto makers to make life as difficult as possible for upstarts.

0 - 88 in 30 years

0 – 88 in 30 years

We found a well-used example in a “Doctors Only” parking space the other day that is, apparently, a commuter car for a “hipocrat.”  While the DMC12 was projected to retail for $12,000 it ended up costing more than twice that amount despite the fact that power was provided by a somewhat anemic PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V6. The chassis, though, as engineered by Lotus, was on supercar par.

It's not a gang, it's a club!

It’s not a gang, it’s a club!

Despite that shortcoming in the propulsion department, an estimated 9,000 units were built at the factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland.  Actually, not too shabby in terms of failed indie car numbers — anybody remember the Vector W8?  Cizeta-Moroder V16T?  Bricklen SV-1?  OK, they built a bunch of that latter gull-winger but not even a third of DeLorean’s output.

McFly ride

McFly ride, flux capacitor optional at extra cost.

Of course, the car had an afterlife as a very literal Hollywood star vehicle in the Back To The Future series. It was the way Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character went back to 1955 from 1985 with all sorts of nutty anachronistic shtick ensuing.  That was a thirty year span and now we’ve come another thirty since John Z’s dream faded from shiny to black.  Of course, you need only get your flux capacitor-augmented DMC12 up to 88 mph to get back there if you so choose.

Click here to go back to Back to the Future as Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown character introduces Fox’s McFly to the perks of DeLorean ownership.   Want your very own?  There are quite a few to choose from right here but if you don’t get your bid in on time you can just borrow one and go back to a nanosecond before the auction ends.


Uncommon Volvo you don’t know

Dutch-built Stockhomie

Dutch-built Stockhomie

We’re often tempted to post shots of older Volvos but usually resist the impulse because they’re so commonplace and they do seem to last as long as Cher’s career.  Finding vintage Volvos is like shooting fish in a barrel but a recent visit to Stockholm brought us in close proximity of a Volvo 340DL, a very rare herring, indeed.  While it wears Volvo badging, it’s an early example of corporate multinational cooperation.  The car was built in the Netherlands by DAF, the company that had earlier developed the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Volvo bought controlling interest in DAF’s passenger car division and fitted the hatchback, smaller than anything in Volvo’s Swedish-made line up, with a motor produced in France by Renault.  The transmission, d’après the 1961 Pontiac Tempest, was mounted over the rear axle, making for optimal weight distribution.

Plug-in, yes.  Hybrid, no

Plug-in, yes. Hybrid, no

Need we remind that it gets, excuse the use of a technical term,  friggin’ cold in Northern Europe?   In light of that inevitability, this 340, which dates from the middle 1980s, has been fitted with an engine block heater to cope with Nordic winters.  It’s similar to a dorm room immersion heater; you keep plugged in overnight and in the morning, rather than helping yourself to a steaming cup of ramen, you just might be able to get the motor to turn over.

Volvo 340s were never imported to North American markets so don’t expect to find one listed in your local AutoTrader.

Hatch with a hitch

Hatch with a hitch

Despite the mixed parentage, these are Volvos and safety was a selling point.  Check out this creepy UK commercial in which a suicidal crash test dummy comes to life and proceeds to demolish one.  We’re pretty sure that the voice over artist is Michael Caine or a very convincing sound alike. What do you think?

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