SURVIVOR’S GUIDE Volvo Amazon TANK COMMAND. The rugged ’60s Volvo is a practical choice but it still needs the right care and maintenance to survive. Words Paul Wager / #Volvo-Amazon
With its mixture of ‘60s style, solid build and rugged mechanical bits, the Volvo ‘Amazon’ – or 120-series to give its proper name – makes a very practical classic which is eminently capable of being pressed into daily service.
That doesn’t mean it won’t need suitable care and attention though: the design first saw the light of day in the 1950s and rugged though it may be, it’s still a 1950s car underneath.
In production for 14 years, the Amazon was a big seller for #Volvo
around the world – of the 667,323 examples produced between #1967
, over half were exported which means there are plenty around. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of running one as your classic.
It’s something of a misconception that old Saabs and Volvos were built to withstand such extremes of climate that they simply shrug off the UK weather and in reality they rust just as extensively as any other steel-bodied car of the era. In the words of one Amazon owner we spoke to recently: “They take longer to rust, but when they start they really go.” One common cause is leaky front screen seals which tend to dry out and allow water down the A-pillars to rot out the floors. The rubbers are both sealed and glued in place and it pays to keep an eye on their condition.
Elsewhere, the front wings can start to bubble, while the arches will look tatty and rotten inner wings can get costly to fix. The boot floor can rot around the spare wheel well if the drain holes are blocked, while the sills and door bottoms can also be troublesome.
The B16/18/20 engines are rugged units but do suffer a couple of issues related to the age of the design. The first is the felt rear crankshaft oil seal, which tends to allow oil on to the clutch. The problem can be solved by upgrading to a modern neoprene seal which is done on an exchange basis – you buy a new seal with the neoprene already fitted and return your old felt unit for reconditioning.
On older engines the fibre timing gear can also break up, but again a modern replacement will solve the problem and is available from specialists.
The direct-acting gearshift is normally a positive change despite the lever’s long throw but if it starts to feel awkward then suspect the gearbox mountings may have failed. This allows the box to physically drop in the chassis and the cure is to fit polyurethane replacements.
The saloons and estates used #Girling
front discs and rear drums and the system works well but discs can be surprisingly expensive: £184 each brand new, with an exchange price tending to vary. Essentially there’s just a single Swedish supplier for the parts and the hub is built into the disc rotor which explains the cost.
Everything you might need is available, although a change in the design of the rear trailing arms in 1966 means you’ll need your chassis number to hand if yours was built in that year. Uprated bushes are widely available to firm it up, while several brands including #Koni
can supply uprated dampers, with a big choice of springs also available.
Most of the trim is available via Swedish supplier VP Autoparts (www.vp-autoparts.com) in the common colours. Dash tops tend to split and reproduction parts are available but since they’re glued and stapled in place it’s not a five-minute job.
The front seats came with headrests from 1968, although all the cars will have the necessary fittings in the seat frame. The Amazon also came with standard-fit front seatbelts plus factory-fitted mounting points for rear belts.
The window winders use chains and when they break you’ll need a special tool to set it all up again.
Many owners also remove the factory-fitted soundproofing from the cabin as it tends to absorb moisture and encourage rust, replacing it with a modern equivalent like Dynamat.
WHEELS & TYRES
Tyre choice for the correct 165/80 rubber on the standard 4x15 wheels is limited, with the cheaper tyres not always well regarded. Suppliers like Longstone can supply the Michelin ZX which is a good choice, while some owners move up to 5” wheels which allows a much wider and cheaper choice of 195-section tyres.
And speaking of wheels, the PCD is the same as the Ford Mustang which means there’s a good choice of aftermarket styles available.
The electrical system on these cars is robust and you can expect it to be reliable. Many owners do tend to upgrade the standard tail light bulbs to brighter LEDs since the lamp units themselves are small by modern standards.
If you’re going to use the car every day then Amazon fans suggest a post-1968 car as the sensible choice, since they had the benefit of more power from the upgraded 118 bhp Volvo-B20 2-litre engine, plus dual-circuit braking and standard front headrests.
The range grew to include four and two-door saloons plus the estate. The P1800 coupe was also based on the Amazon.
Launched in #1956
as the #Volvo-120
, the ‘Amazon’ tag was used only in Sweden after motorbike maker Kriedler objected to Volvo’s original name ‘Amason’. The car kicked off the three-digit naming convention used by #Volvo
until the late ’90s. Engineering of the Amazon was conventional, with a longitudinal fourcylinder engine driving a coil-sprung live rear axle. The 1.6-litre #Volvo-B16A
engine was derived from that used in the Amazon’s predecessor, the Volvo PV544 and the car was initially offered as just a four-door saloon. In 1958 the twin-carb #Volvo-B16B
engine provided 85 bhp, with the 1778cc B18 engine introduced in 1961 in 75 or 85 bhp trim. At the same time the 122S model debuted the 90 bhp #Volvo-B18D
engine, subsequently uprated to 95 and then 100 bhp. The 123GT was introduced as a two-door only model in 1967 with the 115 bhp 1778cc engine, with the engine taken up to 1998cc in 1968 and good for 90 bhp in the 121 or 118 bhp in the 122S.
The two-door model was offered from 1962, alongside a five-door estate and from 1959 the car was offered with standard front seatbelts – the first production car to offer the feature.
Production finally ended in July 1970, when the car was replaced by the mechanically similar but squarer-looking 140 model.
They're made of thick steel but can still rot alarmingly. Engines are rugged but rear oil seal upgrade is wise.
All the panels you'll need for bodywork repair are available from specialists, as is much of the interior trim.
TECH SPEC #1965 #Volvo-122S
BODY & CHASSIS Monocoque four-door saloon
ENGINE 1778cc OHV four-cylinder.
Max power 100 bhp at 5700 rpm
Max torque 129 lb ft at 3900 rpm
TRANSMISSION Four-speed overdrive
SUSPENSION Front, wishbone and coil springs. Rear, live axle with trailing arms and coil springs.
BRAKES Front discs #Girling
, rear drums
WHEELS & TYRES 4x15 wheels with 165x15 tyres
TOP SPEED 103 mph
0-60 MPH 14.4 secs
ECONOMY 35 mpg