The Volvo Amazon or 120 as it was known in some markets, was introduced in 1956 as a mid-range family car to replace the rugged but outdated PV, which had been soldiering on since 1944. While it retained the solid upright stance of its predecessor, the Amazon featured a number of technological improvements that brought it right up to speed with its competitors. More powerful engines, class leading safety standards and very solid mechanicals made it a very desirable package.
Despite its humble beginnings, the Amazon has developed a real following around the globe for its extreme ruggedness and classic looks. Built during a time when men were men and a toaster was built to last 20 years, these somewhat over-engineered cars have been restored, modified, raced, rallied and converted by enthusiasts for decades. Original well cared for ones are becoming collectors’ cars in their own right and finding a good one can be a great way to experience classic motoring without the headaches.
Which one to buy?
Unusually, more coupes were built than saloons (359,917 vs 234,653), with 73,220 station wagons making up the 667,791-strong production run. Finding a good one can take some time though, as the last cars rolled off the line 45 years ago.
Engines ranged from 1.6 to 2.0 litres and they imbued the solidly built cars with respectable if not earth shattering performance for the time. The basic engines were very durable and a Volvo P1800 with the 1.8 litre version of this motor has covered a world record holding 2,500,000 miles.
The coupe body style was designed by Jan Wilsgaard, a man also responsible for a number of very successful Volvo models such as the 144 and the P1800ES estate. While the coupe retained the sober saloon like profile, it added a dash of exclusivity over the other body styles.
There were a variety of transmissions available throughout the production run with a four-speed manual and a three-speed Borg Warner automatic making an appearance midway through the Amazons lifespan. The four-speed gearboxes are the most common nowadays.
These cars were in a very relaxed state of tune from the factory, so there are a lot of modification options available if an improvement in performance is required. The most popular is generally fitting overdrives for improving motorway driveability. For added go, a change to twin carbs gives a useful boost.
Performance and specs
Volvo Amazon 1958 four door saloon
Engine 1583cc, 8-valve pushrod, OHV
Power 85bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 87lb ft @ 3500rpm
Top Speed 94mph
0-60mph 14.8 seconds
Gearbox Four-speed manual/three-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
Length 4395mm (4490mm estate)
• Parts are in good supply and various specialists will be able to offer you good quality replacement spares if originals are no longer available. Pricing is also very reasonable on most parts so this really is a viable daily classic driver.
• Rust is not as big an issue as with some of its contemporaries, however take a look under the front arches as this is the most common area for any corrosion to take place. Bumpers can also rust in the insides if not treated properly. Many have been subject to restoration, so check the quality of the paintwork and use a magnet to look for filler in the body panels.
• Rear support arms may rust on the early cars so these should be checked as they can collapse if too far gone. Otherwise suspension can be as rugged as the rest of the car. Post-1966 models have upgraded twin trailing arms which improve on the single radius arms of the earlier cars. The station wagons can experience cracked suspension arms if the rubber bushes are not replaced due to the increased loads they generally carry.
• Engines are especially robust especially the 1.8 and 2.0 litre versions. Regular maintenance and frequent oil changes are all that is required to keep them running smoothly. Timing gears can rattle when worn, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a big repair bill. Parts for the early 1.6 litre engines are increasingly difficult to come by so bear this in mind when looking at the early models.
• Gearboxes are even more rugged than the engines, any issues here are usually down to worn bushes. Overdrive conversions can be done to any Amazon, and add value to the car. Clutches are also long lasting with only the master and slave cylinders being susceptible to wear due to their aluminium construction.
• Upgraded springs and dampers can increase the suspension’s lifespan, as the Amazon is not a light car and the standard components take a lot of strain.
• Water pumps are one of the less durable parts however replacements are not pricey.
• Interiors are hard wearing but spartan, front seats will have worn significantly after so many years, so factor in the cost for a refurbishment if this has not already been done. Dashboards changed aover the years, but all are very durable.
1956: Four door saloon introduced
1958: First Volvo Amazon imported into the UK
1959: Volvo offers seatbelts on its car range - a world first
1961: Two door saloon introduced
1963: Automatic transmission option introduced
1969: Estate version is discontinued
1970: Production ends in July
Clubs and websites
• www.volvoclub.org.uk - Owners club and forum for all Volvo owners
• www.classicvolvoparts.co.uk - Classic Volvo parts specialists
Summary and prices
The Volvo Amazon is one of those rare classic cars that combines a generous dose of driving nostalgia with some practical reliability and durability. Aim for a post-1966 model as there were some useful changes made to these cars, and do not be put off by less than pristine examples as parts are plentiful and well priced. Some earlier models may have had some of these updates carried out as well.
Pricing ranges from near scrap metal value for project cars to £3000 for a good condition example. Restored or pristine condition examples can command more than double this figure, but essentially these cars are affordable classics that will continue to gently rise in value as time goes on.
Words: John Tallodi