Safety is usually what comes to mind when car buyers think of Volvo. But while the Swedish automaker is certainly very good at that, it also has a more performance-inclined side. Even before it founded Polestar, Volvo had gone racing with models like the 850R wagon. Plus, like many other automakers, it’s also had a go at rallying. And one of its first success stories came in the form of the Volvo 122S Amazon.
The Volvo Amazon is something of a classic car safety icon
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the Amazon helped Volvo cement its international reputation, Hagerty and Automobile report. Although it wasn’t the first Volvo wagon, the ‘221’ Amazon was the brand’s first four-door wagon, Car and Driver reports. And it was also significantly more refined, advanced, and better-equipped than its predecessor.
Besides the wagon, Volvo offered the Amazon in ‘121’ and ‘122S’ form, which are technically the car’s official names outside of Sweden. Both trims were available with two or four doors, with the former being referred to as ‘131/132’ internally, the UK Volvo Owner’s Club reports.
But regardless of which Amazon you bought, it came standard with seat belts, the first car to do so, MotorTrend reports. It was also the first car to come standard with three-point seat belts and, later on, the first with rear-facing child seats, Roadshow reports.
But the Volvo Amazon was forward-thinking in more areas than just safety. After the Swedish police started ordering upgraded Amazons, Volvo added many of the police upgrades to the standard models, Road & Track reports. By the time production ended, the Amazon had all-wheel power-assisted disc brakes and radial tires.
Plus, rather than using a body-on-frame design, as was customary at the time, Amazon is a unibody car, Silodrome reports. Not only does it make the car lighter, but it also makes it more rigid, Silodrome explains. And if you’re going rally racing, those are two very good features.
Especially in 122S form, the Volvo Amazon could out-last its rally rivals
Being named after the legendary tribe of warrior women, the Volvo Amazon was rather fast for its day, Driving.ca reports. Especially in its later, more powerful forms.
Initially, the 122 had a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 60 hp linked to either a three- or four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. And thanks to dual carburetors and a performance camshaft, the first Volvo 122S examples made 85 hp. But by 1965, the four-door Amazons had a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that, in 122S trim, made 95 hp. And the 1968 123GT model’s 2.0-liter engine developed 118 hp.
However, although the unibody Volvo 122S Amazon handles fairly well, Driving.ca reports, that wasn’t its biggest rallying advantage. Volvo’s classic four-cylinder engines, the 1.8-liter B18 and 2.0-liter B20, are legendarily durable, Petrolicious reports. It’s because of the B20 engine’s stalwart design that the late Irv Gordon traveled over 3 million miles in his Volvo P1800.
And with these engines and their chassis, Amazons dominated long-distance rallies, Petrolicious reports. A race-prepped Volvo 122S won the 1963 and 1964 European Rally Championship, Bring a Trailer reports. Another won the 1965 Acropolis Rally, Sports Car Digest reports. And with the help of a 160-hp B20 engine, upgraded suspension, a limited-slip differential, and a roll cage, the Volvo 122S made an excellent Group 2 WRC car, Bonhams reports.
Even today, it’s a solid and affordable classic car
The Amazon’s durability has also ensured there are a lot of them still around. In 2015 Volvo claimed that 24,282 Amazons were still registered in Sweden. It helps that, unlike many of its contemporaries, the car has fairly decent rust protection, Hagerty reports.
As a result, the Volvo Amazon is fairly inexpensive for a classic car. Although genuine rally cars command higher premiums, a good-condition Amazon can be yours for under $10k, Hagerty reports. And most examples on BaT sell for less than $15,000.
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