By Dave S. Clark
When you first lay eyes on a stock Volvo Amazon, it may not scream ‘rally car.’ Compared to the sports cars that the British, Japanese and Americans were making at the time, it doesn’t look very sporty and certainly by 1970, when production wrapped up after a 14 year run, it looked quite dated. The Volvo Amazon, also known as the 122S, seems to have borrowed styling cues from early 1950s Chevrolets and Chryslers and could be a two-thirds scale version of those cars mashed together.
So why did I choose this car for the Canada 5000? The simple answer is because of its pedigree. It doesn’t look much like a rally car or a sports car, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it had an incredible run during its time. Not only did an Amazon win the Shell 4000 twice, in 1964 and 1965, it also lays claim to three class wins, a second overall finish, a third overall finish and two fourth overall finishes.
On top of that, the Volvo 122’s other race or championship wins include Swedish Saloon Car Championship (1960, 1961), Swedish Ice Championship (1961), German Touring Car Championship (1961), European Rally Championship (1963), European Ladies Championship (1963), RAC European Touring Car Championship (1965), Acropolis Rally (1965), Syd Rally Sweden (1965) and the New Caledonia Safari Rally (1967). Retro Turbo has a full list of all the Amazon’s other many podiums and class wins.
Weighing in at roughly 2,400 pounds and fitted with either a 1600cc B16 putting out a max of 85 horsepower, a 1800cc B18 putting out a max of 115 horsepower, or a 2000cc B20 topping out at 118 horsepower, the Volvo 122 was never a fast car. So how did they win all of these rallies and races? It’s simple. They are bulletproof.
I’ve heard it time and time again – if I do the basic maintenance to my Volvo 122S, it will run forever. Volvo used the 1964 Shell 4000 win in a marketing campaign, stating that of the 10 Volvos in the race, all 10 of them finished without losing a single minute to mechanical failure and most impressively, none of those 10 vehicles had to replace even a single part on the car. One of the Volvos rolled over 500 miles from Vancouver, but still completed the remaining 3,500 miles to Montreal without replacing a single part.
The Volvo B18 engine that I’ll be running was developed from a V8 that Volvo used in their commercial truck lineup. Essentially, it’s the V8 chopped in half. It retains the same massive main and rod bearings from that truck motor. For proof of it being incredibly reliable, look no further than the Irv Gordon’s Volvo P1800 with a B18 that holds the record for most miles in a single car. It has clocked more than 3 million miles and the engine has only been rebuilt twice.
Based on that reputation, I knew that if I was going to be driving 5000 miles in a car that would now be 40 to 50 years old, it had to be a Volvo 122.
Another factor that played highly in my decision was the Volvo 122’s connection to Canada. When Volvo opened its first production facility outside of Sweden in Halifax in 1963, the 122 was the first car to be assembled. The very first one to roll off the assembly line is still on display in the Museum of Industry in Nova Scotia.
On top of that, Volvo 122s are the only cars to have explored the Bedford Basin. There are a couple dozen of them sitting at the bottom, which Volvo intentionally dumped after being damaged at sea on their trip over from Sweden.
The one final reason to choose a 122 was a family connection to the car. My father-in-law Carlo’s first car was a blue two-door 122. It was the car he learned to drive on. A Volvo mechanic at the time, he also road raced a 142 back in the 1970s and his old race car is still on the track in Canada to this day. He knew these cars inside and out and has been a great resource when I’ve had questions about mine.