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SNAPSHOT 234: 1962 Volvo 122S

Your contributor is very much a ‘vintage’ car enthusiast, but of the post-war cars that he has owned, this Volvo 122S is remembered with the most affection. First registered in Manchester in March 1962, it had already seen plenty of use when purchased in the autumn of 1964. Its first owner, a city-centre dentist, was an enthusiastic driver and had endowed the Volvo with a Ruddspeed cylinder head and Koni shock absorbers all round, and the result was a saloon car with very brisk performance and excellent road-holding. The 1960s were still the days of ergonomics-free bench-type seating and Volvo were pioneers of  properly-designed front seats that combined hitherto-unknown comfort with researched and adjustable support.

Whilst steering column ‘porridge stirrer’ gear-changes had largely disappeared by this date, few cars contemporary with the Volvo had such a substantial and well-engineered central gear lever, and the change movement itself and ratios were very satisfying. Less good was Volvo’s corrosion-resisting treatment, and on purchase, rust bubbling along the seams below the headlights, as well as in other locations on the bodywork needed touching-up – this on a car under three years old.

The styling, the work of Jan Wilsgaard, still stands well the test of time, and appeared when many contemporary saloon cars were visually lumpy and disproportionate. The 121/2 series joined the PV544, lumpy indeed and LHD-only, but revered by enthusiasts for its rallying prowess, at the October 1956 Earls Court Motor Show, but it was to be another couple of years before production and imports to the UK had really got under way. Initially termed the ‘Amazon’, and with a three-bearing 1600cc engine, single carburettor and 6-volt electrics, 1961 saw the launch of the 122S, with the 1778cc B18 engine which had a five-bearing crankshaft and twin SUs and 12 volt equipment. Girling disc brakes were fitted at the front. A Volvo ‘first’ with this model was safety belts as a standard fitment.

The 122S was priced below significant market rivals such as Jaguar, Vanden Plas Princess and the top of the range Rovers, and, endorsed by William Boddy’s summary in Motor Sport, sold well. WB’s verdict was: “a splendid proposition for the discerning driver”.

Exactly so. 1970 saw the boxy 144 appear to supersede the 122 series, and in my case an immaculate powder-blue P1800 sports coupé had stolen my heart and replaced 3008 NE. A head-turning thing of beauty, maybe, but on the road the P1800 fell well short of the 122S driving experience that I had so much enjoyed.


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