In the 1950s and 1960s, Volvos were best known for their durability and reliability – this at a time when many European cars were known for exactly the opposite. Volvo owners would often keep their cars for decades, racking up hundreds of thousands of miles – a point exemplified by famous New York Volvo owner, Irv Gordon, who currently has over three million miles on his 1966 P1800S – a car which has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest mileage, one-owner non-commercial vehicle in the world.
This particular Volvo, however, a 1965 122S two-door sedan, has only been driven 93,472 miles (150,000 km) in the past 49 years! And though it’s been partially restored, it still has its original 90-horsepower B18 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with twin SU carburetors, the original Borg Warner three-speed automatic transmission (a four-speed manual was standard at the time), original vinyl seats and matching door panels, original steering wheel, original chrome trim, and original spare tire!
Roy Nairn is only the second owner, the car having been bought new at longtime Vancouver Volvo dealer, Docksteader Motors in June, 1965. Roy bought the car in 2000 because he liked the car’s classic lines, but soon discovered some hidden rust in the floorpan. Undeterred, he spent over $20,000 restoring the car with original Volvo components and parts. This also included new window, door and trunk seals, and a new vinyl dashtop. All this is documented in a thick binder full of service records and receipts.
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Known as the Amazon in Sweden, the Volvo 120 series was built from 1956 to 1970 in three body styles, four-door sedan, four-door wagon, and two-door sedan. A trademark issue prevented Volvo from using the Amazon name elsewhere, so it was introduced as the 120 series in other countries. In Canada, it was also dubbed the ‘Canadian’ or ‘Canadian GT’, in part because Canadian models were assembled from knockdown kits in a factory in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a corporate strategy designed to avoid certain import taxes. In this car, you can see a faded “Made in Canada” plaque under the hood near the VIN plate.
Roy took me for a brief ride to a local park: the car starts up right away, the automatic transmission changes smoothly, and the engine pulls strongly and is surprisingly quiet while cruising. The ride is comfortable, though a bit floaty over road dips. As was the case with most European cars of that era, there is no power steering and parallel parking requires some effort. The steering wheel has a cover but Roy says it has no cracks in it – he just prefers the grip of a vinyl cover. There’s no radio in the dash, but Roy has an original Volvo radio that can be installed. The front seatbacks fold forwards allowing easy access to the rear seat, which is roomy enough for two adults.
This classic Volvo 122S would make a perfect candidate for a full restoration – it’s already met the requirements to be insured as a collector vehicle in B.C. It could even be a regular driver for those looking for an alternative to today’s look-a-like family sedans. The Volvo’s attractive styling draws looks wherever it goes. It’s even appeared in a couple of movies: Roy says it was used in the 2004 Robin Williams movie Final Cut, in the TV Series Missing, and in some TV commercials.
Nostalgia can have its rewards.