By on August 28, 2010

[Ray Charlton has been a long-time TTAC reader (amazon ray) and has fed me numerous tips. He has offered to share the story of his experiences with his automotive companion of thirty seven years. TTAC always encourages reader submissions, and we are particularly interested to make this type of reader’s story a regular weekly column. It’s a great way to get to know each other better, and share our automotive-related  passions, careers, crazy stories or?? And you’ll (eventually) be $50.00 richer. Send them to me at [email protected] About 800-1200 words, and if it needs editing, I’m on it. I also need suggestions for a title of this series. PN]

It was October of 1973, and my seventeenth birthday. My father’s idea of the perfect gift was to give me his daily driver: a 1968 Volvo 122 Amazon. He had bought it new and now it had 74,000 miles on it. Well, needless to say I was mighty happy to get the car. But I’m even happier to have it still today.

Sure, it needed some work when I first got it. But I had just taken 1st year Auto Shop at my High School and I figured I knew a few things about cars. (“a few” being the operative words here).  Right off, I had to give the car a tune up, a brake booster rebuild and last but not least have the automatic transmission rebuilt. Yes, it has an automatic; a Borg Warner Type 35 three speed, and probably the weakest part of the entire car. It is the one thing that has given me the most trouble over the years. But at the time I was not worried about it. I figured I would have the car for 5 years or maybe 10 at the most. Little did I know.

I kept signing up for Auto Shop. It was my favorite class, and between my excellent teacher and my car I was learning a lot. I enjoyed every minute of it, knowing that I would much rather have my hands on a tool than on a textbook. And having a car that needed a lot of things fixed on it was actually an advantage, for a change.

I did a quick engine rebuild on it (quick meaning I did not pull the engine out of the car).  One thing I learned right off was that “tight is good – too tight is bad”. I probably twisted off half a dozen valve adjustment screws learning that lesson. And when a valve adjustment screw is twisted off, the entire rocker arm assembly has to come off to change it. And of course all the valves then needed to be adjusted again, giving me 8 more chances to break another adjusting screw.

For the next sixteen years, the Volvo was my daily driver (twenty six years total). I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and took the car on several long road trips including to Arizona and Northern California. And I soon got to be good friends with the parts guys at my local Volvo dealer, who gave me a discount since I was such a good customer.

I owned the car for four years before I started modifying it. I installed a set of IPD front and rear sway bars, and a year later I installed IPD coil springs that lowered the ride height and a complete set of Bilstein shocks. The car now handled a lot better but it just seemed like it did not have much power. So I bought a used engine from a junkyard for $200 and totally rebuilt it, using IPD parts. I bored the block .30 over and installed a camshaft that increased the torque.  A set of custom alloy wheels were next. A Weber two barrel downdraft carb replaced the balky SUs, and a set of headers completed the package. That second engine now has 145,000 miles on it and is still going strong.

I have been a loyal IPD customer since 1977, and seriously doubt that I would still be driving the car if it wasn’t for them. From the headlights to the tail light lenses, and pretty much everything else in between that needed replacing came from them. Right now the car has 271,000 miles on it, and the only moving parts on the car that are still original are the fuel tank, the fuel quantity sending unit, the heater fan motor, the heater core and the wiper motor. Everything else has been repaired or replaced at least once.

I have had that damn transmission rebuilt seven times. The first few times I took it to repair shops that didn’t do a very good job. But I have high hopes for the latest rebuild (always the optimist).

As recently as two years ago I used the Volvo as my daily driver for a while. It was a rather strange feeling driving a 40 year old car around every day, realizing I was pretty much always in the oldest car on the road.

Back in 1989 I bought a new Saleen Mustang, and the 122 then became my second car. It was a real shock going from a 21 year old car to a brand new vehicle and all its conveniences. And there is nothing like the power of a V-8, especially the Saleen, which is a very quick car. It has 105,000 miles on it now.

Two years ago I bought a Mazda MPV minivan from my ex-wife. So now the Volvo is my third car. The MPV, which has 282,000 miles on it, is currently my daily driver, as I would much rather put the miles on it than on the Saleen or the Volvo.

Looking back over my life it is hard for me to imagine not having my Volvo. My father got it when I was 12 years old, and I’m 53 now. I can see it sitting outside in the driveway as I write this. That damn car is like a family member, it’s been in my life for so long. I think of all the people I have hauled around in it and all the places and jobs it’s taken me to. My two daughters grew up with the car and both of them have driven it. I think it says a lot about a car that three generations of one family have be able to get behind the wheel of this car and head on down the road.

My father passed away in 1988. Not many days go by that I do not think of him. I still feel a very strong connection with him and owning the Volvo is a big part of that. It is very easy for me to think back to times when my father was driving my younger brother and me around in the car. And I can remember times when I was driving Dad around in it. I like to think that he sometimes looks down on me driving his old Volvo around and smiles. He got a lot more for his money buying that Volvo and then giving to me than he could ever have imagined. Or maybe he did?

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43 Comments on “Thirty Seven Years With An Amazon...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Wow. This story was awesome and heartwarming at the same time. This is why I so want my father’s 67 Mustang.

    Titles for this series? “To All the Cars I’ve Loved Before…”

    “Wheels of the Best & Brightest”

    The Truth About Cars and Their Owners”

    Little Did I Know… (cause most of these owners likely didn’t plan to keep a vehicle as long as they did or love it that much.)

  • avatar

    Beautiful story. Cool car.

  • avatar

    What a fantastic story. Thanks!

    I would love to see more of this on TTAC.

  • avatar

    Great read! My utter lack of mechanical skills combined with an interest in new things mean I’ll never own a car this long. Ah well, at least I have good memories of cars my father and grandfather used to drive.

  • avatar

    You’re certainly persistent when it comes to that automatic transmission – 7 rebuilds! I’d would have converted it to a manual a long time ago and saved myself the headache.

    • 0 avatar
      amazon ray


      I looked into a tranny swap. Several times. (Believe me. I took the trans out and put it back in for every rebuild). But I found out the biggest problem is that when Volvo made the car the transmission hump they installed in the body was a lot larger than the one they used for the manual. So when a trans swap is undertaken there is no room for the drivers foot to sit on the gas pedal after the complete pedal assembly is installed. I was told it is easier to just buy another Amazon than to swap a trans. So I just stuck with the auto.

    • 0 avatar

      The manual transmission is almost bulletproof, and made in Sweden.
      The Amazon was build like a tank, and it almost runs like one :)
      My first car was an 1962 Amazon with a B18 engine and a 4 speed manual.
      My friend had an 1970 with a tuned B20 and that car was a riot.

  • avatar

    That was a great story, thanks for sharing!!!

    It reminds me of a couple of my uncles, each on different sides of the family. My dad’s youngest brother bought a brand new Cavalier back in 1988, just before his son was born. He had a vanity plate made to put on the front that had his soon-to-be-born son’s name on it (Matt). Fast forward twenty-two years later, Matt is grown up and married, and my uncle is still driving that Cavalier every day. Over 200k and still on the original engine and transmission. He keeps parts cars around just in case, but he doesn’t need much from them.

    My mom’s brother has a 1967 Mustang GT Fastback that he purchased in 1970 as a teen for his first car. Though is doesn’t get driven much, he refuses to sell it, and for obvious reasons. He and my aunt bought the house across from my grandparents some twenty-plus years ago, and one day my cousin and I were going through some old pictures and we found a pic of my uncle as a teen, with the car, in front of his now-current home!

    I love stories like these, can’t wait to read more!

  • avatar

    Great job Ray! My father had a ’66 122 4 door that our family kept until 1985. It was sold off to a Volvo collector so I am sure it went to a great home. They were truly ahead of their time. His was black with red interior.

  • avatar

    By the way how about an under hood shot?

  • avatar

    If only more people thought about cars like Mr. Charlton.

    Bravo, sir. Bravo.

  • avatar

    wow , that was good . This is like the polar opposite of BoothBabe , not meaning negatively ( no pun intended)
    How about ” Stories from the Glovebox ” ” Glovebox Diaries”

  • avatar

    Great story-there’s nothing like a classic Volvo to evoke fond memories.My brothers owned several and my first car was a white 1961 B-16 544.

    It was a long learning curve with that car-my 16 year old mind took a long time to solve the wiring issues-CIA codes are like child’s play by comparison.

    But the biggest stumbling block was redoing the head-I did that part fine and actually got it running but I couldn’t get the timing right.

    Goodbye mint 544.

    I saw it several years later in my university parking lot-it still looked great and it was running like a Swiss watch.Painful memory in some ways, but at least the car had a future.

    Here’s a happier Volvo story-he had the right idea (keep it)and he still loves teaching so this baby is still on the road…

  • avatar

    Cool story! I miss my 1800ES (which had quite a few bits in common with an Amazon).

  • avatar
    Wonder Bar

    So many times now, the best part of my day comes from this site. That Volvo is the toughest lookin little car, two door and all, yeah what a neet little car. Would love to see the engine. I would have to hang on to it too no matter how many trans. had to go in it. Thanks so much for the story. How ’bout: “Life,Cars and Time”.

  • avatar

    Back in 1964 my late Dad had one of these 122 in Hong Kong Middle Kingdom, not sure was S or not.
    S may have twiin solex carb.
    Anyways they did survived a rear end from a Bus, lo & behold so many yrs they never complained of whip lash, or it wasnt invented back then.

  • avatar

    Love this. After all those years they turn into personal time machines.

    I can totally relate to it: I have a 63 Plymouth Valiant Signet I have owned for 30 years. Everyone I have ever cared about has ridden in it, worked on it or helped push it.

    And on the right road on the right day it’s 1963 and I’m in the family’s 63 Dart wagon rolling down Rt 66 to visit the relatives on Dad’s annual 2 week vacation……

    You are soooo right. It’s family.

  • avatar

    Great story! My father bought his 1973 911 brand new the year after my parents were married. It’s still in the garage, with 58k miles on it. I can’t imagine it not being around!

  • avatar

    Wow, that was a great history lesson. It really brought back some of the same memories I have of time spent with my dad and his cars. Thanks TTaC.

  • avatar

    I hope i’ll keep a car for 30+ years sometime.

    On a related note, i just checked Amazons for sale here and there is an almost identical white -66 2-door for sale, first owned by the dealershipo and the following 42 years with the second owner. Currently highest bid 3300EUR. Check it out:

  • avatar

    A great read. Hemmings Classic Car magazine has a segment like this, it’s a favorite.
    Here’s some title ideas:

    ‘Affairs of the Car’
    ‘Cars, Pleasure & Pain’
    ‘Car Stories’
    ‘My Car’
    ‘My Car Story’

  • avatar

    Phrase not often heard: “I kept signing up for Auto Shop.” Sadly, this is hard to do now. Our local high school doesn’t even offer auto shop. I took it several times back in the seventies.”

    Phrase often heard: ” . . . loyal IPD customer since 1977, and seriously doubt that I would still be driving the car if it wasn’t for them.” IPD nursed me through 4 Volvos from 1991 through 2009. When I finally sold the last one I called them to say thanks and let them know to take me off their mailing list. They thanked me for my years of business and I immediately stopped receiving their catalogs. Not many vendors will do that. It’s obviously run by a small group of dedicated people.

    When I bought my first used Volvo wagon (a 1985 I purchased in 1991), the dealer had a 1967 Amazon wagon (automatic) with 795,000 miles on it on the lot. I asked them if they were seriously selling a car with that many miles on it. They were; it was sold the next day.

  • avatar

    The transmission woes reminded me of something I’d not thought of for many years.

    In college I worked summers in a Biochemistry lab. In 1969 or 1970 I was a lab assistant for a young post doc who had just bought his first new car, a volvo that I think looked like this one. I don’t know the model.

    After 7 months his auto transmission died and he found out that the new car warranty was only for 6 months!

    He was still so smitten with Volvos he bought a new one (with a stick, at least). I thought he was nuts.

    I’d forgotten the leason when I bought a ’90 740 wagon. As a lemon it was only surpassed by a ’74 Fiat 128 I’d owned.

    I did learn why Volvos are considered so safe: it’s hard to be killed in a car that won’t run.

  • avatar

    Since the peanut gallery here is commonly referrer to as the “Commentariat,” I propose this feature be called Commenchariots.

  • avatar

    Just lookin at that car makes me want to spark a fattie…then convert it to a stick

  • avatar
    the duke

    Nice post, thanks Ray. I have similar sentiment with my 62 Hawk that Paul did a CC on. In fact, he’s already got pics – I’m tempted to do a write-up.

    As to title…while not a soap fan “Cars of our Lives” has a nice ring to it…

  • avatar

    Wow what a cold old car.

    It does my heart good to see someone love on and take care of an old car like that.

    Is that the original paint job?

    • 0 avatar
      amazon ray


      You are looking at the second paint job the car has had. And it needs a third. As soon as I get an extra $3,000 I will be getting it painted. Same color.

  • avatar

    Great article/interview. I’ve always thought like a farmer regarding cars: why should my tractor (car) wear out in five years? They should last a long time and be renewable at a reasonable cost, and should not need major work for at least 15 years. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a car like that. Not even the older Mercedes models—they all go bad far too quickly and cost too much to bring back.

  • avatar

    Nice story with a nice family angle. I wonder why you were so dedicated to the automatic transmission? I’d have tired of the repairs and converted it to a manual long ago.

    Oh, and that’s a beautiful car.

  • avatar

    Until a couple of years ago, my friend, Patty still had the Volvo 144 (I think) wagon that her parents had bought new in 1968, when she was 10. I think it was a daily driver into this decade. She and her husband had a lot of work put into it about a decade ago. But the first gen prius–bought just before the ’04 model change, I think, usurped the Volvo.

    I so wish I had asked for and hung onto my parents’ 1965 Peugeot 404 wagon.

    Title for the series: Keepers

  • avatar

    I love the styling of the Amazon. The adjective that comes to mind is “honest” but it’s so much more. I also love the other two Volvos of that era.

  • avatar

    I agree with gslippy–I would have wanted to convert it to a manual.

  • avatar

    When I was growing up someone that my father worked with had two Volvos. One was an Amazon, the other was an early 144. I forget the model year but the two of them would have been of that ’65 to ’69 vintage.
    The interesting thing about these two cars was that he only had one on the road at a time.
    Every few years he would take the one he was driving off the road, take it completely apart down to the frame and rebuild it. This would take him a couple of years since he wasn’t in a hurry. During that time he would drive the other car.
    Then switch.
    I’m pretty sure he did that up into the ’90s before he sold them off.
    I thought it was a great idea (still do).

    • 0 avatar

      Every few years he would take the one he was driving off the road, take it completely apart down to the frame and rebuild it.

      “Every few years he would take the one he was driving off the road, take it completely apart down to the bare body and rebuild it.”

      There, fixed that for you.

  • avatar

    Well done Ray, I get the sentiment because Volvos run in my family too. Over the years, my dad owned a 142, four 240s, a 740 and now a S70 T5, always second-hand. My brother bought a used S40, the dealer couldn’t believe that a young man would want such a car, he thought it would be wrecked on a joyride. Last year dad bought an ’99 S70 for me to get around, white like your Amazon. I was in my late twenties at the time and girls my age love it; people can’t believe it’s a ten year old car, approaching 200K.

    Volvos are rewarding purchases, but they do take a patient owner that will tolerate their quirks and accept them as tinkering cars. I have to admit, I was skeptical of the FWD Volvos, but my mechanics knew the previous owner and worked on the car since it was new… they always mention that it’s a rare specimen that never seems to go wrong… living up to the old Volvo rep.

    I wish we could hang on to a classic, but up here in Southern Ontario, our winters inevitably eat any car alive. I know I’d like to hang on to mine for a while.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s an S70; some America-only model?

      Here in Europe, the sedan is called S80; the estate car / wagon is called V70. (Yes, it is illogical: Since the body style at the rear is the only difference, the number should be the same; only the letter was supposed to indicate body style in the new Volvo model nomenclature.)

  • avatar

    My 1966 122-S had twin SU’s; I got it delivered with station-wagon wheels because they were half an inch wider than the sedan’s 4-inchers. Even that is really skinny by today’s standards. It needed no major rebuilds during 8 years and 93K miles. Moving from Chicago to Houston, I added a MK-IV A/C, which coped with the Gulf Coast heat and humidity just fine, but I would have killed for a thermostatic or electric engine fan. What a racket on the highway! A couple of years in Michigan ended its service life via terminal NaCl poisoning.

  • avatar

    Apologies if this has already been suggested foir a title for the series (my lunchhour does not allow reading every comment) but surely it needs to be:

    “Readers’ Rides”

    which will no doubt spawn a few apostrophe arguments as an added bonus :-)


    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Already being used by Hot Rod Magazine for annual features of what they’re readers have in their garages. (My father has been a loyal subscriber since the mid 1960s. I’ve teased him that his subscription to Hot Rod has lasted longer than his 35+ year marriage with my mother.)

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