By on July 1, 2013

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (1)After the combined inspiration of what I’ll refer to as “Murilee’s Barrage o’ Volvo”—recently featured in his “Junkyard Finds” columnand my most recent “BODACIOUS BEATERS” entry—featuring a purple Chevy II Wagon—I have no choice but to segue to today’s entry!

Available from something like most of the ‘60’s decade here in the U.S., the Volvo 122S—sold as the “Amazon” in its home market—certainly holds a fond place among my youthful automotive memories. A neighbor across the street used to shuttle a group of us teenagers to High School in a sedan version. I recall the gear shift lever of exaggerated length, the rather organic engine thrash and gearbox whine demonstrated during acceleration, and the leisurely progress of this activity charted by a horizontal left-to-right “red tape” speed indicator. (I was surprised when I later did learn of the “Amazon” designation, as these vehicles never impressed me with anything I could properly call “ferocity”—all genders notwithstanding!)

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (2)

At any rate, all of that Swedish uniqueness—and let’s not forget to mention the very un-Swedish twin side-draft SU carbs these models were equipped with—undoubtedly was a contributing factor in my choice to make my automotive repair career debut on imported vehicles.

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (6)

A friend of mine had a 1967 P1800 toward the end of our High School years, which I shortly learned was equipped with many components found on the 122 then extant. We got to do a lot of ambitious “driveway” repairs on his “P-Ship”, most of which were successful! That “Saint-mobile” provided a very unique and memorable driving experience all its own—in spite of its modest 122 mechanicals.

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (3)

Now, considering all of the water that has circulated through the oceans of automotive time since then, this particular 122S Wagon—circa approximately 1966—certainly appears to fit comfortably into its retro/modern SurfWagon persona.

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (4)

What appears to be original paint (at least the original color—save for the replacement right front door) is complemented by randomly dispersed surface rust, some less-than-professional “touch-up” attempts, absent trim bits, and the odd dent or two. A couple of window stickers—which seem to indicate a mild state of identity crisis—round out the vibe quite appropriately.

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S (5)

Hope you all enjoy this Swedish blast-from-the-past; and stay tuned for more Vintage Volvo Bodaciousness!

Surf-Spec Volvo 122S

Phil has written features and columns for a number of automotive periodicals and web-based information companies. He has run a successful Auto Repair Business in the past for many years (See “Memoirs of an Independent Repair Shop Owner” on this TTAC site). He can be contacted through this very site, or

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6 Comments on “BODACIOUS BEATERS (and road-going derelicts): “S” IS FOR SURFER!...”

  • avatar

    I went through a 122 phase in the early 1980’s. It started when a coworker found me an abandoned ’65 122 sedan that had been off the road for three years, had a dented RH quarter panel, but otherwise a drivable car, kept it for two years until I transferred to the Pacific Northwest. While still in Cambridge, I managed to get the use of an MIT storage warehouse to keep a ’66 wagon and four door parts car, as well. Before leaving the area,I added to the collection by buying a ’68 122 two-door that had had a small fire in the cockpit.

    On to the Northwest, and I found an intact ’67 122 wagon in a junkyard with just a flat tire and crushed LH fender, so I put that one on the road with nothing more than a different fender, air in the tires, and a tune-up. If these cars had a downside, it was the electrical system. It seemed to be engineered by Lucas, and not always reliable. Upside was the tank-like construction, metal body parts that seemed like they came from an armored car compared to the Honda’s I worked with, OHV 1800cc engines that were as strong and sturdy as Honda motors. Yes, a great surrogate for a Ranch Wagon or woody for carrying boards and dudes. I still have one of the unique locking gas caps, an AM radio, 122 radio blanking off plate, and brochures in my basement.

    The model to get, for non surfers, is the 123GT, essentially a 122 two door with an 1800S (IIRC-a two liter) motor, and a few other performance trinkets.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a number of these cars, and still do. Like anything in life, this car either speaks to you, satisfying some inner feelings and tastes, or doesn’t. In my case, after 11 years of 122 ownership I’m only more happy with these cars. They check all the right boxes for me- sturdy, good-looking, easy and fun to drive and work on, reliable, and sensible. The electrical systems are fairly straightforward- the Lucas bits generally work well when not grounded to burled walnut, as on Jags of the time period. Most of the electrical problems now are due simply to age, and an entire car can be rewired with two or three spools of 12 gauge wire. The rest of the car is arguably more bulletproof than the legendary VW bug. And certainly a much more pleasant place to spend time behind the wheel, or as a passenger.

    The ring tone on my phone is me cranking the B18 in my ’67 122 wagon in a parking garage one day after work. Great little engine!

  • avatar

    I once owned a $500 1966 121,from Sweden, which had a single down-draft carb. It had a couple of huge rust holes, but a perfect interior.
    It would start right up on sub-zero mornings, when other, newer cars wouldn’t!

  • avatar

    I went through I want a Volvo 122S wagon phase – while in college during the late 70’s / early 80’s. At the time, I owned a 69 145 wagon at the time and much preferred the old-school look of the 122S.

    Volvos drove like a truck and were built like one. Hence, the leisurely shift. No power steering – but the fit and finish was head and shoulders above most compacts of the era.

    I learned to like the dual, SU side draft carburetors, elegant in their simplicity. The electrical items were mainly outsourced from around Europe. One of my biggest triumphs was to modify a Bosch alternator from a Ford Fiesta to replace the original S.E.V. Marchal.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Remember taking a GF in IIRC 1975 to look at a ’68 Dart , which she wound up not buying . The same guy was selling a 1967 122 wagon , which we also test drove . The owner had recently retired and bought a new Monte Carlo and was selling both their cars . Remember being impressed with the perfect interior and it drove alright , and felt really tight . I thought the gear shift was a bit long and truck like , but I remember wishing I’d bought a 122 wagon instead of the VW Squareback I had recently bought and was already suffering buyer’s remorse about . Tried to talk the GF into buying the Volvo , but she didn’t want a wagon or a manual trans .

    • 0 avatar

      A recurring theme with the 122: a manual shift lever long enough to have come from an early F100 pickup or ’65 International 3/4 ton pickup, and a vinyl interior so well sewn together and made with such great materials that almost 20 years later, not a pulled stitch or rip.

      The VW Squareback had its place, but I don’t long to have another one as I do for a 122 two-door or wagon.

      While I remember, when I had my small 122 collection in the East, someone gave me a book all about companies whose main business was recycling. One of the featured companies specialized in rebuilding 122’s and BMW 1600/2002’s for resale. They were located somewhere in NJ or eastern PA.

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