introduction is intended to give a brief introduction to the
Volvo 120 Series known generally as the 'Amazon'. Half a million
were built by Volvo between 1956-1970 and gained a well-earned
reputation for toughness and longevity. Many would argue that
the 120 series really made Volvo's name in world markets. When
introduced the car caused some surprises for a relatively small-engined
car with a performance matching and in some cases exceeding some
121 four-door saloon introduced. Fitted with a 60bhp B16A
engine, two-tone colour scheme. In early 1957 the car goes on
sale at 12,600 kroner. In December the 5,000th car is completed.
122s introduced. B18B engine with twin SU carburettors, 85bhp
and four-speed gearbox. In August front three-point seat belts
are introduced as standard.
First 122's imported to UK. £399 (including purchase tax).
New engine fittedóB18. The single carte version B18A (a
Zenith) produces 75bhp. The B18D with twin SU carburettors,
90bhp at 5,000rpm, 12volt electrics are introduced and an
uprated front suspension. The 122s with the more powerful engine
is fitted with front disc brakes.
Two-door saloon introduced.
220 estate car introduced in Sweden.
100,000th car built.
Automatic introduced fitted with a three-speed Borg Warner box.
The two-door saloon is available in twin carte form.
1965 models announced, fitted with an orthopedic seat design
with adjustable lumbar support.
123GT introduced. Two-door fitted with the B18B from the P1800,
115bhp with four-speed gearbox and overdrive, rev counter, fog
and spotlights, wing mirrors, a P1800 type steering wheel along
with new wheel trims are the differences. The 121 saloon is
fitted with a Stromberg carb which increases the power to 85bhp.
The 122's B18D is increased to 100bhp from 95.
Divided steering column designed to collapse on impact.
Production of four-door saloon discontinued in favour of the
The B20 (1998cc) introduced, B20A single carte, 90bhp and
the twin carte B20B 118bhp.
The estate discontinued. The remaining range is only two-door
saloons with either engine option. Front seat headrests and rear
seat belts fitted.
Four-door saloons 234,208; two-door saloons 359,918; estates
is a great deal of confusion over the numbering system adopted
by Volvo for the 120 series. Four-door saloons are designated
P120, two-door saloons as P130's and estates as P220. However,
one sees a two-door badged as a 121 and can be badged as a
122's. The badging is generally an indication of the engine
originally fitted ie 121 indicates a single carte engine, 122's
twin, the 'S' for sport. Later cars are often called 131, 132
and 133 but are not badged as that, using the existing numbering
121, 122's etc. The exception is the 123GT. To establish what a
particular example is one is advised to consult the TYPE number.
This is found in the engine compartment on the 'box' which holds
the brake master cylinder or in later cars the servo linkage.
The number is a five figure number. The first three are the main
first: 1 = Saloon, 2 = Estate,
second: 2 = four-door or estate,
3 = two-door saloon.
third: figure relates to the engine.
= B16A or B18A or B20A,
= B16B or B18B,
= B18B or B20B.
given a basic history of the car and the various models, a few
words on finding a worthwhile example. what to look for, spares
availability and hints on maintaining the vehicle. The 120
series has a justified reputation for strength and reliability.
Parts availability is good and there are a number of specialised
suppliers who offer a wide range of alternative parts and
secondhand spares. Although it is an older model, Parts
geek has in stock auto parts for your
Volvo 120 series vehicle
The cars are not immune to rust but cope with
it far better than most of their contemporaries. The most common
areas are the front wings which are easily replaced, rear wheel
arches and on saloons the spare wheel well. Doors can suffer
from rot in the lower regions and spare doors are becoming
scarce. Obviously if one finds a badly rusted car, especially in
the floor pan, one should seriously consider the cost of repair.
Bonnets and boot lids are generally rot free. Interiors,
replacement material is scarce but the average car does not
usually suffer from poor interiors as the original is very
durable. Note that rubber mats were
fitted as original; carpets suffer in the Swedish winter.
problems are usually down to lack of servicing. Engines will
last 150,000 miles before major work is required, especially if
the oil has been changed regularly along with the oil filter.
The early B16 engine is somewhat rare and the spares for it are
becoming very difficult to obtain. The later B18 and B20's do
not have this problem.
transmission is a very robust affair, gearboxes are
almost unbreakable, any judder is probably worn engine and
gearbox rubbers. On the early saloons the rear support arms are
pressed steel and can rust; replacements are available and
reasonably priced. Service the car at the recommended intervals
ie change the engine oil at 3,000 miles and the filter at 6,000
miles. Whilst on the subject of servicing, the only special tool
required is the rear brake puller. The drums can be extremely
difficult to remove and I make it an annual event to remove the
drums even if the brakes do not need servicing, just to make
sure they do not become very tight. A good set of A/F size
spanners/sockets, screwdrivers will enable one to complete most
are improvements and modifications one can make to the vehicles.
One of the most popular and useful is to fit an overdrive - it
gives a better fuel consumption and lowers the revs (one can
also hear the radio at 70Mph). Another is changing a single
carte into a twin. When doing this it is also advisable to fit a
twin exhaust down pipe if a single was fitted, this will help
the engine to breathe. For the more ambitious a camshaft
replacement will give more 'go'. One modification I firmly
believe in is the fitting of a stainless steel exhaust system.
Their robustness and long life make them an excellent buy.
the early sixties a small Sussex company, Ruddspeed, modified
production cars. They offered three stages of tuning, brake
servos were fitted, springs lowered, different tyres fitted. In
its stage three form a Ruddspeed 122's could top 127mph. Even an
estate given the 'treatment' could reach 100mph. For those of
you having been privileged to own a 120 will not need anyone to
try to convince you of their virtues:
strength and reliability, practicality and simplicity to
maintain. The name Amazon could not have been more appropriate.
These qualities have been borne out by their performance in
recent rallies, from the Paris to Marrakesh, London to Sydney
and the latest Monte Challenge. My own experience with the car
goes back over twenty years and until a year ago I used one as
daily transport. I never had a problem which prevented me from
getting home.John Smith
Volvo Owners Club (UK)