Volvo Amazon – a female warrior turns 60

by: Alexandra M.

Volvo’s timeless beauty, the Amazon, was introduced to the world for the
first time 60 years ago. Named after the female warriors in Greek
mythology, it is still one of the most iconic models in Volvo’s history.

Volvo’s new four-door model was revealed in the first weekend of September
in 1956. It had its première in the Swedish town of Örebro, with the
elegant car differing greatly from the common perception of what a Volvo
should look like.

The shapes were beautiful and challenging, with features drawn from
Italian, British and American design. The man responsible for the design
was 26 year old Jan Wilsgaard, who went on to become Volvo’s head of design
for many years, designing the 140, 240 and 700 series, as well as parts of
the 800 series. Jan Wilsgaard recently passed away at the age of 86.


The new car was the company’s second postwar model, following on from the
PV444, and had been named Amason – spelled with an ‘s’. The name came from
Greek mythology, in which the Amazons were female warriors. The spelling
was changed to the more internationally viable Amazon prior to the launch
of production in 1957. Unfortunately, the German moped and motorcycle
manufacturer Kreidler also happened to launch a moped called Amazone at the
same time, which meant the name was unavailable in a number of key markets.

A deal was reached to allow the Volvo model to be known as Amazon in the
Nordic markets. In the rest of the world, the standard model was known as
121 while 122 was used for the sport model. The estate model with a
standard engine was called 221, while 222 was used for estates with the
sport engine. However, the car is now known as Amazon around the world.

The first few years of Amazons were incredibly elegant. Between 1957 and
1959, all cars were two-coloured. The combinations on offer were black,
midnight blue or ruby red bodies with a light grey roof, or a light grey
body with a black roof. From 1959, it became possible to buy an Amazon in
just one colour, and 1961 was the final year of production of the
two-coloured cars.

The 1958 Amazon Sport was developed for customers who wanted more power.
With twin SU carburettors and a sharper camshaft, the engine could generate
85 hp SAE.

In 1959, Volvo’s patented three-point seatbelt became a standard feature in
the Amazon – a world first! No single other safety feature has been
anywhere near as significant. It is estimated that at least one million
lives have been saved by the three-point seatbelt over the course of its
57-year lifetime.

February 1962 marked the introduction of the estate edition of the Amazon.
The difference between this car and the Duett van was substantial. The
Amazon estate was an elegant car with an American-inspired boot door that
was split horizontally.

The sportiest edition of the Amazon was the 123 GT, which borrowed its
engine from the 1800S sports car. The 123 GT was launched as a 1967 model,
offering 115 hp and overdrive. The wing mirrors were attached to the front
fenders, extra lights came as standard and a tachometer was mounted above
the dashboard.

Product development on the Amazon continued despite the introduction of the
140 series in 1966. Both the Amazon and the 140 series received the new B20
engine for their respective 1969 models. The larger volume provided better
torque and a slight increase in power.

667,791 Amazons were built between 1956 and 1970, making it Volvo’s most
manufactured model at that moment. The Amazon switched Volvo’s focus from
the domestic market to the export market – a total of 60 per cent of
Amazon’s manufactured were sold outside of Sweden.

The Amazon was also the first Volvo to be assembled outside of Sweden. In
1963, Volvo’s plant in the Canadian city of Halifax opened its doors. Cars
were built there for the North American market.

Later, an assembly plant was also opened in Durban, South Africa. However,
the biggest investment was in the Belgian city of Ghent. As Sweden was
outside of what was then the EEC, it was important to get a foot inside the
European customs union. In 1965 the factory opened with an initial capacity
of 14,000 cars per year.

On 3 July 1970, the final Amazon was built at Torslanda. It was dark blue
and was driven straight into the collection of cars that later became the
Volvo Museum.


10 facts about the Volvo Amazon you may not know:

1. Around eight per cent of the approximately 297,000 Amazons sold in
Sweden are still around! The most common edition is the model from 1966, of
which there are still 4,804 registered cars. In total, there are 24,282
Volvo Amazons registered in Sweden.

2. Volvo’s factory driver, Carl-Magnus Skogh, won the 1965 Acropolis
Rally in Greece driving a 122S.

3. The Swedish police cooperated with Volvo, and they jointly developed
equipment that was later included on ordinary production cars. The police
cars featured disc brakes, brake assist and radial tyres several years
before they became common in production cars. The police Amazons were
equipped with rear window fans and there was a button by the steering wheel
connecting the windscreen cleaner with the fastest windscreen wiper setting.

4. Colin Powell, the USA’s former Secretary of State and Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a big fan of cars. He has owned several classic
Volvos, including a 1966 Amazon estate. When he left his post as Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, he was given an Amazon in dire need
of renovation by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

5. The 1963 Geneva catalogue featured the Volvo 122S Cabriolet – its
creator was listed as Jacques Coune, the Belgian coach builder. It was a
beautiful conversion, featuring doors without window frames, door openings
that were gently rounded at the back and rear lights that were angled
forward. The catalogue gave the impression that it was a production car,
but Volvo had nothing to do with the initiative and only four were built.

6. Advertising man Amil Gargano of New York took on the Volvo account in
1962. He concluded that Volvos could withstand practically anything, and
this became the brand’s USP. An advertising film shows an Amazon being
driven hard on gravel roads. The advert’s payoff is just as clear as it is
impossible today: “And you can drive it like you hate it. Cheaper than

7. There were plans to put a V8 in an Amazon – an evolved version of a
truck engine. Five prototypes were said to have been built, but in the end
Volvo’s management realised that a V8 was not suitable for the Amazon, not
least given there was no six-cylinder version and the leap from a four to a
V8 would have been too great.

8. The Amazons built in Volvo’s assembly plant in Halifax, Canada were
marketed under the name Volvo Canadian.

9. When Volvo’s range of models expanded thanks to the Amazon, Volvo
regained its position as Sweden’s best selling brand of car in 1958. This
is a position it had retained every year since then.

10. In “All The President’s Men”, the movie about the Watergate affair
that forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Washington Post
reporter Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, drives a white Amazon.

Volvo Car Group, Sep 1 2016, ID: 195263