600 Miles in an Air-Conditioned Amazon

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Sometimes I just feel contrarian.

A few weeks ago I drove our 1967 Duetto on the Porsche club-sponsored Northwest Passage.

This past weekend, the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Oregon had its annual summer tour. As I have five Alfas, naturally I decided to drive our 1967 Volvo 122S, a.k.a. “The Amazon.”

There was actually some logic to this choice. While the Duetto performed admirably on the Porsche tour, it felt rather like a mobile Bikram “hot yoga” studio in the 95-degree heat of Bend, OR.

The Volvo offered the possibility of a different climatic experience. Its dealer-installed factory a/c blows ice-cold. I was eager to see if it would really work on a tour.

The car was built by racer Jim Perry and has a good, solid feel to it. To prep it for the tour, I had local guru Cameron Lovre finish up the suspension mods – front and rear IPD sway bars, IPD sport springs and Bilsteins.

Good friend Doug Hartman was my co-pilot, and seven-year-old Bradley was our navigator.

Alfisti Tom McGirr organized the tour, so we knew it would be a good one, as his past events have been excellent.

It was a right-sized event, with two 1967 Duettos, a late-model Spider, two Porsche Boxsters, a 968 Cabriolet, a 260-ci Sunbeam Tiger, a 1983 Ferrari 308 GTS QV and a 1963 Giulia Sprint (old bodystyle, upgraded with a dual-Weber engine).

We met near the Sandy River on Friday morning, and by our return home to Portland Sunday afternoon we had covered just over 600 miles.

The Volvo performed brilliantly. While down on power compared to the sports cars, the handling modifications let it keep up with the big boys on most sections. I had Perry fit an overdrive M41 transmission, sourced from another local guru, Chris Horn, and it gave us excellent cruising capabilities. We saw a true 94 mph on one section, fast enough for a car on skinny tires and with suspect brakes.

In fact, the brakes were our only concern. Equipped from the factory with front discs and rear drums, with upgraded braided steel lines but stock pads, the pedal was not as firm as I would have liked. (The booster was removed in order to fit the a/c.)

During one particularly aggressive downhill section, we managed to get the front discs smoking hot, with grease oozing out of the wheel bearing area, and a brake pedal that went almost to the floor. I am thinking upgraded pads and maybe some drilled or slotted rotors would help.

The challenging and picturesque route took us through Bickleton, home of the Alder Creek Pioneer Carousel Museum, and to Hat Rock State Park. We spent the first night in Pendleton, and McGirr arranged a tour of the Pendleton Underground the next morning. We learned about the gambling dens, speakeasies, Chinese-worker triple bunks and the “cozy rooms” (read: brothels) that were still active into the early 1960s.

The second day included a stop at the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds and ended at the historic Hotel Condon Hotel. We went through Fossil, Antelope (former home of the Rajneesh movement) and Maupin before heading across Mt. Hood to Portland.

It was a terrific way to spend three days with enthusiasts in classic cars and enjoy the Eastern Oregon countryside.

The Volvo stayed very cool inside, to the envy of the convertible owners. In fact we never turned the fan on the a/c up to its highest speed. Further, it averaged nearly 28 mpg and didn’t use any oil or water. It provided a spacious cockpit for the three of us, along with a voluminous trunk – Hartman even brought his favorite pillow.

Prior to this trip, I thought I had my list of “must haves” for my vintage cars down pat. Now I’ve got one more thing to add – air conditioning. Does that mean I’m getting soft as I reach my maturity?

To view a gallery from the trip with 73 photos, click here.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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