How Perfect Should the Volvo Amazon Be?


SCM’s 1967 Volvo 122S has finally returned home after relaxing for a couple of months in the care of Swedish Relics, Volvo expert Cameron Lovre’s new shop.

I had Lovre do a few things that, strictly speaking, weren’t necessary for the car to be driven, but that were necessary for me to be able to enjoy the car.

I’ve spent more than $3,000 tweaking the driving characteristics of the Amazon.

The list includes: putting a custom bend into the shift lever so that it doesn’t collide with the under-dash dealer-installed a/c unit, installing a power brake booster, calibrating the temperature gauge and putting a new bronze bushing in the shift linkage to improve the feel of the shift lever.

Installing the booster required a magician’s touch, as the engine compartment wasn’t designed to easily accommodate both the a/c compressor and a booster. That’s where the expertise of a specialist like Lovre comes into play. He knows his way around the engine bay of a vintage Volvo and was able to make everything work.

Prior to that, I had the cooling system completely gone through, as the car was overheating in weather over 95 degrees.

Was Any of This Necessary?

Let’s be clear about one thing — the Volvo already ran and drove very well. Donald Osborne drove it on the Forest Grove Tour d’Elegance, and Doug Hartman, Bradley and I took it on a 600-mile weekend Alfa Club tour that went all the way to Pendleton, on the eastern side of Oregon.

During those different events, I noticed that the brake pedal seemed soft, the temperature was running high and the shift linkage seemed loose.

You would think I would have just left well-enough alone and lived with the car and its minor imperfections. But that’s never been my nature. While I am not interested in having a car look better than new, I am interested in it driving as well as it did during the first couple of years of its life.

I get most of my pleasure out of the mechanical side of my cars — the visceral sense that each provides as it motors along. Cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s each have their own distinct flavors, but sloppy linkages and suspensions change those flavors completely. I just don’t compromise when it comes to how a car starts, shifts, corners and brakes.

Consequently, I end up burying myself in my cars. After all, I had already put IPD front and rear sway bars and springs on the Volvo, along with Bilstein shocks. The money spigot has been opened frequently.

This all begs the question — just how good do we want our cars to be? Is it necessary that they behave like they did when new, or should we just learn to accept the vagaries of their suspensions as a “part of getting old,” like buying reading glasses or sans-a-belt pants?

Just what constitutes a “road ready” vintage car? You’ve got my opinion. I look forward to hearing yours.


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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  1. I think that the fixes and modifications you have made are perfectly reasonable on a car intended for long-term ownership and frequent use. If you are going to participate in long tours under various weather conditions, these fixes can make the difference between enjoyment and worry.

    From a strictly financial perspective, perhaps they make less sense. But who applies fiscal considerations when classic cars are the topic?

  2. Keith, it’s a hobby, so whether you are upside down or not in not the issue. You and I enjoy driving the cars, and I am with you on the personal need to have the cars drive as well or better than when they were young. I also like tinkering, which adds to the enjoyment. To each his own, money secondary! Thanks for saying it.

  3. The process you are doing, Keith, is called ‘retro-tuning’.
    We do it all the time at our shop on Ferraris. More power, better handling and brakes. The trick is to leave the car reasonably standard-looking while improving the driving experience. You are right to entrust your car to a marque expert to get the job done correctly.

  4. What I have found is no matter how “good” a car is when I purchase it there is always something that could be better. These things usually start with correcting some minor but somewhat noticeable inconsistency then quickly morph into ” How can I make this better?” realm. It may be simply addition of a period SCCA badge or something equally negligible. From this point things get tricky. A little more performance? How about those brakes? I don’t want it to look different than it should and trailer queens have no place in my garage though I’ve owned a few over the years.
    The real joy of owning a vintage car is being able to use it. Modern cars are so much better and easier to use but don’t require the skill set and romance of something built in the 30’s or 50’s. An 80 mph corner in a modern sports car requires nothing like the skill in getting around that same corner at 60mph in a vintage car. Not to mention the excitement or trepidation.
    I live in an area that is full of country roads that meander over hills and feature every type of conceivable corner or curve. An hour with an XK120 coupe, Arnolt Bristol, or Super 7 at speed is exciting and quite honestly fatiguing in the best way possible. With a modern car it would be a nice drive.

  5. I had a ’66 122s that we called The Brut! Loved it. Did the IPD suspension but also bored the engine to 1900, installed an IPD street cam with lifters, duel 40 Webers and headers with a custom 2-inch exhaust system by Midas. It ran really well and was very popular……that was 35 years ago but I’d do it again. Love yours!

  6. Simple answer is a vintage car should handle as well as it did when new. I bought a 65 vette at mecum at the Harrisburg auction. I almost lost control of the car heading Back to my home in Virginia ! Scary 2 handed affair. Tires old,alignment off and steering box all in need of attention. Never mind engine performance. I had to replace the new top, bent frame and wrong size! Did I mention the pop up lights did work properly? I don’t know what you think but the fan in the heater didn’t work as well.So where do you stop??? That depends on the individual, but I fall into the while you are at it category. I expect to loose money as most gear heads do but it’s a disease only remedied by the acquisition of a new project car. Bye anyone know of a Volvo p1800 ?

  7. Keith, unless you’re masochistic enough to want to drive a “50 year old used car” in today’s overall traffic/conditions, I think you’ve done the right thing with your Volvo. As Jay Mackro says, “these fixes can make the difference between enjoyment and worry” both on long drives and short runs “around town.” I have owned my ’66 Shelby GT 350 for over 20 years, and driven it on a number of “club” road trips and to shows & events. I’ve found it much more comfortable and relaxing to have modern performance tires and brake friction materials on the car. The only thing I’ve wished for on some sunny summer trips is A/C…and I’ll still pass on that horsepower limiter for now.

  8. I’ll add my support… similar repairs and upgrades on my cars meant I could ask a couple of friends to caravan my ’70s Alfas and BMW from SF to Portland this summer when I moved. No worries (well, within the bounds of what any older car can do) about them driving the cars safely, and they all made the 650-mile trip without any major effort.

  9. My first car was a 1967 122S 2-door in the same color. What is that color, I always thought it was yellow but I am told it is green. I bought it in 1970 with 28,000 miles. It was perfect but my head was turned by a 1965 red 1800S that was not perfect. I dumped the nice girl for the tart…….I still miss the good girl, but the tart was a hell of ride. If I had that good girl 122S back, I’d treat her to some baubles like you are doing.

  10. I wonder if any of are able to share your automotive passion with your children or as in my case my grandson. Teaching him the importance of maintaing your vehicle seems to be fading away with less cars like my 67 amazon 122s. Steering and brakes no matter what car have progressed to amazing l
    evels and when it comes to basic quality craftsmanship volvo is one of the best. I hope that these relationships continue to show that pride in ownership is an important concept that I enjoy teaching my grandson through our vintage Volvo.