Just the Amazon and Me

122S at Rooster Rock State Park in Oregon

Last Saturday I did something I haven’t done in quite a while — I took a little road trip by myself.

It’s been a typically hectic few months. I’ve attended car events in Italy, Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington, but I haven’t had any “alone time” with my cars.

The 1967 Volvo 122S “Amazon” continues to be one of my favorites. It’s not as fast as a Porsche or as raw as an Alfa, but between its charming appearance and adequate performance, it gets the job done.

Sorting Out the Details

The car came to SCM from Volvo 1800 racer and enthusiast Jim Perry. It was mechanically strong, but it needed a few minor items addressed to get it “on the button.” I tweaked the suspension by adding IPD sport springs and a rear sway bar. The car already had Bilstein shocks.

Then there was the shifter, which punched the dealer-installed a/c unit every time you shifted into first or third. So I had the lever bent at the base, per the Volvo factory instructions. It still hit, but now it also touched the seat when going into second and fourth. It simply made the car unpleasant to drive.

Also, the brake pedal seemed soft. There is no brake booster, and it’s not easy to fit one under the hood with all of the a/c equipment there.

I took the car to Ship’s Mechanical and had Rover guru Doug Shipman take a look at it. He solved both issues.

Shipman put a compound bend into the shift lever, which made the car a joy to shift. He then replaced the master cylinder and adjusted everything properly. (I had already put new calipers and pads on the front and new wheel cylinder shoes on the rear.)

The pedal is good now, and the car stops well. I still prefer the feel of a boosted brake pedal, so at some point down the road I’ll have a booster installed.

I also had the cooling system serviced at Mac’s Radiator & Automotive Service, which included recoring the radiator, back-flushing the engine and replacing all the hoses and caps. I was told the gauge reads a little hot, even though an infrared gun indicates 187 degrees at the back of the head where the temperature sensor screws in. Cameron Lovre, a local Volvo aficianado, has told me he can recalibrate the gauge.

The a/c puts a real load on the cooling system on hot days in slow-moving traffic, but if you can’t use your a/c on a hot day, what’s the point? Making sure everything was in top shape seemed like the prudent thing to do.

Seat Time

I took a 130-mile round-trip drive to White Salmon, WA on Saturday, and the car was just great. It has enough power to keep up with freeway traffic, and with overdrive engaged it cruises comfortably at 70 mph. There’s a little vibration through the steering wheel, and I may have the balance of the front wheels checked.

The a/c blew cold when the sun was out, and I had the rare experience of driving in a vintage car in hot weather with the windows rolled up.

Because I am a hopeless gearhead, my time with the car was like a mechanical meditation. I was fully engaged in the act of driving, as opposed to being entombed in a modern mechanical conveyance, completely insulated from the road.

As I put the Volvo back in the garage, I reflected on the joys that old cars can bring into our lives. The Volvo represents one of the best European car designs of the 1960s, and half a century later, it delivers a very satisfying experience.


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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