Every mile I drive the SCM Volvo 122S, I save myself money.

There are two rules after you acquire a car that never change:

First, do what it takes to make the car safe to drive.

Second, put 500 miles on it before you do anything else.

When you get a car, it’s tempting to “start doing stuff” to it. Whether it’s getting WeatherTech floor mats or a new outside mirror, you can’t help yourself. You want the world to know that this is now your car.

You open your wallet and start sprinkling $100 bills around.

My advice is, once you get past the safety stuff, just control yourself and stop.

When the Volvo arrived, I spent about $9,000 having the front-end rebuilt, performance shocks and springs installed and a new windshield gasket put in. The car had lived in Southern California all its life, and I didn’t want to discover the gasket had dried out by finding pools of water in my footwell.

I also discovered that the stock seats in a 122S are non-adjustable. You sit bolt upright. It’s quite uncomfortable for a long drive. The solution was to source a set of used seat-back adjusters from a 123 GT (for $800) and have them installed.

To keep the shift lever from continuing to lock in Park, we located a good used automatic transmission shift-linkage assembly, which local Volvo enthusiast Chris Horn happened to have.

So after doubling my initial purchase price, I had a car that steered beautifully, handled well, went into the correct gear at the correct time and had very comfortable reclining seats.

That should be the end of this story.

But it’s not.

In manual shift 122s, an overdrive was optional. I had one in my last 122 and it made highway cruising quite pleasant. That’s not an option with the Borg-Warner automatic on this car.

During my first drive on the freeway I found the car to be quite buzzy.

I started researching options, and one suggestion was to put the 4-speed automatic with overdrive from a 140 (called an AW70 or 71), into the 122. A few wags said it was a straightforward swap.

When I called two shops to inquire about it, they both said it would be at least $4,000, they expected me to supply all the necessary parts and, in the end, they had no interest. Period.

So I started using the car. Over the past five days I have driven the 122S to Hood River, Oregon and to Astoria on the Oregon coast. I have put about 400 miles on it. With each passing mile, I became more accustomed to the sounds the car makes.

I discovered the previous owner had put Dynamat sound-deadener under the rubber mats and above the headliner to help quiet the interior.

On two-lane highways — OR 30 and OR 26, I cruised easily at 60 mph and kept up with traffic.

I put in a JBL Charge 3 Bluetooth speaker, set Pandora to songs from the ‘60s and let Buffalo Springfield drown out the last of the road noise.

My highway noise and engine speed problems turned out to be no problems at all. I was the problem. I was expecting a 53-year-old car to have the noise, vibration and harshness (with a nod to Jamie Kitman’s marvelous column) of a modern car.

This is a 53-year-old car, and it makes sounds and vibrations like a 1965 car should.

It was up to me to adapt, and I did.

I suggest that the next time you bring an old car into your life, once you get the suspension, steering and brakes properly set up, give it some seat time. Let yourself adjust to what a driving experience was like 50 years ago. It’s actually quite a good one.

Modern cars insulate you from the road. Old cars invigorate you with sensory input.  In a modern car, you can almost forget you are driving. With an old car, it never lets you forget that your inputs are necessary — on a constant basis.

So now the Volvo needs nothing. Except perhaps a little more power. My last text to Cameron Lovre at Swedish Relics asked if changing the cam would make a difference.

He told me to put the phone down and drive to the coast again.


  1. it’s the experience of driving an old car. I totally agree that the money invested should be to keep the safety and the reliability

  2. Jean-Pierre Auger

    …by the end of the 70ies I had the pleasure to spin a 1962, 122 (Amazon) around L.A….I still enjoy the ”flashes” of it, thanks for the wink !!! …oh! By the way, these late night burritos were already sort of night caps at times…!!!

  3. I’m puzzled by Mr. Martin’s not following his own advice concerning sprinkling about $100 bills after purchasing a vehicle. Does it not count if it goes out in $9000 increments? It seems to me that if you have to double the price of a recently-acquired vehicle to make it safe and drivable then the vehicle was not accurately represented. My recently-purchased ( at $8500) 122 was driven from Portland to Little Rock before purchase; I drive it daily in good weather. Could it handle better ? Probably. But it’s pretty darn nice.