This saga illustrates how much time and energy an old car can cost you — even when it’s solid when you buy it.

My 1967 Volvo 122S came from Volvo P1800 racer and retired academic Jim Perry. He had combined the rebuilt drive train of one car with the very nice body and interior of another.

I purchased it as a “needs-nothing, fly-to-Madison, Wisconsin and drive-it-home car.”

While not perfect, the car was very straight and attractive in a light cream color with a tan interior.

Always Something To Do

However, chronicled below are all the things I have done to make it drive better and be easier to live with. Perhaps few of the upgrades were necessary, but the car delivers much more driving satisfaction after the modifications. And since driving pleasure is the name of the game, I think every expenditure has been justified.

After I purchased it, I had Jim install an overdrive unit in the car.

When it arrived, I sourced iPd performance springs at a Volvo swapmeet and a rear sway-bar from local guru Dean Koehler. Those items, along with the already-installed Bilstein shocks, gave the car better-than-expected handling.

I took the car on a 600-mile tour last summer, along with my son Bradley and good friend Doug Hartman. Doug tells everyone who will listen that he likes the Volvo because it has a trunk “big enough so I can bring my favorite pillow along on road trips.”

Since then, I had Mac’s Radiator completely redo the cooling system. I never liked the way the brakes felt, so I had the Line-Up Shop do a rebuild. Parts were sourced from iRoll Motors. They included new calipers, discs, and rear shoes and drums. Alfa racer Dave Rugh provided me with pads and rear shoes fitted with Porterfield competition material.

I still wasn’t satisfied with the pedal feel, so Rover specialist Doug Shipman fitted a new dual-master cylinder and fiddled with the brakes. They were better — but still not exactly what I was looking for. While the Amazon was at Shipman’s, I had him put a compound curve in the long shift lever so it no longer hit the under-dash a/c unit when you grabbed first or third. It’s a common problem with a/c cars, and Shipman’s fix made the car much better to drive.

There was no brake booster on the Amazon, and I was told that a tidy underhood installation was not possible with an a/c compressor fitted. But vintage Volvo expert Cameron Lovre said he could do it, and so the Amazon went to his newly opened shop, Swedish Relics. Cameron says that the pedal is now nice and hard. I haven’t had a chance to drive the car yet, as it won’t be until January that I have recovered enough from my rotator-cuff surgery to drive a stick.

“While he was in there,” Lovre mentioned that the shift linkage felt sloppy, so I told him to pull the tranny and replace a bronze bushing, which should solve the problem.

So after all of this, what do I have?

I now have a supremely comfortable car on the freeway, which lopes along easily at 75 mph in fourth-overdrive. The engine is torquey and responsive enough. The car handles back roads with aplomb, and I’m sure it will shift nicely.

The real bonus is the factory a/c. It blows cold enough to freeze you out of the car. Yes, when the outside temperature hits 100 degrees, the system is maxed out, and you may have to give up, turn the system off and open the windows — but I may have solved this with the cooling system rebuild.

Once the transmission is done, the Amazon should be a “happy car.” Everything will work, and it will start instantly. The heater heats in the winter, and the a/c cools in the summer. There’s plenty of room for four inside.

The car gets lots of smiles as you drive it. Here in tree-hugging Portland, the Volvo strikes a chord. Everyone has a memory of his liberal-arts college professor in a sports coat with leather patches on the elbows driving one.

I could have driven the car in as-received condition, without upgrading the suspension, cooling system, brakes and shifting. But then I would be driving a slightly tired 48-year-old car. Instead, I’ll be driving a quite wonderful old car, which offers the same quality motoring experience that it did when new — and then some.


  1. Keith–Your 122S sounds like it is (becoming) a wonderful car. I first became acquainted with the 122S when a college buddy got a new 1967 our sophomore year at Lewis & Clark. I thought it was beautiful; “BRG” over brown interior, cruised quietly while being driven sportingly (well, in terms of a 19-year old’s experience). I’ll provide him a link to this column, just to refresh his wish that he’d kept that car.

  2. Keith, you need to replace the front rubber mat. 🙂 That torn area around the shift boot used to drive me crazy, but I was too cheap to replace it. Glad it is coming out so well. I want to see how Cameron fitted a booster. Are you bringing it to the Volvo Club of America National Meet (in assoication with the Volvo Nationals) at Road America next fall? You know, it ‘knows; the Road America track.

    • Jim, I don’t have any money left!
      But will look at the mat. Frankly, I was so preoccupied by the shifter banging the a/c and the low brake pedal that I never even noticed the mat.
      Chances of coming to Road America slim – I couldn’t even get out there to pick up the car!
      Stay in touch and hope to see you this summer. KM