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Amazon (the car) turns 60, and Volvo shares 10 things you probably didn’t know about its breakthrough vehicle


Early on, Volvo Amazons came with two-tone paint | Volvo photos
Early on, Volvo Amazons came with two-tone paint | Volvo photos

Volvo’s second post-war model was unveiled the first weekend of September 1956 in the Swedish town of Örebro. Unlike the beetlesque PV444, the Volvo Amazon, designed by a 26-year-old Jan Wilsgaard, had shapes the automaker has termed “beautiful” yet “challenging,” calling it an “elegant car differing greatly from the common perception of what a Volvo should look like.”

Differing greatly from the common perception indeed: In 1959 the Volvo Amazon became the world’s first car produced with standard three-point seat belts.

221 was the designation for the standard station wagon
221 was the designation for the standard station wagon

The car, named for the race of female warriors of Greek mythology and originally was spelled Amason, with an “s,” but that letter was changed to the more globally common “z” just before the car’s launch onto the international automotive marketplace.

Well, at least in some markets. As it turned out, a German moped and motorcycle maker ,Kreidler, already was producing a vehicle called the Amazone and that moped gave it rights to the name ,so in many markets the Volvo’s badge was 121 (standard sedan), 122 (sedan with the “sport” engine), 221 (standard station wagon, or Duett van) or 222 (station wagon with the sport engine).

For its first two model years, all Volvo Amazons were two-tone, either black, midnight blue or ruby red with a light grey roof or a light grey body with a black roof.

An “estate” version of the car launched early in 1962 with an American-style, horizontally split tailgate.

Although an Amazon Sport with twin SU carburetors and a revised camshaft was introduced in 1958, the sportiest version of the vehicle was the 123 GT, a 1967 model that used the 115-horsepower engine borrowed from the Volvo 1800S sports car.

Vintage P220 advertisement
Vintage P220 advertisement

Amazons were produced until 1970, with 667,791 coming off Volvo assembly lines, the last one, produced July 3, 1970, driven directly from the plant at Torslanda to the collection that would become the Volvo Museum.

The success of the Amazon changed Volvo’s world view, from focused on vehicles for the domestic market to a global vision with 60 percent of the Amazons sold in foreign nations. Amazons even were built overseas. In 1963, Volvo opened an assembly plant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to produce Amazons for North America, and later the company added plants in Durban, South Africa, and Ghent, Belgium.

As part of the Amazon’s 60th birthday celebration, Volvo shared these “10 facts about the Volvo Amazon you may not know:”

  1.  Around 8 percent of the approximately 297,000 Amazons sold in Sweden are still around. The most common edition is the 1966 model, with 4,804 still registered among the 24,282 Amazons still licensed for the road in Sweden.
  2. Volvo’s factory driver,Carl-Magnus Skogh won the 1965 Acropolis Rally in Greece driving a 122S.
  3. The Swedish police cooperated with Volvo to jointly develop equipment that was later included on standard production cars. Police cars featured disc brakes, brake assist and radial tires several years before they went into regular series production. Police Amazons also were equipped with rear window fans and there was a button by the steering wheel connecting a windshield washer with the fastest windscreen wiper setting.

    Amazon was first car with standard three-point belts
    Amazon was first car with standard three-point belts

  4.  Former U.S. Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Polwell has owned several Volvos, including a 1966 Amazon estate.
  5. A Volvo 122S convertible was displayed at the 1963 Geneva motor show. The convertible was done by Belgian coachbuilder Jacque Coune and had doors without window frames and door openings that were slightly rounded at the rear and tail lamps that were angled forward. Four were eventually built.
  6.  New York advertising executive Amil Gargano took on the Volvo account in 1962 and concluded that Volvos could withstand practically anything. Commercials showed an Amazon being driven hard on gravel roads and proclaimed: “And you can drive it like you hate it. Cheaper than psychiatry.”
  7. Although it never got a six-cylinder engine, there were plans to put a V8 in an Amazon — an evolution of a Volvo truck engine. Five prototypes reportedly were built.
  8.  The Amazons built in Volvo’s assembly plant in Halifax, Canada were marketed under the name Volvo Canadian.
  9. The expanded range of Amazon models helped Volvo regain its position as the best-selling car brand from Sweden in 1958, and it has retained that title every year since.
  10. In the movie, All The President’s Men, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, drives a white Amazon.

    Amazons roll off the Volvo assembly line
    Amazons roll off the Volvo assembly line

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
  1. I love the quote about driving a Volvo like you hate it because it can withstand anything. This whole post has me wanting to get one. It was also interesting to hear that Amazons are still prevalent in Sweden.

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