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Volvo: Best bang for your buck?

2013-12-02 06:40


ONE TOUGH COOKIE: It was the Volvo 122 range that put the Swedish marque on the map – especially here in South Africa. Image: NEWSPRESS


Gordon's Volvo P1800 journey

2013-09-23 13:43

Irvin Gordon bought his Volvo P1800S in 1966. It's still going strong 47 years later despite racking up 4.8-million kilometres!

I was intrigued to read on Wheels24 recently about an American car enthusiast, Irvin Gordon, and his record-breaking Volvo that has racked up close to five million kilometres.

I've owned many, many cars down the years but never a Volvo. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, they just kind of slipped through the net.

I’ve owned the strangest wheels in more than 45 years of chasing that elusive bargain car. I well remember buying a Sunbeam Talbot, at least three Morgans, a half-share in a Lotus Special, 1950's Ford Consul as well as a late 1920’s Austin Seven Opal coupé but I’ve always admired the Volvo brand and would have been perfectly happy to own one – but never did.

Something else always seemed to come along...


I can’t remember if Cape Town had a Volvo dealer back in the mid-1970's (perhaps somebody will take the trouble to email and tell me). Johannesburg certainly had at least one. Volvo has a number now countrwwide but I was always intrigued by how many cars filtered through to the rest of the country.

The head of the Craib family, who owned the Natal Witness newspaper in Pietermaritzburg back in the 1970's my employer at the time, owned the rare and very desirable P1800 model. One of the advertising reps on the paper also drove a Volvo, a 122 sedan – a really beautiful example that was used seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Looking further afield, a huge Volvo enthusiast is one Colin . Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US. He actually owned – and still does – half a dozen Volvos (along with a couple of rare SAABs).

A TV ad flighted a number of years ago in America claimed: “A Volvo offers the best bang for your buck… a Volvo in its native Sweden lasts on average 17 years.” Quite an accolade, don’t you think?

Up until 1960 those who were familiar with the Volvo brand may well remember the Beetleback 544 model. Available only in left-hand drive, it certainly put the marque on the map with its sporty and rugged good looks.

But it was the 122S that really put Volvo well and truly on the radar globally. The first export cars to South Africa had 1.6-litre engines that lugged around a 1070 kg body – yet was still capable of 150km/h+ – a feature that always seems to endear itself to the South African drivers, even today!


Comfort features were top-drawer and included heater/demister system that worked well in Scandinavia, so it wouldn’t be a problem here(!), fully adjustable seats, two-speed wipers (with electric washers), a radiator blind for those cold, frosty mornings to help the engine warm up and three-point seat belts – a first for the automobile industry (in full-time production, that is – regular readers of this column will recall I told you Tucker cars boasted them as well.)

But the B18-engined version of the 122S that arrived in 1963 was arguably the “bees knees” to own. Up 10kW in power, disc brakes up front, 12V electrics, a lusty 1.8 twin-carburettor engine that could really fly when required - the clubman’s car of choice.

I well remember Lawsons Motors in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, the main Volvo dealer in the country, who used the skills of Dave Clapham and Colin Burford to secure victory after victory at club meets around the race circuits of South Africa, including Killarney here in the Western Cape – as well as, alas, defunct race circuits such as Roy Hesketh in Pietermaritzburg and the infamous Westmead circuit near Pinetown.

Perhaps the final word should come from Colin Powell, who said: “Don’t expect to make a fortune from your 122 – at least not in the short term. It’s not an 'image' car in the same way as a period BMW or Alfa – but it will definitely be around for a good deal longer!”

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