Volvo ‘Amazon’ 120 Series – 1956

Arguably the car with which Volvo established its reputation as a manufacturer of safe, solid and attractive mid-range cars, the Amazon is perhaps the most famous and easily recognizable car that Volvo has ever produced.

Designer Jan Wilsgaard’s take on the classic Chrysler tailfins and bull nose was influenced by Italian and British design as much as American; the Amazon has a restrained elegance about it that still impresses today.

The Amazon was designed to be the sophisticated, up-to-the-minute successor to the rugged but staid postwar PV series, but almost as soon as it went on the market a problem arose: its name. Sole title had already been registered by a German motorbike manufacturer which meant that Volvo’s use of it was restricted to the Baltic countries.

Throughout the rest of Europe the car had to be marketed by model number alone. Despite this marketing gaffe, the car quickly gained a reputation for reliability and durability and Volvo soon also demonstrated concern for safety, offering fitted front-seat safety belts as standard on its 1959 sports version.

The basic model (known as the 121) was a three-speed manual with rear-wheel drive, fitted with a single Stromberg carb, 1.6-liter engine. In 1958 a four-speed, twin carb sports version (122S) was produced.

Further models and more powerful (1.8 and 2 liter) engines continued to be introduced and by the time production ended you could have chosen from a selection of two- and four-door saloons as well as estate versions, with a number of engine options.

The 120 series was a bestseller for Volvo for more than a decade and nearly half the Amazons sold in Sweden are still on the road today. Their astoundingly good condition attests to Volvo’s quality production.




1956 (until 1970)


1580 cc, 1778 cc, 1896 cc OHV Straight Four (Volvo 1316,1318 or 820 engines)


Top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h)


Volvo’s numbering system for the 120 series is notoriously confusing, depending partly on which country the car was marketed in. In theory, four-door saloons are designated 120s, two-door saloons as 130s and estates as 220s; and an S on the end indicates a sports model. However, they are by no means always badged according to this system. To establish beyond doubt what a particular model is, it is best to consult the type number in the engine compartment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *