Home » Old Volvos Never Die: 1961 Volvo PV544 vs 1966 Volvo 122S

Old Volvos Never Die: 1961 Volvo PV544 vs 1966 Volvo 122S

Sbsd 2 29 2024
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Good morning! For today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re taking a trip to the land of ABBA and the world’s most inept chef, and looking at two old Volvos. Yes, kids, there were Volvos before the 240 series, and they actually had curves in the sheetmetal.

But before we look at those, let’s see yesterday’s results. Vans are always popular choices, it seems, especially Dodge vans, and yesterday was no different. The three-on-the-tree Sportsman cruised to a comfortable victory. But the more I look at that van, the hinkier it seems. I didn’t notice until a commenter pointed it out that both right-side tires are flat. Further damage from the rock incident, I would imagine, which calls into question the wheels on that side, and also the suspension.

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And to be honest, I would go for the Cutlass anyway. It’s a terrible color, but there’s something really appealing to me about a four-door hardtop, and I have always liked this era of GM A-body, from any of the divisions. You can do a lot to improve this car too, if you want, like power disc brakes, air conditioning, and bucket seats, and end up with a really nice old cruiser.

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“They’re boxy,” went the old joke from the movie Crazy People, “but they’re good. Be safe instead of sexy.” Volvo has never been on the cutting edge of style, though those new Polestars look pretty good to me. The best you can say for the 200 and 700 series that were around when Crazy People was made is that they were inoffensive and pleasingly-proportioned. But definitely not sexy.

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In the 1950s and 60s, most of Volvo’s cars followed American styling of a decade or so earlier, so they tended to look old-fashioned even when new. But even back then, Volvos were state-of-the-art when it came to safety. You will notice that both these cars have three-point shoulder belts, at a time when many American cars still didn’t have seat belts at all. They were good, safe cars for the time – as long as you were careful how you pulled into the driveway. Let’s take a look.

1961 Volvo PV544 – $7,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Spokane Valley, WA

Odometer reading: 29,000 miles (but probably rolled over at least once)

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Operational status: Runs and drives well, but needs some electrical work

Looking a bit like a three-quarter-scale ’41 Chevy, Volvo’s PV444 was its first postwar design, its first unibody car, and the beginning of its reputation for safe, durable cars. In 1958, it became the PV544, with a one-piece windshield, a four-speed gearbox, and other refinements, but still looking like a ten-year-old American car. It looks great now, but I can only imagine how uncool it must have been when Detroit was deep into its Harley Earl and Virgil Exner days.

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The PV544 is powered by a 1.6 liter pushrod four-cylinder, fed by a pair of SU side-draft carbs, the same units used on countless British sports cars at the time, including my own MGB GT. They’re simple, easy to tune, and as long as you keep an eye out for fuel seepage, reliable. The seller says it runs and drives great, though it has some electrical issues that need “debugging.” I believe this car still has a six-volt electrical system; if you’re going to dig into it, an upgrade to 12 volts is probably a good idea.

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Cosmetically, it’s pretty nice. The interior has been redone, including the headliner, and looks fantastic. The seller says the gauges all work, but the turn signals are inoperable. You remember how to do hand signals, don’t you? The heater core has also been bypassed, though it isn’t clear why.

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The paint is about ten years old, the seller says, and still shines up nicely. The original chrome bump strips along the sides are gone, replaced by the stick-on kind you used to be able to get on a roll. (Huh, actually, apparently you still can.) It does have all four original hubcaps and beauty rings, however. The seller says the hood latch is out of alignment, but everything else works like it should.

1966 Volvo 122S – $5,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

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Location: San Luis Obispo, CA

Odometer reading: 75,000 miles (but again, probably rolled over)

Operational status: Runs and drives, “but will need brake and engine work”

If the 544 is a little too expensive or old-fashioned for you, here we have its successor, the 122, known elsewhere in the world as the Volvo Amazon. This design was introduced in 1959, overlapping the 544 by a few years, but only looking a little bit out of style instead of hopelessly outdated. This style has also aged better, in my opinion, especially the two-door sedan, and has a timelessness to it.

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This is a 122S, with twin SU carbs again, this time feeding a 1.8 liter engine with five main bearings instead of three, further cementing Volvo’s reputation for indestructible four-cylinder engines that continued for decades. It uses a four-speed manual, like the 544. The ad for this car is a little light on details – the seller says it runs and drives, but that it will need engine and brake work. But if you’re looking at a car this age in this price range, you’re handy with a wrench and know how to read a Haynes manual, right?

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The paint is clearly shot, but it looks like this car has only surface rust to contend with. I once looked at a shiny, but frighteningly rusty 122 for sale; the floor crunched when I sat down in the driver’s seat. I lifted the carpet and found myself looking at the asphalt street surface below. This one appears to be missing its carpet, and the green paint on the floors and transmission tunnel looks undisturbed, but lift those mats up to make sure.

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This is another car, like the Lincoln earlier this week, that wears patina pretty well, but these cars look so good all shined up that it would be a shame not to repaint this one. But you can put it back to tip-top mechanical shape first, and enjoy it, before tackling that job.

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These are both a little more expensive than our usual fare, it’s true, but they both look like better starting points than some of the heaps I’ve subjected you to, and they’re classics that you could drive every day, if you wanted to. This is back when Volvo made cars that lasted for literally millions of miles. You’ve got two generations to choose from. What’ll it be?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 month ago

In the early ’70s my mom drove a PV544. Even to a little kid, the car seemed kinda old and funky at the time, but I liked it. I seem to recall that this particular car did NOT have seatbelts, because after a hard stop that nearly sent me into the dash, my mom made my step-dad install seat belts in it. This was the 1970’s; lots of old cars didn’t have seatbelts, and grown-ups apparently had never gotten the word that you shouldn’t have your kid in the front passenger seat. Sometimes I’m amazed we all survived, but here we are.
Oh, and I voted PV544 just for old times sake.

Last edited 1 month ago by Here4thecars
Robn
Robn
1 month ago

I had a 122 Amazon wagon as a fun car for a little over 15 years and it was perfection in it’s simplicity. If you have a hammer and a screwdriver, you can fix it.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

Taking the PV544 because of the condition. My dad had a 1946 Ford Tudor which I honestly think looks more like the Volvo than the Chevy.

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Anyway, I wanted a Volvo in the same color to park next to his at shows. He no longer has the Ford. I still have an affection for the Volvo.

Now if that was the wagon version of the Amazon, this would be a very different discussion.

10001010
10001010
1 month ago

Story time:

Growing up in the 70s and 80s I wasn’t really aware of Volvos from the 60s just the later boxier ones. Anyhow when I was 16 or 17 I was out driving with my dad and he yells at me to pull over into a parking lot right now!!! So I cut across traffic and make it into the parking lot at the last second and he guides me back towards the front of the lot where we stop in front of this faded red jaloppy in one corner and he points to it and tells me he lived in a car just like that for 6 months after he got out of the Navy! That car was a Volvo PV544 and he seemed really happy to see one again.

So I guess I know which car I have to vote for today.

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 month ago

That 544 is in better shape and as others have stated, the 122 may take more than the $1500 difference to get as good. Problem is that I really like the looks of the Amazon. I’m voting for it despite the fact that it would likely take more time and effort to get it looking good and running well.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike F.

+1 – The 544 is objectively a better buy but I love the 122S Amazon, second only to the 1800ES in Volvos I would like to own. Being Canadian, I’d want a Volvo 122S “Canadian” instead of an Amazon, though….

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

Hahaha, I nearly made this exact choice with two different examples that were pretty rusted (plus a mint metal-grille 144S that I missed because I was too slow getting there with the money). Damn, it’s a tough choice (assuming the Amazon isn’t rotted underneath), but I’ll pick the PV544 for the condition.

Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
1 month ago

This is tough! I love both, but I think I’ve got to go with the Amazon, it’s just better looking to me. I’d love to get one of these some day and do an EV conversion.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 month ago

The heater core has also been bypassed, though it isn’t clear why.

Probably leaks and isn’t easy to replace. That has been my experience with a couple of cars that had a bypass.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago

The PV544 reminds me a bit too much of a certain scene in “The World According o Garp”
I’ll take the 122S

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

The PV544 is nicer but the Amazon is more iconic. A few thousand at ipd would make it a screamer too

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

If my wife wouldn’t kill me I’d buy the Amazon yesterday.

WR250R
WR250R
1 month ago

Great finds! Wish there was a ‘Both’ option today, but if I must choose I will take the ’61

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 month ago

Columbo’s Swedish cousin: Amazon.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

Another one where I like them both, but the 544 is SO much nicer for not that much more money. It gets my vote.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
1 month ago

That 122 is the opposite of the old line about cheap, fast, or good, choose 2. It’s not cheap, it needs mechanical work, and it looks like hell. Sorry, there’s patina, and then there’s “I’m driving this because it was all but free.”

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago

“Yes, kids, there were Volvos before the 240 series, and they actually had curves in the sheetmetal.”

Well, there’s also the 140 series.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
1 month ago

When I met my wife, she owned a 122S… in that exact same color scheme. Puke green, primer, and rust. Could it be her long lost ride?

Nah, the floors are too intact on this one.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
1 month ago

With a bit, (OK, a lot,) either would be good rally machines. I would go for the PV, there are things that can be done to these that are quite startling. A B230 engine bolts straight in, and they can be, erm, fettled with. Either would be nice but there os something funny about a really sorted PV 544 mixing it with all the Ford escorts that makes me smile.

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