Hard wearing and reliable, we examine this Swedish workhorse with rally pedigree
The Amazon is a fantastically usable car that is a more accomplished drive than many other, much younger classics. Both B16 and B18 engines provide more than enough power for keeping up with modern traffic and sturdy head-wearing gearboxes make changing ratios a pleasure.
Despite its relatively large size, the Amazon can be made to handle very well, as proven by its huge popularity as a classic rally car. Indeed, there are thousands of performance upgrades for motorsport applications, from improved suspension set-ups to engine components.
Standard cars tend to suffer from body-roll through the bends, but this can easily be cured by a specialist and a flash of your credit card.
But this car’s real strength is its build quality, not just its handling characteristics. It may not set the world alight in standard guise, but you can rest safe in the knowledge that it won’t rust away overnight.
Power (bhp@rpm) 86bhp@4800rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 107lb ft@3500rpm
Top speed 96mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual/optional O/D
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The Volvo Amazon is typical of Swedish build quality of the era: tough, rugged and built to last. Thick steel panels would be more at home on a battle tank, and copious rust proofing means that the bodywork is well protected. But as with all cars that have been around for 57 years, corrosion is sure to have taken its toll. Wheel arches will begin to rust around the edges, and the front of sills will be vulnerable where stone chips have damaged the paintwork. Make sure the sills are straight and true. Headlights and tail lamps are common water traps, so inspect closely where they meet the bodywork. Fortunately, replacement body panels are readily available.
Windscreen rubbers will eventually become brittle and perish, especially if the car has been left exposed to the elements. Have a poke around to make sure water hasn’t crept behind the seals, as rust can run amok and cause structural damage. It can be difficult to spot if only given a casual glance. Use a magnet to check for any shoddy repairs or lumps of filler, especially at the lower corners of the windscreen.
Brightwork abounds on the Amazon including door handles, bumpers, door mirrors and accent strips. By now it will likely be dull and weathered, and have lost most of its lustre. Check for pitting and corrosion, dented bumpers and shopping trolley collisions.
Volvo engines of the period have a reputation for being hardy, reliable and capable of withstanding a lot of punishment. Thankfully, this is true of the 1.8 and 2-litre, four-cylinder motors used in the Amazon. Both engines are tough and will reach moon-and-back mileages with just regular servicing. Check that all fluids are clean and fresh, and look for evidence of regular servicing in the history file.
Fibre timing gear has been known to fail, and will be clear by a loud rattling noise coming from the front of the engine. Replacement steel units are available, but will be relatively expensive.
The top-model 300SE and 300SEL had air suspension, which was high-tech stuff for the early 1960s. The ride it gives is quite remarkable, but problems can be very expensive indeed to fix, and parts are not plentiful. Buy an air-sprung Fintail with your eyes wide open, and have the phone numbers of a specialist and your bank manager close at hand.
Gearboxes share the same reputation for reliability and toughness as engines. They are well-engineered and should provide a precise, smooth gear change. The brass selector at the top of the ’box can wear, making ratio changes much more vague, but this can easily be replaced. Be more critical if any grinding noises can be heard, if it jumps out of gear. Check the history file for signs of regular servicing.
Suspension is simple and easy to work on, and fortunately, parts are readily available. Indeed, most components can still be bought new directly from Volvo. Steering can feel sloppy, but this shouldn’t be too big a problem. If the master cylinder is overfilled with hydraulic fluid it can degrade fibre joints in the steering column. Replacements are cheap and easy to fit, so are worth replacing regardless.
Interior seats and trim are utilitarian and hard wearing, so should have survived well. Red interiors are thought to be the most comfortable, but are prone to fading if exposed to sunlight for extended periods. Sunlight will also attack the dashboard covering, eventually causing it to crack and warp. Though replacements are available for left-hand drive cars, there is currently no provision for UK models.
Many classic owners claim to use their cars on a daily basis, but the Amazon is one of the few classics that can really handle such regular use. Thick gauge steel and heavy duty panels allow the Amazon to stand up to the harshest of Swedish winters, and heavy-duty engines are renowned in the classic community for being able to cope with huge mileages.
For when things do go wrong, fantastic specialist support means you’ll never struggle to carry out repairs or improvements, and affordable and plentiful parts supplies will be a revelation to those with more obscure