Section 2: P120
It was the first time in forty years that the Chicago White Sox had made it into
the World Series. It was also a new experience for their opponent -- the Los
Angeles Dodgers. Both Chicago and Los Angeles buzzed with excitement as these
newcomers battled each other. The Dodgers won the championship, four games to
two, and became the new lords of baseball in 1959.
It was also the year for another newcomer in the United States -- the Volvo P120. Named the "Amazon" in Sweden ("121" in other European countries), the first versions introduced in North America were four-door, front-engine, reardrive compact sedans and carried the 122 model designation. All 120 models were slightly heavier and more refined than the PV.
Within three years, both two-door versions (P130s) and station wagon models (P220s) were added to the lineup. All models had room for five people, a unitized body, clean lines and (for the times) large windows. In addition to the sports sedan character of the PV, new car buyers could choose a high-quality Volvo in the more traditional compact car class.
Most P120 engine, electrical and suspension parts were direct developments of the PV. These parts were improved and updated as needed throughout the 1960s. Whenever possible, a new, improved part for the P120 was designed to fit the PV as well. One of the earliest parts advantages Volvo had over other car makes was that a small number of parts would fit more than one line of Volvo. For instance, a wheel bearing or pair of rear brake shoes for a 122 sedan would fit a PV 544. In addition to allowing for a more streamlined parts inventory, it was easier to remember the fastest moving part numbers. This tradition continues today.
A number of new Volvo parts found on current 700 models (for instance, certain oil filters) will fit most Volvos as far back as the 1960s. Every attempt is made to have new parts fit many applications (not just the newest one).
Many subtle, almost invisible changes to the P120 were made to further improve durability. "Drive it like you hate it" was a Volvo advertising slogan used in the 1960s. It was a wild way to say that Volvos are built to last!
The P120s also were at the front of the pack when it came to safety features
(more about this later).
The P120 was sold in the United States from 1959 through 1968 (Canada through 1969). The two-door version continued in production until July 1969 and was not exported to the United States. A total of 667,323 were manufactured.
|The P120 originally benefited from the developments made to the PV overhead valve, four-cylinder engine. The five main bearing 1,778 cc engine (B-18 designation) was added in 1962, and it improved performance as well as reliability. Later versions of this engine were "tweaked' to produce even more power. A special 122S helped Volvo win the European Rally Championship in 1962, 1963 and 1964. In 1963 a 122S driven by Tom Trana finished a very close second to Jaguar in the European Track Racing Championship.|
Was a special rally version ever produced for the street? Yes! Find yourself a
1967 123 GT. This two-door sport model packed a few goodies: 115 horsepower
engine, 7,000 RPM tachometer, rally suspension and shocks, revised gear ratios
and special foglights. Talk about fun!
But back to the practical side. Other changes under the hood included a sealed cooling system starting in 1967 and various fuel system adjustments in 1968 to keep our air clean. High-mileage cars (more than 100,000 miles) can expect to eventually need the usual engine parts replaced: timing gear/chain, oil pump, fuel pump and water pump. The P120 was the first Volvo to be built in the Dartmouth, Canada, assembly plant (starting in 1963).
Twin single-barrel carburetors are used on nearly all models. Fuel injection was never offered on these cars.
Be aware that the "S" in 122S stands for "sport." In parts terms, this almost always means twin carbs, a high-lift camshaft, stronger pushrods and special valve springs. Any way you cut it, the "S" means more power than the basic model. Most P120 sold in North America were "S" models.
Volvo air conditioning was available in a sedan for the first time with the P120. The A/C option was supplied by Volvo and installed at U.S. Volvo dealerships. Some replacement parts for these add-on units are still available.
Like the PV, the P120s were equipped with a twelve-volt electrical system, starting with the 1962 models. The charging system relied on a generator until the 1967 model year, when an alternator and adjustable external voltage regulator were installed.
The starting motor (starter) is located on the left rear side of the engine on all models. It is a heavy-duty part designed to take on severe weather conditions. The heater blower, windshield wipers, exterior lighting, interior lighting and instrument lighting are protected from electrical overload by ceramic-body fuses.
The ignition system components (distributor cap, rotor, breaker points, coil, etc.) were identical to the PV. This system requires that the breaker points, rotor and condenser be replaced at routine intervals. Failure to do this resulted in a rough-running engine or a breakdown somewhere on the road. This system was used in all Volvos (and most other cars) until 1975 when it was replaced by a more modern breakerless electronic ignition system.
Drive Train / Brakes|
The P120 Volvos came equipped with a four-speed manual transmission and what seemed to be a twenty-foot shift lever. This unique lever, a carryover from the PV, would always get its share of comments from both customers and the press -- ugly looking, too long, uncomfortable and out of character with the car. While the lever was not all that popular, it was attached to a strong, smooth-shifting transmission.
With the introduction of the B-18 engine in 1962, all Volvos received the M-40 (manual-shift, four-speed) fully synchronized transmission as standard equipment. Tough, dependable and easy to rebuild, the M-40 and its overdrive equipped version -- the M-41 -- was a part of all manually shifted four-cylinder Volvos until 1976.
|A three-speed automatic transmission (Borg Warner Type 35) was offered for the first time in a North American Volvo in 1962. Many individual repair parts are still available for this transmission.|
|All models continue with the dry plate clutch assembly first seen on the PV. The clutch is operated by hydraulics instead of a mechanical linkage.|
|And speaking of hydraulics, the P120 had front and rear drum brakes until 1962. In that year all models received front disc brakes that used calipers made by the Girling Company of England. This was to be the beginning of a long association between Volvo and Girling that continues to this day. All disc-braked 120s have Girling calipers in front and drum brakes on the rear. Four-wheel disc brakes were not available.|
Body / Suspension
The P120 sedans and P220 station wagons (called estate cars in Sweden) are of a unit-type all-steel construction. It may be true that "rust never sleeps," but neither does Volvo! More time was being spent fighting rust. Body parts were dipped into a chemical bath and more galvanized steel was used underneath to fight corrosion. A galvanized part has a coating of some corrosion-fighting material (usually zinc).
By 1966 many chrome parts on earlier models (for example, hubcaps, trim rings and body trim) were now made out of stainless steel to eliminate rust. Rubberized undercoating was beginning to be used for the first time to protect certain areas of the body.
Volvo was one of the first companies to use a new method of applying paint primer. This was started in the mid-1960s on the P120. A negative electrical charge was run through the specially prepared, unpainted car body. The primer to be applied to the body was given a positive charge, and the body was lowered into the primer bath. Bingo!
As any physics teacher would tell you, opposites attract. The primer bonds to the metal and makes a harder surface. Paint is then applied to the hard surface. Now, chips in the paint result in less chance of rust.
|The body was supported by an independent front suspension similar to the PV. Each side has upper and lower steel arms shaped like the letter "A" (called wishbones or control arms). Between the wishbones are the coil springs and steering knuckle. Attached to them are the parts that wear out -- the ball joints, shock absorbers, wheel bearings and bushings. This type of front suspension was not only used by Volvo but by almost all cars on the road until the early 1970s.|
|The rear suspension improved upon design of the PV -- a rear axle kept in check by control arms, coil springs and shock absorbers. Not many surprises here. The only parts to look for to replace are the shocks, bushings and wheel bearings.|
In addition to the refinements made to the body suspension, the P120
contained a number of safety features. Other makes of cars did not have most of
these features. These included a padded dashboard and two-piece steering column
designed to collapse under pressure, sun visors made of soft material, and seat
belts. Control knobs on the dash were not only designed to be within reach but
were also recessed and given rounded edges. Even the front seats were
redesigned in 1965 to be safer. Many of these features were required by Swedish
law as far back as 1959.
In the United States many safety features became law for the first time in 1968. It was also the last year for the good ol' 122 in the United States (1969 for Canada) -- a pioneer in many areas of vehicle safety.