Winter motoring with the Volvo 122S

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A good Swedish 1,583 c.c. saloon, offering exceptional performance and commendable detail arrangements.

The ugly PV444 Volvo made a great impression as a fast car of modest engine capacity and when the re-styled 122S was introduced at the last London Motor Show I was naturally extremely interested and suggested to Brooklands of Bond Street that an early road-test be arranged. Unfortunately, their Press agents did not lend Motor Sport  a car until the middle of January, at which time serious testing was curtailed by the presence of fog and icy roads. However, I put in sufficient driving to form a good opinion of this Swedish saloon, which, with the B 16B 85 b.h.p. engine, provides quite remarkable speed and acceleration for a 1.6-litre vehicle, apart from being sensibly as well as completely equipped and comfortable in which to travel.

Matters of detail

This Volvo 122S is really a four-seater, because separate front seats are used and the corners of the back seat are rounded off so that comfortable accommodation is limited to two persons. The interior of the red test car was rather too brightly finished, with two shades of red, and white, upholstery, black facia sill covering with matching vizors, and red side rails; upholstery and facia off-set by white roof lining. The facia is not ornate, the seats are of generous dimensions, and all four doors trail. The floor covering of synthetic rubber is rather austere but makes for easy cleaning, the transmission tunnel does not impede leg room, and space under the front seats provides leg room for the back-seat occupants. This Volvo is of conventional appearance, but has a pleasingly distinctive radiator grille; it is only the provision of cross-wise front-seat safety belts and the purposeful note when the engine is opened up, which suggest the performance capabilities of this 1,583-c.c. four-cylinder saloon.

It was when I prepared to drive away into the foggy night that I appreciated the practical layout of the Volvo’s major and minor controls and its satisfactory driving position. A driver of average height cannot quite see the near-side wing and the screen pillars are quite thick, but the high-set driving seat, easily adjustable, and low-placed wheel offer effective visibility. The front seats are somewhat hard and not particularly well shaped, being good rather than outstanding. Gear-lever, right-hand hand-brake and steering wheel are all well located in relation to each other, and the pendant pedals are all at the same height, the foot does not have to be lifted onto the brake pedal, and it is possible to “heel and toe.”

The metal facia is set behind a broad, upholstered sill, which is padded and hoods the instruments. The latter consist of four oblong windows, above which is a Vdo 100-m.p.h. ribbon-type speedometer, easy to read but requiring an 8-1/2-in. travel to register 0-100 m.p.h. in graduations every 5 m.p.h. (figures every 10 m.p.h.). The “dials” below are water-temperature gauge, marked C, H; the trip mileometer with clearly-defined decimal reading; total mileometer reading, and a very pessimistic petrol gauge, marked E, 1/2,  F. Between these “dials” or windows are the various warning lights, green for low oil pressure, red for no dynamo charge, blue (rather too bright) for full headlamps beam, and yellow, augmented by an aural warning, for direction-flashers in use, the last-named indication being sensibly represented by a single warning light.

Below the instruments, on the facia proper, are the minor controls, laid out for maximum convenience of operation. On the extreme right are the vertical heater quadrants, which control demisting, hot and cold air. These are augmented by a two-speed fan. Let it be said that the Volvo heater will supply enormous volumes of heat and that control of it is extremely sensitive, so that, once mastered, interior temperature can be adjusted to a nicety.

Beside the heater-fan knob the Wilmot Breeden ignition key turns to actuate the starter and, turned the other way, retains all electrical services (including the petrol gauge) except ignition, the green warning lamp then remaining on. To the left of the steering column are three more large knobs matching the heater-fan knob, these, from left to right, being a detachable cigarette lighter, lights control and mixture enrichener. The lamps knob pulls out to bring in, firstly, the sidelamps, then the headlamps, while, turned, it controls the excellent rheostat instrument lighting. The steering wheel somewhat blanks the lamps knob and the cigarette lighter is apt to be mistaken for it. The enrichener knob acts as a hand throttle and has a serrated spindle for sensitive setting.

All these knobs are within easy reach of the driver, and just below the facia his left hand falls easily to a tiny turn-switch that controls the really efficient two-speed, self-parking Bosch wipers. Adjacent is a pull-switch which brings in permanently the screen washers— a splendid means of maintaining visibility on dirty days. An exceedingly well placed stalk on the left of the steering wheel, close to the wheel rim, operates the direction-flashers. This excellent control is further enhanced because, flicked up and down, it flashes the headlamps, even when the lamps switch is off, providing an instant warning when overtaking slower traffic without recourse to the horn.

To the left of the essential controls is a drawer-type ash-tray, space for a radio, and, before the passenger, an electric clock. The two-spoke steering wheel, labelled Volvo and with plated spokes which sometimes reflect the sun, carries a good half-horn ring for a surprisingly mediocre horn. The Volvo lacks a facia cubby-hole or door-pockets. There is a big shelf down by the front passenger’s knees, mounted flexibly for safety, but the driver could, with advantage, be provided with additional stowage. The radio loud-speaker is on this parcels shelf. Yet another practical point is the provision of a map-light shining onto the aforesaid shelf, brought in by tiny pull-switch under the facia on the extreme left, this lamp in no way dazzling the driver. A matching switch for the driver controls the parking lamps. The driver finds ample room for his left foot away from the clutch pedal and the foot dimmer button is well placed. The centre-roof rear-view mirror gives a rather narrow field of vision; it swivels to kill dazzle, and twin anti-dazzle vizors made of soft material are fitted, both of which swivel sideways. The front doors have quarter-windows with anti-thief catches on their handles, similar windows being provided for the back-seat passengers. The main door windows possess handles with swivelling grips, which require three turns from fully-up to fully-down. The driver’s window emitted a squeak when operated, and the near-side back window was too stiff to open properly. Incidentally, the padded facia sill is continued onto the front doors, each of which has a sill interior lock. The front doors have key-locks and all four doors can be locked by pressing down the sill knobs, and thus it is possible for the owner to be locked out if the key is left inside the car. This is no great problem, merely entailing carrying of a spare key on one’s person!  It does enable the Volvo to be locked merely by closing the last door, with no fiddling with the key, which is a decided advantage on a wet day. The doors have good exterior handles incorporating push-buttons, and the door “keeps” are effective. The interior handles have rather sharp edges. The doors shut nicely, in quite “expensive” fashion.

In the back compartment rubber-cord “pulls” are provided on the backs of the front seats, drawer-type ash-trays in the doors, while the seat is comfortable and behind it there is a spacious parcels well. All doors contain good arm-rests, formed as “pulls,” and mud-flaps are fitted to front and back wings to comply with Swedish traffic requirements.

It is pleasing to be able to report that the exterior metalwork is of polished stainless steel and that the car is completely treated with bitumastic undersealing. The bumpers have over-riders. The bayonet-type petrol-filler cap has no securing chain. The filler is well placed for refuelling from a can. The back window matches the screen in generosity of area, a combination of Slocherkeltsglas, Duro-glas and Sunex AS-2 safety glass being used about the car.

A roof-light near the mirror gives really useful interior illumination and comes on when the front doors are opened or, using its own switch, can be switched on by the driver.

That concludes a study of the interior details of this interesting Swedish car but before we drive it, let us look under the bonnet and into the boot. The bonnet is released by pulling a toggle down under the scuttle on the off side and pushing back the usual safety catch. The bonnet then springs up and is supported automatically by a spring-loaded strut. The virtually over-square, 79.4 by 80 mm. four-cylinder push-rod o.h.v. engine, with its polished valve cover, looks very ordinary, except that the B 16B version, which develops 19 more S.A.E. horse-power than the B 16A engine, which isn’t available in Export markets, has twin horizontal 38-mm type H4  S.U. carburetters, with A.C. air-cleaners, on the off side. There is a belt-driven two-bladed fan, the dip-stick is accessible, the 6-volt Tudor battery is mounted at the off-side rear of the engine compartment, and the ignition and electrics, reassuringly, are Bosch, with an accessible fuse-box containing separate fuses for reversing lamp, fog or spot-lamps, if fitted, parking lamps, flashers indicator, heater and, in unit, horn, flashers and petrol gauge. Water and oil filler are well placed and the fuel pump has a priming lever.

The English Wilmot Breeden door key unlocks the boot press-button, whereupon the lid should rise automatically under the action of torsion-bars. Alas, the lock stuck on the test car and we had to take a crow-bar to it!  The boot is rather shallow, there is a sharp edge round the off-side wheel arch which could damage luggage, the floor is slightly obstructed by the petrol-filler pipe and the spare wheel is strapped vertically on the near side of the boot. The wheels are balanced and tubeless whitewall tyres are fitted.

The cooling system holds 15 pints, the engine sump 1-3/4 pints including the Fram full-flow oil filter, the back axle 2-1/4 pints, the gearbox 1-3/4 pints. The comprehensive instruction book contains details of how to remove blood, lipstick, fruit, chocolate, acid, grease, chewing gum, vomit and urine from the upholstery, which should cover almost every class of owner! Front seats which will fold down to form beds are available as an extra.

On the road

Having examined the Volvo and liked what I found, l set about driving the car. The gears in the close-ratio box are changed with a long but not unduly whippy central lever, the large knob of which comes conveniently close to the left hand. This is far better than a steering-column lever although rapid changes are slightly baulked by a stiffness of action, while strong spring-loading of the lever towards top and third-gear positions makes for errors when really in a hurry, and the lever wobbles and vibrates. Normally this is not at all a bad gear-change, although the Volvo deserves a remote-control lever. The hydraulically-operated clutch is rather sudden and has to be fully depressed to make effective gear-changes. The gears are quiet. Reverse is away beyond first, safely positioned.

The cam-and-roller steering, low-geared at 3 turns lock-to-lock, is fairly light, even for parking, delightfully smooth, devoid of sponginess, and has excellent, not too fierce, castor return action. It is sensitive, accurate steering, which transmits only very faint kick and vibration, and as such is an excellent feature of the Volvo. The turning circle is small (32-1/2  feet). The car corners extremely well, with an understeer tendency, tail slides easily controlled.

The suspension is by coil-springs and wishbones at the front and at the back a rigid axle is used, but this is well tied with radius-arms, has an anti-roll bar, and is sprung on coil-springs, which reduce unsprung weight. The result is firm springing, which transmits considerable road shock and some up-and-down motion, but enables the car to be cornered without roll and which gave notably “surefooted” motoring over ice and snow. There is a difficult to define “dead” aspect to the ride, which merely accentuates the pleasantly solid feel of the car, which is further reflected in the absence of body rattles and scuttle or bonnet shake. Rather better damping of the suspension would be an improvement.

The brakes are no doubt excellent but on the test car were in need of adjustment, and there was additional lost motion in the pedal linkage, so that considerable pressure was needed to get powerful retardation. The right-hand hand-brake lever couldn’t be better placed. It does not impede exit through the driver’s door yet is delightfully placed. It holds the car securely and its ratchet button is protected by a wire guard. Vacuum-servo braking is available as an extra. Incidentally, I approve fully of safety-belts, if only to safeguard children who ride in the front seat, and those on the Volvo, if of unusual type, are very easy to put on.

It is when you come to consider the engine that the Volvo excites the enthusiast. The B 16B unit develops its maximum power, probably 79 b.h.p. by our rating, at 5,500 r.p.m., so that the close-ratio gearbox has to be used to get the highest performance. The gear ratios are splendidly plotted and it is possible to obtain progressive acceleration by changing up at peak r.p.m. in each gear, torque being maintained and practically no falling off of power resulting throughout the speed range. The engine emits considerable power-roar when accelerating but does not “pink,” is notably smooth, and, in spite of its high-speed, high-output characteristics, is quite docile and tractable, pulling away from less than 20 m.p.h. in top. gear. At such speeds the engine runs silently and the Volvo rolls very smoothly and unobtrusively through built-up areas. The engine did “run-on” slightly after performance testing, but its temperature is subject to sensitive control by means of a radiator-blind, adjusted by a long, hanging chain convenient to the driver’s left hand. This blind also enables the heater to quickly attain optimum temperature.

The absolute maxima in the gears, allowing for speedometer correction  —  the strip speedometer was accurate at 30 m.p.h., 1-1/2 m.p.h. fast at 50 m.p.h., 2-1/2 m.p.h. fast at  60 m.p.h.  —  were: 30 in first, 52 in second and 77 m.p.h. in third gear, impressive speeds from a 1.6-litre saloon!  Beyond these speeds savage valve bounce immediately sets in. It pays to change-up at about 45 m.p.h. in second gear to secure maximum acceleration. With some initial wheelspin we clocked a mean time of 20 seconds and a best time of 19.8 seconds for the s.s.1/4-mile; 0-50 m.p.h. occupied a mean time of 11.7 seconds, with a best time of 11.6 seconds, 0-60 m.p.h. taking 16.7 seconds. In top gear the Volvo will attain a speed of 94 m.p.h. under favourable conditions. It cruises fast without excessive windnoise. The Robo headlamps give a good but concentrated beam. The sidelamps are Hella.

Starting was a little reluctant after a winter night in the open but the engine warms up quickly with radiator-blind shut. A full tank of petrol took the car 215 miles, mainly over slippery roads calling for light throttle work but offset by cold starts and performance testing. The makers quote a tank capacity of 10 gallons, so this represents less than 22 m.p.g.  However, another check, under give-and-take conditions with some cold starts, gave a figure of 27 m.p.g.  A check after 300 miles showed that not a drop of oil had been used. The radiator took a quart of water but this may have been because the car was inadvertently driven with the temperature above boiling point for some miles  —  the radiator-blind very quickly affects temperature and a warning light when this gets dangerously high would be useful.

When it is considered that the Volvo has excellent steering, sound road-holding, a passable gear-change and combines in one vehicle the performance of a sports saloon with the comfort of a high-quality family car, it is seen as an outstanding motor car. In spite of its modest capacity of 1,583 c.c. (untidy by our standards but admirable for rally work, in which sphere the Volvo has proved its worth) the car out-performs ordinary cars of considerably greater capacity and even shows better performance figures than some renowned sports cars. The acceleration figures we obtained, two-up and with about five gallons of petrol, show that the Volvo runs away from many larger cars and makes rings round so-called sports saloons. It has road-holding which enables good use to be made of this striking performance, it is pleasant in drive, and the arrangement of the controls is highly commendable, while the quality of the minor controls would not disgrace a car costing twice the price. Altogether, the Volvo 122S is a splendid proposition for discerning drivers! The agents here are Brooklands of Bond Street and the price, with tax, is £1,399 7s.—W. B.

***

The Volvo122S Saloon (B 16B engine)

Engine: Four cylinders, 79.4 by 80 mm (1,583 c.c.). Pushrod-operated overhead valves: 8.2-to-1 compression-ratio. 85 b.h.p. (S.A.E.) at 5,500 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 15.7 to 1; second, 9.9 to 1; third, 6.0 to 1: top, 4.56 to 1.

Tyres: 5.90 by 15 Trelleborg Safe Star 4PR whitewall tubeless, on balanced bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: 1 ton 1 cwt. 0 qtr., ready for the road, without occupants, but with approximately half a gallon of petrol.

Steering ratio: 3-1/2 turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 10 gallons. (Range approximately 215 miles but see text.)

Wheelbase: 8 ft. 4.4 in.

Track: 4 ft. 3.77 in.

Dimensions: 14 ft. 5 in. by 5 ft. 3-1/2  in. by 4 ft. 11-1/4  in. (high).

Price: £932 (£1,399 7s., inclusive of purchase tax and import. duty).

Concessionaires: Brooklands of Bond Street, Ltd., 103, New Bond Street, London, W.I.

Makers: Aktiebolaget Volvo, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Performance Data

Speeds in gears (after speedometer correction)

First… 30 m.p.h.;  Second… 52 m.p.h.; Third… 77 m.p.h.

Acceleration

0-50 m.p.h., two-way runs … 11.7 sec;   0-50 m.p.h.,  best run…  11.6 sec.;  0-60 m.p.h., best run…  16.7 sec.

Standing-start 1/4-mile (slippery road), two-way runs… 20.0 sec.

Standing-start 1/4-mile, best run … 19:8 sec.

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