By Stuart Grant and images from Etienne Fouche
Volvo’s 120 series, also known as the Amazon, is widely regarded as the car that put the brand onto the sporting saloon map. But it also introduced the world to the firm’s superior build quality, impressive feature list and rigorous pursuit in the safety department, all clothed in a practical yet elegant curvaceous Jan Wilsgaard-designed body.
With a vast number of 122Ss still in daily use it might be difficult to believe that these gems first hit the streets sixty years ago. But they did, launched in 4-door format during September 1956 at Örebro, Sweden. Although sharing the same wheelbase, high H-Point seating position and tallness, the new 3-box design was a radical departure from the predecessor PV444/544 models and like so many of the European cars of the time, aimed directly at the massive American market. 26-year-old Wilsgaard, who later went on to be Volvo head designer, is said to have drawn styling ideas from the early 1950s like the Chrysler New Yorker sedan and 300C hardtop coupé. The broad rounded shoulders and rounded off tail ‘fins’ that characterised Wilsgaard’s design became so iconic that when Peter Horbury set about undoing Volvo’s boxy lines of the 1980s and early ‘90s with his V70, he took inspiration from these two aspects.