NON-Volvo enthusiasts may never have heard of Jan Wilsgaard.
But, aged 26, he designed the car known the world over as the Volvo Amazon. That was 60 years ago and although Volvo had been a significant presence in the motoring world the Amazon was its first “full width” design with the wings and bonnet integrated to give a consistent frontal style.
Fast forward and it’s obvious that, while styling trends have changed tremendously, the Amazon and the latest Volvo saloon, the S90, share a wide-grill look, although the Amazon’s centre bar has been replaced by a diagonal slash through a prominent Volvo badge.
Where they display a major difference is in the upright roofline of the Amazon being replaced by the distinct coupe look of the S90. Although today’s car looks sleeker, it’s as tall as the car of 60 years ago, disguised by its length and width.
The Amazon is drawing a new, younger generation of fans who appreciate its solid nature. And there can be few better examples of longevity than the 1964 car shown here, owned by the same family from new and a multi-award winner at owners’ club events before going into storage around two decades ago.
It has just undergone a light-touch recommissioning by restorer Dave Taylor, based at Stoke, north of Andover, who carefully winched it from its resting place and serviced the engine before fitting a new battery and hearing the car roar back to life. With some minor paintwork on surface blemishes and a thorough overhaul of the brakes plus new tyres it was fit for the road again, testament to the work by Barry and Sonia Unicombe who rebuilt the car from a bare shell after taking it on from Barry’s father, Bert, who bought it new in 1964.
Bert and Barry were partners in a Volvo repair business so Barry, who sadly died in August 2015, built up a wealth of original Volvo spares for his car, many of which will pass to the next owners.
Volvo’s reputation for toughness comes through in a 1962 advertising slogan from America, the payoff of a film of the Amazon being hammered down gravel roads – “And you can drive it like you hate it. Cheaper than psychiatry”.
Today’s S90 is unlikely to respond well to too much of that, although there is plenty of electronic wizardry to protect its occupants from the errors of others (or its driver). But the Amazon of 1964 proved as comfortable as the S90 of today on a road trip, although without power steering the Amazon would save executive owners from forking out for gym membership.
The S90 is a superb piece of kit, indicative of the nurturing the Chinese owners are bringing to their valuable brand. Indian conglomerate Tata has the same approach to Jaguar Land Rover; it’s such a shame that Western ownership was ready to see such fabulous marques slide rather than invest.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about the S90 is that it doesn’t have to cost the earth in cash or CO2 . True the test car was specced up to around £40,000 but in standard form the D4 Momentum is £32,555, not a lot of money these days for such a lot of car.
Even with a CO2 output of 116g/km it’s still a 140mph, 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds type of car but buyers are more likely to savour is smooth ride than its speed. True there is some thump and crash over severe bumps but you hear it rather than feel it so serenity is a feature of S90 travel whether you ride in the front or back.
At times it feels as if there is too much driver cossetting; certainly the pilot assist and adaptive cruise control want to exert too much influence over what’s going on. There’s also a touch screen interface that’s intuitive for iPad users but with so much uproar (rightly so) about driver distraction it’s maybe retrograde rather than progress. Switches still have their place in modern motoring.
There’s a lot of gear here you won’t find on Amazon but the S90 delivers all modern drivers need and more besides. It is, as you might expect, a leader rather than a follower.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Volvo S90 D4 Momentum
Does it fit your ego…
0-62mph: 8.2 secs
Top speed: 140mph
Bhp: 190 @ 4250rpm
Torque: 317lb ft @ 1750–2000rpm
…and your wallet…
CO2 emissions: 116 g/km
Best bits: complete Volvo thoroughbred