This month marks a very important birthday in the Volvo automobile legacy. Sixty years ago, on September 1, the Swedish automaker unveiled the Amazon, so named after the leggy female warriors first made famous by Greek myths.
Despite its Greek name, the Amazon was rather cosmopolitan in that she represented a design blend inspired by elements from Italian, British, and American automotive masterpieces. Created by Jan Wilsgaard at the tender age of 26, the Amazon marked the second model released after World War II by the Volvo brand. Initially spelled Amason, as the vehicle gained popularity, the designers revised it to Amazon for more universal recognition and appeal. However, in most non-Nordic markets, the standard Amazon was recognized as the 121, with the 122 offered as the sport variant. The estate Amazon sold in most markets as the 221, and 222 sport trim. Fortunately, this Volvo is now identified and appreciated worldwide as the Amazon.
The Amazons effectively increased the reach of the Volvo brand, with 1958 marking the automaker as Sweden’s best-seller, a distinction that has carried over every year since.
Beautiful design elements characterized the first run of Amazons, which were sold between 1957-1959, in two-tone shades of black, ruby red, and midnight blue, capped off by a light gray roof, or a black roof on a light gray body. Beginning in 1959, the Amazon was available to purchase in a single shade, and 1961 marked the final Amazon two-tone model year offerings.
That solo-shade 1959 year also heralded Volvo’s own three-point seatbelt as a standard safety feature. Industry experts estimate that more than one million lives thus far were saved by the three-point seatbelt, making it so easy to understand where Volvo’s reputation for safety comes from.
The years spanning between 1959-1970 distinguished the Amazon as the most manufactured Volvo model, with 667,791 Amazons created, sixty percent of which were exported from the Swedish market. Sadly, the last of the Amazons was constructed on July 3, 1970, and was immediately relegated to the Volvo Museum.
Likely in line with the original Greek Amazons, Volvo’s Amazon attracted plenty of admirers. In fact, the United States former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, boasts a collection of classic Volvos, the prize of which is a 1966 Amazon estate model. Upon his 1993 retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was gifted a fixer-upper Amazon by none other than former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and former Vice President, Al Gore.
Keeping with the political theme, it turns out that celebrated American actor, Robert Redford, who portrayed Washington Post journalist, Bob Woodward, in the film “All the President’s Men,” drove a white Amazon on screen.
In an unusual marketing twist, 1962 delivered the Volvo account into the expert hands of New York advertising executive, Amil Gargano, who insisted that Volvo vehicles could survive just about anything, and marketed his sentiment with the lines, “And you can drive it like you hate it. Cheaper than psychiatry.”
Ah, if only the fearsome, yet elegant, Amazon was still on the market today…