1968 123 GT
Here's a picture of a 1968 123 GT, taken the day I bought it in April 2008. My first Volvo was a white 1961 PV-544. Later on I owned a turquoise 1972 144E. Presently I have this 123 and a 1970 142-S.
Here are reasonably-accurate specifications for a Volvo 123 GT. It is essentially a 122 Volvo fitted with an P-1800S drivetrain and some custom accessories. However, in my view, a 123 is greater than the sum of its parts.
I purchased my 123 from its second owner, It was sold on his behalf by an automotive repair facility in nearby Mesa, Arizona. After learning of the car, I arranged a meeting to inspect it. When I saw the it, I immediately realized it was indeed the elusive and desirable 123 GT model. The car's ID plate, affixed to the bulkhead above the master cylinders for the brakes and clutch, is stamped "133351 P". The second "3" indicates a high compression B-18B engine. The third "3" indicates the car was made for Export (more on that later). On the same plate, the "S" code is stamped "5314", which is specific for the GT edition. I have yet to learn what the "5343" code means.
With all the right parts, one could conceiveably re-create a 123 GT from a 2-door 122-S. But sometime in 1967, Volvo began stamping the firewall with the Type and VIN. This would be hard to fake, although if you had spare 123 firewall laying around somewhere....
Being a GT, the car is equipped with a 3-spoke steering wheel, two 7-inch Hella fog lights mounted on heavy chromed steel brackets, a chrome exhaust tip, full aluminum slotted wheel covers, and "123 GT" badges on the front fenders and rear hood. It has the twin SU H6 carbs and dual downpipe exhaust connecting to a one-piece, cast iron intake/exhaust manifold. The B-18B engine drives an M-41 transmission. The M-41 is a modified M-40 4-speed gearbox mated to a Normanville de Laycock D-type overdrive unit. A Spicer 30 rear axle sporting a 4.56 ratio is located by support arms and "butterfly" bushings somewhat heavier than the 122-S equivalents.
The car features fully-reclining front seats actuated by chrome mechanisms with black plastic knobs marked "KEIPER LIZENZ-RECARO". I recently learned the something new about these mechanisms. Reutter Karosserie, founded by Wilhelm Reutter in 1906, is most famous for the 356 bodies they produced for Porsche. Reutter's body plant in Zuffenhausen was sold to Porsche in 1963. What remained of the company lived on as a contraction of its original name, Re-Karo, or Recaro, the seat maker.
Under is the hood is found the special wiring harness, relays and fuse box for the fog light, driving light and special twin horns. A sealed cooling system is achieved with an overflow bottle mounted on the passenger side of the radiator. Often a country-specific dealer-installed option, this car has twin, fender-mounted view mirrors.
Notice that this car is fitted with two Hella fog lamps, not one fog lamp and one Iodine vapour driving light like other 123 GT's you may have read about. I made a mental note to ask earlier owners of the car about this if I ever had the chance to talk to them.
The car came with the original owners manual, the 123 GT owners manual supplement, Volvo's green factory repair manuals, Clymer's orange and white Volvo Owner's Handbook of Maintenance and Repair, and Clymer's later Service and Repair Handbook, copyright 1972. It also came with some, but not all maintenance records. When I transferred ownership, I kept a copy of the former owner's title.
However, there were a few items missing from the car upon my purchase. These included the left hand grill, the tachometer, the special 123 dash pad with shelf, the Girling Mk2a brake booster, and the mercury-switch activated lamps for the boot and bonnet.
From the maintenance records, I was able to track down the car's original owner, Tom Ostrander, here in the Phoenix area. In speaking to Tom, I learned that he bought the car new in Sweden under Volvo's European Delivery Program, ("EDP"), in late 1967. I asked him about the European license plate I found in the trunk of the car. Tom told me he went to Sweden and picked the car up at the factory in Torslanda. As such, he was obliged to obtain a Swedish "export" license plate which was good for one year. The red numbers read "10" and "68" respectively, i.e. the plate expired in October 1968, a year after Tom bought the car. I couldn't resist mounting it back onto the car.
Tom had the car shipped from Sweden to Jacksonville, Florida for the princely sum of "$50, plus another $10 to wash it" upon arrival. The the white plastic "Volvo Owner Identification Card", which came with the owner's manual, is embossed with Tom's name and Florida address, the car's VIN, the date November 1, 1967 and the acronym "EDP".
From these records one can deduce that this was a 1968 model year car manufactured for export before January 1, 1968. Accordingly, it is a transition vehicle, and does not have all the features added to the Volvos destined for the U.S. after January 1, 1968 when the laws changed. For example, it does not have side marker lights, front seat headrests, the 4-way flasher system, soft rubber instrument knobs, or dual circuit brakes. But the car does have a one-piece intake/exhaust manifold, the collapsable steering column, a breakaway rear view mirror, matte black interior trim surrounding the windshield and the 1968-and-later rear trailing arms. It also has interior door pockets and a chrome strip on the front crest of the hood, both of which were eliminated by Volvo as the 1968 model year progressed.
There is a worldwide registry for 123 GT's maintained by George Minassian in Queensland, Australia. As of October 2008, it included 440 1967 ("M") models, 64 1968 ("P") models, 8 1969 ("S") models and one 1970 ("T") car. George has painstakingly collected the VIN numbers for all these cars. The last 1967 model VIN he lists on his site is 279217. My car is 282785, and is the third lowest VIN model in George's 1968 registry. So again, it is a very early 1968 123 GT. The other interesting thing is that there are only two 1968 123 GT's listed in the U.S. on George's registry: mine and one other. It sure would be interesting to share stories with the other owner!
Tom went on to tell me he was living in Riviera Beach, Florida and working for Pratt & Whitney aircraft. A year after buying the car, Tom moved to Phoenix, Arizona to go to work for Allied Signal. I have a copy of the Arizona title that shows Tom first registered the car in Arizona on November 3, 1969.
While chatting with Tom, I was able to find out what happened to the items which were missing from the car when I bought it. Tom said someone stole the tachometer (and one front seat cushion!) out of the car when he left it unlocked one day when he was at the laundry. He said he paid a local guy to recover the dashboard after it cracked in the Arizona sun. He also said he himself removed the Girling brake booster after it started leaking. Finally, Tom confirmed the car originally came with 2 Hella fog lamps. It never had one fog and one driving light. I guess he would know: he bought it new.
The maintenance and repair records show that in February 1977, the car was involved in a minor front end collision. Tom got 2 repair quotes, one from Ray Tanner Volvo and the other from Bakepaint Body Shop Inc. Both itemize repairs to the right front fender, hood, nose, and front bumper, to the tune of roughly $1100. Tom recollected the accident: someone had turned left in front of him. He said that after he got the quotes, he went out and found a right front fender, nose section and hood from a light green 122 and grafted them onto the car to save some money. The replacement sheet metal was painted dark green right over the factory paint. Tom continued to drive and maintain the vehicle until January 1978. At that point, Tom moved into a new house, bought another car and simply quit driving the Volvo. At the time it had a little over 116,000 miles on it.
The car sat patiently in Tom's bone dry Arizona garage for the next 27 years! Tom held onto the car with the intention of restoring it for his nephew, but this never eventuated. Eventually, a young man who lived next door to Tom, convinced him to sell the car. It changed hands in late 2005, and the second owner registered it in Arizona in January 2006. The recorded (actual) mileage on the new Arizona title was 117,000.
Over the next year or so the second owner worked to get the car running again. Records show he paid for a new set of tires and shocks at Pep Boys and employed a local general automotive repair shop to have the brakes and cooling system rejuvenated. Then, in April 2008, this second owner commissioned his mechanic's shop put the car up for sale on his behalf. It was only by sheer luck and coincidence that I learned of the car shortly thereafter. As it was located nearby, I was able to inspect the car, verify it was a true 123GT, and buy it within a short time period.
The 123 GT is based on the Volvo 120 series, or "Amazon" model. The Amazon was designed by Jan Wilsgaard and introduced in 1956. The car was intended to satisfy Volvo's requirement for a 4-door saloon with the same wheelbase as the venerable PV 444. Wilgaard built upon initial designs formulated by Italian Giovanni Michelotti, and created a popular car which saw production up through 1970. The first Amason models (the "s" was later changed to a "z"), were the P-120 series 4-door examples. In 1961, the P130 2-door Amazons went into production. A year later, the P220 estates (station wagons) were introduced.
The Amazon did much to establish Volvo as a sucessful car manufacturer and open up the American market. From 1958 through 1966, approximately 234,100 of the 4-door " P-120" models were produced. The 2-door "P-130" series were even more popular: Volvo build roughly 312,400 of these cars between 1961 and 1968, and another 47,400 were built in 1969 and 1970. Fitted with the larger B-20 engines, the vast majority of these later cars stayed in Europe. The wagons are much rarer. Volvo build a total of 60,900 wagons between 1961 until 1969. Production of the Amazons tappered off with the introduction of the 140 series cars in 1967. The last Amazon, a 2 door sedan, rolled off the assembly line in Torslanda on July 3, 1970.
Of all the Amazons, the 123 GT model is by far the rarest. It is said that, beginning in 1967, 5,000 examples were to be built to meet homologation requirements for professional rallying events. However, assuming that perhaps only 1/3 of the cars are still around, and the fact that George's worldwide registry lists about 500 examples, it is likely that only about 1500 123 GT's were ever made. As desribed earlier, the vast majority of the cars were made in 1967. Much fewer were built in 1968, and just a handful were made in 1969 and 1970. Most of the '69 and '70 models were destined for Switzerland, which to this day has an active club of 123 enthusiasts. Over the years, the 122 Volvo has developed a strong following from people who appreciate its honest design, quality construction, efficiency, durability and unique style. It follows that the 123 GT sits high on every Volvo lovers list. It is the epitome of the vernerable 122 series.
Here's another picture of the 123 taken the day I brought it home. The roof rack was purchased by Tom just before his cross-country trip from Florida to Arizona in the fall of 1969.
Under the hood, everything was all there, with the exception of the brake booster and the windshield washer reservoir. Note the GT-specific wiring harness and relay panel. It's hard to believe the two, ultra-rare wing-mounted mirrors survived after all these years.
After a few drives in the car after buying it, I popped the hood and noticed gas leaking out of one of the carburator float bowls. Pulling the air cleaners, it was clear that after years of sitting, the S.U.'s were in need of some attention. I certainly didn't want any fuel leaks to burn my new car down! After locating some rebuild kits, the carbs were refurbished and put back on the car. I still had my "Uni-Syn" tool from my 544 days and a set of Whitworth spanners leftover from owing a Norton 750 years ago. After some tweaking, I got them dialed in and was rewarded with noticeably better performance across the entire power band.
At this point, the gas tank was pulled and boiled out to prevent contamination of the newly rebuild carbs. A new fuel sending unit was installed as the float and resistance wiper on the old one were both toast. I was happy to find the interior of the trunk clean and rust free.
After adjusting the carbs and doing a tuneup with new components, I took the 123 out for a test drive. The engine pulled strongly, with no smoke and ran up the gears with no odd noises. However, from this short the test drive, it was evident that the 123's brakes were not right, its suspension made way too many clunks when going over bumps, and the cooling system still had some issues. I was also not liking the oil leaks in the area of the rear main seal and tranmission. No surprise, I suppose. After all, the car had sat for so long, and the previous owner did just enough work to get it back on the road after its long rest.
With some time to spend, I decided this particular car deserved a more comprehensive renewal of its mechanicals. In the process, I planned to make a few (reversible) upgrades, while ensuring the car retained as much originality and patina as possible. The initial plan was work on the car in stages, and keep it on the road between the various sub-projects. This approach was superceded by a more comprehensive dismantling of just about every moving part under the car. Out came the rear axle. Notice the rust-free condition of the chassis, thanks to its Arizona provenance.
Next, out came the driveshaft. Then, with the help of my son, I removed the tranmission, overdrive unit and bellhousing as a single unit. With all that out of the way, I could get a good look at the old-style rear main seal, clutch and oil pan. In addition to replacing the seal, I wanted to replace the oil pan gasket and powdercoat the oil pan. The maintenance manual provide instruction on how to remove the oil pan with the engine still in the car. The book says to lower the front crossmember on long bolts fitted to the captured nuts in the frame, and then carefully lower it and the engine to allow the pan to clear the oil pump. But since I was going to have to replace all the front suspension bushings anyway, I elected to remove the crossmember completely, leaving the engine balanced on 3 separate jacks. Needless to say, one must be very patient and careful to pull this off.
Here's the car up on its stands, everything removed except the engine block!
Jack detail to suspend the engine without a front crossmember.
Finally, the oil pan was re-installed. According to records, the clutch was replaced at 95,000 miles, so it only had 22,000 miles on it. But that was back in 1978! So, to be safe, I installed a new pilot bearing, newly-machined flywheel and Sachs clutch kit.
I used some touch-up paint on the engine block while all the components were off. Note new high-strength manifold studs courtesy of IPD:
Eventually, parts started returning, and reassembly could begin. I was nervous about leaving the engine block precariously balanced on three jacks. Therefore, I was happy when my son assisted me in reinstalling the front crossmember, motor mounts and upper A-arms. I had to replace the left side lower A-arm with one from RPR, as the original one was slightly bent. The engine mounts are the so-called heavy duty 164-type with the hexangular bases.
With the crossmember securely back in the car, I turned my attention to the front suspension. The upper A-arms recieved new poly bushings and new ball joints. I used new Grade 8 fasteners for the clamp on the stub axle connecting to the upper ball joint. The lower A-arms recieved new rubber bushings and new ball joints as well. John Parker at VPD provided the progressive front springs (250 - 500 lb). IPD provided the Bilstein dampers. Arizona Powder Coating did the cross member, suspension and steering pieces.
At around this time, I got some more fasteners back from Collins Plating. That allowed the installation of a new water pump and new timing gear cover (with the upgraded B20 seal) sourced from IPD.
Over the next few days, I worked to re-install the rear suspension and rear axle. As all this work is being done in a narrow home garage bay, it was good to get some of the bigger parts out from underfoot and back on the car. The support arms, trailing arms and torque rod all got fitted with poly bushings. I had to fabricate a steel sleeve for the torque rod bushing where it bolts the the frame. IPD doesn't provide this when you order their poly kit, so I used a deep 13 mm socket, cut and filed to fit.
Here's the rear axle, cleaned and painted. I had the differential rear cover powdercoated. The rest was done with Eastman's "Chassis Black" spray paint. It received new outer bearings and seals. The 4.65 gear set and pinion gear were left untouched.
At this point, I had to source some replacement parts for the rear brakes. The left brake drum was bent and un-machinable. This was probably due to someone pulling the drum off with the incorrect puller. I don't think it was my doing, but maybe it was since I used a 3-arm puller instead of the recommened 5-hole version. Also, on the right side, someone had installed the crosslink incorrrectly. Worse, the same knucklehead used a hacksaw on the parking brake lever to "make it fit". I was able to get a drum from Joe Lazenby at Susquehanna Spares. Chris Horn, a.k.a. "agent strangelove", provided the crosslink and lever and I was back in business.
While waiting on the above-mentioned brake parts, I turned my attention to the steering box which was leaking profusely when I bought the car. I eventually had to combine parts from a second box I found on Ebay with the one I had in order to make one good one. The shims are used to take the play out of the 2 ball bearings holding the drop shaft in the housing.
Wherever used the original fasteners, newly zinc plated. I noticed on this car that the vast majority of machine screws use wave washers instead of lock washers (which tend to tear up the mating surface as they lock).
When the brake parts arrived, I was able to complete the rear brake assemblies. I installed new rear axle seals and bearings and new brake shoes, springs and hardware. I bought new parking brake cables to go with al the other new bits. I used new Grade 8 fine-threaded fasteners to secure the brake backing plate onto the rear axle. I don't have the expertise to set the endplay in the half-shafts. I'm hoping Eric at Old Volvos Only will eventually do this for me.
On the front, I went with new rotors sourced from Rusty at RPR. The old ones were just slightly out of spec for thickness. I'll keep the old ones for spares as the rotors are very pricey.
Access to the transmission tunnel is vastly improved if the engine is repositioned. I used 4-/12 inch long 1/2 x 13 TPI fasteners to lower the crossmember and engine and then tilted the engine down in the back to get maximum clearance. You can see the long bolts in the following picture:
Finally, here is transmission back in the car. A major milestone, but will it all work?
Next were the driveshafts, exhaust system and steering arms. At this point, I am nearly done working under the car.
Next were the driveshafts, exhaust system and steering arms. At this point, I am nearly done working under the car.
After a 9-month sleep, everything was back together and it was time to start the car. It would start but not run. Hmmm, what could it be? Finally I looked at the position of the rotor and realized it was 180 degrees off. When I rebuilt the distributor, I mistakenly installed the drive dog collar 180 degrees off. Guess what? The car will not run that way! Soon corrected, the car started right up and I was rewarded by the familiar tappet noise and SU-whistle of the B-18B.
It is now March 2009, almost 11 months after buying the car. After much debate, I decided to stick with the original steel wheels. In the recess by the wheel stud holes, they are stamped "VOLVO", "IMPORT", "670429", and dated 7/67. Inside they are marked "SANKEY 4J x 15L". They measure 4.5 inches across from outside edge to outside edge, but they are, in fact 4-inch wheels. One rim was bent and another leaked, so I got 2 more from Chris Horn. I powdercoated the wheels and fitted them with Vredestein Sport 165 HR15 tyres. I used the car's 4 original hubcaps, each stamped on the inside with a black insignia, OEM marks from the factory.
Tyres fitted, I lowered the car back on the ground and then tightened all the suspension bushings with the car in the neutral position as recommended by many on "brickboard". After troubleshooting a gas leak from one of the SU's I was ready for a road test. I engaged reverse and rolled back out of the garage, tapping the brakes to be sure I had some. Then off down the road, in first, then second, then third to the stopsign at the bottom of the hill. Brakes working, that's good. Onto the main throughfare, and up through the gears to 50 mph in 4th gear. I have no tach, but the engine was probably turning 3000 rpm, a reminder of the 4.56 final drive ratio. Then the moment of truth: depress the clutch and flick the overdrive lever down. The light comes on and the revs drop to 2500 or so. Gotta love overdrive!
The interior is still as I found it except for a new (used) driver's seatpad, new seat webbing and a chrome shift knob found on ebay. I have the right dash pad, but finding a functional tach is proving to be a challenge. The other hen's tooth is the horn button. Half the fun is the search, I suppose. Note the dash, which was recovered by Tom some 30 years ago.
A lfew weeks later, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to remove the home-made dash cover. It was soon clear why it had been recovered: the underlying original dash pad had been totally destroyed by the relentless Arizona sun.
I temporarily fitted the new dashpad I have just to see how it will look. Much better, but permanent installation of this new pad will have to wait until I begin work on the interior.
Meanwhile, our local Volvo club, the Cactus Chapter of VCOA was working to organize a car show at the Volvo proving grounds located outside of Wittman, Arizona. With this event in mind, I worked to ensure the car was worthy enough to make the 70-mile one-way trip, and most importantly, back home again. I decided that no self-respecting 123 GT would be seen in public without its requisite fog lights, so this became the next step in the cars revitalization.
In preparation for re-installing the fog lights, I had to attend to the ralay panel mounted on the right front inner fender. I took notes and pictures when I dismounted it from the car, but the more I studied the wiring diagram, the more convinced I was that whoever had plugged all the wires in the last time did not do it corrrectly. Out came the volt-ohm meter to figure out what was going on.
As shown in the following photo, there are four wires on the GT-specific wiring harness: red, black, yellow and white. This harnesss runs from the bulkhead by the brake master cylinder forward along the left fender, across the front of the radiator and thence to the relay panel. The yellow and white wires are, respectively, the control voltages for the fog light(s) and, when fitted, the iodine vapor lamps. The white wire is 12V when the parking lights are on (headlight switch pulled out one notch), and also when the headlights are on (headlight switch pulled out fully). But the yellow wire is 12V only when the headlights are on. I decided I wanted the fogs to work with either parking or headlights illuminated, so I chose it for the control voltage for my two fog lamps. The red wire in the harness is used to ground the control voltage of the relay and close the circuit. It runs to the little pull switch under the leftmost side of the dash panel. I noticed my dash had 2 holes in this area. The second is for a second, identical pull switch for the iodine vapor lamp circuit when fitted.
Here's a good picture of the terminal connections for the GT wiring harness. NLA! Note again the ground wire for the tachometer on the upper left corner of the ID plate. This is factory work (!).
The GT relay panel has three 4-pin, Hella 91/6-14-12V relays. From left to right, the photo shows the fog light relay, the iodine vapor light relay, and the horn relay. On each relay, 2 control voltage pins close the power circuit across the other 2 pins when the 12V control voltage is applied. The panel also mounts the special 123GT fuse box which supplies the power for the horn (red wire), fog light(s) (green wire) and/or iodine vapor driving light when fitted. Aficianado's will recognize the voltage regulator on the far right of the panel is not correct for a 123 GT. I am not sure exactly what an original one looks like, but I have been told this isn't it.
The black wire on the GT harness connects at the relay panel's fuse block and carries 12V to power the mercury-switched lamps in trunk and under the hood. This wire's curcuit splits under the dash. One leg runs to the trunk and one leg runs back under the hood on the driver's side. Both Mercury lamps were missing from the car when I bought it, although the mounting screw hole was still visible on the trunk lid. I found one lamp at Revolvo in Tucson. I am not sure it is exactly the right one for a 123, but at least it works.
Regarding tachometers, the 123 GT came with a 7000 rpm Smith's tachometer, scaled from 0 to 70 in increments of 10, with a dashed red-line at 60 and full red at 65 (i.e 6500 rpm). The instrument had an orange indicator needle, a chrome bezel, and was mounted on a plastic stalk and asymmetric footpad just to the left of the parcel shelf on the 123's padded dash. The silk-screened face on these tachs attaches with 2 small screws.
From top to bottom, the inscriptions on the faceplate say:
RPM x 100
RVI5411/OOA MADE IN U.K.
There are 5 wires: 2 white wires (to the distributor and the coil low voltage terminal), 2 red (one to the headlight switch for illumination and one to the fuse box for 12V when the ignition is on) and one black wire for ground. Interestingly, the tach's ground wire is attached to the firewall using one of the 4 screws which secures the VIN tag to the car! I surmise this may have been a decision taken on the factory floor in absence of sufficiently detailed instructions from Volvo engineering.
While on the subject, Volvo commissioned another tachometer from Smiths as shown below. These instruments may have been an option available to 122 and 140 owners beginning in late 1968. The differences are subtle. The scale is 0 through 7. The bezel is matte finish, not chrome. The faceplate is fastened from within and protected by a internal clear plastic cover as opposed to screwed on with 2 small screws. The final silk-screened line on this instrument reads:
RVI5413/OO MADE IN U.K.
It also has 5 wires and connects up just like the proper 123GT tach described earlier. The difference is there are 3 white wires and 2 black ones.
One thing that bugged my about the car was the fact that the wing mirror on the passenger side had a piece of its mounting base broken off. (I wonder to this day if this was a casualty of Tom's fender-bender back in 1977). In any event, after an exhaustive search I was able to find one mirror in Germany. NOS, never been mounted! Here's a picture of it alongside the undamaged one which came with the car. Note the Volvo logos, the mounting gaskets and seam between the mirror stalk and the baseplate. The stalks are actually spring loaded across this seam, so if one accidently hits the mirror, it will deflect rather than bend or break. I have read that there are fender-mounted Volvo mirrors in three different sizes: short for the 123GT, longer for the 220 wagons and longest for Duetts. For the record, the length of the mirror stalks for my 123GT is 8 cm (as measured from the seam between the mounting base and the stalk to the centerline of the screw holding the mirror lens in place.
The car ran well out to and back from the Proving Grounds, despite it being in the high 90's that afternoon. My friend Ted went with me for moral support. We met some great people and were treated to a wide variety of Volvo's, new and old, including a red 544 with original paint and a squadron of 1800's. I am pleased to report that the Arizona Volvo community is alive and well.
There were some experts at the show who helped me dial in the SU's using a German airflow meter (as opposed to the less-accurate Uni-Syn tool):
Its now June, and getting hotter every day. Here's a picture of the engine compartment. Note the single circuit brakes and (bypassed) Girling Mk-2b brake booster, indicative of an early 1968 model. Also visible is the one-piece intake/exhaust manifold.
While attaching the various badges back onto the car, I decided to reinstall the rain deflectors which Tom had put on the car almost 40 years ago when he lived in Florida. They are made out of stainless steel and fit perfectly. Once upon a time J.C. Whitney must have sold these for 122's... Note the paint is almost gone above the driver's door. Frankly I am growing fond of the patina of the car and not sure if re-painting it is the right move for this particular vehicle.
The car poses in the desert....
Right rear view is quintessential Volvo, even with the door sag. Note the chrome exhaust tip, a standard feature on 123's.
Same side viewed from the front. Despite what some might say, I find the fender-mounted mirrors to be very functional.
One summer day when it wasn't too hot, I made an appointment to see Tom Ostrander, who bought the car new in Sweden and kept it under cover in his garage from 1978 until 2005. Tom was happy to see his car back on the road again. While we chatted, Tom helped me answer a few lingering questions I had about the car. One question I had concerned the wheels. When I took them off, I noticed 2 were date-stamped 7/67 (which is plausible for a car built in late 1967) and 2 were stamped 1-74.
Tom explained that he had taken the car to get tires in 1974, and the shop neglected to fully tighten the lug nuts on one side of the car. He drove it for a short distance and the loose lugs ovaled out the holes in the rims, ruining them. The shop had to order 2 new rims from Ray Tanner Volvo to replace the damaged ones.
While on the subject of wheels, here is a picture of the inside of the 123's hubcap. All four of them have this faint black ink-stamped logo. I wonder if this is a symbol of the subcontractor that supplied the hubcaps to Volvo?
Here are pictures of Tom, the original owner of the 123 next to his old car.
Another friend I have made by virtue of this car is Jan Nystrom, currently the editor of the Volvo Club of America magazine, Rolling. While collaborating with Jan for an article on this car, he was kind enough to contact the Volvo Archives people in Sweden and get the production information for my car (It helps that Jan speaks Swedish!). The Volvo factory records confirm the car has its original engine and transmission which is what I fully expected. The car was completed on September 22, 1967 and delivered to the "Tourist and Diplomatic Sales" group in Goteborg on Ocotber 3, 1967. Shortly thereafter, Tom picked it up.
Tom said he didn't drive the car much in Sweden because the country had just changed over from driving on the right (British style) to driving on the left. When I mentioned this to Jan, I recieved a details account of the process as follows:
"Yes, Sweden switched from driving on the left to the right on September 3, 1967. It was known as H Day (H for höger, the Swedish for right). As you can imagine, it was a massive, expensive undertaking that took years to stage. All traffic signs, lane markings, exit ramps had to be changed. Buses had to be rebuilt or exchanged so the doors were on the right-hand side. Traffic was stopped at midnight and no cars were allowed to drive (except emergency vehicles, of course) for several hours while the new signs were uncovered. At 5 am all the cars that were on the road moved over to the right-hand side. They then had to sit until 5:30 when traffic resumed. It was a very calm, orderly, typically Swedish! Here is a famous picture from the moment they actually switched sides at 5 in the morning. "
Meanwhile, while I was sifting through stuff, I came across the original key to the car. It's remarkable it survived all these years since so many of them break off in the ignition. I really admire the "single cutaway" shape and texture of the Neiman keys. Too bad you can't buy them anymore.
Well, now its June 2010. In the photo below is a picture of the steering wheel taken the day I bought the car back in April of 2008. Tom had installed the perforated steering wheel cover, no doubt to minimize the chance of scalding his hands in the Arizona summer. But notice the wheel: the spokes are misshapen and the horn button is gone. ( I found the button in the ash tray after buying the car, but alas, it was it 3 pieces).
Very rarely I would come across a GT steering wheel for sale, but inevitably they had cracks in the wheel hub and horn button, or were attached to a rusty 123 and being sold as a set. Imagine my happy surprise when one came up here in the U.S. With this nearly mint wheel in hand, I am newly-inspired to continue the gentle restoration of the car. Here's a close-up of the delicate and rarely seen 123 horn button:
Please refer to Part 2 of this blog to continue the story....