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All things considered, I like Volvos. Probably because, at their best, they are cars that don’t pretend to be something they’re not.
These cars are nothing more than sound, comfortable, safe and long-lasting transport, of an ilk best typified by the 140/240 series.
Rugged and civilised, these were cars that made no apology for being that slightly dull but dependable – and likeable – friend.
I’ve owned Amazons, and the first car I ever drove after passing my test was my dad’s 245GLT estate.
I had a 740GLT for a while in the ’90s, a really shockingly boxy shape on the rare occasion you see one today.
The pre-big-bumper 140s were really quite handsome (although I didn’t think so at the time), and the P1800 got away with trying to be glamorous, although it was a bit of a fraud: not so the 262C, a flagship coupé that was completely at odds with the image of clean-lined rationalism the firm had nurtured for decades.
Somewhere in between came the 164, a bid for the 3.0-litre luxury saloon market first seen in 1968.
Almost 105,000 were built in five years, so the 164 was very far from being a flop, yet somehow you feel it should have been.
Although not immune to rust they were more resilient than most in this respect, so I suspect the survival rate of 164s is fairly good, particularly because they were not a car that had an attraction for hooligan owners.
It probably found its most appreciative audience in North America, where the 164 was seen as a genuine threat to Mercedes-Benz, and faithful long-term Volvo owners brought up on the Amazon and 144 were looking for something with a degree of prestige value to trade up to.
Visually, the 164 made no attempt to hide the fact it was a 144 saloon with a nose job.
Behind its boxy ‘prestige’ grille was a straight-six pushrod engine developed from the existing ‘four’, which required an almost four-inch wheelbase stretch.
The resulting car understeered like a pig at the first hint of a corner, and also offered a poor performance versus mpg equation: 107mph and 0-60mph in 12 secs at 17mpg must have made buyers think twice, even those who could afford to lob out £2200.
Yet it was a restful, refined car for those temperate drivers who simply wanted to waft around in leather-lined luxury: a decadent barge in the great tradition of the 3.0-litre Vauxhalls, Fords and Austins that were beginning to fall out of favour.
In fact, for those British caravan-towing types who were missing their Rover 3-Litres, the big Volvo was a natural replacement. They would certainly have been at ease with its fuel consumption.
The 164 at least had build quality and a certain cool Scandinavian charm on its side.
With injection as the 164E from 1971, the big Volvo became a genuinely quick car, freakishly so in manual form where some tests recorded a 0-60mph time of 8.5 secs with a 118mph top speed.
It was a shame there was no estate version.
And, yes, I did once own a 164, a carburettor automatic complete with a column shift, that I sold to a friend so I could buy him out of a Flaminia.
It was dull but in a smooth and pleasant way and, unlike the Lancia, it never broke down, which just about says it all.
Images: John Bradshaw
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