In a letter to the press dated April 7th 1956, Volvo’s CEO Assar Gabrielsson writes that one unit of Volvo’s new and larger passenger car is now ready and placed at the disposal of the technicians for test driving. The unit mentioned is the prototype X1. Gabrielsson is clear about the fact that no data about the new car will be published before the construction and the design has been tested and finalized, and also writes that Volvo will not be able to deliver the new car to customers during that year. Picture material is included with the letter (some of which can be seen in this borchure from later the same year: RK 6112 korr).
So it is with a modest production start that the first series produced Volvo Amazon rolls off the Lundby factory assembly line on Thursday, July 12th 1956. It somewhat unexpectedly has chassis number 3 and is followed by chassis number 1 on August 27th and by number 2 on August 30th. These are noted as delivered on December 7th, October 24th and November 8th the same year. Just as the prototypes chassis number 3 has two-tone paint, white with red top. Chassis number 1 is white with grey top while chassis number 2 is painted grey with red top. Because the two prototypes X1 and X2 were registered for traffic in Sweden on April 10th and June 11th respectively, it is easy to believe that they were followed by chassis number 3 on July 7th while in reality the prototypes had their own chassis number series.
The first cars are officially intended as show room cars. Not more than 34 cars are produced during the fall of 1956, on top of the two prototypes, ans it isn’t until more than half a year later that the first car is delivered to a paying customer in late February, early March 1957. By the end of 1957 not more than 3,100 units have been produced. Limited production capacity together with initial quality problems plus a significantly higher (35%) price than the popular PV 444 lead to a cool interest from the public. In addition, Amazon buyers had to put up a down payment of SEK 4,000 which was almost a third of the total price, let it be to a 6% interest. But the Amazon eventually became a success – also abroad, including the so important North American market. Seen from a historic perspective, the car is one of the biggest successes to Volvo, who’s continued expansion would not have been possible without the Amazon.
Volvo Amazon is during the first years only available with the four door body (P 120). In October 1961 the by many percieved as the sportier two door version (P 130) is introduced, and at the Stockholm Motor Show in February 1962 also the Estate (P 220). The different bodies have their own series of chassis numbers, which is illustrated by the table below. This includes the two prototypes X1 and X2. From the same table it is obvious when first the PV 544 is discontinued in 1965 and later when parts of the production assets are relocated to the 140-series in 1966. The last Amazon rolls off the production line at the Torslanda plant in Gothenburg on Friday July 3rd, 1970 and has chassis number 359726 (a dark blue P 130). It was saved and can be seen at the Volvo Museum in Arendal. The remaining 192 units are shipped as CKDs (completely knocked down units) to the assembly plant in Durban, South Africa where the very last Amazon leaves the assembly line on December 18th, 1970. The highest chassis number produced of the Amazon series is 359918, but it is not certain that it was this car that had that number.
Volvo does not have production data on the Amazon series broken down per edition. In other words, it is difficult to answer questions like how many 123 GTs were produced, how many 122 S were exported as CKDs to Canada, how many red Amazon Sport were sold in Sweden in 1959, etc. The answer to these kinds of questions lies in manually counting the number of occurences of the type designation, color, market, etc. in question in Volvo’s delivery books. This is because the production cards per vehicle are stored on microfilm and are not available in digital format. You quickly realize that this is an extremely time consuming task to perform and that you in reality have to seek alternative sources. Generally, the split between 121 and 122 S sold in Sweden was 80/20. That is, approximately 20% of the customers chose to pay extra for a Volvo 122 S over a Volvo 121 *. Regarding the 123 GT, Volvo manufactured the 5,000 units needed to meet the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) requirements for homologation during the period August 22nd, 1966 – February 28th, 1967 **. If this was truly the case can possibly be discussed but it remains a fact that Volvo claimed that they did in their FIA application. During the same period, Volvo manufactured around 39,940 units of the P 130. From this follows that the 123 GT stood for around 12.5% of that production and that the total number of produced 123 GT of model year 1967 could be around 7,880 units. Assumptions include an even production pace during the period and that the 123 GT was manufactured also after February 28th, 1967. For model years 1968, 1969 and 1970 the 123 GT was produced in numbers only fractions of that of the 1967 model year.
Series production is preceded by two prototypes. Read more about them in the section on history. The first prototype, called X1, had chassis number 1 and was registered for traffic in Sweden on April 10th, 1956 ***. It was scrapped by Volvo already on December 1st the same year. The second prototype, called X2, had chassis number 2 and was registered for traffic in Sweden on June 11th, 1956, was eventually sold to a private person and not scrapped until November 13th, 1967.
* ”Volvo – The Passenger Cars – from 1920s to 1980s” by Björn-Eric Lindh. Förlagshuset Norden AB. 1984. ISBN 9186442066. Page 158.
** The Volvo 123 GT was homologated by FIA on April 2nd, 1967. See FIA’s historical database.
*** A copy of the registration document is reprinted on page 60 in the Swedish Volvo Amazon Club’s 2012 roster.
* Concerns the two prototypes X1 and X2 which had chassis numbers 1 and 2 respectively in their own chassis number series. Both were registered for traffic in Sweden and therefore included here (but are not included in the totals).
** Calculated point in time based on available chassis number data and the assumption of an even distribution of produced cars during the period.
*** By Volvo also stated as 234209/9,160 for P 120 and 73196/2,897 for P 220, which gives a total produced number of 667,323 cars, but the figures in the table above are from Volvo’s delivery books. The last manufactured P 220 was saved and is on exhibition in the Volvo Museum in Arendal and has ch.-no. 73220.
It’s of course strange that there are different figures in circulation originating from the same source (Volvo) around something as fundamental as number of produced cars of Volvo’s Amazon model while at the same time there obviously exists only one source (Volvo). The explanation can be found in the fact that this source simply had little control over produced units during production and/or after that production had ceased. As concluded in the sections above, statistics on editions was simply nothing Volvo bothered with. Even so, it would be extremely surprising if there were no sales plans present as base for the production plans. How else would you know how many cars to produce? Still to this day the official figure from Volvo on produced number of Amazons in 667,323 cars, but it’s quite trivial to prove this figure wrong and it is based on two errors:
- The last 444 bodies of the P 120 (i.e. four door sedan) are missing. These were shipped as CKD to Durban, South Africa in January 1967 for assembly abroad. Total number of produced P 120 is therefore 234,653 and nothing else. This is confirmed by the production cards.
- For the Estate the count for some reason stops after 73,196 produced cars. This chassis number was incorrectly stated on the information sign next to the last prouced Estate on display at Volvo’s museum in Arendal as late as 2016, but when asking the staff to open the hood a different chassis number was found stamped on the firewall above the heater unit: 73220. There are also Estates in traffic in Sweden with higher chassis numbers than 73196.
Correcting for these two errors the total produced number of the Volvo Amazon is 667,791 cars excluding the two prototypes X1 and X2. This is verified with the production cards in Volvo’s Historical Archive. From where Volvo got the figure 234,209 is unclear, especially considering the fact that the production cards show that the last 906 P 120 bodies, i.e. from ch.-no. 233748, were shipped as CKD for foreign assembly (to Ghent, Belgium and to Durban, South Africa). But Volvo did manage to include the last 192 bodies of the P 130 (i.e. two door sedan) that were also shipped CKD to Durban.
From the table above it is clear that the whole concept with model years does not begin to establish itself within Volvo until after the summer of 1960, and then most likely driven by the introduction of Volvo Amazon and PV 544 on the US market during 1959. Most changes are introduced at certain chassis numbers rather than in between two model years. On July 4th, 1958 chassis number 10000 rolls off the assembly line at the Lundby plant. In March 1958 Volvo issue a service bulletin regarding the introduction of the new gearbox M4, and eventually also stated what chassis numbers belongs to what model year based on the gearbox (H6 means 1957 and M4 means 1958). Something clearly made up afterwards. The normal procedure for model years is in fact the point in time for production and this would give a quite different picture would it be applied here.
Production is paused for a while after 249 produced units as several initial defects are being addressed. Several new Amazon owners have complained about problems with serious water leakage, that the brakes are not working properly, that the side windows have the habit of falling down by themselves and that the gear shift lever rattles when driving. Among other things.
|Model year||Chassis number||Type Designation||Comment|
|1957||1 – 249||P 1200||H6|
|1957||250 – 4435||P 1200 V/H||H6|
|1957||4447 – 4636||P 1200 V/H||H6|
|1957||4639 – 5193||P 1200 V/H||H6|
|1957||5214 – 5215||P 1200 V/H||H6|
|1957||5271 – 5272||P 1200 V/H||H6|
|1958||4436 – 4446||P 1200 VB/HB||M4|
|1958||4637 – 4638||P 1200 VB/HB||M4|
|1958||5194 – 5213||P 1200 VB/HB||M4|
|1958||5216 – 5270||P 1200 VB/HB||M4|
|1958||5273 – 12082||P 1200 VB/HB||M4|
|1958||12083 – 15000||P 12204 VB/HB|
|1958||12170 – 15000||P 12206 VB/HB|
|1958||12379 – 15000||P 12104 VB/HB|
|1959||15001 – 32999||P 12104 UVB/UHB|
|1959||15001 – 32999||P 12204 UVB/UHB||Export|
|1959||15001 – 32999||P 12206 UVB/UHB|
|1959||21000 – 32999||P 12208 UVB||USA *|
|1960||33000 – 54399||P 12104 UVB/UHB|
|1960||33000 – 54399||P 12106 UVB/UHB|
|1960||33000 – 54399||P 12204 UVB/UHB||Export|
|1960||33000 – 54399||P 12206 UVB/UHB|
|1960||33000 – 54399||P 12208 UVB||USA, M4|
|1961||54400 – 84299||P 12132 VD/HD||M30|
|1961||54410 – 80258||P 12133 VD/HD||M31 **|
|1961||54400 – 84299||P 12134 VD/HD||M40|
|1961||54400 – 84299||P 12234 VD/HD||M40|
|1961||80683 – 82239||P 12235 VD/HD||M41 ***|
|1961||54400 – 84299||P 12238 VD/HD||M40|
|1961||54400 – 84299||P 12244 VD||USA, M40|
* Around 2 000 cars of this model year are imported to the USA beginning in March 1959.
** In total 1,120 units of Volvo 121 with M31 produced.
*** In total 199 units of Volvo 122 S with M41 produced of model year 1961.
In total 5,184 produced 1957s, 9,816 1958s, 18,000 1959s, 21,399 1960s and 29,900 1961s.
Thanks to Bengt Andersson’s restoration of the Amazon Ruth (ch.-no. 66723) and consultation of Volvo’s delivery books in the fall of 2003 with specific interest in the gearboxes M31 and M41 it is possible to list the following two tables. It is clearly shown how these cars were manufactures in series between certain chassis numbers, a pattern that can be distinguished also in the yet incomplete data gathered on the 123 GT (see the 123 GT register).
|Type Designation||Chassis number||Color||Built|
|P 12133 VD/HD||54410||51||1|
|54700 – 54722||19||23|
|54966 – 54995||67||30|
|55431 – 55464||19||34|
|55533 – 55573||67||41|
|55821 – 55960||67||140|
|55983 – 56017||19||35|
|57235 – 57249||19||15|
|57297 – 57311||67||15|
|58038 – 58052||19||15|
|58053 – 58067||67||15|
|58420 – 58449||67||30|
|58820 – 58822||67||3|
|58827 – 58828||19||2|
|58879 – 58908||67||30|
|59429 – 59430||67||2|
|59441 – 59460||67||20|
|59706 – 59712||19||7|
|60147 – 60175||67||29|
|60743 – 60768||67||26|
|60889 – 60898||19||10|
|61138 – 61140||67||3|
|61145 – 61177||67||33|
|62063 – 62086||67||24|
|62283 – 62290||19||8|
|62382 – 62391||19||10|
|62648 – 62667||67||20|
|63183 – 63190||19||8|
|63290 – 63314||67||25|
|63875 – 63894||67||20|
|64544 – 64568||67||25|
|64846 – 64858||19||13|
|65389 – 65400||19||12|
|65987 – 66000||67||14|
|66151 – 66175||67||25|
|66277 – 66291||19||15|
|66598 – 66617||19||20|
|66712 – 66743||67||32|
|67440 – 67466||19||27|
|67607 – 67656||67||50|
|67950 – 67983||67||34|
|68123 – 68147||19||25|
|69734 – 69736||50||3|
|73664 – 73666||67||3|
|75136 – 75151||19||16|
|75152 – 75155||50||4|
|75275 – 75304||67||30|
|75700 – 75703||19||4|
|75919 – 75937||67||19|
|77149 – 77150||19||2|
|77350 – 77361||67||12|
|77801 – 77805||19||5|
|78122 – 78123||67||2|
|79539 – 79551||19||13|
|79619 – 79638||67||20|
|80149 – 80150||19||2|
|80253 – 80258||67||6|
For type designation 12133xD (M31), a total of 784 cars with color code 67 were manufactured. 326 with color code 19, 8 with color code 50 and one each of color codes 51 and 54.
|Type Designation||Chassis number||Color||Built|
|P 12235 VD/HD||80683 – 80685||50||2|
|80693 – 80722||42||30|
|80746 – 80768||67||23|
|80776 – 80788||51||13|
|81307 – 81313||50||7|
|81314 – 81358||42||45|
|81359 – 81385||67||27|
|82215 – 82227||42||13|
|82228 – 82229||50||2|
|82230 – 82233||67||4|
|82234 – 82239||51||6|
For type designation 12235xD (M41), a total of 88 cars with color code 42 were manufactured, 11 with color code 50, 46 with color code 51 and 54 with color code 67.
For the model years 1962 – 1970 Volvo has listed what chassis number introduced which model year:
The table below presents the last planned chassis number per calendar year. The figures are listed in this document and have for the model years1961 to 1967 been verified with VADIS (Volvo Aftersales Diagnostic and Information System). According to Volvo, these are the only data available on the Volvo Amazon in VADIS. During 1966 or 1967, Volvo starts using computers to keep track of production and the figures are from then on kept per model year instead of, as before, per calendar year which is why figures on last planned chassis numbers are missing for model years 1968 to 1970.
* Ch.-no. 1-34 are in the delivery books listed as type 672, which probably is an internal denomination within Volvo with an for us unclear meaning.
** Calculated point in time based on available chassis number data and the assumption of an even distribution of produced cars during the period.
The bodies of the Volvo Amazon were produced at Olofströms Bruk in Blekinge in southern Sweden and transported by train to the factories in Gothenburg, first Lundby and later Torslanda. Olofström produced car bodies at a higher pace than what Lundby were able to receive and assemble finished cars from and the solution was to build bigger factories in both Sweden (Torslanda) and abroad.
The car bodies of the early Amazon production in the Lundby factory left Olofström more or less complete with wings, doors, hood and trunk lid already fitted. This is shown in the pictures below. After the opening of the Torslanda factory the last steps of the body assembly took place after the bodies and their parts had arrived to Gothenburg.
From old journal films we find the following clip that shows the pressing and welding of Amazon bodies in Olofström:
The bodies for Volvo cars are still today manufactured in Olofström in Blekinge and transported by rail to Gothenburg. Olofström delivered car body parts to Volvo already in 1927 and on March 7th, 1969 Volvo bought the company from Alfa Laval. At the time it had around 4,500 employees and it is since then called Volvo Olofström.
Read more about body numbers in the section on type information.
The Lundby Factory
In the years 1956 – 1963, all production of Volvo Amazon takes place at the Lundby factory on Hisingen outside Gothenburg with the addition that foreign assembly started in the fall of 1960. Internally it is called the Volvo Gothenburg factory. The pictures below are taken outside the Lundby factory, where finished cars are lined up waiting for delivery (many are to be transported to Gothenburg’s Skandia port for export). Over time, the Lundby factory is outgrown and it is no longer possible to expand it. Calculations showed that Volvo at the most could reach a production of 55,000 cars per year with one shift and at the most 100,000 cars per year working two shifts. After a decision by the board in 1958 Volvo starts already in 1959 to plan for a new and more modern production site at Torslanda further out on Hisingen (which at the time is little more than farm land). During 1961 the body assembly is relocated to Torslanda and the Lundby factory starts receiving Amazon car bodies for paint and final assembly. By early 1964, Amazon production has been fully relocated to Torslanda. Production of cars continued in the Lundby plant with Volvo PV 544 and Duett also after the Amazon and P1800 production had moved to Torslanda and ended with 1800 ES in 1973. Today, the Lundby factory is owned by Volvo AB and hosts Volvo Trucks, Volvo 3P and Volvo Penta.
The last picture above is of the 100,000 exported Volvo car, a midnight blue Amazon with grey beige top. The picture is taken in the Skandia port with the car placed in front of the Swedish Orient Line’s freight liner M/S Timmerland. It is February 1958 and the man in the middle, with the hat on edge, is Volvo’s CEO Gunnar Engellau. The text painted on the car reveals that the receiving country is Greece.
The Torslanda Factory
The sales success with the Volvo Amazon during the years 1957 to 1963 enables Volvo to invest in, among other things, a new and for the purpose built production plant. This is located to Torslanda in the Sörred valley on Hisingen outside Gothenburg, some 4 miles west of the Lundby factory, where Volvo purchase 1,000 acres of land and in November 1959 starts preparing access roads. The area mostly consist of rocks but construction proceeds according to plan and the factory is when it is completed one of Europe’s largest working sites. The production plan is dimensioned for 100,000 cars per year working one shift, 150,000 cars per year working two shifts and 200,000 cars in full production. The Torslanda factory consists of three main buildings called Torslanda A (TA), Torslanda B (TB) and Torslanda C (TC).
Goods receipt of the around 350 parts that make a car body and that are transported by train from Olofströms Bruk directly in to the factory yard takes place in the building for body assembly (TA). The body parts have been pressed from steel and partly been assembled in Olofström before being transported to Torslanda, and in TA the remaining 90 or so parts are welded together to form a car body. Sides and floors are fixed at special production lanes using special jigs before being welded together and together with the roof of the car. After that wings, doors, hood and trunk lid are added at two parallel lanes. Before the finished bodies are allowed to continue in to the next building they are thoroughly checked and, if needed, corrected.
In the second building, TB, the bodies are first pretreated and phosphated, then primed and then painted using three coats of paint. Application of the top coat is done manually. After passing final inspection the painted bodies either continue in to the next building for final assembly or taken out for export to one of Volvo’s foreign assembly plants.
Final assembly takes place in the last and largest building, TC. The bodies from the paint shop are either brought in directly to the assembly lanes or via a body buffer located in the beginning of the building, depending on what model and what color is listed in the production plan. The building is 775,000 ft2, employs 1,400 people per shift and along the three assembly lanes are a total of 240 stations at which all the thousands of parts that make a car are fitted to the painted car bodies. Many parts, such as the instrument panels, are pre-mounted at separate stations close to the assembly lanes. Engines from Volvo’s own engine factory in Skövde and gearboxes from Volvo’s dito in Köping are matched to the right models. Along parts of the assembly lanes the staff is working in two levels on the same car. Towards the end of the assembly lanes each car is fitted with its wheels after which it is tested for leakage, has a roll test performed and is test driven on Volvo’s test course outdoors before re-entering TC for final inspection.
Already on August 28th 1961 the body factory TA delivers the first Amazon bodies to the Lundby factory for paint and final assembly.
The Torslanda plant is inaugurated by King Gustav VI Adolf on Friday, April 24th, 1964. The King is driven around the new site in an ÖV 4 that Volvo rented from a private owner (Volvo didn’t have any of their own), and is hosted by co-founder Gustaf Larson and CEO Gunnar Engellau. Assar Gabrielsson had passed away two years earlier. Volvo starts producing the first passenger car to be built in the Torslanda plant – a Volvo Amazon – already on Monday, April 6th and it is ready a few days later after a few initial startup problems on Thursday, April 9th. The same car, a black Volvo Amazon with type designation 12134VD and chassis number 157931, was presented to King Gustav VI Adolf on the inauguration day and can be seen on one of the pictures below.
Volvo’s investment costs in the Torslanda plant amounted to 240 million SEK (about 2.7 billion SEK today), but Volvo could not have finished the project without massive financial support from the Swedish government.
From old documentaries over Gothenburg we find the following clip showing early production at Torslanda:
For the 50th anniversary of the Torslanda plant in April 2014, Volvo produced the below film together with Swedish magazine Teknikens Värld:
On Friday, September 19th, 1964 the one millionth passenger car from Volvo is produced. It rolls off the production line at Torslanda and is of course a Volvo Amazon, more specifically a black two door Amazon with type designation P13134VE model year 1965 with chassis number 86131. It became a double jubilee as the gearbox plant in Köping at the same time hade produced one million gear boxes and the entire staff in Köping celebrated by visiting Torslanda and participated when the one millionth gearbox was assembled in the one millionth passenger car from Volvo.
The picture gallery below contains promotional pictures from the brand new Torslanda plant taken during manufacturing of cars of model year 1964.
Already in the 1930s, Volvo focus the foreign sales on countries without domestic car production and the export to more or less exotic countries becomes more and more significant with time. But it isn’t until the Volvo Amazon and the PV 544 in the early 1960s that the volumes become really big, and by this time Volvo is already established as a premium brand on several big and important markets. The step from exporting finished cars to having the production locally is therefore not as big as it otherwise would have been. Totally, more than half of all Amazons ever produced are exported. Of these, a large amount were assembled abroad.
There were several reasons for Volvo to consider foreign assembly. Towards the end of the 1950s Volvo had an urgent need of more production capacity as the Lundby factory simply was outgrown (a result of the huge success with the PV 444). There were also tax driven reasons as there substantial amounts of money to be saved on finalizing the vehicles locally rather than importing them complete. By imposing lower import duties on unassembled cars the governments of different countries could create jobs locally. For manufacturers, like Volvo, who’s import to such countries would reach a certain annual volume it would be more profitable to assemble the cars locally. The end price towards the customer on a new Amazon produced in Sweden was not always particularly competitive on all markets with Sweden’s often higher labor cost, transport costs to the market, import duties, etc. With local production this cost could often be drastically lowered and hence increasing Volvo’s competitive edge locally. It was also significantly more expensive to transport complete cars compared with transporting them as parts.
During 1959 Volvo starts planning for foreign assembly plants with the ambition of final assembly of among other cars the Volvo Amazon abroad. Volvo also establish guidelines for the different affected functions within the company to run such business. The first real assembly plants for Volvo cars outside Sweden are located in South Africa and in Mexico, and while the assembly of Volvo cars there are initiated by Volvo they are without owner interests from Volvo. Instead the assembly takes place in facilities provided by the local importer, dealer or agent who typically also assemble cars of other brands than Volvo in the same facilities. But final assembly of Volvo cars started in small scale at the importers in delivery districts identified as Brussels, Belgium and The Hague, Netherlands already in 1954. This is unveiled by Volvo’s delivery books. The concept with foreign assembly proves to be successful and in 1963 yet another assembly plant is opened in Chile together with the local importer. Around the same time Volvo opens its first fully owned and operated assembly plant for cars in Canada and two years later another plant in Belgium.
In 1964, 8,040 Volvo cars (other models included) left Torslanda as CKDs (completely knocked down) units for foreign assembly. With 118,464 produced vehicles this year, this corresponds to 7% of the production. The term CKD is generally used and the idea is that a finished car body is shipped together with a bag of material which at the assembly site are combined into a complete car. But the cars that Volvo shipped from Gothenburg for foreign assembly were not particularly knocked down. In many countries local authorities required that a certain share, ranging from anything between 20% and 50%, of the finished car should be locally produced. In exchange Volvo got tax and duty reliefs. The bigger the share of local parts, the bigger the reliefs. The obvious parts such as windscreens, tires, batteries, etc. were therefore typically not shipped at all but instead purchased from local suppliers by the assembly plant. The extent of these parts varied between the different assembly plants. From various reseller brochures we know that the tires were of a different make in Canada than those in Sweden and from the type designation plates (that were practically empty) on the cars to South Africa we can assume that the cars were delivered there unpainted and without upholstery. Pictures of cars assembled in Chile reveal that the dash pads as well as other parts of the interior were procured locally. Amazons assembled by foreign plants that were fully owned by Volvo tend to be more similar to the cars produced in Sweden than those assembled outside of Volvo’s ownership, for instance are the colors and the upholsteries the same as the Swedish made cars (even if the combinations of these differ). Regardless of this, the cars’ body (painted or only primed), engine and power train were always included in the kit shipped from Sweden.
The terms SKD, semi knocked down and only KD, knocked down are also found in contemporary Volvo literature and documents but their use is anything but consistent. The responsible department at Volvo, 2145 Contact with foreign assembly plants was founded in 1959 and was internally called the KD department while CKD was most often used even in cases that were clearly SKD. PKD, partially knocked down is a term not used by Volvo but that perhaps best describes what kind of operations they were running in their foreign assembly ventures.
In 1967 Volvo produce 145,447 passenger cars, 11,041 trucks and 863 buses. Of a total of 157,351 vehicles 110,341 or 70% are exported. From this we conclude that most Amazons were exported but also that most Amazons were produced in Sweden.
The Numbers Two and Nine
Volvo introduce a new structure for the type designations on Volvo Amazon with model year 1961 in August 1960. Read more about them in the section on type information. The fourth digit in the new type designation is a nine (9) for cars assembled abroad. The first examples of this in the delivery books are from November 1960 and concerns types 12194VD and 12294VD to the Hague in Holland (district 893) and to Brussels in Belgium (district 874) starting with ch.-no. 56158. The digit only indicates that the car was assembled abroad. It does not indicate at what plant, even if this often can be concluded from the other information in the type designation such as the fact that only RHD cars were assembled in South Africa (and the opposite in Mexico, Chile and Canada), some models were not produced at all plants (such as the Favorit and the 123 GT), etc. For the PV 444, which was in production until 1958, and for the PV 544A 1958-1960, Volvo used the digit two (2) in the fourth position of the type designation to indicate ”car packed for foreign assembly”. After that, the digit nine is used also for the PV and the Duett, same as for the Amazon. The first 6 000 units of the P 1800 assembled in Great Britain by Jensen Motors also have the nine in the type designation. No Volvo Amazon produced in Sweden, neither at Lundby or Torslanda, has had the nine in the type designation.
There is a lot that indicates that the digit two (2) was also used on the Amazon with the same meaning, up to the point in time when the digit nine (9) was introduced in accordance with above and at least from model year 1959. The delivery books state type designation 12124UVB from ch.-no. 26475 and 12224UVB from ch.-no. 26500, both with delivery district The Hague in the Netherlands stated. It is possible that these occur on even lower chassis numbers, as these were discovered when searching for information on a particular car rather than searching for the digit two. See also the section on type designations.
It is easy to assume that all Volvo Amazons sold on a particular market were produced at the same factory, but it turns out not to be quite that simple. For Volvo, foreign assembly was about cost reduction and about production capacity, and had little to do with the market. In Norway, for instance, Volvo Amazons produced in Sweden were sold side by side with Volvo Amazons assembled in Belgium. In Canada the demand exceeded the production capacity of the local assembly plant and Volvo Canada Ltd. therefore imported Amazons from Sweden in parallel. On a market on which Volvo Amazon was sold new, cars both with and without the nine in the type designation were sold new. The important thing for Volvo was to meet the demand and to sell cars.
Aside from the delivery books we find the first known reference to the nine in contemporary Volvo literature in a service bulletin from October 1961.
Below is a list of cities and countries in which it is known and verified that assembly of Volvo Amazon took place. The order in which the different assembly plants are listed here is the order in which the chassis numbers are noted as ready from Volvo in Sweden, but this is not necessarily the order in which these chassis numbers were assembled at respective plant. Which of Volvo’s assembly plants who was before any of the others to assemble the Volvo Amazon is therefore tricky to answer. It depends on what you mean. When Volvo got its acts together regarding foreign assembly things started rolling very quickly and within a period of just four weeks between September and October 1960 they have CKD units reported ready from Lundby to Mexico, South Africa, the Netherlands and Belgium. As the transport lead time from Sweden to South Africa is much longer than from Sweden to Mexico, Mexico most likely assembled its first Amazon before South Africa but South Africa’s first Amazon has a lower chassis number than what Mexico’s has (according to the delivery books).
Volvo assembled the Amazon outside of Sweden in the following countries during the following periods:
|The Netherlands||Beverwijk (among others)||1959 – 1962 **|
|Belgium||Alsemberg||1960 – 1964 **|
|Mexico||Unknown||1960 – 1961 ***|
|South Africa||Durban||1960 – 1970|
|Canada||Dartmouth||1963 – 1967|
|Chile||Arica||1963 – 1967|
|Belgium||Ghent||1965 – 1969|
|Canada||Halifax||1967 – 1968 ***|
* Calendar year.
** Uncertain first year.
*** Uncertain last year.
Early Assembly in Holland and Belgium
Already in 1954 Volvo shipped the PV 444 to several local importers in Holland and Belgium as SKD and from Volvo’s delivery books we can conclude that also Volvo Amazon was delivered to these districts as SKD, in parallel with finished Amazons produced at the Lundby plant. The first SKD Amazon to Belgium with the digit nine in the type designation was a grey beige car with black top (50) 12194VD with ch.-no. 56158 for assembly at company SBMA (more about them further down) outside Brussels which had long experience with Volvo PV assembly. It was noted ready from Lundby on September 21st, 1960 but is likely not the first Volvo Amazon assembled outside Sweden. The first SKD Amazon to Holland with the digit nine in the type designation was a midnight blue with grey beige top (54) 12194VD with ch.-no. 57632 and was reported finished a week later, on September 28th, 1960 with delivery district the Hague stated. It was assembled by the company Beijnes in Beverwijk just north of the Hague. Both 121 and 122 S were shipped to Holland and Belgium in this way. Assembly of the Amazon in Holland never reached much volume and ceased sometime in 1962, but continued in Belgium. A total of around 1 500 Volvo cars, both PV and Amazon, were assembled at Beijnes.
Volvo likely sent cars from the Amazon series as SKD to the Hague already in 1959. Both 12124UVB and 12224UVB occur in the delivery books with delivery district the Hague in the Netherlands stated and with chassis numbers in the 1959 model year range, around ch.-no. 26500. The assumption here is that the digit two (2) in the type designation of these cars, just as with PV in the same period of time, indicates that the car was shipped for foreign assembly.
The pictures above are taken from Volvodrive Magazine #8 and show Beijnes’ plant in Beverwijk, the Netherlands. According to information in the article, very little is today known about the actual assembly. What is known is that Volvo was carefully optimistic about the whole concept of foreign assembly, not only because it offloaded production capacity at the Lundby plant but also because it in many cases was financially sound, but it is clear that Volvo was very concerned that these foreign built cars should have the same high quality. The Amazon bodies that were shipped to the Hague were painted in Lundby and had a protective layer of coating applied which was then removed after the transport. At Beijnes, the bodies were then treated with underseal, including the inside of the front and rear fenders. When this was finished, the bodies were placed on the conveyor belt and had, with the assistance of an hydraulic lift, front- and rear axles fitted. These came finished from Sweden.
The assembly then continued with the fitting of front and rear screens, fitting of doors, hood and trunk lid, fitting of chrome trims, grille, front and rear lights and bumpers. Before the rims with tires with white wall sides were fitted, these were individually balanced. When the car was assembled it had its brakes tested for 1.5 hours under pressure to discover any signs of leakage. After passing final inspection of paint, locks, body work, etc. the car was taken on a 8 km / 4.2 mi test drive in the vicinity of the Beijnes assembly plant in Beverwijk. Approved cars thereafter got a protective layer of coating that would protect the paint and chrome until delivery. The cars were then delivered to the local importer Niham in the Hague.
These early Amazons assembled abroad had round rear reflectors, as shown in the picture above. The same picture insinuates that foreign assembly of the Amazon occurred also before ch.-no. 21000 which was when the trunk lid handle was changed. Pictures of ch.-no. 302 confirms this:
* P. van Vugt, ”Made by Beijnes – Volvo Productie in Nederland”. Volvodrive Magazine #8. 2012.
In 1959, Mexico drastically reduce the import duties on smaller cars and a market that practically has been closed suddenly opens up for Volvo, who already by April has signed a contract with a local dealer. The export of Amazons to Mexico starts soon thereafter and Volvo can report good selling figures in the country. Regulations in the country change again during 1960 and makes it necessary for Volvo to assemble the cars locally, and in September 1960 Volvo report that this will happen and will happen in facilities provided by the local importer. The plan is to reach a yearly production of 2,000 cars within one and a half years. The first CKD Amazon assembled in Mexico is a 12294VD with ch.-no. 59366, which is reported finished on Friday, October 21st, 1960. Later, Volvo bodies from Olofströms Bruk bound for Mexico are being shipped out from Karlshamn and not via Gothenburg. Later series of Amazons shipped CKD to Mexico for final assembly includes ch.-no. 65014, later followed by ch.-no. 67835-67906, 68335-68404, etc. – all with type designation 12294VD. The color code is stated as 09 in the delivery books, which probably means that the bodies were primed (to withstand rust during shipping) but not painted. I.e. the assembly plant painted the cars. In total, several hundred Amazons were shipped CKD to Mexico and 96 cars were shipped at a time (per boat). 1,920 units during 1961, including PV 544. Where in Mexico these cars were assembled is not yet known, but someplace near a harbor like for instance Veracruz in the Mexican Gulf is no wild guess.
Only left hand steered four door 122 S are assembled in Mexico.
|Volvo 122 S||1961 – 1962 *|
* Uncertain last model year.
But assembly of the Amazon in Mexico is soon discontinued. It’s not fully known why, but reasonable explanations could include difficulties for Volvo to find local suppliers to the extent that the law required (given the high demands on quality that Volvo had), maybe the circumstances changed again, or maybe Volvo simply saw bigger benefits in final assembly in other North American locations. Other European car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, FIAT, Citroën and Peugeot also leave Mexico around the same time while US car manufacturers like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler stayed (as did some of the other European brands including Renault and Volkswagen). The last CKD cars to Mexico are in the series of ch.-no. 81584 – 81643 which were reported ready in Lundby on July 3rd, 1961 and that were delivered to Mexico on August 3rd the same year. The experiences in Mexico helped establish the concept of foreign assembly at Volvo and the plans for assembly in South Africa continued. Later, when opening their own assembly plant in Canada, Volvo’s CEO Gunnar Engellau has ambitions of also exporting cars to ”countries south of North America” from Canada, but whether or not those plan became real is not clear.
* A. Larsen, ”Volvos monteringsfabrikker i utlandet – KD – knocked down – en bil levert i deler”. AmazonPosten #2, 2019.
Durban, South Africa
After an agreement in 1960 the Volvo Amazon is also assembled at an assembly plant in Wentworth outside Durban in South Africa between 1960 and 1970, as is the PV 544, parts of the 140-series (only 144) and the 164. Volvo starts shipping CKD Amazons to South Africa in the fall of 1960 and the first, a 12294HD with ch.-no.57080 is noted as ready in Lundby on September 28th, 1960. It is followed by ch.-no. 57081, a black 12294HD with the local importer’s internal chassis number 2. These are cars with two-tone finish and the B16 B engine. Already on these first cars to South Africa the fields for color and upholstery on the type designation plates are left blank when the cars leave the Lundby plant as CKD’s, which indicates that the cars were painted at the assembly plant and that they also got locally procured parts, including the upholstery.
The plant was built already in 1947 and was owned by two leading South African motor organizations: McCarthy Roadway Ltd and Atkinson Oats. The company behind the plant was called Motor Assemblies Limited and the Volvo Amazon cars that were assembled here have a plate riveted on the torpedo wall in the engine compartment (above the type designation plate) on which it says ”Built by Motor Assemblies LTD, Durban South Africa”. The plate has two fields above this text where the left field indicates the body: VO, P13 or P22 for P 120, P 130 and P 220 respectively, and where the right field indicates the importer’s internal chassis number for the car, which appears to be a simple serial number for that body type. Since the importer, Lawson Motor Group in Johannesburg, also imported complete and finished Volvo cars from Sweden this number series could include both imported as well as locally assembled cars. Volvo Amazon was assembled in Motor Assemblies’ Jacobs Plant on Lerwick Road in Wentworth.
Initial Amazon production in Durban included assembly also of the car bodies, i.e. CKD in its true term, and for this jigs were used to place the parts of the body in the exact right position before welding them together. This is shown in one of the pictures below. Because the end result of this method was not good enough in terms of Volvo’s quality standards this was later abolished and MA started receiving the bodies finished from Sweden just like the other assembly plants. One characteristic that the South African assembled P 120 and P 130 has is that they don’t have the welded seamline between the rear fenders and the body panel beneath the trunk lid (they are there in the front), which makes it quite easy to identify a P 120 or P 130 assembled in Durban. These cars also come with two small, round white reflexes in the front and two red in the rear, probably there because of legal demands, which can be seen in the pictures below. For other differences please see the section on model years.
As the new Volvo 140-series takes over more and more of the production capacity in Torslanda, Volvo more or less dumps all remaining four door Amazon bodies on their foreign assembly plants. Durban and Ghent are listed as receivers of 426 CKD units P 120, ch.-no. 233748-234173, and the very last 480 units of P 120, ch.-no. 234174-234653, are shipped on five fully loaded ships to Durban in January 1967. This is how easy Volvo could get rid of almost a thousand cars from Torslanda. The very last four door Amazon is a 122 S with B18 B engine, type 123942M and ch.-no. 234653 invoiced on March 22, 1967.
South Africa is also where the very last 192 Volvo Amazons are shipped for assembly and sales during the fall of 1970, of which the last were completed in December 1970. The 192 units were registered in South Africa as model year 1971, which is in line with the logic used for model years with production between the industrial vacations each summer, but in Volvo’s delivery books they are all noted as being model year ”T” which means 1970.
In the photo below, John Sully, CEO of Motor Assemblies in Durban, hands over the keys to the last produced Volvo Amazon in South Africa (and the last Volvo Amazon produced ever) to the buyer Dion Lardner-Burke, marketing director of the local Volvo importer Lawson Motor Group. The date is December 18th, 1970. The car was a yellow right-hand drive 122 S with engine B20 B and gearbox M40 (i.e. type designation 133942T). The chassis number could be 359918, the highest and last chassis number in the Amazon series, but that would then assume that Motor Assemblies assembled the cars in chassis number order, and that is far from established. What has been established is that neither Volvo nor MA stamped type designation or chassis number in to the body, as was done at the other production facilities. The only number that the Amazon bodies had from Gothenburg was the body number (from Olofström). As shown above, MA had their own chassis number series. Volvo’s delivery books contain very little information on these last Amazons. Except for chassis number (359727-359918) it basically only says ”130000”.
This last Amazon was initially used by Lardner-Burke as a company car at Lawson but has despite attempts by Volvo Owners Club of South Africa not been possible to locate. As far as Volvo is concerned, the assembly in Durban is relocated to Uitenhage during 1973 and came to a complete stop in 1976 due to political reasons and Toyota takes control over Motor Assemblies Ltd. Another reason for Volvo withdrawing from South Africa that has been raised is the claim that Lawson Motor Group had problems paying the invoices for the CKD units that Volvo shipped to them. Volvo had no involvement in Motor Assemblies, which from its foundation in 1947 up to 1976 assembled cars from 34 different brands, mainly American and British. The plant was later relocated to Prospecton.
Only right hand steered 122 S were assembled in Durban and this is as well the only location other than Lundby and Torslanda where right hand steered Amazons have been built.
|Edition||P 120||P 130||P 220|
|Volvo 122 S||1961 – 1967||1967- 1970||1964 – 1968|
In total, Motor Assemblies assembled 7,382 four door Amazon (P 120) between October 1960 and June 1967, 1,008 Amazon Estate (P 220) between May 1964 and October 1967, and 5,568 two door Amazon (P 130) between May 1967 and December 1970. The two door (P 130) takes over after the four door (P 120) during the first half of 1967. The CKD bodies were shipped primed but not painted from Gothenburg with 96 cars per ship load and a large – compared with the other assembly plants the largest – amount of details are procured locally by Motor Assemblies, likely from their existing contractors for their other car brands. The type designation plates on the bodies to Durban are empty except for the type designations.
* M. Compton and T. J. Gallwey, ”Motor Assemblies Limited: A Small South African Assembly Plant That Became a Major Manufacturer”. 2012.
* ”The last Volvo Amazon: Classic car lost in South Africa”. Wheels24, September 5th, 2016.
* S. Grant, ”Amazon Grace”. Classic Car Africa, October 2016.
* A. Larsen, ”Volvos monteringsfabrikker i utlandet – KD – knocked down – en bil levert i deler”. AmazonPosten #2, 2019.
Dartmouth and Halifax, Canada
Late during 1962 Volvo starts planning an assembly plant in Canada, where new and attractive customs regulations allows for the possibility to bring in parts duty free and assemble the cars locally. A saving of 7.2 % compared with, as in for instance the US, import finished cars from Sweden. Late during the year Volvo conduct a number of site visits and end up selecting Dartmouth in Nova Scotia. This is the closest major ice-free port on the North American continent from Gothenburg and the city has good port, road and railroad infrastructure. The establishment of an assembly plant in Dartmouth is planned together with the Canadian government and the province of Nova Scotia who grants Volvo special customs tariffs during a start-up period of five years to facilitate the establishment and also relaxes the legal requirement stating that no less than 40% of the cars’ components were to be manufactured in Canada. Volvo initially invest two to three million SEK in this Canadian venture that is expected to employ 200 people in a part of Canada that struggle with high unemployment rates. According to the agreement Volvo is allowed to, during the first five years or up until an annual production of 10,000 units has been reached, duty free from the Swedish mother company import assembled and painted bodies and a number of engines. After this initial period the duty exempt will gradually be reduced until they reach normal levels. Later, other European car manufacturers enjoy similar tax benefits in other Canadian provinces, including French Peugeut and Renault in Québec. But Volvo was first.
The assembly plant is to be staffed locally and who will receive training in production and assembly in Gothenburg at Volvo’s Lundby plant. At the same time, Volvo’s Canadian sales organization is to be expanded. The plans are made official on Thursday, February 21, 1963 and in the press release Volvo outline the agreement, the plans for assembly of the Amazon in Canada, of hiring around 100 persons locally and of producing 5,000 cars per year for sales in the United States and in Canada. The plans become real on June 11th, 1963 when H R H Prince Bertil, who is in town for a three day inofficial visit, inaugurates Volvo’s assembly plant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Volvo’s CEO Gunnar Engellau is also present. Prince Bertil tightens the last screw with a for the occasion gold plated screw driver on the first series produced European car in North America, a black (19) four door Volvo Canadian with red upholstery (148-225), ch.-no. 131400 with type designation 12294VF, reported ready in Lundby on March 27th, 1963.
Volvo’s PR stunt to let H R H Prince Bertil inaugurate the assembly plant in Canada means that it draws a lot of attention in the press, which it otherwise probably would not have, and the inauguration is well covered in Swedish press with several articles in several newspapers:
Volvo’s assembly plant in Dartmouth was inaugurated on Tuesday, June 11th, 1963:
This first unit of the Volvo Canadian was given to the Nova Scotia Trade and Industry minister Walter S. Kennedy Jones who used it as his company car up until 1967 when it was donated to Nova Scotia Museum of Industry in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. In the spring of 1993 John Hault from the museum contacted the Volvo plant in Bayer’s Lake to inquire on the possibilities of a full renovation. The car then had 61,681 miles on it. Volvo was quickly on board and the renovation to mint condition was carried out by Glenwood ”Gus” Hirtle in steps and when time allowed (the normal production came first). Parts were acquired from the plant as well as from Volvo Canada’s central warehouse in Toronto. New bumpers were shipped from Sweden at the care of Lars Wijkmark at Volvo Parts. The car was stripped down and given a repaint, got new chrome lists, rubber mats, hub caps, etc. and was finished in time for the 30th anniversary of the assembly plant in June 1993. It is since then on permanent display at the museum.
The two pictures at the bottom just above are interesting. The top one of the two shows the smaller ”Volvo Canadian” badge that was fitted on the body of the Amazons assembled in Canada. The first two model years (1963 and 1964) have this instead of the ”Volvo 122S” badge above the chrome list on each front fender. With model year 1965 the Volvo Amazon gets new fender badges in the shape of shields – different for 121, 122 S and (later) 123 GT – below the chrome list. This includes the cars assembled in Canada, which are now fitted with 122 S badges (later also 123 GT badges) but instead they get a slightly bigger ”Volvo Canadian” badge on the trunk lid. On cars sold in the French speaking Canadian province of Québec it of course said ”Volvo Canadienne” on the badges. The text on the gold plated badge in the lower of the two pictures talks about a first limited production run in June 1963, which is interesting for two reasons. One is that these cars had a significantly lower degree of knocked down compared with both later and with what was normally the case for CKD, and the other is that these cars were of model year 1963. The assembly of model year 1964 started only a few weeks later. See also ch.-no. 138104 for pictures of one of these 1963 Amazons assembled in Canada.
Dartmouth is Volvo’s first fully owned foreign assembly plant for cars and the only, until quite recently, plant Volvo has ever had in North America. In 1973 Volvo started building a new plan in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia with the ambition of full scale car production (i.e. no CKD operation) but even though the plant was finished it was never used for car production but succumbed to the general economic decline in the world at the time. In 2018 Volvo opened a plant in Charleston, South Carolina. With Dartmouth, Volvo becomes the first non-American car manufacturer with production in North America. Most of the cars assembled here are intended for the domestic Canadian market where they are marketed and badged as Volvo Canadian, but cars are also during a short period of time (maximum one year) assembled for sales in the United States. In addition to the Volvo Canadian (which is a two or four door Volvo 122 S), also the Volvo Canadian Station Wagon (the Estate in 122 S edition) and (later) the Volvo Canadian GT (Volvo 123 GT) are assembled here.
Because Volvo in the agreement has agreed to source 25% of the cars’ components from local Canadian suppliers they are also granted inclusion in the free trade agreement settled between Canada and the USA. In November 1963 Volvo signs an deal with Canadian company Hayes to purchase rear axles of a value of $100,000 but Volvo also purchase batteries, exhaust systems and windows from local suppliers. The battery contract is for instance awarded to the Surrette Battery Co. of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Duplate Glass i Oshawa, Ontario supplies windshields and windows, the dampers are supplied by Gabriel Canada and the tires are from Goodyear – both in Toronto, Ontario.
Volvo rents space for its assembly operations in an old converted sugar refinery previously owned by the Acadia Sugar Refineries Co., located in an area of Dartmouth called Woodside. The plant is only 55,000 ft² and there is no room to assemble or store parts for more than one model at a time here and Volvo chooses to focus on the Amazon, or Volvo Canadian as it is called here. Due to the constraints in the facility itself, mainly in terms of floor space, the assembly of the Amazon differed somewhat in Dartmouth compared to Lundby and the plan is already from the beginning to relocate to more premises more suitable for auto assembly within three years. During the first year 1,139 cars are taken in to Canada this way and in the beginning assembly (in terms of bolting an engine into an otherwise complete and painted car) of a smaller amount of the PV 544 took place in parallel with the Amazon. During 1964, 2,683 cars were assembled and 3,353 cars the following year. In 1966, capacity had reached 3,700 cars annually or about 15 per day. A total of 12,468 Amazons are assembled in Canada.
Assembly of the cars takes place at twelve work stations along two parallel and 185 ft long production lines. Parts are stored along the sides of these two production lines. At the first production line, seals, sound dampening material, body trim, heater unit, dash pad, head liner, fuel tank, electrical components and wiring and cable harnesses are installed. At the end of the first production line the bodies are lifted over to the second production line using a lifting device. At the second production line, the ”high line”, engine, gearbox, rear axle, wheels and suspension with springs and coils are installed by the workers working from underneath the car. Towards the end of the second production line the car is lowered to floor level and rolls on its own wheels towards the final station where adjustments and installation of the last components takes place before final inspection.
During 1965 Volvo starts planning for the anticipated relocation of the Dartmouth plant as the production goal of 5,000 cars per year is about to be reached and re-negotiations with Canadian authorities are initiated. In the new agreement Volvo enjoys another 10 years of various benefits and tax reductions in Nova Scotia, including continued exempt from the 40% rule regarding local components. But this very exempt proves to greatly limit Volvo’s ability to sell cars assembled in Canada in the United States since the cars thereby did not qualify under the new trade agreement between Canada and the USA, the Canada-United States Automotive Products Trade Agreement, or US-Canada Auto Pact, signed in January 1965 which demanded that no less than 50% of the components were manufactured in North America. The consequence of that was that Canadian built Volvos were subject to full customs duties while their competition enjoyed duty free movement of cars across the border. Volvo never came close to fulfilling these requirements which practically meant that the assembly in Dartmouth was limited to the Canadian market and also diminished the Dartmouth plant’s relevance seen in an international perspective. Apparently Volvo considered the quality of local components to be too low and the price too high while many local suppliers (who were also suppliers to Ford, Chrysler and GM) not rarely declined Volvo as a customer because the volumes were too low and because they paid too little. By 1970 Volvo had reached a 20% share of local components, much because of the Canadian rear axle supplier Hayes, but that was as high as Volvo ever got.
So seen in the bigger scheme of things, a quite modest number of Amazons assembled in Canada were exported to and sold new in the USA between the fall of 1963 and through January of 1965 when the US-Canada Auto Pact came into effect. These were supposedly sold through New England resellers. The import of these cars was duty free in the US and in parallel, Volvo also imported Amazons produced in Sweden. In terms of model years this concerns 1964 and early 1965.
In 1967, the plant is relocated a few miles to larger facilities on Pier 9 in Halifax, still in Nova Scotia, and is re-inaugurated by Robert L Stanfield who now is prime minister for the province of Nova Scotia on Friday, April 14th, 1967. Volvo invests roughly one million dollars in the plant which is equipped with the same modern tools that are used in Torslanda. Total size of the Pier 9 facility is 190,000 ft² and the plant will fully developed be able to assemble 6,000 cars annually, with two shifts 10,000. After the relocation the same type of line production used in Torslanda and Ghent is introduced. Even though the Halifax plant is bigger than Dartmouth it is not big enough to fit assembly of more than one model at a time. To this, several former employees testify. It is not until assembly of the Amazon is discontinued that there is room to assemble the 140-series here. In the early 1970s the plant is expanded with another 60,000 ft².
In September 2019 two long time Volvo Canada employees, Dale Bevin (27 years in the company) and Philip Blackburn (30 years in the company), visited the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry in Stellarton, Nova Scotia to look at the first Amazon assembled in Canada. The museum staff got Dale Bevin to talk about the production at the plant, which he generously did:
The first cars delivered for assembly in Canada had very limited elements of CKD, in the right meaning of the term. As has been made clear from both documents from Volvo as well as of the first pictures below, these cars were already assembled and initially the work in the new Dartmouth plant consisted of placing the engine in the cars, which was shipped separately. This was of course changed over time, especially since the plant’s employees finished their training, and the extension of the parts shipped from Gothenburg to Canada is bigger than for the assembly plant in Durban, South Africa. The bodies, for instance, arrive painted (and the colors are therefore the same as on the cars produced in Sweden) and the cars have the same interior and upholstery as the cars on the US market have. Volvo Canadian also has most, if not all, of the special details that the Amazon in export edition to the US has. There are some local deviations though, such as 123 GT in the colors light green (91) and light blue (95) and the cars are gradually adapted to local requirements and are for instance later fitted with four-way flashers and limited slip differential on the rear axle. As for the famous front bumper bar, it says in the parts catalogues that they were fitted also for the Canadian market but it does not appear on any of the photos shown here.
Volvo Canadian quickly becomes very popular in Canada. So popular that the demand exceeds the capacity that Volvo has in the Dartmouth plant. Already by the fall of 1966, with model year 1967, Volvo Canada Ltd imports cars produced in Torslanda in parallel with its own assembly. These imported cars follow the same specifications and has the same equipment level that Volvo apply on cars sold in the US, including the type designations (which are lacking the 9). From for instance this specification of the Volvo Canadian we can tell that the cars imported from Sweden were four door (P 120), two door (P 130) and the Station Wagon (P 220) both with and without automatic transmission. It is possible to tell that the specification concerns model year 1967 from the stated output of the engines (B18 D), which through improvements in terms of new carburetors, air filters, manifold with dual exhausts and dual front exhaust pipe reaches and output of 90 hp (DIN) / 100 hp (SAE). At the same time model year 1967 is the last for B18 D.
The last model year of the Volvo Canadian to be assembled in Canada is 1967 or 1968 but Canadian resellers continue to sell the in Canada very popular Amazon also after the assembly at the Halifax plant has more or less become all about other, newer models. The Volvo Amazons of model years 1969 and 1970 that have been proved to have been sold new in Canada were imported as complete cars from Sweden. They do not have the 9 in the type designation (instead they have the same type designation as the cars shipped from Sweden to the US: 133441), and they consequently do not have the ”Made in Canada” badge in the engine compartment or the ”Volvo Canadian” badge on the trunk lid. Examples include for model year 1969 (133441S) ch.-nr. 335783) and for 1970 (133441T) ch.-nr. 344316. The last four door Amazon to be assembled in Dartmouth was invoiced from Gothenburg on December 7th, 1966 and was a dark blue (96) 122941M with ch.-no. 232366.
The type designation plates have all fields filled out:
Only left hand steered 122 S and 123 GT are assembled in Canada.
|Edition||P 120||P 130||P 220|
|Volvo Canadian (122 S)||1963 – 1967||1964 – 1968||1964 – 1968|
|Volvo Canadian GT (123 GT)||1967|
Part of Volvo’s initial plan was also to export Canadian built Volvos to countries south of North America, but whether these plans became real remains to be revealed. The plant was closed in 1998 when the import laws that justified its operation were changed. Despite being run by local employees Volvo ensured through its ownership to have own staff on site to ensure the right quality of the assembled cars. First man on site from Volvo was Alois Rösner, followed by Gustaf Östergren, Ove Lindblad and Gunnar Jennergren. Kaj Nielsen assumed the post in 1990 and was also responsible of closing the plant in 1998. In total, the plant produced some 350,000 cars for the Canadian market between 1963 and 1998. The assembly plant was relocated again in 1987 to the Bayers Lake industrial park just west of Halifax.
Criticism has later been raised against the kind of subsidized ventures that helped Volvo to start assembly in Canada. The amount of tax dollars supporting this scheme were substantial but the question is how much the region gained from it. The Volvo plant in Nova Scotia never employed more than around 300 people at a time and the number of secondary jobs (through for instance local suppliers to the plant) were also limited. Production was modest with at most around 10,000 cars per year (which compared to Torslanda or Ghent is virtually nothing). Volvo exploited the benefits given to them to their full extent and also threatened to leave the region if they were not granted prolonged or similar conditions. Volvo gained a reputation of paying poor or no overtime rates and strikes among the workforce were not uncommon. Volvo expected a loyal workforce but Volvo was not very loyal to its workforce. The initial severance package offered to the workforce when the plant closed in 1998 essentially cut their pensions in half and in response, the workers occupied the plant in October 1998. The fact that Nova Scotia as a province had far lower average workforce salaries than the rest of Canada was probably not unknown to Volvo when selecting Dartmouth. But fact is that this scheme of incentive packages that Canadian authorities initiated in the fall of 1962 and that Volvo was an early pioneer in became the standard for later motor vehicle manufacturing companies with assembly in Canada, and in that perspective the sum of the benefits that Volvo enjoyed in Nova Scotia was probably small in comparison with other foreign car companies.
Gustaf Östergren has through Arve Larsen contributed to this text. Lars Wijkmark has also contributed along with information from Neville Britto’s personal collection and research on the facility.
* L. A. Sandberg, ”Missing the Road: Working Life at Volvo Nova Scotia”. 1995.
* A. J. Jacobs, ”The New Domestic Automakers in the United States and Canada: History, Impacts, and Prospects”. 2015.
* D. Anastakis, ”Building a New Nova Scotia: State Intervention, The Auto Industry and the Case of Volvo in Halifax 1963-1998”. 2004.
* N. Britto in ”Volvo in Nova Scotia- Canadian Automotive Museum Talk”. October 19th, 2023.
In 1959 Eduardo Averill founds the company Distribuidora Volvo S.A., or DiVolvo, in Chile and starts importing Volvo cars to the South American country. The very first Amazon to be exported to Chile is a 122 S with type designation 12204 and ch.-no. 31569, which is a quite late car of model year 1959. The picture below depicts Eduardo Averill behind the steering wheel of an Volvo ÖV 4 (or Jakob, Volvo’s very first passenger car from 1927) at the Volvo factory in Lundby when visiting Gothenburg in 1959 to negotiate the details with Volvo and bring the representation of Volvo cars to Chile.
With some support from Volvo, Averill soon initiates the construction of an assembly plant in the coastal town of Arica, located in the northern parts of the country. The plant is ready by the summer of 1963 and the first CKD Amazon to be shipped to Arica is a 12298VF with ch.-no. 130222, which is reported ready from Lundby on March 14th, 1963. Volvo has its own staff on the premises to ensure that the cars are assembled to Volvo standards and quality, but never had any ownership in the business.
The ad below is from 1963 in a Santiago newspaper, informing ”our distinguished clientele that we have started to receive VOLVO cars, assembled in Chile under the technical direction of the engineers of the VOLVO factory in Sweden. We invite all the people who honored us with their registration, please stop by our office to proceed with the delivery of the cars.”
In the beginning, the Arica assembly plant did not feature a paint shop and the CKD bodies were therefore painted in the facilities of a local subcontractor. The type designation plates on the CKD’s to Arica therefore have the color field empty, as can be seen on the type plate below. The first 50 cars shipped CKD to Arica have color code 86 stated in the delivery books and on the type designation plates. This is probably because the assembly plant did not yet have the paint operations up and running. The color code 86 has not been found on any Volvo car anywhere else and no pictures have been found yet, but the color is supposedly blue, green or blue-green. Except for color code 86, and according to Volvo Club Chile, the Arica assembly plant used the same colors as can be found on the Swedish produced cars.
The PV 544 and the P 1800 are also assembled at the DiVolvo plant in Arica. Volvo 122 S were sold in Chile also prior to 1963 and after 1966, but these cars were imported from Sweden. The 121 and 123 GT were also sold in Chile. The very last four door Amazon to be exported to Chile was a red (46) 122 S of model year 1967 with type designation 122341M and ch.-no. 233730 that was reported ready on November 23rd, 1966.
In addition to operating an assembly plant, DiVolvo also supplied reseller and maintenance services and functioned as a training facility for Volvo in South America. DiVolvo also assembled other cars, including Dodge, Chevrolet and Simca. From 1975 the business was focused on trucks and buses only.
Only left hand steered four door 122 S are assembled in Arica..
|Volvo 122 S||1963 – 1966|
Alsemberg and Ghent, Belgium
On November 3rd, 1965 Volvo inaugurates its second fully owned assembly plant outside of Sweden in Ghent, Belgium. But the inaugurations is behind the production by a few months as the first Amazons were assembled here already on June 28th the same year when the plant was ready (for instance ch.-no. 190164 and 190165). The subsidiary to Volvo that owns the plant is called Volvo Europa Naamloze Vennootschap and the plant is therefore called VENV internally at Volvo and in some literature. ”The Motor Prince” H R H Prince Bertil inaugurates also this assembly plant together with Volvo CEO Gunnar Engellau, VENV manager Lars Malmros and Belgium’s deputy Prime Minister Antoon Spinoy. The location provides Volvo with production inside the then European Economic Community (EEC, now the European Union), once again improving the company’s import strategy and creates realistic conditions for Volvo to compete with other European car makers (Sweden did not join the European Union until 1995). Volvo plans to sell 75% of the cars assembled here in other EEC countries than Belgium.
But assembly of Volvo had taken place in Belgium already before the plant in Ghent was ready, although in smaller scale, in the premises of the independent importer Société Belge de Matériel Automobile (SBMA). In an old converted textile factory of around 107,000 ft² in Alsemberg outside Brussels SBMA began assembly of the Volvo Amazon and Volvo trucks in the winter of 1961. The production rate was about ten cars and three trucks per day. The famous Coune Amazons were assembled here. SBMA held the concession for all Volvo vehicles and products in Belgium and Luxembourg but the import and production businesses were taken over by Volvo Europa N.V. from January 1st, 1964. In line with Volvo’s plans for setting up own assembly operations in Ghent the Alsemberg factory was bought from SBMA and Volvo started rebuilding it for truck assembly only. During the time it took to finish the factory in Ghent, Volvo continued to assemble Volvo Amazon in Alsemberg and also trained new staff for the new Ghent factory there. During 1964, before the move to the new plant in Ghent, 2,650 Volvo cars were assembled in Alsemberg. The production of cars was moved to Ghent in June 1965 when the new plant was ready and in total during that year 5,551 cars were assembled in Ghent and in Alsemberg. Assembly of Volvo trucks in Alsemberg continued until 1990.
The Ghent plant is initially dimensioned for an annual production of 14,000 cars and to employ around 600 people but it will be another three years before that production volume is reached. The building itself is initially around 107,000 ft² and about 140 yards long. When production starts it contains a 130 yard long production line. The bodies, just like in Canada, arrive painted from Sweden and in open wooden crates. Once on the production line all necessary parts are fitted on the car body to make a complete car: everything from engine, gearbox, rear axle and wheels to upholstery, electric components, wiring, etc. At the end of the production line adjustments take place before final inspection, and if a car for some reason does not pass it is taken to a separate station at the side of the production line for appropriate measures. In April 1966, only a few months after inauguration, the building is expanded with another 37,000 ft² and the length of the production line is doubled to 260 yards. During 1967 several warehouse buildings are added along with staff and administration buildings. The new harbor is not yet finished when the first Ro-Ro ships with CKD units from Gothenburg arrive to Ghent in October 1967, which allows discharge of the CKD units only 100 yards from the factory. During 1968 both the factory and warehouses are expanded further in size and the production that year sums to 16,328 cars.
Gustaf Östergren, last seen at the Halifax plant in Canada, resumes responsibility for VENV after Lars Malmros in January 1969 after having relocated to Belgium in September 1968 and been assistant manager to Malmros during the fall of that year, being responsible for the Product and Material department. Lars Malmros is often and consistently portrayed as a natural born leader that without seeming dominant or authoritative led his staff by motivating and inspiring them. He was known to use a simple language and would explain in a soft and calm tone what was going on, what needed to happen, why and by when. Born and raised in Indonesia (which up to 1945 was a Dutch colony) he mastered no less than six languages, including Dutch, and could since he was just a boy in detail explain and account for most parts and their functions in a truck. The leadership of Gustaf Östergren was radically different and a lot more authoritative, but Östergren saw great potential in the Ghent plant and despite changed trade rules with the GATT agreement of 1967 where the import duties on cars were gradually lowered from 22% to 8% (seriously threatening the very existence of VENV) he managed to convince Volvo’s management to not only keep VENV but also expand it to become a full fledged production plant, and not only an assembly plant. These plans became reality during 1972 when a welding factory and a paint shop were added to the final assembly line. Prince Bertil was of course there to inaugurate this as well, this time with Gustaf Östergren and new CEO Pehr G Gyllenhammar, but by 1972 the Volvo Amazon was a closed chapter and full scale production of the Amazon never took place in Ghent. But the first car to be assembled in Ghent was a Volvo Amazon, and a total of 26,310 Amazons leave the plant during 1965 – 1969. The Ghent factory is today Volvo’s second largest production site for cars.
Just like in the Canadian agreement, Volvo undertakes to source local parts in its production both for the cars in Ghent and for the trucks in Alsemberg, but the requirements in Belgium are much lower than in Canada. In Belgium, 12.5% of the parts had to be locally sourced and 12.5% of the labor. Except for the bodies and parts for the bodies Volvo brings in engines, gearboxes and some other bigger parts from Sweden at a duty rate of 14%. This is compensated by the increased demand that VENV drives for the production in Sweden and is also a lot better than the 22% rate on finished cars.
To free up production capacity for the new 140 series Volvo stops producing the four door Amazon in December 1966. The last produced four door Amazon in Sweden has ch.-no. 233747. All four door Amazons with higher ch.-no. than this (close to 1,000 units) were shipped to the foreign assembly plants. A majority of these went to South Africa but ch.-no. 233959 – 234173 were assembled in Ghent around the turn of 1966/1967. In February 1967 Volvo starts assembly of the new 140-series in Ghent, half a year after production start in Gothenburg, and continue to assemble the two this model alongside the Amazon for over two years. The last Amazon leaves the production line in Ghent in June 1969.
Just as with the assembly plant in Canada, Volvo ships most parts from Gothenburg to the plant in Ghent. Colors, upholstery, etc. are therefore the same as on cars produced in Sweden. There are some local deviations here too though, late in the production, such as the color combination california white (42) with black upholstery, cherry red (46) with leather brown upholstery, light green (91) with black upholstery, dark green (94) with black upholstery, dark blue (96) with leather brown upholstery, light yellow (97) with leather brown upholstery and medium blue (99) with black upholstery. These got to keep the front door pockets on model year 1969 (but not the rear seat center armrest) that otherwise disappeared on the cars produced in Sweden. Model year 1969 was the only with beige upholstery and it was used in combination with red (46), dark green (94) and light yellow (97) but appears to have been completely replaced for other upholsteries on cars assembled in Ghent.
The type designation plate has all fields filled out. For some markets, like Germany, an extra type plate is added in the engine compartment to meet legal local requirements on for instance weight and axle loads. In March 1968, Belgium introduce new legal requirements which meant that the type plate needs to contain a field for Belgian type approval number (PVA) and fields for weight (PMA). This concerns all cars sold as new in Belgium, both imported cars and cars assembled in Belgium. Examples of these type plates are listed below.
All models of Volvo Amazon are assembled in Ghent (121, 122 S, 123 GT and Favorit) but only left hand steered cars.
|Edition||P 120||P 130||P 220|
|Volvo 121||1965 – 1967||1965 – 1969||1965 – 1968|
|Volvo 122 S||1965 – 1967||1965 – 1969||1965 – 1968|
|Volvo 123 GT||1967|
|Volvo 121 Favorit||1966 – 1968|
* Volvo Europa N.V. 50 years anniversary, ”Mensen maken geschiedenis”. 2015.
* J. Tooten, ”Eeuwig wantrouwen? Arbeidsverhoudingen en nieuwe productieconcepten bij Volvo Gent tussen 1965 en 1982”. 2002.
Finally a Volvo owned foreign assembly plant that did not assemble the Volvo Amazon:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The first Volvo Amazon is imported to Malaya (the western part of today’s Malaysia) in the early 1960s and Volvo centrally soon become impressed with the sales success of the Amazon in this remotely located country. The local importer is called Federal Auto Company Limited and owns the rights for Volvo in Malaya, Singapore, East Malaysia, Borneo and Thailand. Malaysia is formed in 1963 out of Malaya, Singapore and East Malaysia, from which Singapore seceded already in 1965. In a 50/50 joint venture between Volvo and Federal Auto Ltd the company Swedish Motor Assemblies is incorporated on September 7th, 1966 and the work with setting up Malaysia’s first vehicle assembly plant is started in Batu Tiga, Kuala Lumpur. The plant is ready in November 1967 and assembly of Volvo 144 is started. The first car produced in Malaysia is a Volvo 144. Another ten 144s are completed during the two remaining months of 1967 and the plant is officially inaugurated on February 17th, 1968. Given that this is timewise very late in the life cycle of the Volvo Amazon, it is highly unlikely that Volvo assembled the Amazon in Malaysia. Focus was instead on the 140-series. The initial capacity of some 1,300 cars annually is soon increased to 2,500 cars per year. Swedish Motor Assemblies is fully owned by Volvo since 1999 and assembly of cars shipped CKD from Sweden still takes place there. The plant employs some 200 people.
Swedish Motor Assemblies plant in Malaysia inaugurated by Dr Lim Swee Aun on February 17th, 1968: