Latest updates

Volvo Adventures is an independent "Down Under" based resource for the older Volvo models


Member's Volvos

Volvo Part Supply

Volvo 122

Volvo 123GT

Project Amazon

Works Rally 122

Volvo P1800

Volvo P1900

Volvo PV544

Volvo 140

Volvo 240/260

Volvo 850

Volvo S60R

Other Volvos

Volvo P2104/TP21

Marcos Volvo

Facel III Volvo

DeLorean PRV6

How to do this ?

Assembly Plants

Volvo Forums

Volvo Links

Volvo Trips AUS


Privacy Policy



DUI, Driving


Volvo 123GT Road Test
as Published in Australian Sports Car World, Feb 1968

Drive it Like you Hate it - Volvo advertising in the 60s

The Volvo 123GT is not the cheapest high-performance car in Australia; and it's not the fastest. It may be one of the most economical, it's almost certainly the most durable and it's very likely the best all-rounder.

The man said he thought it was really just a '38 Ford made in Sweden, anyway, and I felt like feeding him a face full of signet rings. But I don't wear any signet rings. One still meets people like that: no substitute for cubic Inches; God is a square-edged slushbox; bow before the V8 and all that garbage. Me, I just like a man's motor car. It doesn't have to have “lots of cubes" (although that can be nice) and space-age styling isn't a prime requisite. It does have to be functional efficient, appealing and responsive. The driver of a Yank tank who gets a sample of the familiar inane driveway attendant jealousy may be able to render the offender ineffectual by raising the window glass at the push of a button, but winding on six and a half turns of lock to get out of the man's garage will inevitably bring on a flushed face that destroys the whole image of indifference. With a quality car (read Volvo) you can at least do It with composure and dignity.

In fact you can do everything In a Volvo with composure and dignity: you can recover from a diabolical wet-road slide with no more effort than the simple ceremony of crossing wrists or stop for an unexpected obstacle while nonchalantly gazing out your own window - with confidence.

The average man might just revel in the sheer pleasure of driving a quality car that does exactly what he directs: but the average man would not drive a Volvo 123GT. For him there are more mundane (and less expensive) versions. The average man too, might find a crude reference to shape in his 120 series car hard to answer, but a 123GT owner would likely treat the affront with total disdain, and its speaker to a lesson in road manners. After all Volvo does have living proof of Its modern styling ability in the 144 series - the 123GT is a car to be coveted in the-tradition of the modern classics.

The 123GT isn't spectacular or sensational as a high performance car - it's simply undramatically efficient. When you toss it at a corner hard enough to tie the boy racer behind in knots, it doesn't scream tyres and hang out on lots of lock. It just leans over on its chassis a bit to take up some of that G-load off the suspension and goes round without protest. This is all part of the business of getting a good ride-handling balance. If you're driving on a wet road very fast and you're pretty observant you may note the front wheels In very fast corners sometimes point the way your head is facing - if its looking out the side windows. But you'll note it without alarm. Its not worth going into further details on this cars handling - it's sufficient to say it handles. So does its tamer brother, the 122S but in the GT (what a horrid label), the adhesion limits appear to have been upped to coincide with a power increase by slightly firmer damper settings and (possibly) slightly firmer spring settings. This makes for Increased stick-ability, probably more body roll, and some extra noise (only slight) on rough surfaces.

Of course that roll-oversteer sensation at the limit is delayed a little longer, but it's still just as predictable and controllable when it comes. For a good driver one of the most pleasant sensations of speed can be obtained on high speed sweeping corners, when the rear end tends to crab a little at the limit of adhesion. It's very gentle, doesn't need any steering correction and doesn't introduce rear-end steer, but it does become accentuated on  slightly uneven surfaces and should be treated as a warning of approaching on-the-limits cornering.

Driving In a straight line isn't nearly so complicated: It's just a matter of poking it with the steering dead straight. There's no wheel tramp, axle dance or spinning wheels, unless you're very careless with the clutch, but there is strong straight acceleration especially after 3500 rpm where the cam and howling exhaust come in together with a blast.

That doesn't mean the car's a fussy competition machine either. You can mumble around town in any gear with a minimum of clutch slip and drive-line clatter, although we did notice at low rpm gearchanges did introduce' the occasional dull transmission jolt when not handled with absolute smoothness. It felt more like a loosening universal joint than a driveline engineering fault and we haven't noticed It in other Volvos.

It's significant though, that when you leave the city limits behind in this car everything starts to smooth out. This is a trait common to only the best Continental high performance machinery and the sort of guy who buys this car will revel in the way the car can be sent down the highway at maximum speed mile on mile with a smoothly connected series of cockpit movements The Nuvolari-sized steering wheel, occasionally too large In tight spots around town becomes a delight to swing on, and the low-speed feeling of front end weight on the steering disappears too. The brakes, a little heavy to operate around town and quite savage when they're used hard, are perfect on the open road. The top end performance is first class and body roll movement decreases with speed. Briefly, the car is completely sensitive.

The sort of man who buys extra performance inevitably demands extra sophistication as well - that's just buying basics - and the Volvo gives It to him. AB Volvo, Gothenburg, Sweden, knows all about fitting out a high performance car for owner one-upmanship purposes.

It starts externally with twin QI spot lamps at the front, supplied as standard equipment with foam backed plastic protector covers. One is a long-range spot lamp, the other has low-angled light diffusion for good lighting of the verges of the road when cornering or driving in fog. There is more: chromed hub caps on wheels shod as standard with radials (PirelIis on ours) and fine profile windscreen wiper blades for high speed stickability. Of course there are GT badges all round. Quite out of place I feel, are the twin wing mirror, fitted to the front guards. Even when well adjusted (which is hard because they have a lock-tight base with built-in spring kit to deflect on impact - presumably with a pedestrian) the mirrors offer at most a token guide to action at the rear of the car, due mainly to the convex glass fitted and awkward location. A single racing-type mirror fitted on the drivers door would be at least twice as effective.

But the Interior is near perfect. Volvo has added a deep-dished alloy-spoked plastic rim steering wheel that is both a delight to use and look at. It carries the 123GT emblem on the horn boss. This new performance-style wheel is the same huge diameter as fitted to the normal 120 series sedan and you might be excused for wondering why this giant was not reduced in site until you remember that at parking speeds the front end concentration is heavy enough to make the larger rim size necessary. In ally case it soon becomes very pleasant to use and can be spun through the fingers in tight spots as easily as the best power-assisted American style wheel.

Volvo considers practicability a prime and canted the alloy spokes slightly downward from the horizontal to allow better vision of the Instrument binnacle. Over to the right on the dashboard and only a glance away is the tachometer: It's a Smiths unit, swivel-based in a handsome plastic console of its own with redlining in the 6-7000 rpm sector. You can set it up to point through the wheel rim at you or carelessly brush it across to look into your passenger's eyes while you pull six G in top and then knock the needle back a cog with a shift to overdrive - If you dare. But its near impossible to read at night.

Also on the top of the console is a new little tray - for carrying a pair of wrap-around glasses, a pair of fingerless driving mittens or...

The rest is familiar to Volvo lovers: the fabulous seats - reclining in this model - that hug you well enough without the standard seat belts and their fancy little centre-clip locks; the complete control centre - two speed wiper/washers, a choke that pulls out into your lap (you need it on cold mornings), a cigar lighter, heater demister/blower fan grab handles; and the extras - coat hooks, opening rear vents and map lights.

Cur test car was painted in deep BRG which brought the initial glances which eventually saw the GT badges which led to questions which…

The paintwork was extended to the interior and matched with tan upholstery (black on the crash padding and below the door sill bottoms) and white perforated pvc trim for the headlining.

The GT comes as a two-door only, because Volvo figure the man who wants sporting performance won't mind sacrificing the extra weight to having his kids clamber in over the fold-down seat backs.

A true wolf in sheep's clothing, its virtually got the P1800S sports coupe's mechanicals. Engine and gearbox (complete with O/D top) come straight ex-P1800S and the rear axle ratio is added for obvious reasons: the standard 120 series sedan with type B18 engine doesn't have overdrive. The difference is 4.56 to 4.10, the latter being standard.

The P1800S engine is worth an additional 15bhp on the normal 122S sedan: that gives it a rating of 115 bhp at 6000 rpm, whereas the 122S develops its peak at 5700. Torque is increased to 112 lb/ft at 4000 rpm from 108 lb/ft at 3500 rpm. Most of this comes from better breathing: The GT has a cleaner head and 10 to 1 compression ratio (122S is 8.7 to 1) plus a mild cam grind that you could almost tune on the exhaust note - it comes in around 3500 with a bellow, but otherwise still pulls smoothly and strongly.

Volvo also fitted competition shock absorbers to make sure that any increase in power was met with a proportional increase in handling ability. I suspect the springs got a gentle uprating too, but this is a little more difficult to determine.

Volvo feels the braking department didn't need any attention apart from the addition of a power booster and what feels like competition linings, though there's no mention made of this in the literature on the car.

The clutch is a slightly soft point on this car though it is doubtful whether the average owner or even a particularly demanding one would ever discover any ultimate failure. It broke down on our acceleration runs, but recovered quickly from slip with a short cool-off period. Coincidentally the only troubles recently suffered by Volvos in endurance racing have been in the clutch, though locally it has been for different reasons.

Volvo attention to detail is meticulous but nowhere so apparent as under the bonnet. where you could forgive a company for being a little sloppy and concentrating more on the functional than the sanitary side. But you only have to lift the counterbalanced lid and take a look in for the final evidence. Like the boot compartment it is automatically lit, and also like the boot it's clean. All exposed metal surfaces are enamelled like the exterior and there is little chrome - but lots of polished alloy: on the rocker boxes, carby bells, inlet manifold brake booster and so on. The cooling system is sealed with a special overflow spill tank and all the electricals are housed in little alloy boxes out In front along the guard, where you can get at them. There is also an alternator.

Price-wise the Volvo is a bit of a loner In this country. Its tamer sister, the 122S, sells for some $600 less and the distortion in extra value is due entirely to the import taxes these cars suffer. It's good for near-110 mph and will go down to low 17 seconds over the standing quarter mile with a few miles behind it. These days you have to pay out at least Ford Falcon GT-money for that sort of urge, so the Volvo still doesn't fall behind the pace.

Remember, with that extra performance you still get good fuel economy and lots of  sophistication. That counts. © 1999 - 2015