Volvo also trod a rather advanced engineering path, which means that even products from the ‘Sixties are easy to live with today. However, they are still not as sought after as many other classic premium saloons, so they represent something of a bargain.
Volvo launched the 144 model in 1966 as a replacement for the Amazon, which had established Volvo as a global brand with a reputation for quality and safety. This encouraged the company to set its sights a little higher and in 1968 it launched the 164 to compete with the Jaguar XJ6, the Mercedes-Benz 250 and the newly-launched BMW E3. While sharing the 144’s structure and central section, the installation of a six-cylinder engine required a longer nose, which in turn meant that the 164 has different wings, bonnet, front bumper and a deeper, more imposing grille.
The 164 was powered by a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder version of the durable B Series engine (logically dubbed the B30), originally offered with twin Stomberg carburettors and developing 145 horsepower, but Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection was offered from 1972 and became standard the year after, which took power up to 175hp. The same year saw the model receive a light facelift, the biggest change being to the interior, which had previously been reminiscent of the older Volvos with a strip speedo and lots of chrome. It was replaced with a more angular padded design with much more modern dials.
The 164E being tested here is one of these facelifted models and is resplendent in Gold Metallic paintwork. The car was sold new in 1973 at Holden Motors, a Volvo dealer in Norwich and the car has a full service record at the same dealer from that date to 2011. In 1980 the car was sold (through Holden Motors) to its second owner who was, to put it mildly, fastidious in the car’s upkeep.
Although many would consider 100,000 miles to be barely run in for a Volvo its owner begged to differ and had the engine and transmission replaced to be on the safe side, so in most main respects the car’s major components have only covered 22,000 miles. Similarly, the paintwork was re-applied to maintain a factory-fresh look and all this work was carried out by the supplying dealer, where it received thorough maintenance and servicing to boot. This 164E was in such good condition that Volvo itself chose it to feature in a national advertising campaign in 1994.
ON THE ROAD
The engine fires up as quickly as you’d expect from a fuel-injection unit and immediately settles down to a smooth and quiet idle. It’s relatively unusual to find a luxury car with such a large engine and a manual gearbox but this one has an easy-to-use shift, although the clutch is on the heavy side.
The Volvo drives in a way that can only be described as ‘wafting’ – the drivetrain is nearly silent and the whole car feels utterly tight and solid without any rattles or clonks from the mechanical parts or the trim. Although it is a big car, the power-assisted steering and all-round disc brakes with servo assistance makes it easy to drive. The overdrive is selected by a stalk on the steering column and the unit cycles smoothly and quickly. As befits a large and comfortable car the suspension is cosseting and smooth, with even the worst urban potholes and speed bumps barely making an impression on the occupants.
With over 170 horsepower on tap the Volvo is no slouch. Stay in the lower gears and extend the miniature rev counter that’s mounted in the centre of the instrument cluster to the top of its range and the engine responds with a gloriously smooth, turbine-like hum and quickly hauls the 164E up to the legal limit where it makes for an effortless cruiser with only a slight trace of wind noise from a door seal intruding on the calm in the cabin.
The 164E’s major selling points – its power, comfort and style – slightly overlook the real appeal of a classic Volvo, which is the obsessive attention to detail when it comes to build quality. It is in the little things; the spring-damped glove box lid, the indicator stalk that feels more solid and mechanical than the gearbox in many lesser cars, the miniature Volvo logo etched into a little cover over the fuel filler cap lock, to stop it icing up and much more besides. Any such car would be a tempting proposition and one in this condition is even more appealing.
Top speed: 125mph
Gearbox: 4-sp man o/d