Meguiar’s 1956 Volvo Amazon Coupe B230FK 2.3-litre enined 320bhp
Amazon Fresh. The build is now complete, so here’s the inside scoop on Meguiar’s Volvo Amazon. For the latest showcase of Meguiar’s detailing prowess, Tom Clarke wanted to build a low-slung cruiser. But, as we all know, it’s never that simple… Words Dan Bevis. Photography Simon Miskelly.
AMAZON PRIME MEGUIAR’S VOLVO UNVEILED
Surprise reveals are quite tricky these days, aren’t they? What you’re seeing here is a world-first exclusive magazine debut. Of course, regular readers will be very familiar with this car because we’ve been running monthly updates in the back of the mag for ages, the Meguiar’s face-off between Tom and Dale growing into a social entity way bigger than the sum of its parts. And those of you who were at the Players Classic at Goodwood in June will have pored over the Volvo in all its glory as the covers came off… and no doubt heard it a mile away, as Tom revved the nuts off that magnificently shouty engine. Screamer pipes are for winners, that’s just a fact of life.
Quite a curveball choice for a project though, isn’t it? In the last Tom vs Dale Meguiar’s head-to-head that ran in Fast Car, Tom opted to build a Renault 5 GT Turbo – a balls-to-the-wall wide-arch goliath, offering nineties vibes in spades with his own unique modern twist. So we weren’t really expecting him to size up an old Volvo for the next round – but as we can now see with some clarity, subverting expectation and refracting it into magnificence is just what this dude does.
“I basically wanted to do old-and-fast, and my first thoughts went to a BMW with a big engine; say, an E30 or 2002 with the M5 V10,” Tom grins. “But they’re expensive options and our budgets for Tom vs Dale are modest and strict to keep the competition fair. My thoughts then turned to something we don’t really see much here in the UK, and I’ve seen a couple of really nicely-built Volvo Amazons, so the search began.”
As project bases go, this is pretty far removed from a nimble hot hatch. But goddamn, it’s a sturdy one. The statesmanlike Amazon is one of those ineffably solid creations that seems to survive everything the universe can throw at it and never falter or erode, like Uluru or Gary Lineker, or a refrigerated Twix. Interestingly, this seriously-styled three-box was the first car to have seatbelts fitted as standard and was very heavily treated with underseal and anti-corrosion oils, meaning that it was both rugged enough and safe enough to uphold the values we now accept as being traditionally Swedish. Bury an Amazon in a snowdrift and it’ll just shrug it off.
Before we dive in, we need first to sort out the name issue. (And you’ll have to forgive us a bit of geekiness here. If it starts to get a bit too wiry-beards-and-real-ale for you, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.) You see, when Volvo introduced the model in 1956, they called it ‘Amason’. But German motorcycle firm Kreidler had already called dibs on that name, so an agreement was reached that Volvo would alter the spelling to ‘Amazon’ for the Swedish market, and change the name completely to ‘120 Series’ everywhere else. This, unhelpfully, has caused no end of confusion, but in a nutshell it works like this: the model designation for the four-door saloon is P120, two-door saloons are P130 and estates are P220. However, it’s the actual badges you need to pay attention to because, for example, a P120 could be badged as a 121 or a 122 or… well, there are a number of options, it all gets bloody complicated. Later cars are sometimes known as 131, 132 or 133, although we should probably stop digging through the numbers now in case Stephen Hawking comes round to tell us off. We’re in over our heads here, this isn’t Classics Monthly.
The point of all this is that Tom is a man for whom details are hugely important; he’d found himself a P130, and the theme from the off was what he calls ‘OEM++’ – keeping it as sympathetic as possible while also radically altering everything. “There are plenty of Amazons in the UK but they vary in price and condition,” he reasons.
“You can buy a four-door for not a lot of money, but I was scarred from the Renault 5 when we bought an absolute dog of a car! So one that ‘needed work’ was not an option. On the flipside, you can get a really clean example for £10k and I knew we wanted to chop it up, so I didn’t want to spend a chunk of my budget on a strong car. My searches showed that Volvos in Europe were reasonably priced – but with the obvious hurdle of them being in Europe. I reached out to my colleagues in Meguiar’s Sweden, who helped with the search and located a really clean, honest car. The only problem was getting it home, so we did the only thing you should do… road trip! My colleague Patrick and I flew over to Stockholm and, after a few failed starts, we drove it the 1,681 miles back to Daventry.”
Such an epic journey is a brilliant way to get to know a car, but the growing emotional connection didn’t put Tom and the Meguiar’s guys off the idea of cutting the thing up. “I’m an idiot,” he shrugs. “I’d seen super-low American cars throwing up sparks, and that’s what I wanted.” It’s a simple concept, but this little acorn of an idea is where the mighty oak of the project grew from – and job one was to tear apart the chassis; because throwing a load of extra power into a venerable classic can get a bit terrifying otherwise.
The first move was to bolt in a Volvo 240 rear axle, with the twin benefits of being stronger and having disc brakes, although this wasn’t simple as it had to be narrowed and adapted. Indeed, ‘this wasn’t simple’ could be the motto of the build, as every single element of the car has fought back to some degree. A custom tunnel was required to allow the car to run low, with GM Bodycraft on the fabrication; they chopped out, raised and strengthened the chassis rails, four-linked the rear, and then the shell went over to Phil at The Install Company for the suspension graft. This involved spaceframing the back, fabricating a Watt’s linkage, boxing and strengthening everything and integrating it all into the existing chassis. The front and rear is all custom-engineered to let the car drive as low as possible – Bilstein manufactured bespoke dampers to provide the required travel and lift, and Phil mated this to Air Lift Performance hardware throughout.
“There were so many hurdles throughout the project, and the whole build was hampered by Covid,” says Tom. “It went to Phil in March 2020, and then we just couldn’t get the parts we needed. What should’ve been six weeks turned into five months – it wasn’t anybody’s fault, that’s just what we had to battle with last year.” When the car was finally ready to go over to Deutsch Tech, the Meguiar’s team were beside themselves with excitement to see the next steps being made. Raptor Coatings came out to cover the entire underside in black tough-coat, and then it was time to get the engine build underway. Tom was keen to run a single-cam B-series [see boxout], but it’s fair to say it’s evolved a bit throughout the build: having bought a cheap B230FK (always keeping the Meguiar’s budget in mind!) and had Deutsch Tech check it over, the figurative kitchen sink was thrown at it. Making things hard on themselves as always, the guys stood the engine up instead of canting it over 45-degrees like it would in its native environment, a Classic Swede plenum was added, and then the intake trumpets needing 100mm trimming off because, with the engine in the wrong place, everything else was in the wrong place too. The wiring was all torn out, with Tom’s mate Bobby building a bespoke race-spec setup from scratch, with overkill military-spec connectors. Forge Motorsport custom-made a huge amount of parts in situ specifically for this car, including the radiator (with header tank integrated for tidiness), intercooler, dump valve, FPR, and clean and tidy lines. One of Deutsch Tech’s strengths is custom exhausts and manifolds, and they played a blinder with the bonnet-exit screamer package working with the Owen Developments turbo.
Transmission-wise it’s a BMW ZF manual, for which conversions kits are readily available in Sweden – a significant chunk of the project budget, but well worth it for the dependability.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do the next step without OBP Motorsport’s support,” says Tom. “They supplied a pedal box as well as a hydro handbrake, line-lock, battery box and fuel cell.” This race-derived equipment works hand-in-hand with a clever braking setup; the stock front calipers are three-pots (with one of the pistons being absolutely huge) and obviously it now had 240 calipers on the back, so these were all rebuilt and fitted with EBC discs and pads.
This level of attention carried over to the interior too: “I was adamant that the rear seats would go back in, so the bench needed a lot of modding,” Tom explains. “The fronts were custom-built by Cobra Seats, based on the Nogaro but with the headrests removed. I wanted to use some of the material from the original seats, so that’s where the stripe of green came from – I removed it so it could be reused!”
When it came to the exterior, the car made the decision for itself. Tom was sure he was buying a cream car, but when he saw his new acquisition was actually Volvo Light Green it was love at first sight. And once the build-up was complete at Deutsch Tech, it was all stripped down and the shell sent to Reflex Auto Design. All the little age-related dings and dents were perfected so the original panels could be saved, and every trim hole was welded up so the chrome trim could be reaffixed perfectly straight. Even though there’s a fuel cell, the filler cap has been retained for the OEM++ vibe, and the body received a full respray in its factory colour. With the Players Classic reveal date rapidly approaching, the Amazon made it back to Deutsch Tech for the rebuild just a couple of days before the unveiling. No stress then! “The reaction at Players was incredible,” Tom beams. “A lot of people said it was their car of the show.” Testament indeed to a job well done, and you’ll no doubt be seeing it at all sorts of shows across the summer, as the Meguiar’s team will be getting the Amazon out and about as much as possible… but don’t go thinking it’s a pure show pony. Tom’s insistent that it’s a driver’s car: there’s a Morgan Motors-spec Kenwood system living behind the dash and 6x9s hidden under the rear bench, and he’s deliberately retained the original steering wheel and gearstick for the old-school feel. There may be a lot of snorting power to exploit, but this OEM++ P130 is an out-and-out cruiser. And he’s got the sparking titanium scrape plates to prove it.
TECH SPEC: VOLVO AMAZON COUPE
- ENGINE: B230FK 2.3-litre four-cylinder, Owen Developments turbo, Forge Motorsport intercooler, Forge Motorsport radiator, Forge Motorsport boost pipes, Forge Motorsport dump valve, Forge Motorsport boost compensation valve, Forge Motorsport turbo blanket, Forge Motorsport turbo trumpet, ECUmaster EMU Black ECU, Deutsch Tech custom exhaust manifold, Deutsch Tech 4in teardrop exhaust with integrated screamer pipe, custom intake plenum, ST180 coil pack, Brise alternator, Mocal fuel lines and connectors, adjustable cam gear, VX cam upgrade, OBP fuel cell, Bosch fuel pump, custom wiring — DR harness with military-spec plugs
- TRANSMISSION: BMW ZF 5-speed manual with custom bellhousing, Sachs 6-paddle clutch, lightened flywheel, custom propshaft, narrowed Volvo 240 rear axle
- SUSPENSION: Custom fabricated front suspension and rear axle with 4-link and Watt’s linkage – by The Install Company, GM Bodycraft raised subframe (75mm), Air Lift Performance 3P management, Air Lift Performance compressors, Air Lift Performance tank, Air Lift Performance bags, custom Bilstein dampers
- BRAKES: Rebuilt standard 3-pot front calipers, Volvo 240 rear disc setup, EBC discs and pads all round
- WHEELS & TYRES: 8x16in (front) and 9x16in (rear) SSR Performance Reverse Mesh wheels with colour-coded centres, 195/40/16 Nankang tyres
- INTERIOR: Custom-built and reshaped Cobra Nogaro seats with deleted headrests, Schroth Racing harnesses, modified original rear bench, OBP Track-Pro V2 floor-mounted pedal box, OBP Pro-Drift V3 hydraulic handbrake, OBP battery cage (battery relocated inside car), custom tunnel to allow for prop, Kenwood / Morgan Cars factory-option hideaway Bluetooth audio system, Kenwood speakers
- EXTERIOR: Reflex Auto Design full body paint in original colour – Volvo Light Green, all panels removed, aligned, and refitted, original metalwork straightened and perfected, early-style grille, rear reflector delete, US-spec taillights, redundant fuel filler cap permanently fixed, entire underside Raptor painted
- THANKS: “Thanks to Deutsch Tech, The Install Company, Bilstein UK, Air Lift Performance, Car Audio Security, Reflex Auto Design, Nankang, The Wheel Specialist Fareham, Forge Motorsport, OBP Motorsport, EBC Brakes, Owen Developments, Kenwood UK, Cobra Seats, ECUmaster, Mana Performance, Raptor Paints, and GM Bodycraft.”
It’s been a hard slog to get the Amazon complete, but the results are well worth it! The cool race pedal box contrasts with the period steering wheel Original shifter swaps the cogs of a BMW ZF 5-speed manual gearbox Custom seats are based on modified Cobra Nogaro buckets. The 16in SSR Performance Reverse Mesh wheels with colour-coded centres suit the Amazon to a tee
“There were so many hurdles throughout the project, the whole build being hampered by Covid”
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
The default engine choice for a lot of Volvo modifiers is simply to throw a T5 in it, but Tom was thinking a bit more laterally. In line with his OEM++ theme, he wanted a larger version of the singlecam B-series to provide a tasteful element of continuity. So the engine you see here is a B230FK, the 2.3-litre four-pot pinched from the Volvo 940 Turbo. Rather than push for silly numbers, Tom simply wanted something that would pop and bang and give a bit of poke, so it’s still running stock internals but has been fully rebuilt by Deutsch Tech. However, with the Owen Developments turbo (related to the units they supply to the BTCC), a plethora of custom parts from Forge Motorsport, and that Deutsch Tech bonnet-exit exhaust and screamer pipe, it’s a long way from stock. Call it 300-320bhp, along with a whole lot of fireworks. And brilliantly, the ECUmaster management has a Bluetooth sender allowing Tom to use his phone for readouts, so he was able to keep the original dials in the dash. It’s all about the details.
There’s been a lot of work done to the Amazon’s chassis to get it this low. Bonnet-vented screamer pipe and exhaust spits flames. The 133 badge denotes Tom’s Amazon is a later-spec car.