Competition Car Profile: Amazon (1956-1970)

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Inherently tough as a road car, the Amazon is cheaper to rally-prep than a 911 or Escort.

The name could not have been more appropriate. Long-lived on the road, Amazons have proved tough performers on long-distance events such as LeJog and London-Casablanca – and even still do well in class in stage rallies. Half a million were built between 1956 and 1970, of which 360,000 were two-door saloons, and many of the mechanicals will swap with the earlier PV544, so much of the advice here holds good for the earlier car. Badging is the clue to the spec: Amazon 121s have a single-carb engine, 122s have twins, S is for sport. The most useful and desirable variant for competition is the two-door 123GT (P130) with high-compression, twin-carb B18B engine from the P1800, of which 5000 were made between 1967 and 1968. ‘Such a good car to drive – and almost bulletproof,’ says Simon Ayris of specialist Rally Preparation Services.

The 120 series is tough but not immune to rust. Most common areas are the front wings, which are bolt-on and easily replaced, rear wheelarches and, on saloons, the spare wheel well. Doors rot lower down and spares are becoming scarce. ‘The only weak point is the rear top damper mountings, which can punch through,’ says Simon Ayris. Local strengthening is the answer. A full-length sump guard is a must and Emma Henchoz of Amazon Cars, which rallies its own cars and builds for customers, warns not to forget to guard the track rods, at the very front of the car.

Amazons aren’t in the Escort or 911 league for costs, but a fully built car can easily cost £20,000-25,000 and, as with any saloon, installing a rollcage won’t leave much change from £1000.

Engine and transmission
On the road these do at least 150,000 miles before major work is required, especially if the oil and filter have been changed regularly. For recently rebuilt motors, Rob Henchoz recommends a 15/40 semi-synthetic oil: ‘And always use the genuine Volvo filter, which has the non-return valve.’

The 1789cc B18 four-cylinder fitted from 1958 can be made to go well (the earliest cars had a 1583cc version) but, for the less restrictive long-distance rallies, the two-litre, as fitted from 1970, is more useful, or one can be sourced from a later 140. As for camshafts: ‘Isky is a favorite, not too wild, and you don’t need Webers – SUs are perfectly adequate,’ says Ayris. Volvo’s own K-cam from the injected 1800 is useful; Emma Henchoz uses an Isky 310 in her own rally car, which she says ‘gives power throughout the range’.

The weak spot of the engine is the fibre camshaft timing gear; for competition, ditch it and fit a steel one. Ayris doesn’t recommend electronic ignition for long-distance events: ‘If it goes wrong you can’t see it, but I can make just about any set of points fit if I have to.’ Amazon Cars sells its ‘all-singing, all dancing’ rally engine with gasflowed head, Isky cam and light flywheel for £3500 sans ancillaries.

A complete Swedish-made Simons 2in sports exhaust is around €200 from Wagner & Gunther – but only post-’67 cars have twin downpipes, so on earlier cars you’ll need the matching manifold too.

Gearboxes are very robust and almost unbreakable, but the weak point is the back axle, with tube breakages not unknown. ‘To win seconds, a limited-slip diff is a better spend than on the engine,’ says Emma Henchoz. These cost £800-900, or £3500 for a complete rebuilt axle with LSD and heavy-duty halfshafts. There’s a choice of axle specs, but Henchoz recommends the 4.56:1 or even 4.88 for rallying. If you run an overdrive, she says: ‘Make sure it’s a J-type from a 140. We use uprated clutch linings and a high-pressure oil pump.’ Even on a Volvo, the engine mounts can be a problem on long, rough rallies. Here Land Rover mounts are the solution, or tie steel hawser around them to restrict movement.

The Amazon has sophisticated suspension for its day with double wishbones up front and a five-linked live rear axle, all on coil springs. On the early saloons the rear support arms are pressed steel and can rust; replacements are easy to get, while anti-roll bar kits are available from the likes of W&G. ‘Polybushes are a good idea,’ says Simon Ayris, ‘if only because it’s hard to find good-quality rubber bushes that won’t disintegrate, but don’t go too hard – they are available in various grades.’  Decent dampers are a must – Bilsteins are about £50 a corner.

Steel wheels are more useful than alloys on long-distance rallies as you can straighten them if they get bent; standard size is 4½x15in, and a new set of 5½x15s is €529 from W&G. Conveniently, both front camber and castor are easily adjustable by shims. And one last tip – Amazon Cars recommends zero to 2mm toe-out for the front wheels, which gives much sharper handling than the factory’s positive toe settings.

‘The Amazon is where you want it to be on brakes,’ says Ayris. ‘Big solid discs and three-pot calipers.’ All he recommends is a change to Mintex 1144 or 1155 pads, and these brakes, with hubs, will retro-fit to a PV. The problem is at the rear end, as the drums don’t just come off: ‘You need a puller, and you should have one if you own an Amazon, but it’s heavy and cumbersome to carry on a rally.’


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