Diana of Themyscira

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This is a 1964 Volvo P130 Amazon. Why would a car as beige and professorial as this one take its name from the Seattle-tech giant that will inevitably take over the world, ruling with an iron fist, just so long as you buy enough copies of The Fault in Our Stars for your e-reader or tablet device? The answer is that, of course, it doesn’t, primarily owing to the fact that this Amazon precedes our Overlord Amazon.com by a good 30 years. The car’s name actually comes from the same ancient tribe of warrior women that Wonder Woman comes from, which is our relevant cultural reference of the week taken care of. See? I’m trendy, goddammit.

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I’m of course talking about the Amazons, a fascinating group of extremely badass women who fought against the Greeks during the Trojan war. We actually know much less about them than I initially thought. The name Amazon (it was Amason originally because of international spellings) was chosen because Volvo thought that the word’s strong female connotation would offset their decidedly masculine logo. You have to admit, this was pretty forward thinking for the 1950’s, where the words “gender equality” were about as laughable as those coffee tin shoes with the bits of string that you held. I never understood those. Unfortunately, the car was only sold under the Amazon name in Nordic countries, with the rest of the world getting some alphanumeric nonsense that I don’t understand. But hey, they tried.

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The Amazon was on sale from 1956 through 1970, and over those years a whole lot of nothing changed. Sure, you could get choose from a sedan or wagon bodystyle, or even this nifty two-door coupe, and the front grille changed a little bit during the late 1960’s, but for the most part if you wanted a Volvo Amazon, this is what you were looking at. The base engine was called the B16, but that was only around for a few years at the end of the 1950’s before the introduction of the B18, the real pièce de résistance of the whole Volvo engine family.

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The B18 was introduced two years after the Amazon’s debut, in 1958. It was a 1.8 liter straight-four that developed 85 horsepower. As the engine matured in age, it became more powerful, eventually producing 90 to 95 horsepower. You could choose from a three speed manual or a four speed manual with overdrive, the latter of which was the one to have. There was also a three speed automatic that served as the Adam Sandler of the lineup, in that no one liked it. The B18 was eventually bored out to two liters, creating the B20, which produced a 115 horsepower in the car’s sportiest form, the very desirable 123GT. That car also got a three spoke steering wheel and super-neat auxiliary lamps.

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Volvo was doing BMW’s job before BMW was in diapers. It had its competitors, sure. Peugeot had the 504, but the Amazon, with features like its power-assisted disc brakes, was just so much sportier. And any equivalent Alfa Romeo owner spent more time staring at a mechanic’s exasperated face than at an open road. Your modern sports sedans- the C-Class, the 3-series, the A4, whatever alphabet soup Acura has nowadays- trace their origins back to this. And the best part was that, while BMW built a reputation of driving like a dingus, the Amazon built up a reputation of Volvo safety and sturdiness. They were strong. Kind of like a certain female superhero.

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Additional Thoughts:

  • One of the twelve labors of Hercules was to steal Hippolyte’s girdle. She fought valiantly, but was eventually killed, her girdle stolen. What does this have to do with Volvo? The Amazon was the first car to offer the now-ubiquitous three-point seatbelt, the shape of which, it is said, was inspired by Hippolyte who was also, incidentally, the Queen of the Amazons.
  • The Amazon also featured an early form of emissions control, and a steering column that was designed to collapse in the event of a crash as opposed to, you know, stabbing you through the chest.
  • 1965 models featured orthopedic seats with adjustable lumbar support.
  • There was a very well kept Beetle parked behind the Amazon, and what I think was a Ford Granada across the street. I love Berlin.
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