Words: Aron Norris | Photography: Jeroen De Planke
"They don’t make ‘em like they used to” – something your grandparents might say, and when it comes to cars, ain’t that the truth?
I’m not here to preach the merits of old vs new or bleat on about how wonderful “character” cars are, as I admire all makes and models of automotive no matter its year of production.
However, I think we can all appreciate the fact they aren’t making “old cars” anymore, which means every old clunker represents a dying breed, that is, if no-one steps in to save them from the inevitable crusher.
In this big old world of car enthusiasts, thankfully, there are still plenty of saviours out there. This is our motoring history, let’s not forget that.
This time, our curator is Wessel Renken, a 24 year old Steel Laser Operator from the Netherlands. A car enthusiast with an eye for something retro, Wessel has built himself something unique and in doing so, saved “just another old timer” from being canned.
The first time I met Wessel was when he arrived at our RollHard: Belgian Chapter event in August last year. Among the queue of quality cars rolling in, his Amazon just really caught my eye. I’m a sucker for something a little bit “off-piste” - this is right up my street.
Having grown up around classic cars, I’m a big fan of the Volvo Amazon’s looks, even in bone stock form. This is from a bygone era, the body is proper old school steel and adorned with enough bright work to make any magpie take interest.
So, at our event; RollHard Belgian Chapter, we felt lucky to have this rare car on display. A bright red, 2 door Amazon scraping on the floor, Wessel’s Volvo really did hit the spot.
From the second I laid eyes on this car I knew we had to tell this car’s story. What I really love about this thing is how it’s so damn honest. It’s not the cleanest Volvo Amazon on the planet, nor does it need to be, this is effortless retro cool.
This a “grass-roots” build - a product of good old fashioned hard work, time and vision to create something altogether different, something totally custom.
For me, this is the essence of what RollHard is about: never give up on something until your objective is achieved, even if the odds are stacked and even if you piss off the purists in the process. Keep on going, no matter what.
So, is the Volvo Amazon the best looking Volvos of all time? Well, that depends on your own personal taste, but few could disagree - this one hell of a pretty car.
I guess when most of people think of old Volvos they think of the 80s “bricks”, which carry a “so uncool they’re cool” tag (just for the record, they’re achingly cool, Google “RollHard Volvo 240” for more), but a Volvo with curves? Well, the Amazon is proof enough that Volvo hasn’t only produced conventional cars – there’s not a straight panel in sight, and chrome, on a Volvo? Surely not.
Wessel’s Amazon is a super rare 1968 133GT, which means it’s the desirable 2 door coupe model. This car was exported to the Netherlands and spec’d up in GT trim which is so rare the internet doesn’t even know about this car. The 123GT was a known thing, but Wessel’s 133GT is somewhat of a unicorn in Volvo Amazon circles. Being a ’68, this was built at Volvo’s Torslandaverken plant in Sweden (earlier cars were built at the Lundby plant in Gothenburg) (just in case you happen to bump into the Volvo owners club and need something to drop into conversation).
To continue with the Volvo trivia, the Amazon was designed by Jan Wilsgaard and produced by Volvo between 1965 and 1970. Production of the 2 door versions started in 1962 and by the time the Amazon was pensioned off in 1970, 359,917 two-door models had been produced.
Wessel is a man of great patience and even better ideas.
In a strange twist of fate, Wessel’s Amazon had been for sale on the internet for over a year, but the reason nobody else wanted the car was exactly why Wessel decided he did.
Under the bonnet of this particular Amazon is where things got really weird. You might have expected to find the original (and very weedy) 75bhp engine, but alas, this is no ordinary Volvo Amazon. Flying in the face of classic car purists everywhere, Wessel’s was fitted with a Ford 2.0 DOHC 8v engine (N9A engine code), which produces 123bhp and 174lb ft, more than enough to keep up with modern metal.
There was method in Wessel’s madness because what he actually wanted was a cool daily, which is why the engine conversion really was a massive plus to him. Classic looks with modern performance? Doesn’t seem like a bad combination if you ask us. A deal was done on the car and Wessel was in possession of a model he’d always dreamed of owning.
Wessel’s build wasn’t all about cutting and fitting aftermarket parts, actually, his first job was sorting out the somewhat botched interior the previous owner had fitted in the car. He sourced all the parts he needed to restore things to an original setup, including seats, steering wheel, dash and carpets. Wessel has also tucked away a Rockford Fosgate audio system behind the original interior panels, cunning.
The black interior vinyls look amazing against the exposed red paint inside and there are lots of original design cues which you just don’t get on modern cars. On the outside, Wessel has replaced the Amazon’s bumpers, indicator caps, mirrors and light surrounds. We love this old thing.
You might be forgiven for assuming this was a straightforward build, you know, one of those cut and paste projects built with off the shelf parts. If this was a Volkswagen or BMW you might have been right, but this is a Volvo, so things don’t work like that. The best/worst thing about modifying a Volvo is that there are literally no rules. This Amazon is all about having fun, and not taking cars too seriously.
If you’re dreaming of a low Volvo, you’ll need to pioneer your way to an acceptable ride height. With very few tuning parts available for cars like this, the result you see in Jeroen’s photography is a result of blood, sweat and tears. Everything is pretty much custom fabricated and/or made to fit, not an easy task.
Wessel’s Amazon is closer to the tarmac thanks to a custom combination of Volvo shock absorbers and Honda springs and in the wheel department, American Racing 15x8’s in ET-20 flavour do the trick. Originally destined for a Jeep Wrangler, these 5x114 beauties look the part in chrome against the red paintwork.
The story with Wessel’s Amazon extends a lot further than just new parts and road trips to shows. This car proudly wears a decal in memory of his cousin, Wouter Hollegien, "Number 91". Wouter was taken far too soon at the age of 25 in August 2016. He was a huge motorcycle enthusiast who passed away in a tragic accident racing his motorbike at a circuit in Holland. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by Wouter's death, and the wing decal on Wessel’s Amazon is a fitting tribute to a fellow enthusiast.
Ever since seeing photos of Keith Ross’ and Andrew Hasting’s Volvo Amazons years ago, Wessel wanted one for himself. He now owns one of his dream cars and has no plans to sell up just yet. In fact, the project is just getting started. Wessel has big visions for this car, airride, a respray and a big power engine transplant. A 2.5L 5 cylinder turbo T5-R engine would provide 250bhp+, we can’t wait watch this car evolve…
Traditional Volvo owners don’t really get this car, but that really doesn't matter. The engine conversion, ride height and wheel choice might not be their cup of tea, but we say their loss is our gain.
Big thanks to Wessel for bringing his Amazon to our event last year - We’ll see you at this year’s RollHard UK and Belgian events for sure.
Wessel - Well done on saving the Amazon.