Manual Trans Thorsday Cruiser: 1970 Volvo 164
It’s no secret that DT loves us some vintage Volvos, but to date we haven’t featured a 164. The Volvo 164 was the Swedes’ upper tier luxury market car sold from 1969 through 1975, and was sort of a great uncle to the ubiquitous 240. It shared 3/4 of the body shell (from the firewall back) with the 140 series, which eventually morphed into the 240 that refused to die until 1993. But the 164 was a bigger classier car aimed at the likes of Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Today they are largely overlooked by enthusiasts and collectors and can be picked up for a song. Exhibit A: this 1970 model now bidding on ebay in Chadron, Nebraska for only $1450 at time of writing, reserve met with two days to go.
It is surprising that the 164 doesn’t have a bigger following among fans of big cruisers – to be fair, it is not a super large car, just extended. Volvo originally planned on introducing a true fullsize luxury car for limousine and taxi use, an idea which was canned before it saw the light of day. But not before the handsomely styled nose was saved and tacked on to the rear 3/4 of the existing midsize 144 sedan. The extended overall length and wheelbase were necessary to make room for a long inline six, but the stretch job has the added effect of giving the car some seriously stately proportions. Just look at the axle to dash ratio – the greenhouse is set very far back on the wheelbase, reminiscent of the long hood / short deck design ethos used for many a sports coupe, roadster and GT car.
The seller of this 164 did not include any truly full shots of the side or 3/4 views of the car, likely because there wasn’t enough room to back up in the driveway and fit the whole thing into the frame. Incidentally, these images are date-stamped October 2011 (day/month/year format) so perhaps this car has been on the market for over a year, or maybe it’s rusted into a heap by now and these show us its former glory.
The interior is classic ’60s Volvo – minimalist, uncluttered, and unmistakably Scandinavian. The linear ribbon style speedometer stretches across the dash in front of the driver and is flanked by Göteborg’s finest genuine fake wood appliqué on the face panel. There is a lockable storage cubby on the tunnel – and, what’s this? A manual shift lever! In our experience most 164s to be found today are saddled with slushbox automatics, but this one was blessed with a proper stick shift. This could either be the 4-speed M400 manual trans or the 4-spd plus electric overdrive M410. Either way, it’s a beefed up version of the ‘box found in the 1800 series, to cope with the extra torque from the inline six. The shifter is mounted somewhat close to the driver unlike the PV series, Amazon, and early 140 cars which featured the world’s longest swan neck shifter sprouting from deep under the dashboard near the firewall somewhere. The nice short throw shift action in this 164 would be a refreshing change from one of those earlier setups.
The B30 engine is a 3.0 liter pushrod inline six, which should be smooth and torquey but not a screamer. Expect leisurely and relaxed acceleration from the 130 bhp configuration with twin Zenith-Stromberg sidedraft carbs. The later iterations of this engine with higher compression and fuel injection reached 175 hp output, but we suspect with a bit of head, cam and manifold work it could be easily pushed to around 225 hp if the compression is raised as well. Or add the turbo or supercharger of your choice if you’re looking to be “that guy” at the car shows and not just another me-too bellybutton Small Block Chevy / LS swapper. Alternatively – don’t do anything to the engine except a thorough cleaning and regular maintenance, and it will likely run until Planet of the Apes becomes our cold, harsh reality.
Until that time though, enjoy the chilly comfort of the 164’s baby blue leather interior in the hot pre-apocalyptic summers to come. Volvo was proud to advertise that it’s AIR CONDITIONED. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! That’s 15 “r“s worth of Nordic frigidity. But worry not, because in the long dead winter you’ll be comfortable too; Volvos are known for having incredibly efficient, toasty heaters that would thaw even the crustiest icicles on Thor’s majestically furrowed eyebrows.
Downsides for this 164: there is a bit of midwestern rust on the lower body and undercarriage, but the seller includes lots of pictures from underneath – bonus – and it appears to not be terminal. Not much history is given, but mileage is stated at 81,076. If those are original and the odometer hasn’t rolled over once (or five times), even bigger bonus. Ride this chariot into the sunset without having to worry about major rebuilds. Your Valhalla awaits.
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Bonus Question: Which do you like better, the original fullsize P538 prototype as seen in the first three photos below, or the production 164 as seen in the last two? Answer in the comments section!
My dad had one of these long before they were old enough to be cool and too long after they were new enough to be cool. It was brown too. He used to pull the shifter out of its boot (you could see the ground rushing by at 18 mph through the hole) to mess with my friends. Good times!
IN my opinion, the 164 was the best car Volvo built. I owned one from 1974 – 1989 and drove it in Europe and Wisconsin. The car finally fell apart from northern salt but only after 700,000 plus miles. I have owned Volvos since 1970 from 142s, 145, 164E, 780 Turbo, 244 Turbo, 245 wagonS, P1800E, V50 T5, S80 Twin Turbo, and finally after 5+ years of searching found a 1975 164E – my memory was orrect from my 1974, it is still the best Volvo built. It is the blend of excellent, power, comfort, and ride. Volvos present marketing plan, in my opinion, is out of sync of reality of Volvo Roots. I will continue to own Volvos prior to 1993. The one Volvo I have not owned is 262 series, I have driven them and they are a fine car also.