Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
Jan Wilsgaard designed the 164 - initially in the late 1950s as a concept car called the P358 powered by a V8. The P358 was cancelled when the home market was found too small. The front styling was inspired both by the Wolseley 6/99 and the Volvo P1900. In 1968 Volvo introduced the 164 as an extension of the 140-series, equipping the 164 with a 3.0-litre straight-6.
of the 164 from the windshield forward differed from the 140: including a longer bonnet accommodating the bigger engine and a larger, more prominent grille. The height and width were the same as the 140 series. The interior was equipped with a faux wood dash and optional leather. Introduced the same year as the BMW E3, the 164 was Volvo's answer to the Mercedes-Benz 250 and Jaguar XJ6. Despite its relatively heavy weight, the 164 compared favourably in terms of fuel economy to other 6-cylinder European cars of similar dimensions such as the BMW 530.
When the Volvo 164 was released in Australia it was considered by most as being exceptionally safe and well engineered. Unfortunately it was also very expensive, coming with a $6299 price tag. For that kind of money, you could have purchased no less than three wonderful little Mazda 1200 Coupes
. Still, this story is about the 164 - and as a new model it followed the well known Volvo path of smooth styling, outstanding safety, and comfortable passenger accommodation but, at least in its automatic transmission version, the car remained slow even though equipped with a 6 cylinder engine.
But if you could overlook performance when comparing it to other 6's then on the market, it made up in almost every other department. It had safety, comfort and excellent road manners. In every respect it was a perfect family car. In common with most of the better quality vehicles from the late 1960s the body incorporated progressive crumple front and rear end design which absorbed energy in the event of a collision and allowed the actual passenger compartment to retain its shape. It had a two piece collapsible steering column and burst-proof door locks.
Four wheel disc brakes
were fitted and these were just about the best then going. The dual braking system was unusual for the time - in that the failure of one circuit would still allow approximately 80 per cent braking effect accomplished by retaining brake usage on both front wheels and one rear; a relief valve was also incorporated in each of the circuits to prevent the rear wheels from locking up before the front wheels in the case of emergency braking. Not quite ABS, but a much more advanced system than found on other cars from the era.
This emphasis on safety, both pre and post-accident, was retained throughout the car's interior. The instruments were recessed into an energy-absorbing padded fascia panel, controls were topped with soft plastic, door handles were set into recessed panels and the rear vision mirror would break away under impact. But the safety aspect went even further than this. The front seat backrests were designed to collapse smoothly rearwards if the car was rammed from behind — so lowering the danger of whiplash neck injuries.
And the seats were very comfortable too. There was an infinite range of adjustments which could be carried out to provide front seat height, rake, and fore and aft location; you could even vary the seat from soft to firm as required. Rear seat legroom was excellent and the equal of anything else on the road. At the time it was widely considered that the Austin 1800 took the honours.
The 164 was not quite as good - but it was bloody close. The boot was cavernous with the spare wheel mounted in a well on the right hand side — however a high rear lip made for a high loading height. The three speed automatic was smooth in operation and responsive to variations in throttle and even when reaching lower gear limits engine noise did not become excessive — a nuisance very noticeable in the four cylinder models. Using full automatic, rather than holding through the gears, the automatic 164 would reach 43 mph in low, 70 in medium, and 97 in top. Manually held, these figures could be improved upon but the car was not designed for that kind of thing. Performance was not the reason to buy a 164 - borne out by a standing quarter mile time of 19.4 seconds.
The engine was a 2.98 litre with a bore/stroke measurement of 88.9 mm x 80.0 mm, developing 145 bhp (SAE) at 5500 rpm and had a maximum torque figure of 163 lb. ft. at 3000 rpm. Many components of the six cylinder model were identical to those of the four cylinder including pistons, connecting rods, bearings and valves
- which was probably a good thing here in Australia where spare parts availability was always on the new car-buyers mind.
On the Road
The 164s handling was very predictable. Slight oversteer at speed on unsealed surfaces — slight understeer on bitumen. Pirelli radials, 165SR15s, came as standard and although inclined to a degree of harshness at low speed were ideally suited to the car's capabilities. The ride over all surfaces was excellent with the coils on all corners, and independent front end, soaking up all road irregularities. Road testers from the time noted a tendency towards tail-end wander if you pushed the 164 hard oyer badly corrugated roads - but remained better than anything found on a Holden, Ford or Valiant. Corners could be taken with a high degree of confidence and although body roll was pronounced the 164 stayed firmly glued to the road. The steering was both light and accurate with only 4.8 turns required lock to lock (this figure was reduced to 3.7 with the optional power steering). The turning circle was only 31 ft. 6 in., which made it near perfect around town.
Behind the Wheel
The instrumentation was identical to that of the 144 series with a strip type speedo, trip meter, fuel gauge and water temperature gauge. The speedometer was fitted with a movable indicator as a speed limit reminder and warning lights operated for battery
charging, oil pressure, headlights on high, parking brake, and possible brake circuit failure. The heating and ventilation system was excellent with air being fed to both front and rear compartments; a two speed fan could be used to boost efficiency and three defroster outlets acted quickly on the windscreen. But it was expected that a car from Scandinavia would have this well sorted. At the rear was an electrically heated window with either 75 or 150 watt power clearing even the heaviest fogged glass within minutes.
Standard fittings of the 164, usually optional equipment with other manufacturers from the time, included: three point safety belts in the front compartment and anchorages for two three point and one lap belt in the rear, laminated windscreen, safety padded sun visors, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, two speed 'screen wipers, steering wheel lock, grab handle and courtesy handle, towing fixtures front and rear, pockets on rear of front seat backrests, mud flaps, and a good tool-kit.
the 164 received the same makeover as the 140, i.e. different taillights and slightly revised sheetmetal, completely revised dash which included face vents (eliminating the need for the quarterlights in the side windows although these continued for another year, and the grille was a somewhat smaller plastic item, as the front bumper was now straight rather than dipping down under the grille. In 1974 the Volvo 164 became one of the earliest cars (along with the 1966 Cadillac, 1970 Lincoln Continental, 1971 Saab 99 and 1973
Mercedes-Benz 450SEL) to offer heated seats. Cars built for the final (1975
) model year show small signs of a facelift: new front seats with a centrally mounted handbrake and different badging on the trunklid as well as 6 segment taillights.
To sum it up, the 164 was superbly comfortable, extremely well finished, quiet, smooth - but down on performance. In a word - conservative. But for Australians in 1969 $6299 was a lot of money. Whether the 164 was good value is perhaps for others to judge. We do know that, to this day, Volvo's have a strong following - and the 164 remains popular with collectors. The 164 was replaced by the 264 which was powered by the PRV 2.7-liter V6 engine.