While other parts of the world were in a state of upheaval in 1968, revolution was far from people’s minds at Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden. Instead, they were focusing on the launch of the new prestige model, the 164.
The notion of designing a slightly larger, more exclusive model had existed for a long time. In the late 1950s, a big luxurious Volvo with a V8 engine and a powerful, vertical grille was planned. However, this project died in 1960 when a survey indicated that compact cars were the future, especially in the US.
But the launch of the 140 series in 1966 gave rise to the idea of placing a straight-6 engine in the 140 body. That would allow Volvo to create the combination of prestige and compact size they were absolutely certain people needed.
Chief designer Jan Wilsgaard kept the chassis of the 140 series and used the front from the 1950s 358 project. Here, the iron mark logo once again took on a prominent position, placed on the diagonal in the same way as on the first Volvo back in 1927 and as we see on today’s models.
The 140 chassis was also extended by 10cm from the windscreen forward. This latter measure was needed in order to make space for the newly developed straight-6 engine. This was designated B30, had a 3-litre capacity and developed 145hp thanks to twin Zenith-Stromberg carburettors.
The August 1968 press release proudly declared that the German ZF gearbox was of the “remote control” type, which meant that the relatively short gearlever was positioned on the transmission tunnel adjacent to the front seats.
The fittings were considerably more lavish than in the 140 series, with thick woollen fabric on the seats, textile floor mats and a rear seat designed for two people, with a drop-down armrest in the centre.
After the first year of production, the 164 was given leather upholstery as standard, integrated halogen-type auxiliary lamps and headrests. In the US, it was offered with electric windows, an electric sunroof, air-conditioning and tinted windows.
When US magazine Car and Driver tested the Volvo 164 in its July 1969 issue, readers were treated to a description of the kind of people who were expected to buy the new Volvo: “The Volvo people are looking to steal buyers from Buick, Oldsmobile and Mercedes showrooms, and they are doing just that. Volvo’s new customers are professional types – doctors, lawyers, dentists… people who can afford something different.”
An American advert for the 164 from Volvo was linked with the same theme: “The Luxury Car That Shows You Have More Than Money.”
The Volvo 164 underwent continuous development throughout its life, with the addition of features such as electronic fuel injection (as of model-year 1972). The last model-year was in 1975, and all the 164s built in that year were exported to the US. By then, the car’s successor, the 264, had already gone into production.