JMV-031 – The Victorian number plate that my Grandpa’s Volvo 122s wore for almost all of its life. My grandpa’s name was James, so his red 1966 Volvo 122s was fondly referred to by everyone as ‘Jimmy’s motor vehicle’. Pa owned JMV since almost new. He lived in Melbourne in the Eastern Suburbs (Bulleen) and used the car to traverse the city on a daily basis.
One of Pa’s hobbies was antique furniture restoration. He was an absolute master with wood and I fondly remember watching him in his workshop working his magic with French polish and hand tools. One of the drawbacks of furniture restoration is the need to transport the pieces of work to and from the client. For Pa, his trusty 122S fulfilled this duty. It was not uncommon to see huge tables and chairs stacked on top of JMV as he travelled around town. I remember ‘helping’ him secure a load once. After he had put the thick padding on the roof, stacked the chairs and tables and commenced to throw ropes over the car, he professed that he could never own a car that didn’t have handles like JMV – Big chrome pull handles, perfect for anchoring loads. He also had a knot system at the end of the rope so he could close the drivers door just above a particular knot as the final securing line for the load.
I recall a trip to the Zoo with Pa and my brothers many years ago. The back seat didn’t come with seat belts, so Pa had anchored a rope across the seat that joined in the middle with a strong metal clasp. To be honest, it probably would have cut us in half if we had an accident, but he did take it to the RTA to get the tick of approval before transporting us. As we were driving home from the Zoo, there was an almighty BANG! I instantly thought we had run over a massive boulder or the engine had fallen out. After Pa’s close inspection on the side of the freeway, it turned out that the exhaust system had separated from the manifold. It was a very noisy ride home and my parents heard us coming from miles away, but JMV still didn’t let us down!
Pa maintained exceptional records on the vehicle, including every petrol fill up and the miles per gallon received. In the 80s, he did some engine upgrades and replaced the original B18 engine with a B20 (2 litre) with twin SU carbies. As you can imagine, being a daily drive and furniture transport, JMV racked up the miles over the years. An article in the Volvo Australia magazine stated that JMV had 560,000 kilometers under her belt in the mid 80s.
In the early 90s, Pa saved up and had some restoration work done on the old girl, which included repainting the roof and boot. Unfortunately less than a week after having this done, someone scratched across the freshly painted panels with a coin. This was devastating to Pa as he didn’t have the money to have the panels painted again.
Later in his life, Pa would often drive to Canberra to visit us (taking naps on the side of the freeway on the way up) and also followed us over the Clyde Mountain once, drying his socks on the rear view mirror along the way.
As time passed, JMV was relegated to weekend duties and a beige Volvo 244 wagon was purchased to do the furniture transportation. I remember Pa saying that he still loved driving JMV much more, even though the 244 was a newer vehicle. For the last few years of his life, Pa was low on time and money, so cosmetic and non-essential maintenance of JMV was sadly put behind more important things, but Pa didn’t sell her.
One of my last memories of Pa was visiting him at the East Kew palliative care facility a few weeks before he passed in 2006. We had visited him each day for a couple of weeks. It was clear that his memory was fading and he was definitely not his normal jolly self. On one of our last visits we brought JMV along. It felt strange driving Pa’s car (for the first time), but when we wheeled Pa out the front, I’ll never forget the smile on his face when he saw the front headlight and the red paint of JMV gleaming in the sunlight. Even though he was not remembering much at the time, he patted JMV on the side and said she was a reliable old girl.
My brothers, family and I could not even consider the possibility of selling JMV once Pa passed. We agreed to all share the costs of maintenance and upkeep and paid for a transport company to bring her to Canberra.
After we took ownership of JMV, the first item on the agenda was a good service. Having JMV in Canberra with all her character was just great: The way she ‘broooms’ into life as you turn the key; the ridiculously long floor mounted gear selector; the HUGE steering wheel that is well worn at the ’10 to 2′ position; the smell, the same smell it has had since we were kids; the view out the tiny windscreen across the shapely bonnet; the twin air horns – activated by the giant chrome centre ring on the steering wheel; Pa’s tapes still in his specially designed case that hugs the transmission tunnel; the front seatbelt buckles that almost snapped our fingers off as a child; the shapely profile; the excess of chrome; and the positive and friendly comments from people every time you pulled into a service station all contributed to our enjoyment.
Over the ensuing years, JMV was driven each weekend maintained and cared for, but it wasn’t until recent years where we collectively had enough money to start restoring her to former glory! She was beginning to look a bit sorry for herself with very faded paint and some minor rust spots starting to appear. In May 2012 JMV received a full bare metal respray. The family got together and removed all the chrome trim and excess parts before she was taken away on a flat bed. David from KMF in Queanbeyan was given the task of restoring the brilliant red shine. I remember David commenting on some small dents on certain chrome trim parts around the roof, possibly caused by hail damage. I mentioned that they added character and were a result of years of furniture transportation!
Of course, the JMV-031 identity had to be retired with the move to Canberra, and thanks to Alec and the Canberra Antique and Classic Motor Club, she now wears shiny new ACT Historic Plates.
Future plans include an interior restoration and eventually, when required, some engine reconditioning. After all these years and miles, she still starts first go each weekend.
I realise these words appear to be more about Pa and his ownership of the car than a restoration story, but to us, Pa IS the story behind the car and his memory lives on through the smile JMV gives us all every time we hear her chugging up the road.
JAMES REDDING, BAIRNSDALE, VIC: 1966 RED 122 4 DR
Originally optioned with a column shift, this 560,000 km Volvo now has a gear-stick on the floor. Engine ungraded to a B20. Mr Redding: “During my fifteen years of ownership, two words would describe the car very aptly: ‘Utterly reliable.’