“After the Bilsport Performance & Custom Motor Show [AKA Elmia] was cancelled for the second year, I almost gave up,” says Johan Balsberg of his ‘Amalow’ build. We’re definitely glad he didn’t.
If you caught my recent story on Sture Balsberg’s Volvo Amazon Estate, you’ll know that this feature on his son’s car was coming. Johan’s 1965 Volvo Amazon Sedan is equally as cool as his father’s Estate, but the approach taken has been a little different.
Johan’s interest in old Volvos stemmed from his grandfather, who had a red 1967 Amazon 122 stored in his barn at the family farm in South Sweden. He had bought it from the Volvo factory brand new, and drove it right up until 1996, when he sadly passed away.
In 2015, on Johan’s graduation day, the Balsbergs celebrated with a huge garden party. When Johan rolled into the garden, there sat his grandfather’s red Amazon, with a blue and yellow ribbon tied across the hood. It was a pretty rad graduation gift to say the least.
As the car was in completely original condition, Johan didn’t want to modify it. Instead, he bought another Amazon to tinker with.
There’s a tried and tested way of modifying an old Amazon – think traditionally lowered on a nice set of steel wheels and a classic beige paint job. Johan, however, decided to go the same route as his first show car, an Audi A5 on air. The late-model A5 would have been a much easier proposition to keep modifying, but Johan came to a realization. “It’s so easy to modify new cars today, and that’s why there are a ton of them out there. The parts for newer cars are endless, but you end up as just another face in the crowd. I wanted to stick out from the rest,” he says.
While thinking about how to approach the build, Johan started drawing up a blueprint in his head, imagining how the Amazon would look on airbags and split wheels. The body, however, was always going to stay stock. “The car has the perfect body. I don’t see a reason to cut into the body to make the car wider. It’s pointless,” Johan explained.
Between the Amazon’s teardown in May of 2019 and March of 2020, the rust issues were fixed, the body was sandblasted and the panels were straightened. While the Volvo was at the body shop, Johan and his father used the original red Amazon to test-fit the air suspension and build a complete trunk setup. They laid out all the parts and categorized them, so when the show car came home, everything was ready to bolt straight in.
Every single chrome part has been re-plated to look brand new. The most important aspect for Johan was consistency; his idea of a perfect restomod crumbles when the details are poorly done.
Getting the right replacement parts for the Amazon was both easy and hard. There are companies like VP Autoparts and Scandix that can provide new parts, but there are specific parts that are extremely hard to find now, like door trims and window frames. Having said that, the most elusive part for this restoration was the front grill, and ultimately Johan had to go for one from an earlier model. Johan says, you only see the correct grille pop up once a year online (if that), and when it happens you’ll have 50-plus bidders all trying to buy it.
When it came to stance, Johan wanted the ‘lip to fender’ style. Thanks to the custom suspension setup and a slight fender roll, the Amazon achieves it very well.
The wheel choice was an easy one. Johan wanted something old school and opted for BBS RFs measuring 18×8.5-inch in the front and 18×9.5-inch out back, both ends wrapped in 225/30R18 rubber. Behind the wheels, the original disc and drum brakes have been completely rebuilt.
As for the previously mentioned suspension, the Air Lift Performance 3P system is displayed beautifully on a custom laminate wood floor. The layout was designed by Johan and his mother, who has a keen eye for detail. LED lights shine brightly on the twin polished Viair 444C compressors, two air tanks and the custom hard lines.
Under the hood, Johan has swapped out the original Volvo B18 engine for a stroked 2.2L B20.
The modification list isn’t long, but that was never the point. To wind as much power out of the B20 without going crazy, Johan fitted a ‘Stage 3′ head, Enem H3 camshaft, reinforced rocker arm stands, double valve springs, and a Mangoletsi intake manifold that mounts twin FAJS 45DCOE carburetors. Everything else was refurbished to look new.
Johan says the engine makes around 190hp, which is more than enough to enjoy the car.
It’s hard to see why Johan wouldn’t enjoy the car when you look at the interior. The original seats have been re-trimmed in light and dark grey with black piping, and the Nardi steering wheel features custom grey stitching that fits in with overall colour theme.
Just like in the engine bay, the interior details are almost endless. At the back, you’d normally find a hat shelf, but Johan wanted a sound system to complete the cabin. With only millimetres to spare, the custom speaker box – which is dressed in the same black perforated fabric as the roof liner – features a pair of Cerwin Vega’s highest-spec 6×9-inch speakers and a single Cerwin Vega amplifier.
Four weeks before Elmia 2020, Johan, his parents and a couple of friends worked 10-hour shifts on the car for about a week only to learn that the show was being cancelled due to the pandemic. The bad news didn’t end there either. Johan’s painter got stuck in Spain and parts were held up, so the whole build was put on ice.
The car was kept secret and Johan kept working on it, fixing and tweaking things in hopes of making it to Elmia 2021. But as we now know, that show ended up being cancelled too. By this point, the thought of abandoning the project altogether had definitely crossed Johan’s mind, but ultimately he persevered.
In the summer of 2021, Amalow was displayed at the Vallåkra show in South Sweden – the event Johan says it was actually built for. For decades, custom car builders have been battling it out to claim Vallåkra’s coveted ‘Best Volvo In Sweden’ award.
Show-goers were blown away by Johan’s creation; no one had any idea where the car came from or who owned it. The Amazon ended up taking the most prestigious award at the Vallåkra show for obvious reasons. It was a total breath of fresh air and stood out from the rest of the contenders, just like Johan had intended it to do.
I met Johan for the first time in Norway at the 2021 Oslo Motor Show, and that’s where I got to learn more about his car. At that event, the Amalow ended up taking home five awards, including ‘Best in Show’ for the Street class.
Having the whole family involved has been a fun journey for these last couple of years. With Sture’s old school take on things and Johan’s new school input, the Balsbergs have created a couple of truly unique Amazons. Their story doesn’t end here, though. There’s another car coming to complete the trio, and I cannot wait to share it with you when it’s done.
If you want to know more about the Balsbergs, check out this video.
Beautiful car, beautifully done. An Amazon is one of the few cars that looks better as a saloon IMO. I'm a 'wagon' fan and I love the wagon version too.
I love them both, the father's and the son's, both are clear visions of a tasteful retromod.
Man that Amazon looks so clean and it is done right too
Love how simple this build is
Another car I didn't know I needed.
Its a stuning build, just its sad that it was built for shows and not intended as a car. But slowly showcars era will disappear and benchmark will be a streatable custom.
Great article, Alen.
The engine bay is so big, even by today's standard. It can easily accommodate any inline six, with turbos any day, anytime.
In my country, the 144 is know as a "tank with 4 wheels".