Down memory lane in Volvo 122s: Knighted for speed, safety and Safari Rally

A Volvo 122 is not a common car, more so given its vintage. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Volvo may be safety-oriented, but I am not sure hauling tail along the Southern Bypass in a car at least half a century old is a good idea.
  • It's even more worrisome when you say the driver himself was tending towards the archaeological as well.

Hi Baraza,

I have read your advice to Ken on the choice of an XC60 over a Freelander. I don't know much about either; suffice it to say the Volvo looks pretty good.

Anyway, I just wanted to say I saw a Volvo 122S from the 1960s/70s (KQF …) moving at a pretty rapid pace along the Southern Bypass the other day. More impressive is that it was being driven by a gentleman of an even older vintage. The car brought back memories of the EA Safari Rally when we would wake up at some ungodly hours to watch these Volvos, 504s, Ford Escorts, Mercedes (my children think that Mercs started racing in the Lewis Hamilton era!) zoom by at breakneck speed. Those were the days of no-high-tech, pedal-to-the-metal pure rallying. Then, those crazy Peugeot 205GTI's, Lancia Stratos, et al, checked in, killed a few drivers and spectators and myriad rules and restrictions were introduced, forever killing the true spirit of the Safari. That Volvo 122S sure brought back good memories.


Volvo has always been a safety-oriented manufacturer. PHOTO | COURTESY

Hello Patrick (The Second),

That sighting was as rare as a unicorn pulling a sled ridden by St Nick and Beelzebub while sharing a glass of vegetable juice in the middle of summer. The 122 is not a common car, more so given its vintage. The car has to be at least 49 years old, if not 63 (production started in 1956). Was it an estate or a sedan? I'm a bit partial to long roofs and dabble in a bit of wagonry myself, as can be deduced from my weekly rants. Here are one or two did-you-know nuggets to clog your mind-brain with. First being that your namesake, the late Patrick Shaw — the heavyset Caucasian big-belly-rude-boy Kenyan crime-busting version of Lethal Weapon, a self-contained one-man mobile police station who instilled the fear of God into pimps, pilferers, pillagers and prostitutes, call him The Punisher — had one of these. That is according to a compatriot in a Volvo WhatsApp group I was invited to.

Also, did you know the 122S (aka the Amazon, aka the "Amason") was the world's first car to offer front seat belts as standard, and later was the first to offer three-point belts as standard as well? Volvo has always been a safety-oriented manufacturer, a point I raised last week discussing the XC60. Maybe that's why Shaw had one; as a government-sanctioned superhero-cum-vigilante, you need all the safety you can get, even that unrelated to your fearsome capers.

Volvo may be safety-oriented, but I am not sure hauling tail along the Southern Bypass in a car at least half a century old is a good idea. It's even more worrisome when you say the driver himself was tending towards the archaeological as well. I drive along that bypass a lot and the number of hazards and dangers are not few. There are the mobile chicanes in form of slow-moving trucks that tend to change lane at short notice — and I do mean short notice, such as just as you have reached its reflectors and are powering to make a pass they decide the outer lane is boring and want to move closer to the centre where they can see their colleagues driving on the opposite direction. This is conjecture of course; they mostly do this to overtake even slower trucks, forcing you to brake hard and pray that whoever has been tailgating you so far has the presence of mind and serviceable brakes, lest you become the unwitting filling of a metal sandwich. There are trucks that break down and are not moved to the shoulder. By the time you realise they are stationary, you may start to rue the day you decided to wring the neck of an old Swedish warhorse with pre-independence braking technology.

Speeders and speed guns

There are speeders galore, which means there are speed guns which in turn mean there are police roadblocks that appear out of the blue. There are motorbikes, and we all know what that means. There are rogue matatus illegally stealing less trafficky routes towards Ngong and Rongai. There are pedestrians who choose to cross the bypass at random points, including at blind, sweeping downhill turns; the kind where you really pick up the pace and congratulate yourself on pedalling an ageing chariot at the speed limit while staying abreast with Baraza in the more contemporary blue Subaru ripping up the adjacent lane in fourth gear. The hazards are too many; and to run the gamut in a 50-year old (or older) car driven by an OAP for whom "quick reactions" mean reading the entire newspaper before the 6pm dinner bell tolls is to take the road safety rule book and wipe your dipstick with it. The old man needs to slow down.

That said, these old Volvos still see motorsports action in their Scandinavian homeland; particularly in neighbouring Finland. That it is evocative of the old days of rally cannot be gainsaid, and much as the 122/Amason never saw glory like the other marques you mention back then, it would make a handy steed for the East African Classic Safari that loops around the coastal — Kilimanjaro region every year. It may never win either — those Porsches are something else — but it would be as reliable as hell, and a lot more comfortable.

There is an article I did back in 2016 (July 20 to be exact) railing against what the Kenyan motorsport scene has become lately. You should check it out.

[Addendum: The Daily Nation, Wednesday April 27, 1977 — being a Wednesday, it would be a day that Car Clinic would run if Car Clinic was more than 42 years old. The front page declares news of the death of a gangster at the hot end of a policeman's firearm. The lead image is that of a first-generation Volvo 240, the one with the round lights, registration GK 887.

It is not immediately clear if this is "The Volvo" in question from our Did-You-Know segment above instead of the 122 or if Shaw did in fact have a 122. It's not even established that it is Shaw making use of GK 887 in the picture. There are also allegations of yet another Volvo — a white 240 — in Shaw's operational life; though GK 887 is distinctly not white in the Kenyatta-era black-and-white image.

We rarely discuss Volvos in this column, but lately the brand seems to be the topic du jour. Feel free to chime in, dear readers.]

Subaru Impreza. PHOTO | COURTESY


Fuel economy depends on much more than engine size, vehicle weight and power

I have recently been very curious about Subaru Impreza and most people I have consulted are of the opinion that a 1500cc is less economical than a 2000cc. This they say is on the basis of weight-to-power ratio, whereby the smaller engine strains a lot to pull the heavy body. Holding all else constant, is this a logical argument? Another opinion has been that a 1500cc AWD is just too lazy in comparison to its 2WD counterpart. The explanation for this is that the AWD has more shafts to rotate. One friend even compared it to a trailer with a Tuktuk engine. I kindly need technical opinion here.



Hi Patrick,

These people that you talk to generalise too much and ignore the biggest contributory factors to the topics. The 1500cc Impreza may or may not be less economical than the 2.0 litre. What kind of driving circumstances are we looking at? Low speed, low load or high speed, high load or a mixture thereof? Secondly, who’s driving? There are those who drive like they are paying a debt and there are those who drive like they are on a qualifying lap somewhere in their imaginations. These two arguments play the biggest role in your fuel economy life, a lot more than a small difference in engine capacity/power-torque output or drivetrain design. The rest of the point (power-to-weight ratios and whatnot) is purely academic and not very logical in this instance.

This same logical fallacy has been carried over to the AWD vs 2WD argument. Again, from a purely academic standpoint the AWD car weighs more than the FWD one, but how much more? This weight disparity can easily be swayed in the other direction by the mere presence of a passenger; hell, it can even be undone by the driver’s own lifestyle choices — if he is of the big-boned obese variety, no amount of 2WD-ness will change the fact that a skinny praying mantis like me in a 4WD still carries the weight advantage, transmission losses be damned. The friend making Tuktuk-and-trailers analogies has clearly gone overboard and is beyond rescue.

In short, your friends are overthinking things. The points they raise actually hold water both from a scientific and from a mechanical point of view but the variables involved are just too many and as such they will never manifest themselves in real life. It is never that exact.

The Nissan B15 is an old car. PHOTO | COURTESY


Consider disposing of your car, it was not built to last this long

Dear JM

First is to appreciate you for the motoring advice you give to us, which is timely and much appreciated especially for ladies (let me speak for myself).

I have a Nissan B15, which I have driven for the past four years. I bought it from the owner so I am its second owner. Until recently when I changed mechanics, the car has been giving me issues, especially the front left wheel. It had been making weird noises especially when braking and everyone I have given a ride in the car tells me it’s this or that. I have changed disc brakes, driveshafts, bushes and another one advised me to change brake calipers just to name but a few, but the noise will not stop. Recently, after the shaft was changed, a louder noise manifested especially when braking in slow moving traffic. The left wheel sounds like someone is sawing onto it. For ladies like me, it’s quite depressing when we are taken advantage of by mechanics because we are sometimes clueless about what is being done on our cars. The last mechanic told me he skimmed the brake pads to eliminate the sound but that too is not working. Can this noise be eliminated?



Hi Rose,

I will admit that you lost me at “Nissan B15”; which is the point at which I rolled my eyes, palmed my face and exhaled deeply. Not another one.

Listen, the B15 is an old car. It was not engineered to last this long and it was not engineered for this market, so the fact that you are keeping it on life support when you should have pulled the plug a long time back is the reason the cacophony from the wheel wells is just but the beginning of your woes. Alarming symptoms include those that persist despite repairs and replacements of almost entire assemblies. Expect worse things ahead.

Or face your destiny and ditch the vehicle for something newer while you still can. I know this is a tough call in this economy but it is what it is. The B15 is a disposable car; flimsy and built cheaply so that it can be sold cheaply and in large numbers such that when one fails you simply replace it with another one rather than wrestling with its component nuts, bolts and washers like you are trying to do. It is not worth the struggle. No one will miss it. Neither should you.


Faulty solenoids could be the reason why the Honda is jerking

I wish to share my experience on Hondas in connection with correspondent Alice Wambua. Check the solenoids in the gearbox and replace the electrically faulty ones and clean the rest with an appropriate spray.


Hi Robert,

Thanks for the contribution. Like I said initially, the cause of the jerking could come from myriad reasons, one of them being the pressure solenoids you mention. Someone else suggested ignition coils and swore they were right; yet another said that it could be a fuel-related matter due to high demand at high revs/low gears/low speeds, the pump or the filter may need looking at (things settle down somewhat once one reaches cruising speed, which kind of makes sense since that is then the vehicle is at its most economical.)