There’s A BMW E30 Hiding Underneath This Volvo Amazon Hot Rod
Photography by Daniel Piker
Back in 2012 Adam Nonis and his then-four-year-old son were making their way back home to Washington after a short road trip down to Oregon to pick up a Volvo 122 Amazon shell. He was having trouble deciding on a name for the new car so he asked his son for help, to which he offered, “Headquarters.” After being told that’s not a name you give a car, typically, his son presented a toy from a recent Happy Meal and said, “His name is Headquarters, so it’s a good one for the car too.” (Mind you, the toy was not called Headquarters by anybody else.) As a tribute, Adam has kept the toy in the car ever since.
If it looks a little bit like a Transformer, it fits the theme of a car with some secrets under its skin. It looks like a 1966 Volvo 122 Wagon with some big wheels and lowered suspension, but seeing as he didn’t start with a full car, Adam wasn’t limited to silly things like matching chassis numbers, or chassis in general. As with most body shells, there were too many things missing or in need of fixing; no interior, wiring, drivetrain, or anything that would make this car function in any sort of purposeful way beyond a role as a driveway ornament.
Upon further inspection, the shell also presented some areas where frame-level rust had taken over and eaten away at the metal. In order to fix this, Adam sourced a second Amazon as a parts car, which happened to be a coupe. That’s when he got the idea; Volvo never made a two-door wagon, so why not make one himself?
After completing the conversion, Adam painted the Volvo in a period-correct OEM dark blue (#90 Morkbla, to be exact). Wanting a final barn-find look on the car, he specifically used single stage urethane paint so it would patina faster than a base coat/clear coat paint would. Soon after the body and paintwork was completed though, Adam was regrettably forced to put the project on hold.
For five years the car sat and waited until Adam could find the time. Having no garage, a wife, two kids, and a career that sometimes took precedence, you can forgive him for prioritizing other things, but he still felt it was long overdue once he got back into the car in July of 2017. His family had just completed their home remodel and Adam was in a solid spot in his career. He decided enough was enough, and it was time for the Amazon to be driven.
Trailering the car around didn’t necessarily count as actual driving though, and it wasn’t moving on its own without an engine or a place to sit, so Adam thought long and hard about his options. The quickest path to having a running vehicle would be to drop the shell on an existing chassis, and after a few days of internet browsing and a lot of parking lot tape-measuring, he learned that a BMW E30 is very close in terms of wheelbase, and also happens to be almost the same width, pinch weld to pinch weld. Which is how during the span of 10 months, Adam took his 122 shell, pieces from his parts car, and an E30 convertible chassis and put this together from the three of them all without the project leaving his driveway.
The swap-supporting and otherwise performance-based modifications done to his car are seemingly endless. The grey-market Euro 325i chassis houses an M20B25 straigh-six, which came with the larger 885 head and no A/C or power steering. An upgraded Motronic 1.3 ECU was added along with a custom aluminum exhaust system. The radiator was replaced with an aluminum CXRacing combined with a custom fabricated coolant tank. The front grilles were taken from a 1964 Amazon and the backer hexagon-pattern “mesh” design was CNC-cut to be slightly more modern looking, and you’ll notice some accent panels inside the engine compartment were cut with the same pattern to match, along with the valve cover that was fabricated with the design and the original Amazon logo, a nice modern take without losing sight of the heritage.
The front suspension includes shortened front strut housings with inserts sourced from a VW Corrado, coilover adjuster sleeves, and Tein springs and tenders. The rear shocks were taken from the third-gen Camaro parts bin, and here they are also paired with Tein springs. The front brakes were swapped for Wilwood four-piston calipers and iPd (you’ll know them if you know Volvo) brake lines, along with rotors off of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport. In other words, it’s Frankenstein’s wonderful automotive monster. The center caps do a nice job of summing up the main ingredients though, with a clever mixture of the Roundel and Volvo “iron.”
Not only did Adam do all the above modifications himself, he also hand laid all the carbon fiber throughout the car, as well as doing all the upholstery in the interior (which is still a work in progress, he says). In the car’s long list of modifications, the one that I liked the most was the fuel filler of all things.
Due to the fact that these particular Volvo and BMW fillers were located on opposite sides, rather than cut up the bodywork and add a flap, Adam made custom hinges to hide the filler behind the tail light—Camaro shocks, but still an element of 007.
Through all the custom fabrication, wrenching, and sheer commitment, Adam has truly created a one of a kind build, from the ground up, with himself to thank. When he isn’t busy finishing up the interior of his car and dealing with different quirks here and there, he is currently pursuing a career in mobile satellite antenna integration, the last word of which sums up his hobby rather well too.