India Markets closed

UK’s rarest cars: 1969 Volvo 164, one of only two left on British roads

Andrew Roberts
1969 Volvo 164 - owned by Mark Yeulett

It is rare to find a car that has been owned by the same family all its life. This lovely old Volvo’s owner Mark Yeulett says, “I was aged four when my grandfather bought the 164 new in 1969. It was a retirement present to himself, and he loved it.” 

Yeulett junior inherited the Volvo 20 years later, and today he says it frequently provokes the reaction: “‘Wow, what a car!’ although I doubt whether many people recognise the actual model.” 

Yet this was the vehicle once described by Motor as “Undoubtedly the best Volvo to date” and by Road & Track as “quite exceptional”.  

When the 164 made its bow in October 1968, the sales copy lauded “new in-line six”, “the elegant and comfortable interior” plus “a variety of other properties that place this model securely among the big names in what is for Volvo a new price class”.

In other words, this was the Swedes’ answer to the Mercedes-Benz W114, and it was essentially the 144 of 1966 with a wheelbase extended by four inches, a more comfortable interior and the B30 3.0-litre engine – the company’s first six-cylinder unit in 10 years. 

VHV 539G was specified with optional power steering, wing mirrors and automatic gearbox, inflating the standard price of exactly £2,000 to £2,048 12s 6d. At the end of the 1960s, the 164 appealed to British motorists who regarded the Jaguar XJ6 as too flamboyant, the Rover P5B saloon as too dated and the Ford Executive and Vauxhall Viscount as too ‘Flash Harry’.

It was also favoured by drivers who mourned the demise of the BMC ‘Big Farinas’ in 1968 and who did not regard the Austin 3-Litre as a viable successor; Yeulett’s grandfather “traded in his Austin Westminster for the Volvo”.

The interior is Swedish minimalism at its best - the radio and clock were added by the current owner

Ironically the designer Jan Wilsgaard is said to have been inspired by the Wolseley 6/99 when he created the 164’s radiator grille.

The Volvo’s cabin is a smartly understated as the office of a Stockholm lawyer, with the minimum of decoration and indeed instrumentation. The 164 may have featured a not overly convincing ‘woodgrain’ facia, but it retained the strip speedometer of the early 144 and Motor complained about the “vulgarly coloured movable pointer”.

The original sales invoice, showing the part-exchanged Austin Westminster

Yeulett has added a clock – “they were not fitted to the original models” – and he has also installed a period radio, “as my grandfather thought they were a distraction”.

The steering column-mounted gear selector denotes a car aimed in part at affluent US drivers, and one charmingly anachronistic touch is the air vents located in the footwells rather than on the dashboard.

Most passengers comment on the Volvo's amazing comfort

Yeulett regards the engine as “a very refined unit, although Volvo could have got more out of it. The handling is not bad, although the 164 does slightly lumber around corners. But then, it was never devised as a sports saloon, and so many people have commented on how comfortable it is”.

The car was placed in storage during the early 1990s when Yeulett was working abroad: “I had it checked and MoT tested. When I returned home, the calipers had seized, but once they were rectified the 164 served as my regular transport for a while.”

Under the bonnet is a refined 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine

By 1972 the Volvo was offered with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection, but too many customers opted for its four-cylinder stablemate, including Yuelett’s father, who owned a 144 “in exactly the same colour”.

The last examples of the 164 were made in 1975, and just 18 are believed to remain on the road in the UK, with only two dating from 1969.

1969 Volvo 164 - owned by Mark Yeulett

VHV 539G is still primed and ready for duty some five decades after it joined the Yuelett family and it has even been known to bring traffic to a halt. “I was driving through Henley, and I was literally stopped by this Swedish guy who exclaimed ‘That’s the best car we ever made!’”

And had Margo not demanded Jerry buy an estate car, a yellow 164 would surely have been the perfect transport for the Leadbetters. 

For tips and advice, visit our Advice section, or sign up to our newsletter here

To talk all things motoring with the Telegraph Cars team join the Telegraph Motoring Club Facebook group here

A-Z Car Finder