Volvos aren't renowned for their style. But the P1800 had plenty of it along with typically outstanding reliability.
You may find this hard to believe but the car in the following pictures is a Volvo. For those of us who grew up in the Eighties and early Nineties, Volvos have always been synonymous with cars driven by overprotective Baby Boomer parents and with few exceptions have been nothing more than Swedish-made boring safety-obsessed cars. Recently, things have changed, with today’s S60 sedan and XC60 crossover evidence of its efforts to focus on styling and packaging.
But there was a time when a particular model gave the Swedish brand a trendy appeal. That model was the P1800. First unveiled in 1961, the project actually got underway in 1957 as Volvo began research on how to make a good sports car. Its previous attempt resulted in the fiberglass-bodied P1900, which sold only 68 examples. In other words, that car was a complete disaster and Volvo wanted to regain some self-respect. So it double-downed and did its homework. What the new car required, aside from Volvo’s already high safety and build quality standards, was distinctive styling.
The man behind the car’s Italian-inspired looks was Pelle Petterson, whose father was an engineering consultant to Volvo at the time. The younger Petterson was then working at an Italian coachbuilder called Pietro Frua and the design for the P1800 was strongly influenced by his experience there. The car debuted at the 1960 Brussels Motor Show and was very well received by the press and public. A production deal with Jensen Motors was soon signed. The first P1800s were powered by a 1.8 liter inline-four that produced 100 horsepower and mated to a four-speed manual.
Although the original contract with Jensen called for 10,000 units, Volvo opted to cease working with the latter due to quality control problems. At this point, around 6,000 cars had been built. In 1963, Volvo decided to move all production to Sweden and the car was renamed the P1800S, with S standing for Sweden. Power output was also increased at this time and in 1969 the original engine was replaced with a 2.0-liter unit. In 1970, the P1800E was introduced and it featured a new fuel injection system. The 1800ES came out in 1972 and unlike previous versions, this one had a shooting-brake body style.
It also had a glass tailgate feature that was also seen in the recently discontinued C30. All told, just a little over 8,000 examples of the ES were built and a total of 39,407 coupes were built. These cars proved to stand the test of time, with one P1800 owner recently braking the 3 million mile mark on his car. This beautiful 1969 P1800S was just up for grabs on eBay and ended up selling for $17,500. It came with a complete paperwork history and over the years had its motor and transmission rebuilt. It’s also had a fresh paint job, has absolutely no rust and features a number of upgrades that bring it more up to date.
With 125,461 miles on its odometer, this P1800S is a testament to its outstanding Swedish build quality that has kept it on the road until today. Something you can't say that about many classic cars. Photos courtesy of speed.sports.