Volvo History: P1800

 

Over 50 years ago, Volvo offered a sports car to the world. 

This fact might have been shoved off to the annuls of history, except it was also a television star. Volvo's sports car co-starred with a modern Robin Hood named Simon Templar. If the name is not familiar, the actor who played Templar should be - Roger Moore. In "The Saint," Moore and the Volvo P1800 were sidekicks in the many adventures of Templar, as he faced off Chief Inspector Claude Teal every week throughout the 1960s. 

The Volvo P1800 had its own set of adventures. The idea came about in 1957 when Volvo wanted another vehicle for the USA and European markets. The PV544 and the Amazon were selling well, but the company sought other opportunities. Volvo was being inspired by the growing number of sports cars being made on both continents and felt the need to create one of their own. However, Volvo did not have the facilities to be able to build one. 

By 1960, Volvo and a small British sports car firm, Jensen, agreed to initially build these cars in England. The P1800 debuted at the Brussels Motor Show that year with the first production models arriving in 1961 after that year's Paris Auto Show. Volvo used the B18 engine, a 1.8 liter four-cylinder with dual Weber carburetors putting out 100 horsepower. A four-speed manual gearbox was offered along with overdrive options, including an electrically-actuated version. The cabin was a 2+2 arrangement, due to its small size, while employing little fins at the rear as its mark of distinction. 

By 1963, production at Jensen was not going well. Demand was growing, but the quality was lacking. Volvo decided to bring production to Sweden, where it remained throughout its lifespan. The move spurred on some changes to the car, now called the 1800S. It was at this point where the sports coupe was really taking off. 

Power began to increase over time. In 1963, the B18 was raised to 108 horsepower. By 1966, power went up to 115 horsepower, while still using the dual Weber carburetor setup. In 1969, a new engine was introduced to the 1800S - a 2.0 liter four-cylinder now rated at 118 horsepower. Fuel injection was introduced to the new engine for 1970, thus changing the model name to 1800E. The new model also introduced four-wheel disc brakes as standard that same year.

 

Perhaps the most memorable version of the P1800 arrived in 1972. The 1800ES saw a stretch of the cabin towards the rear of the car, creating a two-door wagon profile. Instead of a traditional liftgate, the 1800S had an all-glass hatchback to access the rear cargo hold. This would be the final P1800 produced when it ended its run in 1973. 

For the span of twelve years, the P1800 was an icon among Volvos. I showed that I could do more than build safe sedans and wagons. I also was a television star in the 1960s and was part of Roger Daltrey's (of the band The Who) fleet during the same time. The custom painted 1800S was part of a publicity stunt in 1966. 

However, the P1800's legacy was forever cemented by a single man's love for the car. Irv Gordon of East Patchogue, New York set a Guinness World Record of the highest original mileage recorded in an automobile. In 2013, Gordon's 1966 1800S reached three million miles on his odometer by a single drive to Alaska. His car has been all over North America, including Canada and Mexico, along with a single visit to Gothenborg, Sweden. 

The lore of the P1800 goes beyond Roger Moore, Roger Daltrey and Irv Gordon. It is about Volvo's willingness to try something different. To be something different was the goal of the P1800. It achieved its place in automotive history by doing exactly that. 

If you have a classic Volvo and want to keep it going for the long run, contact Volvo of Richmond below to find out about parts and service!

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