Volvo P1800. The Saint's car

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Recently, in what was probably a repeat of a repeat, there was an episode of Wheeler Dealers in which a Volvo P1800 was saved. Saving Volvo P1800's is a good plan! My most traumatic reminder of such a smooth Volvo was the time that I saw a dealer sculpting a greedily rust-eaten copy around the headlight housing with loads of filler. He used wads of newspaper to fill his clay. That must have been a quarter of a century ago. That kind of restoration work now only occurs in the States.

A white P1800? I still had that myself

Unlike the early P1800s, whose bodies came from England, my Volvo was completely rust-free. They had done that nicely at Corgi Toys. The Volvo was one from the series of TV cars I remember. It was 'the Saint's' car. There was also the Bentley from John Steed from the Avengers. And the pink, six-wheeled Rolls-Royce from Lady Penolope from Thunderbirds. But they had little Volvo-like.

The whole Volvo story started in 1927 when Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson were very much inspired by American automobiles when it came to technology and design. Well ... good example makes good following. But the 444 and the 445 still had pretty American looks. Only then were they also great cars to ride rallies with. The 'Cat back' production, incidentally, ran from 1947-1965.

The first Volvo sports car was not a success

The P1900 was an 2 + 2 and it was already on shows in 1954. Only two years later did he come 'for sale'. Technically, the newcomer was a Volvo 444, but the bodywork was made of plastic. And in the time that people were really discovering how and what you could do with that new product, quite a lot of things went wrong. For example, the bodywork was just too weak to function as a supporting part. In curves and when driving over bumps, doors and covers tended to open spontaneously. In the end, only a handful of P1900s were made. The curtain fell after Volvo boss Gunar Engellau had taken such a car home for a weekend.

Call for the next round

In 1959, Volvo tried to rejoin the sporty market segment. That car was signed by the Swede Pelle Petterson who once worked for a while at Carrozziria Frua in Italy. The company proudly presented the P1800 ... which also went into production two years later.

Incidentally, the P1800 was not really an earth-shattering car. And about ten years after his presentation, the lines of the coach were simply outdated. But at the beginning of the story, nothing was wrong. The car was conventionally set up, technically not spectacular, but pretty good. For the P1800 use was made of as many parts as possible of the successful Amazon model. The engines, gearboxes and suspension thereof were taken over virtually unchanged and used in the P1800.

This did not make this Volvo the fastest sports car in its class, but it did give it the reliability of the Amazon. When Simon Templar, AKA 'The Saint', appeared on the then black and white television, it turned out that someone (perhaps from Volvo itself) had done an excellent early example of 'product placement'. Everyone wanted 'the Saint's car'. But that happiness was of course not for everyone. People who were there early, in marketing terms 'the early adopters' got Sweden whose bodywork was made at Pressed Steel in England and where the British Jensen also took care of the inside work and the spraying, because the Swedes had no production space available. The Swedes soon discovered that the British had their own interpretation of the quality of the work. This was later also apparent when 'Brise' P1800s proved to be very sensitive to rust. In short: the Vikings drew their plan and brought the assembly home to Volvo's own factory in Lundby. In the winter of 1968, the production of sheet metal and bodywork also moved from Pressed Steel to Volvo's factory in Olofström. The type designation was then adjusted by adding the letter S from “Svenska” (Swedish), while the “P” was canceled: the P1800 thus became 1800 S. Early, British, P1800s (there are about 6500 of them) made) can be recognized by their curved front bumpers. And a well-restored specimen is better than it was ever thought possible in England. That again. But stay alert for filler!

The end

The R1800 had become too old-fashioned. The graceful lines were a thing of the past. Something new had to come. But there was no money for something really new. Designer Jan Wilsgaard brought the solution: he drew half a new car. The coach remained unchanged from the bumper to the front doors. Behind it, Wilsgaard drew a kind of station wagon or perhaps a long stretched two-door hatchback with lots of glass. The ever-original German press immediately saw the glass coffin of Snow White. That also became the nickname of the P1800 ES. "Schneewittchensarg".


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Volvo P1800
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  1. Dolphin,

    I like your vile humor. Your observations are often 'spot on' and sometimes very personal. You dare to expose yourself and that reads nice and relaxed. No 'highbrow' gibberish is a relief in this strange time.
    I read your 'pieces' every day and often have to smile which does not detract from what you write. You are clearly aware of what your butt is doing.

    Hans Havenaar, Goes (70 years young)

    • I totally agree with you Hans!

      Also lie here sometimes almost off the couch from the wonderful humor that Dolf incorporates and writes in his articles.

      For Dolf and for all VOLVO adepts, and I myself am also one, I have driven several older types, including the Amazon, an 164 and also recently an 1800 S Well in a long time ago (also pensionado). In my modest knowledge, the word VOLVO means: I move, I drive. But forgive and correct me if I am not correct.

      Best regards,


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