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Volvo P1800 / 1800S / 1800E / 1800ES. The Saint's car

Volvo P1800 B20E Jensen 1971 restoration tuning red p1800e thesaint scaled 1
ER Classics Desktop 2022

Volvo came into existence when the world's largest ball bearing manufacturer SKF decided in 1927 to also build cars. Ball bearings also gave the name of the new member: Volvo means “I roll”. An article about the Volvo P1800, 1800S, 1800E and 1800ES.

The brand soon had the good reputation it still has almost a hundred years later, but "sporty" was not one of them: Volvo built rock-solid driving machines that invariably beat the competition in longevity and reliability, but they were a bit, well, a tiny bit boring.


That changed considerably in 1956 with the beautiful Amazon, which was soon renamed 121 after legal threats from the German two-wheeler manufacturer Kreidler. The Amazon, because that's what everyone kept calling it, served as the technical basis for the PV544, with which the "Swedish Volkswagen PV444 'cat back' got a more modern version.

A sporty child from decent parents

But it remained a decent family coach and business car, that Amazon. In 1961, the sporty P1800 saw the light. That should appeal to a whole new kind of customers, the buyers of the sporty coupe based on a sedan. It would become a typical sixties phenomenon to build a completely different sports coupe based on a normal sedan and the Volvo P60 was one of the first (except Fiat, because it did nothing else).

Volvo "Jensen" P1800
Volvo 'Jensen' P1800

Technically there was nothing revolutionary about the P1800. Under the skin was the same technology as in the Amazon. There was nothing wrong with that either. Outwardly he was a child of his time, with a Frua or Ghia-esque line, a prominent grille protruding from the front, split bumpers and small wings that soon started to get a bit old-fashioned after 1961. But that didn't matter to the generally somewhat conservative Volvo customer. The P1800 was not a sports car and was not sold as such. A sports car roars, curls into the asphalt and unleashes dashing G-forces on its occupants. None of that with the P1800. It just drove well.

The seating position was low, giving the car a sense of security and allowing tall people to fit in without hitting the roof at every pothole. The rear seat was more suitable for jackets and bags, but a child could easily hitch a ride in this 2+2. Mothers-in-law couldn't get in anyway, that was an advantage that should not be underestimated. The car had a large trunk, nice seats, steered and braked precisely, had comfortable suspension, performed well and had a heater geared to the Swedish winter. What does a man want more.

First dashboard: beautiful and complete
First dashboard: beautiful and complete

The problem was that Volvo in Göteburg had no production capacity at all for its youngest member. The 121/122/123 sold very well and there was nothing to complain about the demand for the P544. That is why the P1800 was assembled in England, Volvo only supplied the technical components. Pressed Steel in Coventry stamped the body parts, Jensen in West Bromwich welded and screwed everything together. That is why the 1961-1963 models are still called Volvo 'Jensen' P1800.

The Saint

The English touch was further enhanced when “The Saint” appeared on TV from 1962. That became an immensely popular series about a master thief, played by Roger Moore, who drove around in his Volvo P1800 almost every episode. That boosted production to 5000 units a year, prompting Volvo to start on a new production line, so that from 1963 it was also a real Swedish car, pressed from real Swedish steel, mounted by serious-looking Swedish ladies and gentlemen (yes, back then there were already more women than men on the production lines at Volvo). At the same time, the name was changed to 1800S, from Sverige (Sweden).

The Saint
'Mr. Knit': Roger Moore started out as a fashion model for sweaters and cardigans. He did better as a knight in Ivanhoe, as a master thief in The Saint, and as Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders. But he remained etched in the memory as James Bond

The model did not make Volvo rich, but sales were stable and the P1800 in the showroom gave the brand just that bit of chic-sporty reputation it needed. In 1968 the B20 engine was installed and a year later Bosch petrol injection was introduced and the model name became 1800E. At the same time there was a black grille, a new dashboard, small air outlets on the rear fenders, the gearbox of the new 164 and beautiful five-spoke aluminum rims.

Volvo 1800E with injection, ventilation grilles and five-spoke wheels
Volvo 1800E with injection, ventilation grilles and five-spoke wheels

The first chapter was published in 1971. The P1800 had not been a hypermodern model in 1961, in 1971 it was downright old-fashioned, just like its base the Amazon. He therefore retired, the sportsman got a second childhood.

1800ES

Chapter two consisted of the Volvo 1800ES. That was a very clever way to breathe new life into an outdated model. In England, a two-door station wagon is called a “shooting brake”, literally a car for hunting. The Reliant Scimitar GTE has been coming from England since 1968 and it was a bit like plagiarism what Volvo did, but in Gothenburg they couldn't possibly know what was going on in the Ogle studios in London, so let's just say it was one of those co-conceived twins.

Volvo 1800ES: you can slide in a canoe or surfboard in no time
Volvo 1800ES: you can slide in a canoe or surfboard in no time

Suddenly, the sportsman had become a very useful car, with a large rimless glass tailgate that gave access to a ballroom of a load floor when the rear seat was folded away. The rear seat was slightly enlarged, without being really comfortable, but a family could go on holiday with it and that's what it was all about. In view of the expected heavier load, the track width was increased and the rear springs were heavier. A Borg-Warner automatic gearbox also became available – the 1800ES simply followed the developments that were also applied in its family brothers 140 and 240. The model ran out in 1973, but was not forgotten: in 1995 the Dutch 480ES received a few styling cues from the 1800ES with you.

Let's go across the ocean

In 1966, Irv Gordon of East Patchogue, an insignificant town in upstate New York, bought a brand new 1800S. He apparently took good care of it, because in 1987 he still had the Volvo and got 1 million miles. That is 1.609.344 kilometers. He decided to go for the Guinness Book of Records. He succeeded in 1998: his Volvo reached a distance of 1,69 million miles, 2.719.791 kilometers that year.

Irv Gordon drove over three million miles in his 1800S
Irv Gordon drove over three million miles in his 1800S

Volvo intervened and offered Irv Gordon a contract. The now retired teacher would from now on be reimbursed for all expenses by the factory, if only he would visit as many car fairs and events as possible with his champion car. Apparently Mrs. Gordon was okay with it, as Irv set out and toured all that was going on in both the US and Canada in his red 1800S. In fact, after his retirement, the good man embarked on an endless, 100% free car holiday in an old Volvo 1800S. There are worse ways to fill the fall days of your life.

Three million miles: a world record
Three million miles: a world record

The two million miles, 3.218.688 kilometers, was achieved in 2002 and the three million miles, 4.828.032 kilometers, in 2013. When Irv Gordon left this world, on November 15, 2015, a red Volvo 1800S was waiting at the door. with 3,2 million miles, 5.149.900 kilometers on the clock.

Boring and solid? I will. Just copy it.

Also read:
- Volvo P1800 and 1800. A beloved classic has been around for over sixty years
- The special designs of Ogle Design
- Electric Volvo Amazon combi - design battery bins
- More than sixty years strong: the Volvo Amazon
- Reliant Scimitar SE6A

11 Comments

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  1. Olav, just a quick question about this excellent article.
    You write somewhere in the beginning: 'The Amazon, because that's what everyone just kept calling it, served as the technical basis for the PV544, giving the “Swedish Volkswagen” PV444 'cat back' a more modern version.”
    I've re-read it four times, but maybe my interpretation is wrong?
    The Amazon came after the PV series anyway, so how could the Amazon have served as a base?

  2. Irv Gordon has only overhauled the B18 block twice, changing his oil every 5000 miles. Most of his car was original !!… The divorce was a while ago. His daughters have donated the 1800S to a museum, I saw a Facebook recording with someone else behind the wheel, but the mechanic who has always maintained the car next to him. Irv NEVER allowed this to anyone else, I did sit next to him. Irv has been to Europe by car and I have met him several times at meetings in Canada and the US. Now that he has passed away I dare to tell you why he drove so many documented miles, by accident I found out in Gettysburg/USA that he could not sleep. This is called insomnia, he drove the car until he got tired and then took a nap on the side of the road (took a nap). Irv was a very pleasant person. After the show at Maddison Square Garden NY I got all his pictures on DVD. unique man

    • Then the B18 engine is indeed as strong as its reputation and a timely oil change is indeed essential. I know that oil becomes more and more acidic with age and can make bearing shells and cylinder walls porous. The detergency properties also deteriorate, causing sludge to settle in every nook and cranny. So change the oil, and always with a filter.

  3. I have enjoyed driving a P1800S from the early 1966s until I sold this 2000 Volvo in XNUMX. What I miss in the story is the electric overdrive…. I was so proud of that

  4. Dennis myself worked for SKF for a while and I had the information about that. Indeed, I read on the Swedish Wikipedia about the origin of production at Volvo. So I wasn't that far off.

    The original plans for the Volvo company were to use it as a company and brand mainly for a special series of ball bearings intended for the American car market, but this was shelved early. On April 14, 1927, just after 10 a.m., the first car rolled out of the factory.

    The initial impetus for the idea of ​​a passenger car industry within SKF was to gain a foothold in car manufacturing in order to gain a competitive advantage in developing and selling new bearings for the automotive industry. In order to concretely show SKF's board that the idea of ​​producing cars would hold, Gabrielsson offered to use private capital to develop a test series of cars and a full investment calculation, including a new production facility for the production of passenger cars. In 1924 he started a partnership with Gustaf Larson at AB Galco in Stockholm, formerly with SKF and with experience in passenger car parts from his time as a designer in England at the White & Poppe company. In August 1926 they managed to convince the management within SKF that the production of cars could become a profitable business and would benefit their own development and sales of ball bearings.
    -end quote-

    Your comment about Jensen is correct, but I'm always careful about describing a car brand negatively. Before you know it you will be kicking the owner of a Jensen on his toes.

  5. To what extent was that million dollar eater still original?
    There is also a similar story about a beetle, which is now 2 bins and 3 blocks or so away.
    In fact, only the body has traveled that distance. ... . .

    • As far as I know, the Volvo was original, but the engine was overhauled several times, for example. With extreme mileage, gearboxes always have a turn: the synchro rings are actually wear parts and the bearings, which have no pressure lubrication, really don't last for millions of kilometers. Also, things like intermediate bearings, universal joints, the differential and wheel bearings will have to be renewed from time to time. That is normal.

      And so was the Athenian Mercedes 240D he beat, which had received four factory-reconditioned replacement engines in its 2,7 million miles. So no longer the first engine block. And that doesn't matter. I don't want to detract from the performance, it remains incredibly beautiful.

  6. Just returned from Norway with 9 copies of the 1800 ES. The yellow one of mine since 1987 (owned for 34 years), I prefer to call it break de chasse instead of shooring brake, because that sounds more dignified. What ES stands for is not certain, perhaps from EState.
    Incidentally, I understood from Irv Gordon in Blois that he was in divorce, which is to be expected with so many miles on the clock. Its trunk was overflowing with spares and maintenance, but it was a very nice Volvo madman.

  7. “Volvo was born when the world's largest ball bearing manufacturer SKF decided in 1927 to start building cars as well.”
    That's a bit simplistic, 2 SKF employees decided to start making vehicles (the truck division was for years more lucrative than that of passenger cars) and received support from their former employer for their adventure.

    The production went from England to Sweden, by the way, because they deliver substandard work at Jensen.

    • I drove 15 years and 200.000 km with such a 1974 240D
      Then Volvo Amazon and now 1800 PV
      My experience is that Volvo is more quality of parts and sheet metal and less susceptible to wear.
      Most 240D need a total overhaul after about 300.000 km.
      From the 60s, the steel is also more susceptible to rust at Mercedes than the Swedish steel.
      You should also not put a Mercedes on the bridge if the doors are not closed properly, at Volvo you can then safely open and close the doors.
      In addition, the parts for these old Volvos are still quite affordable at discount prices, even for the P1800, especially if you compare it with, for example, a Mercedes Pagode.

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