Volvo P1800 and 1800. A beloved classic has been around for over sixty years

ER Classics Desktop 2022

One of the most beloved sporty models in history has been around for over sixty years. The Volvo P1800 saw the light of day in December 1960 at the Brussels Salon. The commercial debut followed in May 1961. The Volvo P1800 has a special design history and was built in several forms until 1973. That is why we wrote a story about this beautifully designed and sporty P1800 and 1800 model series.

Volvo boss Gunnar Engellau commissioned Helmer Pettersson to review the first design sketches of the P1800. These were made by Frua in Turin. What Engellau did not know was that Helmer Pettersson's son -Pelle- had also put a number of sketches on paper and that these were added to Frua's design proposals. Engellau chose Pelle Pettersson's sketches and commissioned Frua to make a number of test models together with Pelle Pettersson. The first prototypes were created and the very first test model was driven by Helmer Pettersson to Karmann in Osnabrück, also to make possible production agreements. VW canceled that intention.

The technical basis

The Amazon base also served as a starting point for the development of the P1800. For example, the wheelbase was shortened by 15 cm. The Volvo P1800, which received the new B18B engine with a displacement of 1.780 cc, debuted in 1960 at the Brussels Salon, and the first examples appeared in the showroom in May 1961. It was also important that the car was also developed for the American market.

First series produced in Great Britain, quality issues

The first series of the P1800 was built entirely in Great Britain due to capacity problems at the Swedish Volvo factory. Pressed Steel built the bodies in Linwood, Scotland, and Jensen Motors was appointed in West Bromwich for assembly. Volvo closely monitored the production process of the P1800, and the first 250 units were subjected to intensive quality control. The build quality was seriously disappointing. Volvo immediately sent a representative to Great Britain to ensure the quality of the P1800. Two years later, the P1800 more or less came home, because from 1963 it was assembled in the new factory in Torslanda, Sweden.

P indication disappears from the model name

Despite the turbulent start, the Volvo P1800 made an impression. That didn't stop Volvo from making step-by-step changes. The designation P (Personvagn) disappeared, and the car was called from 1963 1800S (with the S for Sverige, Sweden). The B18B engine, which initially delivered 90 DIN HP and was linked to the fully synchronized M41 gearbox, received more power. The application of a sharper camshaft resulted in a power increase to 96 DIN-HP. The Laycock de Normanville D overdrive increasingly found its way towards the 1963S from 1800. Furthermore, the two-piece Koehoornbumper disappeared and the flanks now received other decorative strips, without bend to the small B-pillar.

Developments continue, also motor changes

The 1800S became more and more finely ground over the years. It got improved seats, an alloy grille and an improved cooling system. Due to the modification of the intake manifold and the exhaust system, the power of the extremely strong B18B power source had increased to 103 DIN-PK. For model year 1968 Volvo - prompted by American safety requirements - introduced the new three-spoke steering wheel. Furthermore, the Scandinavians applied the shared safety steering column. In the course of 1968 the 1800S also got a separate braking system.

Other carburettors, new type of overdrive

Meanwhile, the 2 SU HS 6 carburettors for certain markets were replaced by a duo of Stromberg carburettors. For 1969, the B20B engine came on the roll for this coupe, which was still called 1800S. The engine delivered a higher torque and also slightly more power. An ingenious cooling fin was also used to limit the loss of power. Furthermore, Volvo now used the “J” type of the Laycock de Normanville overdrive.

Fully Swedish production from 1969 productie

The changes were the prelude to the last years of the 1800 era. Production now took place entirely in Sweden. The bodies were also built in Sweden from 1969. More happened. With a view to the American emission requirements - and the still present sales potential of the 1800 in America - Volvo decided from August 1969 to link the D-Jetronic fuel injection to the power source, which partly because of this was called B20E. And speaking of names: the coupé with injection engine was called 1800E.

1800E, more modifications

The Swedes took the opportunity to make more modifications. The 1800E was recognizable by a matte black grille and the use of aluminum rims. The fuel filler neck moved to the left flank. In contrast to the well-known configuration with disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear, the 1800E now had discs all around. And furthermore, a lot of chrome disappeared from the interior, which therefore got a more business-like appearance. The occupants were allowed improved ventilation in the 1800E, because Volvo installed exhaust vents at the rear of the 1800E. Volvo also installed the ZF 410 M gearbox (for model year 1971 Volvo returned to the M41 transmission), which also had its place in the Volvo 164. This is how the original design of Pettersson and Frua started in the seventies.

Coming of the 1800 ES

In 1970 Volvo returned to the M41 transmission and a three-speed automatic from Borg Warner became available. In the meantime, Jan Wilsgaard drew a jewel of a combi with a large glass tailgate on the basis of the coupé: the 1800ES. This strengthened the Volvo model range in 1971. This beautiful Volvo was delivered alongside the 1972E until 1800 and benefited from the same changes as the coupé. Steel rims with wheel trim rings and a plastic grille were introduced in 1971, while the B20E engine gained more power not much later. Volvo also installed new front seats in both models.

Production stop after eleven years

In 1972, after a period of eleven years, the production of the coupé was stopped. The last one left the factory on June 22, 1972. The 1800ES remained in production. It even got a few changes, such as rocker switches, reinforced side-impact doors, halogen headlamps and windshield wipers that cover a wider area. The 1800ES held the honor in this Volvo segment until June 27, 1973. The fairytale ended in terms of production, but Volvo's legacy is large to this day. not. Because the P1800, its descendants and the 1800ES are – and rightly so – very popular in classic circles. In total, Volvo built just under 48.000 copies of the 1800 series. This includes all variants, except prototypes and special study models.

The Volvo P1800 and 1800 in pictures

Prototype of the Volvo P1800
Superb silhouette, also note the thicker curving trim on the side of the P1800
Beautiful shot of the Volvo P1800, with cow horn bumpers and rising decorative strip
The 1800S, No more cow horn bumpers, and the trim over the flanks is straight.
Volvo 1800S,
Jewel: the Volvo 1800ES, also the latest version of an illustrious model
Beautiful sports combination, impressive glass tailgate
Roger Moore's official car at The Saint
Subtle, the continuous strip and the small rear light unit
Dashboard of the 1800S, with beautiful clocks and a ditto steering wheel
Interior with beautiful upholstered furniture


Give a reaction
  1. It is also the world champion of mileage: Irving Gordon from the US drove an absolute record of 1800 kilometers with his P5.150.000. That is the highest mileage of a passenger car ever.

    It should be noted that from 1 million miles he could count on free maintenance and repair by Volvo USA, as long as he kept driving from one car show to another to advertise.

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