A true automotive icon, the Volvo P1800 stands out as the ultimate example of an apparent manufacturing failure turning into something remarkable. The vehicle nearly wasn’t released, but the hard work of young designer Pelle Petterson ensured that it hit the road. It was unveiled at the 1960 Brussels Car Show, with full-scale production launching less than a year later.
While its original form possesses some athletic elements, the P1800 was marketed by Volvo as a touring car, rather than a sports car. This was not the original goal for Volvo, however, as the P1800 was intended as a follow-up to the failed Volvo Sport (also known as the P1900).
Outside help was needed to avoid replicating the errors of the shoddy P1900 — hence, the clear influence of Italian styling. The end result? An excellent alternative to the Jaguar E-Type. Keep reading to learn why the Volvo P1800 continues to stand out in a sea of impressive classic cars.
Notable Specs and Editions
The P1800 began as a 2+2 coupe, featuring a front engine and rear-wheel drive. While the P1800 evolved considerably over the years, it initially had a four-cylinder 1780cc dual carburetor engine. The vehicle was able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in ten seconds — and it could reach top speeds approaching 115 miles per hour.
At the outset, the vehicle produced 100 horsepower, with a modest increase of 8 horsepower occurring as production was moved to the Gothenburg Lundby Plant. New editions were released in the late 60s and early 70s, including the 1800S (the S stood for Sweden) and the 1800E (referencing the German term for fuel injection). Finally, the 1800ES arrived as a two-door station wagon.
Visually Impressive Coupe
Driving the P1800 has always been a thrill, of course, but the car is also favoured for its downright cool style. Italian styling plays a role in this aesthetic dominance, but the stitched leather seats, chrome grille, and rear fins also deserve credit. The car’s mesmerizing design was influenced by Pietro Frua, whose studio was a subsidiary of the coachbuilding firm Ghia.
The Volvo P1800 is primarily known as a coupe but was also available under a shooting-brake model during its last years of production. Unfortunately, this edition did not hold nearly as much visual appeal as the original coupe. It did, however, boast an all-glass frameless tailgate that has since proven a popular concept for many other cars.
Roger Moore’s Car of Choice
The Volvo P1800 wouldn’t be nearly as recognizable without its role in the TV show, The Saint. The car was famously driven by the character Simon Templar — a secret service agent played by Roger Moore. Over time, the car and the show became inextricably linked, to the point that the Volvo P1800 was far more than a mere prop — it was the star of the show.
During the show’s run, Volvo supplied a total of five P1800 models. Keeping the car looking fresh was a challenge, simply because it was used so extensively in filming. Changing to in-colour TV helped to keep the car interesting, revealing to viewers that it had a cream exterior and red leather for the interior. Real life ultimately imitated TV, as Roger Moore invested in a P1800 for his own use.
Volvo boasts a wide array of collector cars that enthusiasts love to show off to this day. Those who are as fascinated by classic TV as they are by Volvo history will no doubt want to check out the P1800 and imagine themselves as the suave Simon Templar. It deserves its status as one of Volvo’s most iconic cars.