Volvo P1800 – from TV fame to timeless classic!

By Classic Yorkshire correspondent Tony Lofthouse.

Whilst the iconic TV series ‘The Saint’ launched the career of its hero Roger Moore 60 years ago, his four-wheeled Swedish ‘co-star’ would also go on write itself into motoring history!

The Volvo P1800 wasn’t short of glamour when it went into production in 1960 with its striking body lines, distinctive rear fins, long bonnet and ‘smiley’ chrome grille.

TV producers certainly liked it, going through five cars during seven years of filming including one snapped up by Roger Moore for his own personal use.  

Producing the sporty P1800 was an unlikely move for such a renowned maker of solid family cars and it came after a very faulty start. In 1957, Volvo tried and failed to launch an open-top sports car – the P1900 – in the lucrative US market. Only a handful of cars were sold.

After turning to an Italian designer Pietro Frua for inspiration, the Volvo P1800 coupe finally emerged.

At first plant capacity issues in Sweden meant that the early models were assembled at the Jensen factory in West Bromwich with the shells made at Linwood in Scotland. 

By 1963, quality problems led Volvo to switch production back to Sweden and to mark this the car was renamed the P1800S (‘S’ for Sweden).

The mechanics of the 1800 were based on Volvo’s trusty Amazon 122 series and under the bonnet the car had a 1.8 litre engine which, over the years, was tweaked to improve performance. In 1968, the car was upgraded to a 2-litre unit and a fuel injection model, the 1800E, would come in 1970.

An estate version briefly arrived in 1972, called the 1800ES. It was cast in the mould of a Reliant Simitar GTE with an all glass tailgate and folding rear seats.

Volvo would go on to sell nearly 48,000 P1800 and ES models until production ceased in 1973.

As you might expect from Volvo, the P1800 is a durable car, so much so that it holds the record for the highest-mileage car in the world with US owner, Irv Gordon, clocking up 3.2 million miles in his 1966 ‘S’ model.

As a potential buy, the P1800 is comfortable and practical – a coupe with all the looks of a sports car.

On the downside the 1800 is known for rusting particularly around the wheel arches and along the sills. That said, parts are still fairly easy to come by. There are also many of the well regarded estate 1800ES still out there.

Prices range from £5,000 for a restoration project to £35,000 and above for a fully restored, low mileage 60s model or later ES.

It’s interesting to reflect that the success of the P1800 could have taken a very different route 60 years ago. At the 1961 Geneva Motor Show the car’s launch coincided with that of the all new Jaguar E-Type. A few months later, the TV makers first choice to carry Simon Templar’s famous ST1 number plate was an E-Type but Jaguar would decline.

How fate would deal Volvo a ‘winning hand’ as the perfect TV launch to global success!

For more information on the P1800 and the range of Volvo models visit http://www.volvoclub.org.uk

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