Volvo had established a reputation for building sturdy sedans by the early 1960's. They had been building such cars for many years, and they had proven themselves more than capable of surviving the rigorous Scandinavian climate of their Swedish hometown. Volvo had become known for building reliable, robust, and practical transportation. But, during an exciting era of car design, they were left without an arousing design to arrest public attention. No sports car. No grand tourer. Volvo had no model in their line-up to excite buyers.
All this changed in 1961 with the introduction of the P1800. Combining a sophisticated Italian design with tough Swedish mechanicals, this new Volvo revitalized the company's image. With reliability, comfort, and practicality, the P1800 was a Volvo through and through. It managed to have a personality all its own, though, and a character much more engaging than its drab siblings.
The P1800 was a 2+2 with two seats up front for adults and a couple of chairs for the kids in back. The Volvo had a fairly large trunk, which supplemented its additional seats and made the car surprisingly useable for an attractive sports car.
Mechanically, the P1800 was as staid as the other members of its family. Initially offered with a simple 1,778cc four cylinder with an average 100hp, it was no road burner. The engine did at least have the dual SU carbs obligatory in a European sports car. The motor was later enlarged to 1985cc, and fuel injection was added later in the model run.
The 'P1800' designation was only used on the first batch of Volvo's sports cars, which had their bodies produced by Jensen of England. After quality problems with Jensen, Volvo moved all P1800 production to
Sweden and renamed the car the '1800S,' with the new letter standing for ' .' When fuel injection was added, the 'S' suffix was dropped in favor of an 'E,' and when a shooting brake variant was created for 1972 it was called the '1800ES.' Sweden
Though it was as quick as an MG or a Triumph in a straight line, the P1800 was more of a boulevard cruiser than a backroad hunter. Its rear drum brakes and live rear axle meant that the car handled and stopped more like a conventional sedan than a sports car.
The Volvo's size, though, suggested that it wasn't really a sports car at all. Instead, the P1800 was intended to be a grand touring machine: an automobile with style and panache capable of moving down the highway at a quick enough clip of speed, traveling toward some fashionable destination with a roomy trunk capable of swallowing a comfortable shopping spree. Looking at the car in that context, its no surprise that the Volvo was able to accomplish its mission and end up a strong seller.
As a stylish grand touring car, the Volvo proved its worth. It was supremely comfortable, with the pleasant interior and excellent seats found in so many Swedish cars, and it had a great design that was distinct and modern. The P1800's styling is often attributed to Pietro Frua of
Italy, but in reality it was the young Pelle Petterson of who designed the car while working under Frua. The Volvo's combination of good looks and well-built mechanicals was a great combination that found many satisfied owners. Sweden
The car's only real downfall was no fault of its own. For as good of a vehicle as it was, the Volvo had some serious competition that it just couldn‘t match. Introduced the same year as the fabled Jaguar E-Type, the P1800 struggled in the shadow of the glitzy Jag that was only marginally more expensive. It enjoyed decent sales during its long production run, but was eventually outshone by more impressive competition and discontinued.