There has never been a Volvo like the P1800, for this was a one-time flight of fancy by the sober Swedes, who already had a reputation for building sensible sedans. As a sports car the P1800 certainly looked stunning, every sensuous curve and lean line suggesting athletic prowess. But under that sharp exterior was most of the engineering of the Volvo Amazon, a worthy workhorse sedan.
Consequently, the P1800 was no road-burner; it just about had the edge on the MGB but only in a straight line. Another competitor, the E-Type Jag was launched in 1961, the same year as the P1800 and at almost the same price, but there the comparison ends. The P1800 did have style, though, and its other virtues were pure Volvo—strength, durability, and reliability. These combined to create something quite singular in automotive idiom—a practical sports car.
Official Volvo history credits the award-winning design of the P1800 to Frua of Italy, but it was actually penned by young Swede Pelle Petterson, then a trainee at Ghia. The Italian influences are obvious in the final form.
As you would expect, the sensible sports car had a decent-sized trunk.
Early cars like this were built in Britain by Jensen.
The P1800 had a padded dash and seat belts of Volvo’s own design.
Super-tough gearbox had excellent synchromesh.
Stylized fake spokes identify this as an early P1800.
Early cars had 1778cc four-cylinder units with twin SU carbs; the 1985cc unit came later, followed by electronic fuel injection. All versions are reliable, willing reverse.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Volvo P1800 (1961–73)
PRODUCTION 47,707 (all models)
BODY STYLES Two-plus-two fixed-head coupe; sports wagon (P1800ES).
CONSTRUCTION Unitary steel body/chassis.
ENGINES 1778cc straight-four, overhead valves; 1985cc from 1968–73.
POWER OUTPUT 100 bhp at 5500 rpm (P1800); 124 bhp at 6000 rpm (P1800E, P1800 ES).
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual with overdrive/optional automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: independent coil-sprung with wishbones; Rear: rigid axle, coil-sprung, Panhard rod.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 115 mph (185 km/h) (P1800 E/ES)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 9.7–13.2 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 31.4–53 sec
A.F.C. 20–25 mpg (7–10 km/l)