It’s often that we discount Volvo as the sporting Swedish car, and give all of the glory of athletics to Saab. Where Saab tried again and again with variations of the Sonett from the 1950’s through the early 70’s, Volvo stayed pretty tried and true to their concept of a sports tourer. After the attempt with a Scandinavian Corvette, the P1900, the graceful P1800 debuted in 1961.
It would remain, with improvements, the alternate, sporting, personal Volvo many a dashing dandy and damsel came to love over 13 more model years. Providing a sophisticated style all its own, it stood out from many an Italianate coupe that came and went during those years on the market.
The P1800 fit the bill among many a stylish European sports coupe that debuted throughout the 1960’s. Take the hardy mechanicals of a brand’s work-a-day sedan model, massage the mechanicals to provide the most optimum of performance, and drape it in lower slung, tighter fitting body work. The results were as varied as Volkswagen’s Karmann-Ghia to Alfa Romeo’s high strung 2600 coupe with many rivals in between.
Conceived for both the American Market and European Market, the P1800 offered a bit of both worlds; relatively affordable entry and old world craftsmanship with none of the excessive size, power and ponderance of American Touring Coupes such as the Ford Thunderbird, Studebaker Hawk or Buick Riviera. Although credited for the majority of its existence as an Italian design by Frua, the gentle grace of Volvo’s new touring coupe came from Pelle Petterson, son of a consultant to Volvo.
Like a number of European Touring coupes, the emphasis was on long legged all day cruising, not necessarily the outright muscle machine nature that encapsulated American coupes. Although it only had 100 horsepower upon introduction, the bantamweight babe could top speeds north of 110 miles per hour depending on transmission choice. Our 1972 subject car features a 2.0 liter fuel injected B20 engine with 130 horsepower. This uprating brought 0-60 down under 10 seconds on the way to nearly 120 miles per hour all out.
Proof you didn’t need acres of cubic inches, 4 barrels of carbuetors and 8 cylinders to get sprightly performance done, it reflected a mid-century European luxurious minimalism that fell out of favor as it aged. The performance came with no penalty to fuel economy and the added safety improvement bonus of 4 wheel disc brakes.
These improvements helped keep the elderly car on the market as more modern alternatives became available. At the same time, the P1800 virtually lost all of its free advertising as the Television series The Saint disappeared from airwaves on both sides of the pond in 1969.
These final 1800E models serve as the 2nd most popular of the coupes, with 9,421 built between late 1969 and the end of 1972. The figures aren’t to be sniffed at considering their price tags in the neighborhood of $5,000 put them in the same United States personal coupe league as a Buick Riviera, as much as their price had nearly a before.
Every so often Volvo has tried to recapture the spirit, but never quite nails the style of these fabulous coupes. Perhaps for the best, as they still stand as the gleaming award in the trophy case in Gothenburg, Sweden