Over the years, there have been some gorgeous sports cars, but one of the best has got to be the Volvo P1800. Popularised by the late great Roger Moore in the 1960s show The Saint, Moore admitted that it was his favourite car, saying “I have great affection for the Volvo P1800, as, of course, I owned one, as well as used one in the series. It’s a beautiful car and I still drive a Volvo to this day.” So, we’re taking a look at the history of the Volvo P1800.
A car that didn’t exist
In 1957, Volvo decided they wanted a sports car for their European and US markets. This was to rectify the previous failure of the P1900, as only 68 cars were sold. The design for the P1800 was overseen by engineer Helmer Petterson and his son Pelle. Italian design firm Pietro Frua built the first three prototypes.
At the end of the year, Helmer Petterson drove the first hand-built P1800 to Osnabruck, the headquarters of Karmann. He wanted the company to help in the construction of the car and he and chief Volvo engineer Thor Berthelius discussed it with Karmann. An initial production date of December 1958 was proposed, but Karmann’s main customer, Volkswagen VAG stopped them from taking the job.
Volkswagen were afraid the P1800 would compete with the sales of their own vehicles, so they threatened to cancel all of Karmann’s contracts. As a result, the project was almost abandoned, though Petterson managed to get financial backing from two financial firms so he could buy components from Volvo and market the car himself.
Interestingly, Volvo had made no attempt to acknowledge the existence of the P1800 until a press release surfaced with a photo of the car. This encouraged them to devote more time to its construction and and it was shown to the public at the 1960 Brussels Motor Show.
The P1800 came with a B18 engine that produced 118 horsepower. The engine was developed from a B36 V8, which cut production costs and made the car very powerful. Volvo made a deal with Jenson Motors to help them create 10,000 P1800s. However, there was a problem with poor paintwork, so Volvo sent in a few supervisors to look after the production.
When problems still persisted, Volvo ended the contract early and production was moved to Volvo’s Lundby Plant in Gothenburg. The name of the car changed to 1800S and the engine gained an additional 8 hp.
The P1800’s appearance in The Saint certainly catapulted it into popular culture, but there have been other instances of it being used. When The Who visited the Duke of York in 1966, they posed for press pictures in front of Roger Daltrey’s custom 1966 model.
The P1800 has remained one of Volvo’s most popular cars.