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History P1800

The history of the P1800 Jensen, 1800S, 1800E and 1800ES starts in 1953 with the P1900, a cabrio which was made of glass-fibre.

History of the Volvo P1900

During his trip to the USA in 1953 Gabrielsson noticed a European sports cars were very popular in the States, especially in the East Coast and California. Gabrielsson visited the Californian company Glasspar to talk about a new sports car. Glasspar was a company which made glass-fibre bodies for boats and cars, like the Chevrolet Corvette (the most popular car of the USA which has a glass-fibre body). Gabrielsson told Glasspar to develop a new sports car on a PV444-chassis, running gear and the new B14B 70bhp engine. The design drawings (Gabrielsson thought Volvo needed a sports car to boost up the sales of the PV) were actually completed before Gabriellson left the USA.

Volvo P1900 prototype Glasspar Volvo P1900 prototype Glasspar Bill Tritt scale model clay
Bill Tritt (Glasspar) working on a clay scale model of the car that would become the Volvo P1900

At the end of 1953 Glasspar finished two protoypes (designed by Bill Tritt): a convertible and a coupé. The car was called: Volvo P1900, also known as Volvo Sport. The coupé had a heavy front with a big grille (which looked like the Ferrari Mille Miglia) but the upper part of the car didn’t really match with the rest of the car. The open car was a better design: the nose was better, less rounded windscreens and nicer details. Volvo decided to let Glasspar build three prototypes which should be transported to Sweden for testdrives. The plan was to build 300 cars per year and was only available for the export market.

Volvo P1900 Coupe sports car prototype by Glasspar
One of the two first Volvo prototypes made by Glasspar. This is the coupé-version

When the test driving was finished, production started in 1956. The P1900 had some modifications: the windscreen was slightly more curved, the car had retractable side windows and was also equipped with a fold-down top. In March 1956 Helmer Petterson and Pelle Nystrom took a P1900 for a testdrive to North-Africa (via Southern Europe, a roadtrip of 16.000km). Unfortunately the car had more troubles and problems than they expected: the chassis was too flexible and weak, the doors didn’t open and close well (due bad door mountings) and at some parts (especially at the body mountings with the chassis) the glass-fibre started to runout. When Petterson told Engellau (who replaced Gabrielsson as Vice President) the production of the P1900 stopped. There were only 70 P1900’s build (3 prototypes and 67 production models).

Volvo P1900 aka Volvo Sport
The final version of the Volvo P1900 (also known as Volvo Sport)

History of the Volvo P1800

Helmer Petterson couldn’t get the idea of a sportscar out of his head. He convinced the management Volvo really should develop a car which was perfect for the export-market. In the meanwhile his son Pelle was graduated at his design-studies in the USA and moved to Italy to work for Frua in 1957. Volvo agreed to develop a car at a Italian chassisbuilder because the idea a Italian designed car should boost the sales of the car a little. There was also no capacity at Volvo self to produce the car, so the car should be produced elsewhere. Petterson approached Frua (Turin, Italy) and told his son Pelle “it would be a great opportunity for him”.


In 1957 Frua was taken over by Ghia (also located in Turin). Volvo went to Ghia for some sketches of the new car. Ghia and Frua made some sketches, but so did Petterson. Helmer Petterson told it were his sketches but they weren’t: it were his son’s! The board approved Petterson’s design and Petterson told them the truth: the design was made by his son Pelle. Gunnar Engellau was furious: the new car wasn’t designed by a Italian designer, and how on earth should a designer who didn’t get a assignment design the new car? Engellau said Helmer Petterson betrayed the company’s confidentiality by involving his son Pelle without any official approving by Volvo.

Volvo P958 P1800 prototype sketch drawing Frua Petterson Volvo P958 P1800 prototype sketch drawing Frua Pelle Petterson Volvo P958 P1800 prototype sketch drawing Frua Ghia Petterson
Some of the sketches made by Ghia, Frua and Pelle Petterson

But the clash was solved and Pelle Petterson could go on with his design but Frua was officially assigned with the project, which was called Project 958. In the meanwhile Frua left Ghia because Ghia had doubts about the origin of a other car Frua designed: the Renault Floride. Pelle Petterson also left Ghia and started working at the new company of Frua. Volvo also moved to Frua because the project was assigned to Frua and Volvo had nothing to do with Ghia.

Volvo P1800 prototype P958 Frua
Work in progress: a P958 by Frua

At the end of 1957 Frua was building 3 prototypes based on Pelle Petterson’s design. When the first prototype (later known as P958-X1) was presented to the Volvo board in december 1957 the board was very pleased with the results. The final version of the car should be this car but with some modifications. The P958-X2 and P958-X3 were finished in the spring of 1958. To save some money the new car should use the mechanical parts of the Amazon, but would have a slightly shorter wheelbase.

Volvo P1800 prototype P958-X1
The first of the 3 prototypes made by Frua, the P958-X1

Volvo P1800 prototype P958-X2 Frua
The second prototype, the P958-X2

Volvo P1800 prototype P958-X1 and P958-X3
The P958-X1 and P958-X3 prototypes

When the model was approved there was another thing that should be done: which company should produce the car? Helmer Petterson took the P958-X1 to Germany and visited Karmann. Volvo and Karmann almost agreed to start producing but Karmann wasn’t allowed by Volkswagen to produce the car because the competitor of Volvo’s new sports car was made at Karmann (the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia). Volvo also contacted NSU, Hanomag and Drautz but believed these manufacturers couldn’t meet up the expectations Volvo had. In the meanwhile the European Free Trade Association was fomed and it was very attractive to involve a British company because Sweden and Great Britain had the reciprocal benefit for limited tarrifs, taxes and crosstrade. Volvo went to Jensen to talk about a possible production of the new sports car at Jensen (West-Bromwich, England).

Volvo P1800 prototype P958 at Jensen factory
A P958 prototype at Jensen. The exhaust, licence plate holder and dual rear lights were about to be changed soon

Jensen could use a new big assignment because financially Jensen hadn’t a strong position. But Jensen didn’t have the capacity to produce also all the bodywork for the car. Pressed Steel Fisher (the biggest bodywork manufacturer of Britain, settled in Linwood, Scotland) was asked to supply the bodywork for the new Volvo. A nice cooporation with Jensen and Pressed Steel was born. Jensen signed an agreement with Volvo to build 10.000 cars.

The new car, the Volvo P1800, was presented in the press in 1959 (by some photos) and presented in public at the Bruxelles Autosalon in Brussels (Belgium) in 1960. The car which was presented in Brussels was the P958-X2 (the second prototype). The final production car had some modifications: the bumpers were changed, the exhaust was changed and the V at the grille disappeared.

Unfortunately it took about a year before the P1800 could be produced due starting-up problems (so the total delay was two years since the P1800 was introduced by pressphotos in 1959). In May 1961 the first P1800 was produced at Jensen.

The press was very amused by the P1800 because it drives well and was very cheap compared with other sports cars. But the P1800 wasn’t really a sports car but more like a Gran Turismo (GT): a coupé which allowed to drive big distances without any problems or feeling groggy afterwards.


History of the Volvo 1800S

But the delay wasn’t the only problem: when the first P1800’s were finished there were some problems with the paint and the way the cars were finished. But Jensen also suffered with bad bodyworks made by Pressed Steel. Even the molds were gone for a moment! But the poor paintwork (sometimes even without any primer) was the most concerning problem. After a year (1962) the problems still were there, so Volvo sent several supervisors to look after the production. But even that didn’t solve the problems and Volvo finished a new factory so the production of the P1800 was moved from Jensen to Lundby (Sweden).

Volvo P1800 production problems and errors caused by Pressed Steel and Jensen
An example how not to produce bodywork. These errors were made by Pressed Steel and might be caused because the British people works with imperial sizes (inches) and not wit the metric system (centimeters).

Jensen had a contract for 10.000 P1800’s but only build 6000 of them. Volvo paid Jensen a compensation. Pressed Steel was allowed to continu to produce the bodywork (because Volvo wasn’t able to find a new bodywork producer, wasn’t planning to bailout Pressed Steel and couldn’t affort any delaying). With some modifications (hubcaps, emblems, indicators and some interior changes) the car was renamed to 1800 S (with the S standing for Sweden). Most people call the 1800 S the Volvo P1800S.

History of the Volvo 1800E

In 1968 Pressed Steel was taken over by the Rootes Group. It allowed to break the link with Pressed Steel and Volvo took the toolings from Linwood to Sweden in the winter of 1968/1969. At Q3 of 1969 Volvo was ready to produce a all-Swedish P1800.

In August 1969 (ModelYear 1970) Volvo introduced the B20E-engine. Based on the B20-engine which also was used in the Amazon but now with a electrical fuel injection-system made by Bosch: the D-Jetronic system. The new engine also included a new camshaft and some other minor modifications. The “E” in 1800 E stands for “Einspritz”, which means “electronic fuel injection”. The 1800E also has a dual circuit brake-system, four disc brakes, new aluminum rims and a new grille. Also new was the BW35 automatic gearbox as a option.

History of the Volvo 1800ES

In 1965 a P1800 fastback coupé was presented which was designed by Italian styling house Fissore. The car looks good but Volvo didn’t see the advantage of the car next to the normal P1800. Volvo also designed a fastback based on the P1800 but also didn’t reach production stages. But Volvo had an other great idea: a sports car with more interior space. Volvo approached Coggiola to design a P1800 Estate. Frua was also asked to do some design-work.

Volvo P1800 prototype fastback by Fissore
The ’65 Volvo P1800 Fastback by Fissore, which reminds of a Ford Mustang

Volvo P1800 two-seater coupe prototype
A two-seater coupé which was a experiment of Volvo. It looks like a Lancia

Volvo P1800 prototype fastback
Another P1800 fastback, fortunately it didn’t went into production

Coggiola presented the Volvo Hunter and Beach Car and Frua came up with the Volvo Rocket (“Raketten” in Swedish). The Rocket was also nicknamed “Barrel” because the rear of the car was barrel-shaped and very radical. Volvo wasn’t really convinced with the designs because they were too radical. But Coggiola also worked on another project which was based on the P1800 but with a completely new design and should be the replacer of the P1800. He presented the Volvo 1800ESC at the 1971 Paris Autosalon. The car was also known as “Volvo Viking”. The car shared lots of components with the 1800E and 1800ES and was well received by public and press. Many people were pretty sure this was the replacement of the P1800-series. The Volvo Viking was fitted with a B20-engine but there was room enough under the hood to fit in a V6-engine. Unfortunately the Viking never reached the production stage.

Volvo P1800 prototype Beach Car by Coggiola
The Volvo Beach Car by Coggiola

Volvo Hunter P1800 prototype
Sketches of the Volvo Hunter prototype (the text says Jaktvagnen)

Volvo P1800 Estate Rocket prototype
Frua’s Volvo Rocket (based on the Hunter and Beach Car). I think even The Jetsons wouldn’t buy this car

Volvo Viking ESC concept car, prototype based on the 1800E and 1800ES
The Volvo ESC aka Viking, a concept car of Coggiola

In the meantime Jan Wilsgaard was working on a design which maintains most of the the P1800-lines. The roof was extended and the rear side windows became very big. The rear fenders stayed the same and a nice new rear window was fitted which also was the tailgate of the car (the Volvo 480, Volvo SCC and Volvo C30 had almost the same design of the rear several years later). The new car was approved immediately by the Volvo board members and was introduced in September 30 1971 and was called the 1800ES.

Volvo 1800ES prototype by Jan Wilsgaard
The Volvo 1800ES prototype in progress

Unfortunately after two years the car went out of production: the biggest export-market, the USA, had new regulations (introduced at the end of 1974) which made it impossible to maintain the beautiful design of the 1800ES. To stay on the US-market the car had to be fitted with big rubber bumpers and some other minor modifications which should make the 1800ES extreme ugly. Volvo decided to end the production of the 1800ES and the last P1800ES was build on June 27 1973.


Special versions of the Volvo 1800-series

Besides the various prototypes and concept cars there were also some special versions made of the P1800 which were actually sold or produced. Two versions of the P1800 deserve special attention: a convertible and a V8-powered P1800.

The Volvo P1800 V8

The P1800 wasn’t really a sports coupé but more a GT (Gran Turismo). To make it a real sports car the P1800 needed more power. Robert Cumberford (a famous car designer from the USA) had a great idea: he took a Volvo 1800S and he put a Ford 289 V8-engine under the hood. The 289-block is a 4,7 litre V8-engine which delivers 196bhp. Volvo liked the idea and it solved its problem of production capacity. Ford had a overstock of the 289-engines so a prototype was to be build. But a lot of work had to be done to create a nice balanced car: the engine must be fitted more to the back, the automatic gearbox (C-4, also made by Ford) must be fitted. Because the engine and gearbox shared some space with the interior itself the car was very noisy (it seems the rear spark plugs should be changed by a special hole in the cabin instead of under the hood). Also the heat of the engine came into the cabin. After months these problems were solved. Gunnar Engellau took a testdrive but wasn’t told what has been changed to the car (besides the automatic gearbox). But Volvo pulled the plug out of the project because the engineers weren’t capable of replacing the engines or modify it if needed and Volvo had problems with the warranty of some components which weren’t build by itself. Of course there are a lot of custom-made P1800 V8’s.

The Volvo P1800 with Aston Martin engine

A interesting story is the Volvo P1800 with Aston Martin-engine. In the late 50’s and early 60’s Aston Martin had the idea to produce engines for other manufacturers to create some extra income. But Aston Martin didn’t want to sell their own six-cylinder engine and let other manufacturers have a look what Aston Martin’s specialty was, so they decided to develop a smaller four-cylinder engine (known as Project DP208). When the engine was ready (a 4-cilinder in-line 2.5 litre DOHC engine, delivering 151bhp; the engine was based on their prestigious 6-cilinder engine) Aston Martin needed a car to test the new engine. They took a 1961 Volvo P1800 Jensen and the engine was fitted into the car. Only one P1800 was equipped with the Aston Martin-engine and only three DP208 engines were build.

Several years later Aston Martin-specialist Beat Roos (Bern, Switzerland) made a replica of the P1800 with Aston Martin-engine, based on a 1963 P1800 Jensen. With some modifications (modified rear axle, a custom-made radiator, steering housing and box of the Triumph TR4, bigger hood etc etc) the car was ready. A very nice result! For more info see the website of Roos Engineering.

Volvo P1800 Jensen 1963 with Aston Martin engine made by Beat Roos
The Volvo P1800 Jensen with Aston Martin engine of Beat Roos

The Volvo P1800 Jensen with DP208 Aston Martin engine
The Aston Martin DP208 151bhp engine in Beat’s Volvo P1800

The Volvo P1800 convertible

Also a nice cabriolet was build of the P1800. Volvo didn’t have any plans to build a drophead of the P1800 because the shortened Amazon-floorpan didn’t allow it and should made the car only a two-seater. Some modifications could be made to create a convertible but it costs a lot of time so Volvo decided not to build a convertible itself. But Harold Radford (a English coachbuilder) made one 1800S Convertible for the Hull-based Volvo dealer in march 1965. That car was sold in 1968. Radfords convertible wasn’t the only Volvo 1800-convertible: about 50 convertibles were built by Volvo dealer Volvoville in Long Island (the same dealer where Irv Gordon bought his legendary 2 million mile P1800). Besides these “official sold” convertibles there are a lot of custom-made cabrio P1800’s in the world.

Volvo P1800 cabrio convertible drophead
The beautiful Volvo P1800 Convertible, made by Radford

The Saint and his P1800

When The Saint should return on tv in the 1960’s (the serie was also on air in 1930) the producer choose the Jaguar E-type as the car for Simon Templar. But Jaguar couldn’t provide a E-type at a short notice. But Roger Moore came up with the idea to drive a Volvo P1800 for Simon Tampler. Volvo was asked how fast the car could be delivered and they answered “within a week”. About 5 days later the white P1800 with licence plate 71 DXC was delivered at Associated Television (the programme producers of The Saint). They had to pay the full price of the car. Also a mock-up of the interior was sold to Associated Television. A second P1800 was sold one year later and had 77 GYL as registration. This car is displayed at the Cars of the Stars Museum in Keswick (England). A few years later two new P1800’s were bought as replacement for the 2 cars (both a 1800S with registrations NUV 647E and NUV 648E, which also stands at Keswick). Roger Moore also drove a P1800 as a private car. After several years the P1800 was replaced by a Jaguar XJ-S when the series was introduced as Return of the Saint. In the remake of The Saint in 1997 (starring Val Kilmer) the Volvo has returned as the car of Simon Templar, but this time it was the Volvo C70 coupé.

P1800 Volvo 1800S The Saint with Roger Moore as Simon Templar
Roger Moore as Simon Templar in The Saint. He drives a 1800S

The P1800 of Irv Gordon

Besides the P1800 of The Saint one of the most famous P1800’s is the 1800S of Irv Gordon. In 1966 the 25-year-old Gordon bought a red 1800S at Volvoville (yes, the same dealer which also produced 50 P1800 convertibles), after falling in love with the car at the The Saint tv-series. He enjoyed the car so much that the first weekend 1500 miles were driven with the car. When the one million miles were reached Volvo gave Gordon a brand-new Volvo 780 to mark the occassion. In 1999 Irv Gordon clocked up 1.675.000 miles (2.695.000km) earning him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. He had the car with the most miles under his belt. At Spring 2002 Gordon drove 2 million miles and now the car is still running, reaching the 3 million miles! How can you get such a high mileage with a car? Gordon insists to change the oil every 3000 miles and take it to the dealer for maintenance. The engine is only once rebuilt at 680.000 miles (1.940.000km). We hope Irv Gordon will have a lot of fun with his 1800S the next years. Volvo for life!

Volvo P1800 and Irv Gordon who has the highest mileage for a car in the world
Irv Gordon and his Volvo 1800S


Models of the Volvo P1800-series

Of course there are many modifications during the years because there were several types of the P1800. Different from the other types not only the modelyear applies for changes but in some cases also the chassis number (VIN-code). The modelyear starts in August and ends in July. So a P1800 made in August 1965 has ModelYear 1966, and a P1800 made in April 1966 also has MY1966. See below for the several modifications during the years of the P1800:

  • 1961: P1800 A, the first modelyear of the P1800, master brake cilinder changed from aluminum to cast iron, new air filters (until chassisno. 1109 rectangular filters were fitted),
  • 1962: changes in cable harness for brake- and reverse lights, new anchorage point for seatbelt (C-pillar), cover for parking brake handle, cowls painted black instead of chrome due complaints about reflections for the driver.
  • 1963: P1800 B, production moved to Sweden, car renamed to 1800S, V-logo at C-piller removed during the modelyear, new white/orange indicator lenses, new air intake grille, new and improved front seats with leather upholstery at the front seats (only the top center side of the seat and upper part, the rest of the upholstery was still vinyl), same hub caps as the Amazon, new tachometer scale (6500rpm instead of 6000rpm), new petrol gauge, new door panels, new camshaft delivers a more powerful engine, new rear brake cilinders, new calipers and brake pads, brake discs and pipes at the front, heavier battery, synthetic paint (Jensen used cellulose paint).
  • 1964: 1800S D (C wasn’t used), new air intake, rubber stone protection side, back seat can be dropped down, sun visors at A-pilar, closed crank-case ventilation (from chassisno. 8453), aluminum rear window trim (from chassisno. 9382), new doors, windows and window elevators (from chassisno. 10.000), new propeller shaft (from chassisno. 10.000).
  • 1965: 1800S E, new straight bumpers (one-piece, replacing the bull-horns and a shorter rear bumper), new rims and hub caps, new ashtray, support handle for passenger, new valve casing (including the oil fill cap at the front), new design of the grille, 2 horns instead of 3, switch for overdrive now attached on steering column instead of dashboard, new fuel pump, new rear view mirror, new windscreen wipers and mechanism (Electrolux replaces Autolite, from chassisno. 14.600), new jack (from chassisno. 14.826), new fan motor (from chassisno. 15.174).
  • 1966: 1800S F, changes in front- and rear suspension (including non-greased maintenance), increased engine output, new manifold and exhaust system (double pipes at flange), stronger rear axle, rear wheel pressure releaf (to avoid brake locking) and bigger rear brake cilinders. Sealed cooling system from chassisno. 19.175.
  • 1967: 1800S M, straight door trims (the chrome mouldings dissappeared), new rear trim, storage comparment between front seats, new door handles, reflecting stickers at the side of the doors (to increase safety when the door is opened), asymmetric headlights, new suspension for propellershaft bearing housing, new number plate holder, new ventilation window-locks, minor modifications in seatbelt housing and anchorage.
  • 1968: 1800S P, new steering wheel, divided steering column, new ashtray, new interior door handles, new heater & ventilation controls, new windscreen wipers, new sun visors, choke handle repositioned at dashboard.
  • 1969: 1800S S, B20B-engine, dual circuit brake system, new brake warning light at dashboard, SU carburators replaced by Zenith Stromberg-carburators (SU stays on the RHD cars), new clutch and flywheel, new rear axle, front indicators turned around: the orange part now is at the bottom, new windscreen, new alternator, radiator fan now has a friction clutch, J-type overdrive replaces D-type overdrive. End of production 1800S.
  • 1970: 1800E T, 1800E with electronic fuel injection replaces the 1800S (B20E engine), repositioning of fuel filler cap, new emblems, new dashboard with new meters and wood trim, new center console with lockable storage box, electrical heated rear window, introduction of M410 gearboxes (made by ZF), new grille (black) and aluminum rims, emergency hazard lights were introduced, disc brakes on all four wheels, improved ventilation system and lockable steering wheel.
  • 1971: M41 modified and replaces the M410 gearbox and BW35 automatic gearbox (made by Borg-Warner) is introduced. B20F introduced (changed compression ratio and lower power output to meet the USA emission requirements), B20-logo on grille, tinted windows available as option.
  • 1972: 1800E W and 1800ES W, introduction of the 1800ES, new and improved seat design (with integrated headrest), new back seat, new door panels, new seatbelts and seatbelt reminder, new grille, new steel wheels with hubcaps and chrome rings, minor modifications on brake system (pads and pressure), tinted windows, fuel pump and fuel system same as the 140-series, rear axle modified, new alternator, warning signal if lights are left on. Production of the Volvo 1800E ends at June 22 1972.
  • 1973: 1800ES Y, reinforced doors, new (bigger) windscreen wipers. New switches for the windscreen wipers, washers, rear window defroster and interior fan. New first gear ratio, emission control filter unit, modifications on B20F-engine, repositioning of radiator (more forward). Production of the 1800ES ended at June 27 1973.

© Volvotips 2011


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