Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Volvo P1800

Volvo P1800 Published: 3rd Apr 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Why not own a...? Volvo P1800

Best known for its leading role in The Saint, this classy coupé made Volvo a household name outside Sweden and it’s one of the most recognisable classics on the block. Yet despite those unmistakable looks these prestigious Volvos are as simple to run as an MGB GT and as robust.

Model choice

The P1800 was in production for little more than a decade and – ES sports hatch excepted – changed very little, meaning you can, and should, concentrate more on the condition rather than its year or spec. Midlandsbased Jensen assembled the fi rst cars, with the bodyshells being produced by Pressed Steel in Scotland. Build quality of them – that cost nearly as much as a Jaguar E-type – was said to be dire, so they weren’t easy to sell at any price.

As a result, from 1963 Volvo had cut short its contract with Jensen with assembly transferring to Sweden, although the bodies were still UK made The car then became known as the 1800S (for Sweden). However, the Jensen early cars carry a certain cachet, not least because of those ‘cow horn’ front bumpers that were discontinued during the summer of 1964. Apart from a sealed cooling system and minor interior revisions, it wasn’t until ’68, that the fi rst real signifi cant update transpired when the 1780cc ‘B18’ engine was replaced by a 1986cc ‘B20’ version of the same unit. Volvo started to produce the bodyshells itself, as Pressed Steel sold its Linwood factory to the Rootes Group during this year.

The 2-litre engine was given a further lift for the 1970s when Bosch fuel injection replaced the previous twin SU carburettors, but by 1972 the decade old coupé had had its day, with the last one being produced in June of that year.

Most folks steer toward the saintly coupé if for no other reason because they remember it on the tele and the looks of the ES make it marmite classic and it gained the sobriquet of ’Snow Whites’ hearse as a result. However, there’s little denying that the ES offers far better rear headroom as well as luggage space. Pay little notice of the engine change as many early models may well have had 2-litre engines (used in the 140 Series saloon) now fi tted. It depends whether you trust fuel injection or not but even though the Bosch system is well tried and tested, there’s no doubt that carb-fed engines will be a fair bit easier to look after at home and cheaper to fi x, too.

Behind the wheel

“More a marathon runner than sprinter” remarked one road test and with a mechanical make up from the same era, it is not dissimilar to our MGB/MGB GT so it’s no great surprise to fi nd that they drive pretty much the same although P1800 is faster. With plenty of low-rev guts there’s no need to rev the Swede’s engine – handy because it gets rather kind of harsh but for its day the P1800 was pretty sporty; road tests saw the car hit 60 in under 10 seconds in fuel injected form, trucking on to almost 110mph.

However, according to road tests, not much more than 20mpg was achieved, although we reckon most will see 25-30mpg, especially with intelligent use of overdrive that’s standard on UK cars. We doubt whether there are any automatics left.

The Volvo wallows on corners thanks to the soft suspension that was common to many 60 year old designs, but that only ensures the ride remains serene; this is more of a cruiser than a classic for throwing around – irrespective of whatever Simon Templar did on the TV. From a seating point of view the slim glass area hinders visibility and the seats may be too low set for many owners.

Making one better

The 1800 is sporty enough in standard form if set up properly. The brakes are quite good so don’t really need any modifi cations save for harder pads such as EBC GreenStuff. Bigger brakes coming from later Volvos are a possibility though. Swapping an 1800 unit for a 2-litre one is a straight fi t – traditional tuning methods can also be used to coax more horses from either powerplant and remember the engine was enlarged in the 140 and 240 ranges. Period tuning gear is around, search for Ruddspeed and speak to Amazon Cars (amazon cars who knows best how to set up these Swedes and also sells a variety of tuning parts, including turnkey tuned engines.

Twin SUs are already fi tted, so you can go bigger (try 1.75in ones) or you can fi t a single Weber 32/36 that’s found on some Fords – or twin DCOEs although the latter needs further tuning for best effect, with a better exhaust and manifold the fi rst step. Or just fi t KN or TR needles for under £15 for mild tweak. Electronic ignition is almost a given for the Volvo, in common with many old classics.

Handling benefits from uprated dampers and springs (Brookhouse Parts) plus you can fit an adjustable Panhard rod at the rear to keep the axle in check. The steering is inherently heavy; if it’s too much consider a electric power steering conversion which is said to work particularly well on this car. Talking of comfort, it can also be worth fitting 1800ES or Volvo saloon seats into the coupé as they’re more comfortable on long-distance journeys with their integral headrests.

Maintenance matters

Mechanically, there’s little to worry over and the car’s robustness is legendary with one world famous car in America – bought new in 1966 – covering over a million miles mostly on its original oily bits! With their cast iron cylinder heads and overhead valves, the Volvo is as easy as an MGB to work on and even the fuel injection (which improves low down clean pulling) is very much old school and hardly something to fear.

Sadly, the biggest worry has to be the bodywork and rust and resultant repair costs. There’s a good chance you’ll see some rust there – if you can see any, it’s a safe bet that there’s much more, hidden from view. If the sills have had to be replaced, make sure genuine Volvo panels have been used. Exterior trim is easy to find, but can be expensive. The grille surround is prone to accident damage, with replacements £300.

For parts, check out Amazon Cars, Classic Volvo Imports, Brookhouse Parts (http://www.classicvolvoparts. and A car that’s been well looked after will also have a genuine Volvo oil filter fitted, complete with non-return valve, available through the Volvo Enthusiasts’ Club. As long as there’s 40lbft on the gauge when the engine has settled down to a warm idle, the engine should be in fine form. You can drop the sump in situ to get at the shells and crank bearings so a top and tail ‘overhaul’ doesn’t involve complete engine removal.

An unduly heavy steering is usually down to an over-tightened steering box to take up wear. The suspension is strong apart from the four top wishbone bushes but brake servos can cause problems. Fuel injected cars featured dual circuit brakes and replacement ATE units aren’t available anymore – aftermarket alternatives can’t be fitted either. Carb cars sport a Girling servo, which can no longer be replaced, but can be swapped for a Lockheed one – but speak to the experts first for their advice.

A heavenly classic but a bad one can prove hell on earth


Rust can be rampant. There’s a good chance you’ll see some inner wing rust there and it’s a safe bet that there’s much more, hidden from view. Putting the damage right will cost around £750 for each side, almost half of which is the cost of a new wing – it’s £450 a go for the rear ones and genuine front panels are no longer available but hand-made ones are. The front cross-member rots where you can’t see.

Patching it up is a pain because it’s welded all the way round and accessibility is poor with the engine and its ancillaries in place, while steering box mountings and front outriggers rust as well although it’s possible to buy Volvo replacements.

The floorpans can also fill up with water, either because the heater valve on the bulkhead has packed up, or because the heater vent at the base of the windscreen has blocked up with leaves. But it could also be because the windscreen surround is leaking.


As long as there’s 40lbft showing when the engine has settled down to a warm idle, and 50-55lbft on the move the engine should be fit for more. A thump that sounds like the big end bearings have gone, is much more likely to be worn timing gears, which will cost you £200 to fix, split equally parts and labour. While the fuel injection system isn’t inherently unreliable, if it’s running badly it could cost a lot of money to fix. A fuel pump costs £200 and there are four injectors at £100 apiece – and that’s just for starters, which is why many cars have been converted back to run on reliable old SU carbs and they are almost as good.

Running gear

If gearbox oil isn’t up to the mark, there will also be problems with the overdrive. The only other likely source of overdrive problems is the electrics, with the same type of problems that afflict any such equipped car – poor earths, trapped wires, failed relays and a problematic fusebox on the inner wing. A steering box which has been over-tightened to remove any slack will not only prove heavy but will be likely to damage the box if left in this state. Brake parts may pose certain problems depending upon model and year but speak to a P1800 specialist or owners club to be sure.


Trim is scarce, dashboards crack if left in the sun; repairs are impossible and replacements are unavailable. Trim panels are available, at £250 for a set of door panels.The earliest (Jensen-built) cars featured wheel trims which are likely to be damaged and which are now unavailable unless you’re willing to pay a king’s ransom for them!

The car’s timeline


Coupé débuts at Brussels show although sales only start the following year. Essentially Amazon saloon derived with 100bhp 1.8-litre engine with standard overdrive for UK cars.


Swedish makes cuts short its contract with UK builder Jensen due to poor quality after 6000 cars were made and transfers assembly to Sweden, designating the car the P1800S as a result. Power upped to 108bhp.


Volvo starts to make its own body shells, B18 1.8 engine replaced by B20 2-litre 115bhp unit. Dual circuit brakes fitted.


P1800E for ‘Einspritz’ the German for fuel injection, using Bosch set up for 130bhp. All round discs fitted to cope.


Better late than never, a Borg Warner three-speed automatic option becomes available but most fundamental change sees body style evolve from coupé to sports estate, badged the ES.


Final coupé made after almost 40,000 sales, ES drops out a year later.

Price watch

Kevin Price set up the Volvo Enthusiasts’ Club simply on the back of his love for the car more than 40 years ago and admits it was the looks that hooked this once staunch Ford fan. He owns the actual The Saint car yet what appeals to Price the most is the design’s integrity and solid engineering although Ken admits that perhaps only a third of cars on the roads are in a remotely saintly condition.

What to pay

Values headed north significantly of late with original ‘cow horn’ bumpered cars the most desired as there’s only 50 or so left. Jensen-builds typically sell for around £7000 for a decent car but concours examples have been known to touch £30,000; bank on £15,000-£20,000 for excellent P1800s. You’d think later fuel injected Es would rank highly yet this is not the case, unlike the 2-litre S. Historically the ES was the bargain buy and it still is although values have crept up due to their affordability and the best can almost match a coupé although their popularity fluctuates more than the Saint style car and consequently usually £10,000 nets something quite nice.

Here’s six of the best reasons to buy one

  • Classy classic styling
  • Sportshatch option
  • Brilliant owners clubs
  • MGB-like ease of DIY repairs
  • Quality build
  • Silver screen popularity

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine