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Volvo Owners Club

Volvo P1800

Saint's Alive Published: 6th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Volvo P1800

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 1800E
  • Worst model: Early cars unless restored
  • Budget buy: 1800S
  • OK for unleaded?: No, except US-spec 1800Es
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4345 x 1702 x 1283mm
  • Spares situation: Generally good, some bits costly
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Only slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
P1800’s cabin is surprisingly refi ned for a 50 year old design and most of the switchgear is durable. P1800’s cabin is surprisingly refi ned for a 50 year old design and most of the switchgear is durable.
Remove air vent to check for rust and general decay. Bulkhead and engine bay rust can be heavy and hard to properly repair Remove air vent to check for rust and general decay. Bulkhead and engine bay rust can be heavy and hard to properly repair
Brake servos changed with dual circuit brakes and ATE units are not available any more but earlier types can be easily adapted Brake servos changed with dual circuit brakes and ATE units are not available any more but earlier types can be easily adapted
Rust around windscreen surround and fl oor common - a typical screen reseal costs around £150 Rust around windscreen surround and fl oor common - a typical screen reseal costs around £150
Coupes are still far more preferred over later simi-estate ES body but don’t turn up a good one for a re-shell Coupes are still far more preferred over later simi-estate ES body but don’t turn up a good one for a re-shell
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Fancy playing the debonair Simon Templar on a Del boy budget? Well at least Volvo’s affordable P1800 makes you look the part!

Pros & Cons

Stylish, affordable, durable, good to drive
Some panels are not available or costly

If you’re looking for a classic coupé that oozes style, makes a great long-distance tourer, is fun to drive and also lasts forever, look no further than here. You might think that Volvo ownership can’t be much fun, but nothing could be further from the truth; the company’s 1800 coupé is one of the best-kept secrets of the classic world – which is just as well because that keeps the cars eminently affordable. They are as simple to run as an MGB and prices can only head north. True, some parts are hard and costly to obtain and they rot like made. So does this make the P1800 a saint or sinner?


Volvo was unhappy about the uk jensen built cars

The P1800 coupé debuted at the 1960 Brussels auto show, but didn’t go on sale until the following year. Volvo had a contract with Jensen to assemble the fi rst cars, with the bodyshells being produced by Pressed Steel in Scotland. Build quality of these early cars was dire and they cost nearly as much as an E-type, so they weren’t easy to sell. By 1963 Volvo had cut short its contract with Jensen with assembly transferring to Sweden. The car then became known as the 1800S (for Sweden) and at the same time the power went up from 100bhp to 108bhp. There were only minor interior revisions until 1968, which is when the 1780cc B18 engine was replaced by a 1986cc B20 version of the same unit. Dual-circuit brakes also arrived and Volvo started to produce the bodyshells itself, as Pressed Steel sold its Linwood factory to the Rootes Group. The following year saw Bosch fuel injection replacing the previous twin carburettors, with a change to 1800E badging – E being short for Einspritz, the German for fuel injection. Disc brakes were also fi tted all round from this point on and in 1971 a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gearbox became available for the fi rst time. By 1972 the 1800 coupé had had its day, with the last one being produced in June of that year after 39,407 examples had been made. But it wasn’t the end of the model altogether because in the previous year a sports estate version, the 1800ES, had been introduced – but that model lasted just two seasons. In 1973 the fi nal 1800ES was built, as it wasn’t cost-effective to re-engineer it for the American market, where new crash regulations were about to come into force.


With plenty of low-down torque there’s no need to rev the engine – which is just as well because it gets rather harsh when you explore the top end. The gearchange is fabulous, with synchromesh that’s pretty much unbeatable – and the good news continues with the steering, which is light. The 1800 wallows on corners thanks to the rather soft suspension, but that only ensures that the ride is serene, so this is much more of a cruiser than a car for chucking around.


There’s little variance in values between fuelinjected and carburetted cars, which means whatever the model, you’ll be looking at a minimum of £5000 for a usable coupé. Sometimes cars appear for £3000 or so, but these are best avoided because they’ll need a lot of money to put right. Very nice coupés fetch up to £8000 unless really special, in which case they can be worth even more. The 1800ES isn’t quite as valuable, with the bottom line for one of these in usable condition being £3500-4000 while top-notch cars go for up to £6000.

Saint’s still alive and well!

Volvo has recaptured the appeal of the P1800 with its striking looking C30. Based upon a common platform shared by Mazda and Ford (Focus) the C30 is fast becoming a cult coupe. Quick (tarmac-tearing in turbo T5 guise!) with one of the best fwd chassis around, this Volvo puts sexiness and style over sensibility. But all in all it’s a distinctive 2+2 that – like the original Saint’s P1800 still looks fabulous in white!


The 1800 is very usable in standard form, but there are some wor thwhile upgrades to consider if you plan to use the car a lot. Halogen lights are recommended (at less than £50) along with an alternator conversion if it’s an early car. Fitting an uprated oil cooler is also worthwhile, as the original system can fall apar t all too readily – which is why it will probably already have done. The brakes are good so don’t really need any modifications, but such i m p r o v e m e n t s might be necessary if you fancy putting a pokier engine in the nose. Swapping an 1800 unit for a 2-litre one is easy as it’s a straight swap – traditional tuning methods can also be used to coax more horses from either powerplant – or track down some period Ruddspeed bits – they are around. If you’re really not bothered about originality, 164 seats can be fi tted. They’re more comfortable than the 1800 items – but the conversion will be obvious.

What To Look For

  • The rear panels suffer from parking shunts and rear wings are expensive at around £450 each. The nose is also delicate and new panels are no longer available, which is why fi ller is often used. Check all the panel gaps closely, paying particular attention to the bonnet and grille surround.
  • The inner wings can rust, so take a close look inside the wheelarch towards the top of the wing. 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. Putting the damage right will cost around £750 for each side, almost half of which is the cost of the wing.
  • The front panels are also the ones most likely to rust, with the headlamp and sidelight surrounds being the fi rst areas to go. The lips of the front wheelarches also corrode readily.
  • If the sills have had to be replaced, make sure genuine Volvo panels have been used. If they haven’t, the curvature of the panels will be wrong, as only the proper article has the original – and correct – profi le. Look for a series of vertical grooves below the door ; if they’re not there it’s because either pattern panels have been used or the sills are full of fi ller.
  • Inspect the front crossmember, beneath the radiator. It’s a four-sided box section, and any of the faces can rot out. Patching it up properly is tricky as it’s welded all the way round and accessibility is nil.
  • Look at the steering box mountings and front outriggers; if the latter have gone it’s possible to buy Volvo replacement panels. If the steering box mounting has rotted away it’s more serious, because this is a chassis leg, and making it strong enough to pass an MoT will cost £400 or so. The rear outriggers (underneath the front seats) also need to be checked.
  • Other areas that can give rust include the fuel fi ller surround, bootlid, fl oorpans and the bottoms of the doors. The latter is a problem as only a partial seal was fi tted to each door, so they fi ll up with water as drain holes tend to get overlooked.
  • The fl oorpans can also fi ll 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. This entails removing the windscreen and resealing it.
  • The fi nal areas to check are the bonnet hinge mountings and rain channels. In the former case they don’t rust, but they do break. Because the hinges seize up and the mounting plate is too thin for the job, it’s put under strain with predictable results. In the case of the guttering it’s unlikely to be rotten on a coupé, but the 1800ES does suffer.
  • Engine will cover 200,000 miles easily, as long as the oil has been changed every 6000 miles. A car that’s been well looked after will also have a proper Volvo oil fi lter fi tted, complete with non-return valve. Cheaper makes don’t have this and as a result the bearings will be starved of oil when starting from cold. But if at cruising speed there’s a thump that sounds like the big end bearings have gone, it’s much more likely to be worn timing gears, which will cost you £200 to fi x. As long as there’s 40psi on the clock when the engine has settled down to a warm idle, the engine should be in fi ne form – even better if it displays 50-55psi once cruising.
  • Gearboxes last forever as long as they’re kept topped up with oil; if the level has been allowed to drop, top gear will be quieter than the others, but the unit will generally be noisy anyway.
  • If the oil level isn’t up to the mark, there will also be problems with the overdrive, which was fi tted to all UK-market cars. The only other likely source of overdrive problems is the electrics, with the same type of problems that affl ict any overdrive-equipped car – poor earths, trapped wires and failed relays.
  • Heavy steering is down to an over-tightened steering box which may have led to it wearing prematurely. Hopefully the damage won’t have been done yet, and by slackening it off it might be sorted; replacement boxes are available only on a used basis.
  • The suspension is strong apart from the four top wishbone bushes. They wear out readily but replacing them is easy and they cost all of two quid a shot. Alternatively you could opt for polyurethane items, but they’re not normally recommended because they reduce the refi nement levels a bit – although they are more durable.
  • The earliest (Jensen-built) cars featured wheel trims which are likely to be damaged and which are now unavailable.
  • Post-1970 wheels can fall apart; they featured an alloy hub and a steel rim, which can separate. Most have been replaced by now, with wheels from a 140-series, which go straight on.
  • Brake servos can cause problems. Fuel injected cars (1800E, 1800ES) featured dualcircuit brakes and as long as the ATE servo is working, the system won’t give problems. But replacement units aren’t available and they can’t be rebuilt; an aftermarket system can’t be fi tted either. Carburetted cars had a Girling servo, which can no longer be replaced, but a dead unit can be swapped for a Lockheed one which will work just as well.
  • None of the interior trim lasts forever, with the dashboards being a particular problem. These crack after years of exposure to the sun, and it’s not possible to repair them. Finding replacements is also diffi cult.
  • All 1800s had leather-trimmed seats and when the seams split, as they invariably will, you’ll have to fi nd £550 to get the front retrimmed. Seat webbing can also give way, but renewing is easy; carpet sets are the only other thing that might need replacing, although the sets originally fitted are durable. Replacements are around £350 and fi tting them is simplicity itself.
  • Exterior trim is easy to fi nd, but it can be very expensive. The grille surround is prone to accident damage, and if it needs replacing you’ll have to fi nd £300. But it lasts well, so unless it’s lost or damaged through parking nudges you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
  • Until 1966 all 1800s had a dynamo, then an alternator was standard. All external electrical parts are Lucas while everything underneath is Bosch. The latter gives no problems but the Lucas parts can suffer from corroded contacts; clean is normally the cure.

Three Of A Kind

Ford Capri
Ford Capri
A true cult car that celebrates its 40th birthday next year. These cars have well and truly emerged from their banger status, with all editions now prized, but most Mk1 and V6 Mk3 cars in particular. Easy to tune but capable of rotting for England, the Capri is great fun but it’s easy to get your fi ngers burned.
Vauxhall Firenza
Vauxhall Firenza
Designed to take on the Capri and beat it, the Firenza never captured the imagination like the Ford. As a result, it’s less well served by specialists but there’s an enthusiastic club and the cars can be fun to drive if you get a 2000/2300 SL with a bit of poke – and there’s plenty of tuning gear still around.
Reliant Scimitar GTE
Reliant Scimitar GTE
A rival for the 1800ES rather than the coupé, the GTE is one of those cars that makes good sense on all levels. Not only is it swift and good to drive, but it’s also well-served by specialists and it’s eminently practical too. Even better, the cars are easy to work on and still dirt cheap; who could want for more?


The 1800’s durability, practicality and refi nement are all major plus points, along with the driving experience; that torquey engine, light controls and good levels of safety mean this unusual classic is massively under-rated. As a result, few people think of buying an 1800 when it’s time for a toy in their lives, yet the Volvo will take daily use quite happily, so it needn’t be seen as a plaything for occasional use only. While you can’t get all the parts (but you can get most), the chances are that you won’t need too many anyway because things rarely give up the ghost. You’ve only got to look at Irv Gordon for proof of the 1800’s infallibility – he’s the guy who has notched up more than two million miles in a 1966 example, with barely anything having to be replaced along the way.

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