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Volvo P1800

Saint's Alive Published: 11th Jul 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): L4345 x W1702
  • Spares situation: Generally good, some bits costly
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Only slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Classier alternative to a Capri
Pure Americana is how one recent design book described the stylish dash layout of the Volvo – later cars use more safety conscious steering wheel, sadly Pure Americana is how one recent design book described the stylish dash layout of the Volvo – later cars use more safety conscious steering wheel, sadly
First designed back in 1959, production car remained remarkably similar. First designed back in 1959, production car remained remarkably similar.
Lots of curves and (expensive to restore) chrome abound and so does rust so check over carefully Lots of curves and (expensive to restore) chrome abound and so does rust so check over carefully
Rugged B engine has ample pace and can be upgraded – later Volvo engines have been known to be fi tted. Rugged B engine has ample pace and can be upgraded – later Volvo engines have been known to be fi tted.
Rear seat space is much like a Capri Rear seat space is much like a Capri
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Fancy playing the debonair Simon Templar but 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 unavailable or very costly

Think classic coupé and the chances are your mind will conjure up images of the Ford Capri or Vauxhall Firenza – and maybe (should be) the Opel Manta too. However, worthy as all these cars are, if you want a truly usable coupé that’s also good to drive, stylish and that little bit unusual, take a closer look at the Volvo P1800. Great for long-distance touring, comfortable, solidly built and well supported by specialists and clubs too, the P1800 is one of the most durable classics available. Even better, you don’t need to spend a fortune to nab a really good example and if you’re after added practicality there’s even a sporting estate edition too, the P1800ES. You’ll have to look a harder as relatively few were built, but whether you opt for the coupé or the estate, you’ll fi nd the search worthwhile for either of these sexy Swedes.


Aston wanted to use car as a cheap DB!

The P1800 coupe 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 Jaguar E-type, so they weren’t that 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 P1800S (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 andVolvo 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 coupe 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 P1800 altogether because in the previous year a sports estate version, the 1800ES (fi rst mooted back in the 60s), had been introduced. A Swedish Scimitar GTE it lasted just two seasons. In 1973 the fi nal 1800ES was built, as it wasn’t cost-effective to re-engineer the car for the American market, where new crash regulations were about to come into force. That’s the history of the P1800 – apart from the one that got away that is! With sales of its expensive hand-built supercars hard to come by, Aston Martin looked to move downmarket – and an Aston-engined P1800 was supposedly the answer. Using a 2.5-litre four-cylinder version of its 3.7-litre six-pot, development cars were made and although it showed promise there was too much work needed to make the engine fi t and so the project never got beyond the what ‘if’ stages. But what a classic car they’d now make!


In many ways the P1800 is the Scandinavian MGB as their makeup is quite similar and they both possess that common rugged simplistic feel that stems from their saloon DNAs. More tourer than sports car, the Volvo works well, as a roomy and fairly refi ned a 2+2. The sports hatch ES is very Reliant Scimitar GTE-like and is as pretty as it is practical although the high waistline makes the car feel old fashioned, said Autocar back in 1972. And that’s when it was new although said the deep tailgate made for good rear visibility – better than the coupe. With plenty of low-down guts there’s no need to rev the long stroke engine – which is just as well because it gets rather harsh when you explore the top end. For it’s day the P1800 was quite fast for a sub 2-litre car, although not for its price tag. Road tests saw the car hit 60 in under 10 seconds in fuel injected form and truck on to almost 110mph. However, according to Motor road tests, not much more than 20mpg was possible, although we reckon most owners will see 25-30mpg, especially with intelligent use of overdrive.

The P1800’s gearchange is heavy but generally fine, with synchromesh that’s pretty much unbeatable – and the good news continues with the steering, which is light – if not pin sharp. The Volvo wallows on corners thanks to the soft suspension that was common to many 50 year old designs, but that only ensures the ride remains serene; this is more of a cruiser than a car for chucking around – irrespective of whatever Simon Templar did on the TV.


There’s little variance in values between fuelinjected and carburetted versions of the 1800,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. Really nice coupes fetch up to £10,000 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 £8000 or more these days. ES values can fl uctuate depending upon whims and interest but generally they will trial the more popular coupe.


The 1800 is very usable in standard form, but there are some worthwhile 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 apart all too readily – which is why it will probably already have done so. The brakes are good so don’t really need any modifi cations, but such improvements 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. Or you fi t a later Volvo unit in – we’ve seen later T5 engines nestling under the bonnet nicely. If you’re really not bothered about originality at all, the seats from the 164 can be fi tted. They’re more comfortable than the stock P1800 items but the conversion will be obvious.

What To Look For

  • Until 1968 the 100bhp 1780cc B18 engine was fi tted. From 1963 there was 108bhp on tap and post-1965 cars have 115bhp. In 1968 the unit was bored out to become the 1968cc B20. Whichever unit is fi tted there shouldn’t be any problems unless it’s done over 200,000 miles – these powerplants are that durable. If neglected, the engines won’t rack up that mileage quite so happily, so check the oil has been changed every 6000 miles – at the very least make sure the oil in the sump doesn’t have the consistency of tar.
  • A car that’s been well looked after will 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, split equally between parts and labour.
  • 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 along. Although the engines aren’t that parsimonious, if you fi nd yourself putting in petrol at a wallet-crippling rate it’s probably only because the thermostat needs replacing.
  • The lifespan of an 1800 gearbox is comparable to the average artic – at 100,000 miles it’s nicely run in and is all set for hundreds of thousands more miles. That means keeping it topped up with oil, to make sure the bearings don’t get starved of lubricant. If the oil level isn’t up to the mark, there will also be problems with the overdrive, 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.
  • If the steering feels really heavy then it’s because the steering box has been overtightened to remove any play, and the result will be a damaged box when it wears prematurely. Hopefully the damage won’t have been done yet, and by slackening it off it’ll be sorted, but if it’s too late you could have problems fi nding a replacement steering box as they’re not available except as old used units.
  • The suspension is tough, apart from the four top wishbone bushes. They wear out 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.
  • If you’re a slave to originality and you want one of the earliest (Jensen-built) cars, make sure the proper wheel trims are in place; if they’re missing you’re unlikely to fi nd replacements they’re that rare. Even if the covers are there, they’ll be tatty as they tend to fly into the scenery, so don’t expect perfection.
  • Post-1970 wheels had an alloy hub and a steel rim, and after a while they separate. Few 1800s have these original wheels; your best bet is to source a set of wheels from a 140-series Volvo, which go straight on – or alloys like Templars.
  • The disc/drum brakes shouldn’t give problems unless the car hasn’t been used regularly, in which case the system will have started to seize up. Fixing this isn’t diffi cult, if you’ve got the special hub puller that’s required for pre-1968 cars. Can be hired if needed.
  • The only other problem that’s likely to crop up is with brake servos. Fuel-injected 1800s had dual-circuit brakes; as long as the ATE servo is working okay the system won’t give problems. But because replacement units aren’t available and they can’t be rebuilt, if it’s not working you’ll have no servo assistance as it’s not possible to fi t an aftermarket system. Carburetted cars had a Girling servo installed, which can no longer be replaced. But a dead unit can be swapped for a Lockheed one which will work just as well. But don’t be tempted to opt for a rebuilt Girling unit too readily as they’re notoriously diffi cult to repair reliably and you could end up throwing your money away.
  • Rust can be a major problem for any P1800, with replacement panels largely unavailable; when they do crop up they’re extremely costly. The inner and outer front wings are especially rot-prone, so look inside the wheelarch towards the top of the wing; if you can see rust, there’s likely to be much more, hidden from view. Repairs cost around £1500 for each side, half of which is the cost of the wing itself – the rest is fi tting, painting and lead loading. To do the job properly the windscreen has to be removed.
  • The front panels are the ones most likely to rust, particularly the headlamp and sidelight surrounds, front wheelarch lips and sills. If the latter have been replaced, ensure 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, more seriously, the sills are full of fi ller.
  • The front crossmember (beneath the radiator) also rots. It’s a four-sided box section, and any of the faces can rot out. Patching it up properly is a real pain because it’s welded all the way round and accessibility is nil with the engine and its ancillaries in place, so repairs are £400 including £70 for the crossmember itself.
  • The steering box mountings and front outriggers rust too. If the outriggers have gone it’s possible to buy Volvo replacement panels, which are the best ones to go for at £35 each, and about the same again for fi tting. 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, say, £400 or so. The rear outriggers (underneath the front seats) also need to be checked.
  • Even after making all these checks there are plenty more areas that can give problems, such as the fuel fi ller surround, bootlid, fl oorpans and the bottoms of the doors. The latter area is a major problem because only a partial seal was fi tted to each door, which allows them to fi ll up with water as nobody ever pays any attention to their drain holes.
  • Another area that can fi ll up with water is the fl oorpans. It might be because the heater valve on the bulkhead has packed up, for which you can expect to pay £115 for a replacement. It might also be because the heater vent at the base of the windscreen has blocked up with leaves – fi xing that is easy because you just need to remove the mesh panel and fi sh the leaves out. But there could also be water in the footwells because the windscreen surround is leaking, which is more serious – and costly – to fi x. This entails removing the windscreen and resealing it, for which a specialist will typically charge around £150.

Three Of A Kind

Ford Capri
Ford Capri
A true cult car that many still mourn the passing of. These cars have well and truly emerged from their banger status, with all editions now prized, but Mk1 and V6 Mk3 cars in particular. Of the ‘fours’ it’s the 1600 GT and the ‘Pinto’ 2-litre that’s the best. Easy to tune but capable of rotting for England, the Capri is great fun but it’s easy to get your fi ngers burned on this car.
Vauxhall Firenza/Magnum
Vauxhall Firenza/Magnum
Designed to take on the Capri and beat it, Firenza never caught the imagination anything like the Ford. As a result, it’s far less well served by specialists but there’s an enthusiastic club and the cars can be fun to drive if you get one with a bit of poke, like the 2.3. Later Magnums raised image as did rare Firenza droopsnoot with 131bhp and fi ve-sped gearbox.
Opel Manta
Opel Manta
GM’s real answer to the Capri, the Opel Manta is a classy good looking fastback that in its day was up to BMW quality (when the designs merged with Vauxhall they somehow lost their status). Good range from 1.6 to fuel injected GTE of the 1980s although rust has taken its toll on most by now. Original Manta A is most wanted, especially Broadspeed Turbo models.


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. A saint not a sinner of a classic then…

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