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Volvo P1800

Published: 15th Dec 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Alan Anderson remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

If ever a TV series made a car then it’s the Volvo P1800. After Jaguar rejected giving a car for Simon Templar to be all Saintly in, Volvo stepped in and this sleek coupe became immortalised. Now a sprightly 50 year old, the P1800 was the Capri of its era, being based upon the more sober Amazon saloon (so much of the information in this article also applies to this model range as well). Great cars, all of them, and so sturdy. There’s a fair bit you can do to speed these Swedes up – although it’s quite okay to swan around and play The Saint in a standard P1800, too!

Get One Now

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 P1800. Sometimes cars appear for less, but these are best avoided because they’ll need a lot of money to put right. Very nice cars fetch up to £8000, but the 1800ES isn’t quite as valuable. Amazons are a bit cheaper but the estates are becoming quite collectable.

Rust can be terminal. Structurally the car takes a big hit around sills, cross-members, inner wings, fl oors and steering box location. However the mechanics generally last for eternity, although overdrive can play up. Poor steering usually adjustment or wishbones. Brake servos can cause problems. Fuel injected cars (1800E, 1800ES) featured dual-circuit brakes with ATE servo is that‘s now discontinued. Amazingly the electrics are quirky, especially the fuse box, so check that all is well. All external electrical parts are Lucas while everything underneath is Bosch.

Hotting One Up

For this feature we’re indebted to leading Volvo specialists Amazon Cars who mend, mod and know all there is to know about Amazons and P1800s. Its website ( is extremely informative. Alternatively, call 01379 388400 or Email:[email protected].

Volvo rallied the Amazon a fair bit during the 1960s and P1800s remain fairly popular track cars in the US. Amazon markets its own range of tuning gear for the B18 and B20 engines. It’s very B-Series-like, being a big cast iron lump fed by twin SU carbs which, with re-jetting, may be fi ne for faster road use. Indeed the main changes to the engine over the years was simply to the head and cams which raised production power from 105bhp (1.8) to 135bhp for the fuelinjected 2-litre (of which parts for the Bosch K Jetronic are sadly becoming scarce).

Assuming that your engine is in good order, the first step is a better exhaust to expel the gasses. Amazon has its own set up costing some £420. Next step is a modified gas-flowed head, with bigger valves if desired for around £640.

Standard Volvo camshafts ranged from A to D spec and these are interchangeable. Amazon markets what it calls a ‘K’ cam which it has developed to be ideal for fast road and mild competition work although it also sells more extreme Iska cams imported from the States.

Being a big heavy old lump it’s no surprise to find that the flywheel is a weighty affair. A lightened Amazon Cars replacement ensures a crisper throttle response.

Carbs? Well the standard twin SU set up that featured on the majority of engines can handle a fair bit more power with suitable rejetting before the recommended inevitable switch to twin Weber DCOEs is necessary. A session on the rolling road will pull out a few horses more power even on a standard lump by way of fine tuning.

Talking of power, Amazon Cars doesn’t like to quote bare bhp figures because it says they can be misleading, especially if your car’s engine is below par. But famed Volvo tuner Ruddspeed (you can still find tuning parts on eBay or a good auto jumble – or try the owners club!) used to quote power outputs of 120-145bhp depending upon engine.

Which engine to use? If you’re into historic racing/rallying then only the B18 is eligible, otherwise the lustier 2-litre is the better bet, plus it can be taken out to 2.1-litres. As for alien engines we’ve heard about P1800s running with modern Volvo five-cylinder units but simpler swaps have to be from the 140/240 ranges, perhaps the overhead cam four pot 2.3… Or what about a lusty straight six? In fact as early as ‘64 some owners were experimenting with Ford V8 units – so there’s fair scope.

Even if you keep your Volvo in a mild state of tune, replacements such as an uprated radiator, oil cooler and electric fan, electronic ignition and a rolling road session are all worth the money.

Most models came with overdrive – just on top for the last P1800s – and this is virtually as good as a five-speed gearbox. There are no changes to the ratios, but Amazon retails a sturdier unit for rallying. We also understand that the evergreen Sierra ‘box can be grafted on, as can later Volvo 240 units. There are two types of rear axles, EMV or Spicer, the sturdier latter which is by far most desired and fitted to all P1800s.

Handling The Power...

For its day, the Amazon and P1800 boasted a pretty advanced chassis. At the front were double wishbones while the rear sported coil springs and telescopic dampers all round. Indeed, Amazon Cars does not recommend deviating much from this spec, apart from the usual uprated springs and dampers; the company advises Bilstein shocks with its own uprated and lowered (by 20mm) springs. The rear axle is located by robust rear radius arms but the bushes are prone to wear so replace with uprated ‘poly’ type for better feel and durability. Amazon Cars has its own tweaks for the front suspension geometry, with just a touch of negative; its website has all the details.

Like the suspension, the disc/drum brakes were very good for their day and remain so if in good order. Rear discs, fitted to P1800s from Sep ‘70) can be fitted but Amazon only recommends uprating as far as Mintex pads and braided brake pipes.

Finally tyres. These Volvos ran on 165s as standard but don’t be tempted to go mad here. Just an upgrade to 185/70s is deemed necessary for road use (with good quality tyres obviously). Amazon’s Emma Honchoz says that she recently drove a modded P1800 on 205s and it ruined the car’s feel plus made the already substantial steering very heavy. A rack and pinion conversion has been devised by another tuner we’re told, but we know of little of its effectiveness or price. There’s also an EZ power steering conversion, utilising an electric set up from the Vauxhall Corsa we’re informed, but it does cost some £1500. Contact Mike Waters 01626 770400/07967 439596. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for ruller information.

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