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Volvo P1800

Volvo P1800 Published: 25th Jan 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
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Why not own a...? Volvo P1800+

Volvo built its reputation on safety and seriousness but there was a time when the staid Swede also had some fun – the P1800 saw to that. Best known for its leading role in The Saint, this coupé made Volvo a household name outside Sweden and it’s one of the most recognisable classics on the block. Yet despite those exotic looks they are as simple to run as an MGB GT and prices are fast heading north. True, some parts are hard and costly to obtain and they rot like mad. Should this make the P1800 a saint or sinner in your books?

Model choice

The P1800 was in production for little more than a decade and – ES sport hatch excepted – changed very little, meaning you can concentrate more on the condition of a potential buy rather than its spec. Mids-based Jensen assembled the first cars, with the bodyshells being produced by Pressed Steel in Scotland. Build quality of these early P1800s – 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.

By 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) and at the same time the power went up from 100bhp to 108bhp. However, the early cars carry a cachet, not least because of the novel ‘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 1968, that the first real significant update occurred 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 2-litre engine was given a further lift for the 1970s when Bosch fuel injection replaced the previous twin SU carburettors, with a resultant change to 1800E badging – E being short for Einspritz, German for fuel injection. Disc brakes were also fitted all round from this point on and in 1971 a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gearbox became available for the first time.

By 1972 the decade old 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 Saint’s steed because the 1800ES sports hatch, launched in the previous year, continued but that model lasted just two seasons, bowing out in 1973 just as our Reliant Scimitar GTE had one of its best ever sales years!

Most folks steer toward the saintly coupé if for no other reason because they remember it on the tele! But there’s little denying that it looks better than the ‘hearse-like’ ES although the latter sports 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 fitted – before the change to fuel injection this overhead valve engine kicked out 115bhp. 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 fix, too.

Behind the wheel

Mechanical make up is not dissimilar to our MGB and as they are from the same era, it’s not a great surprise to find that they drive pretty much the same, as well. With plenty of low-rev guts there’s no need to rev the Swede’s engine – which is just as well because it gets rather harsh when you explore the top end. For its day the P1800 was quite fast; 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 – standard on UK cars.

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 – as road tests praised the Swede for its effortless high speed cruising – “more a marathon runner than sprinter” remarked Motor.

What to pay

Coupés are becoming pretty hot property and heavenly ones can command £20,000 and then some – but on the other hand the curious ES is significantly cheaper. You can buy an 1800ES for around half the cost of an equivalent coupé, says Kevin Price who set up the Volvo Enthusiasts’ Club back in 1989, plus also owns a multitude of models including The Saint Car (www. thesaintvolvo.co.uk), as it originally appeared in the iconic 60’s TV programme alongside Roger Moore.

Any coupé is quite sought after although there’s still a definite pecking order. Particularly desirable are the earliest 1800s with the cow-horn bumpers (the P1800 and P1800S). But with just 50 or so of these cars in the UK, including scrappers, there aren’t many to go round. Find a Jensen-built car and you’ll pay £7000 for a complete heap, while something really nice will fetch £30,000; you’re unlikely to find a P1800S, as few were made and very few survive in the UK. If you’re lucky enough to find one, values are the same as for the Jensen-built cars.

The 1800 built from 1965 on (identified by flat bumpers and slotted wheels) are the most common of all the 1800 derivatives so it’s the one you’re most likely to find. You can pick up something worth owning for little more than £10,000, but if you want something really nice you’ll have to increase your budget to more like £20,000.

The next edition was the 2.0-litre 1800S, which is another rarity as it wasn’t built for long, which is why values are high. This has a bigger engine than any 1800 made up to this point – so it’s perkier – but it’s still got most of the charm of the others.

The final coupé was the 1800E, with its fuel-injected 2.0-litre engine. These are at the more affordable end of the spectrum, even though they’re rare because the 1800E was built for just three years. Their values reside somewhere between those for the 1800S 1.8 and the earlier models, so you can expect to pay over £20,000 for something really nice. Price warned us recently: “The

cars to avoid are those built in 1965, when Volvo started to cut costs. For example, instead of stainless steel trim there was anodised aluminium and a cheaply made flat grille”.

He further adds that because of the inherently lower values of the ES, owners have historically been less inclined to spend the necessary time and money on them.

Making one better

The 1800 is usable in standard form if set up properly. The brakes are quite good as standard so don’t really need any modifications save for harder pads such as EBC GreenStuff. Bigger brakes coming from later Volvos are a possibility.

Swapping an 1800 unit for a 2-litre one is a straight fit – 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 Amazon Cars (amazon cars. co.uk) who knows best how to set up these Swedes and also sells a variety of tuning parts, including ready to roll tuned engines.

Twin SUs are already fitted, so you can for bigger ones (try 1.75in ones) or you can fit 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 first step. Or if you’re skint, just fit KN or TR needles for under £15. 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 an EZ 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 yet has covered 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 is very much old school and hardly something to fear.

No, the biggest worry has to be the bodywork and rust. 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 – profile. 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 – it’s £450 a go for the rear ones and genuine front panels are no longer available but hand-made ones are.

Beware, repro sills don’t feature the correct curvature. In short, renovating a saintly Volvo is hell of an expense! 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.co.uk) and classic-volvo.com.

The front cross-member rots and it’s where you can’t see that’s the worry as it usually seems fine.

Patching it up properly is a real pain because it’s welded all the way round and accessibility is scant with the engine and its ancillaries in place, while steering box mountings and front outriggers rust as well.

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 clock when the engine has settled down to a warm idle, the engine should be in fine form – even better if it displays 50-55lbft once cruising. 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.

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 types 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.

In conclusion

P1800s are no longer the bargains they were not so long ago – but have you seen the prices of Ford Capris recently? When you consider the value of other instantly recognisable 60’s screen classics – the DB5 being the prime example – the Volvo sounds positively ‘cheap’ by comparison! And like the suave Roger Moore, they are stylish enough to raise an eyebrow or two…

Buying tips

1. General

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!

2. Body and chassis

Rust can be a major problem, with replacement panels largely unavailable; when they do crop up they’re costly. The inner and outer front wings are especially rot-prone, so look inside the wheelarch towards the top of the wing. Repairs cost around £1500 for each side. Genuine front panels are no longer available but hand-made ones are available.

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.

Front crossmember rots. 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.

The steering box mountings and front outriggers rust too. If the outriggers have gone it’s possible to buy Volvo replacements, which are the best ones to go for at £35 each. If the box mounting has rotted it’s more serious, because this is a chassis leg.

There are plenty more areas that can give problems, such as the fuel filler bowl surround, bootlid rear edge, the bonnet around the hinges, floorpans and the bottoms of the doors. Another area that can fill up with water is the floorpans. Final areas to check are the bonnet hinge mountings and rain channels.

3. Engine

Whichever unit is fitted there shouldn’t be any problems unless it’s done over 200,000 miles! 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 have been converted back to run on reliable old SU carbs and they are almost as good.

4. Running gear

At 100,000 miles the transmission is 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 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 overdrive-equipped car – poor earths, trapped wires, failed relays and a problematic fusebox on the inner wing.

If the steering is really heavy it’s because the steering box has been overtightened to remove any play, and the result will be a damaged box. 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 finding a replacement steering box as they’re not available except as second hand units.

Brakes parts may pose problems depending upon model and year but speak to a P1800 specialist or owners’ club to be sure.



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