Remember the one about the perfect dinner party, where the Italians do the food, the Germans the planning and the British provide the witty banter - or something along those lines? Well the story of the Volvo P1800 is a lot like that. Sort of…
It begins in 1959, when Volvo set out to create a sports car for both European and US markets. Styling for the sleek new machine came courtesy of famed designer Pietro Frua, whose studio at the time was a subsidiary of Ghia. Italian influence was a feature that Volvo was very proud of, the company continuing to highlight it to this day.
Despite its stunning proportions, however, getting the P1800 into production would prove to be more difficult than expected. Volvo’s own plants were already at capacity, and an attempt to outsource manufacturing to German outfit Karmann was blocked by Volkswagen - Karmann’s biggest customer - which feared that the model would eat into sales of its own cars.
The entire project was nearly scrapped - only for Jensen Motors to save the day. The British manufacturer subcontracted Scottish firm Pressed Steel to create the Volvo’s unibody shell, which was then transported to its own under-employed West Bromwich facility, where enough slack existed for a total of 10,000 examples to be built.
With Italian design, Swedish planning and British manufacturing, then, Volvo seemed to be on to a winner, the P1800 standing as a prime example of successful multinational cooperation. Except that wasn’t quite the whole story.
Despite initial insistence to the contrary, Volvo eventually acknowledged that the P1800’s design came not from the pen of Frua himself, but his Swedish understudy, Pelle Petterson. A truth which the firm only officially recognised 50 years after the fact. Then there was the small matter of that famously dependable British manufacturing. Thanks to what the ad kindly refers to as “problems with quality control”, Jensen’s contract was cut short after just 6,000 cars, following which production was relocated to Volvo's Gothenburg plant in 1963.
However that was far from the end of the P1800. Following its return home a more powerful ‘S’ model was launched (S standing for Sverige, or Sweden). It was this iteration which would go on, in 1998, to set the record for the highest mileage private vehicle driven by its original owner, Irv Gordon’s car exceeding 3.2m miles under his stewardship. The P1800 also found fame, of course, as Simon Templar’s transportation in The Saint; Sir Roger Moore, who played the smooth secret agent, even owning a P1800 of his own.
The example we have here is an ‘E’ variant, which was introduced in 1970. It benefits from a fuel-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor, putting out 130hp and resulting in a 0-60 time of 9.3 seconds and a 118mph top speed. Owned since 1981 by a Volvo mechanic (who better?) it looks to have been meticulously cared for during its life and is said to have recently received new tyres and a “brake overhaul”, as well as being recommissioned for road use after two years in storage.
A relatively rare and timelessly pretty car in its own right, the P1800 also stands as a particularly high water mark in Volvo’s largely boxy back catalogue. A Swedish design, with Swedish planning, built in Sweden. The perfect combination, as it turns out.
SPECIFICATION - VOLVO P1800
Engine: 4-cylinder, 2,000cc
Transmission: 4-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 130hp@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 94lb ft@3,500rpm
Recorded mileage: 104,000
First registered: 1972
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £25,950