Faultlessly stylish, the iconic Swedish sports coupe is sixty years old and the ‘saintly’ P1800 looks just as good now as it did at the Brussels Motor Show in early 1960.
In January 1960, the Volvo P1800, designed by the Swede Pelle Petterson instantly became an attraction at the Brussels auto show as a prototype close to series production.
A Volvo that had the looks of an Italian Gran Turismo and glamour of a British cult sports car, the P1800 is now the most accepted Swedish sports coupe boasting a career that only came to an end in the 1970s.
It was Swedish designer Pelle Petterson that designed the desirable Volvo P1800 in the Italian design studios of Frua from 1957 onwards, with contemporary fins at the rear as a reference to the rocket age that was developing nearly as fast as lava lamps and Beatlemania in the sixties.
Designed in Italy with proven Swedish technology and body pressed in Scotland, the P1800 was assembled from 1961 by the English sports car specialist Jensen Motors. Unfortunately, due to poor quality, the first 250 cars were sent back to the factory for repair before they were actually delivered to Gothenburg. A problem that was only finally solved in 1963, when the production was relocated to the Lundby plant in Sweden.
Synonymous with safety, the P1800 was also the world’s first sports coupé to be fitted with seat belts for all four passengers as standard, with Volvo Germany demonstrating the stability of this restraint system as early as 1961 in a show at the port of Hamburg.
In a bizarre test of automotive stamina, a Volvo P1800 was held by only the factory fitted three-point seat belts, ominously suspended by a crane above the port facility. needless to say, the outcome was more than satisfactory.
It was the dynamic styling, elongated bonnet and tenacious stance that lured producers of the English TV crime series ‘The Saint’ to choose a Volvo 1800 S as the lead car for the legendary Simon Templar, embodied by the late, great British actor Roger Moore.
Volvo Cars showcased ‘the’ illustrious 1800 S once owned by Moore at the Volvo Cars Heritage stand at Techno-Classica Essen, Germany; the first time the Swedish classic has ever been showcased at a classic car show in Europe.
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The car was actually built at the Volvo Torslanda plant in Sweden in November 1966. The 1800 S in Pearl White is equipped with Mini-Lite wheels with the rare original ‘truncated’ spoke design, Hella fog lamps and a Volvo wooden steering wheel. Inside, the car still has details from the filming of The Saint, such as a thermometer on the dashboard and a separate interior fan, used to cool the actors during studio filming.
Moore is the documented first registered owner of this famous 1800 S. The London registration plates, NUV 648E were issued on 20 January 1967 with the ‘Saint’ signing the registration papers a fortnight later and following the car ever since until recently traced to a Mercedes A-class.
In 1972 the last coupé – a Volvo 1800 E – rolled off the assembly line and a year later the final Volvo 1800 ES. A total of 47,855 units of the racy Swedes were built, including 39,778 coupes.
Since then, the Volvo P1800 needs little introduction thanks to a certain Simon Templar and continues to demonstrate its popularity around the classic car scene with prices remaining high for good condition vehicles.