The Volvo P1800 was shown publicly for the first time at the Brussels Salon in January 1960. Although nobody was surprised that Volvo had once more decided to produce a sports car, the `un-Swedish’ lines were something of a surprise. One of the most popular accessories were the spoked wheels which were fitted using the ordinary wheel nuts and looked the real thing. A new 75 kW B18B engine gave the car excellent performance and proved to be an extremely hard wearing sports car engine.
Volvo was careful to point out that the new engine was of a particularly rugged design, emphasising that the crankshaft featured 54 mm journals as compared with 47 mm in Ferrari’s 260 kW engine. Also, the engine was of a robust design in other respects. It was provided with generously sized water passages around the cylinders and was equipped with an oil cooler which used the engine coolant as cooling medium, thereby reducing the oil temperature by 20-30 degrees Celsius during hard driving. The compression ratio was as high as 9.5:1 and the rated output was specified as 75 kW at 5500 rpm.
An overdrive unit was available for the four-speed gearbox and the front and rear suspensions were basically modified versions of the Amazon systems. Girling disc brakes were fitted at the front and drum brakes at the rear, with servo assistance as standard.
Much publicity was obtained for the car when it was used in the TV series `The Saint’ with Roger Moore, surrounded by beautiful women, roaring off in his P1800, pursued by villains attempting vainly to overtake the escaping white car! It turned out the choice of the P1800 was pure coincidence, as the actor later recounted in an interview with a European magazine. A Jaguar was to be used but Jaguar was not at all helpful in making a car available for the series whereas Volvo was.
The distinction of `most beautiful sports car’ awarded at a Concours d’Elegance held in Germany was greeted with much satisfaction by Volvo although some spectators, whilst agreeing that the car had an interesting and distinctive appearance, saw the upward sweeping side chrome strip as more peculiar than elegant.
In more recent years, the P1800 has become a cult car in several quarters with clubs being formed in many countries and the arrival of the retro-styled Volvo C30 back in 2007 added to its appeal. Despite the considerable criticism leveled at the model when it was produced, one fact remains clear: the P1800 was extremely rugged in construction and was equipped with an engine capable of withstanding the efforts of the most reckless drivers. It has undoubtedly survived in much greater numbers than many of its more exotic competitors, which often lacked these qualities.