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V.I.S.I.T: 1969 Volvo P1800S


It was the last thing I expected to see on a riverside walk in Essex, a beautifully preserved example of one of the most intriguing products ever to issue from Scandinavia. And in such a wonderfully understated colour that I’ll dub Swedish Racing Dolphin.

The Saintly P1800 was the first successful statement of a sports car written in Volvonese, and a completely immortal piece of rolling sculpture. It was always a car to divide opinion; with equal naysayers and devotees. But which am I, and more importantly, which are you?


I know I’ll get a good kicking for this, but the Squashed Oval grille on the P reminds me rather of that seen on the Ford Scorpio which receives a proper mauling any time the subject “worlds worst cars” comes around. But I like the Scorpio. I like the P1800, too. The question has to be, is it beautiful?

The roofline is, certainly. Sweeping gracefully towards the rear deck, this feature alone could have graced any number of Alfas or Lancias. Seriously sinuous, it’s one of the highlights of the car.


The tail-lamps, too, are delightful. Though they compare directly with the aftermarket units seen so often on caravans and trailers, they are at least minimal and discrete, contrasting with the stylistic flourishes found all over the rest of the car.

There’s just so much going on with the P1800, it’s a riot or shapes and forms. If walking from front to back for the first time you might ask yourself where on earth those fins came from. The chances are they were a legacy of the fact that the P1800 was designed in the late ’50s, when Fin-O-Rama was in full swing and the lucrative American market couldn’t get enough of them. They were showing up in all sorts of unlikely places, on Mercedes’, on Austins and here, on a Volvo.


When you come to the plain, steel disc wheels with chromium hubcaps, it comes of something of a visual relief. They’re absolutely lovely in this context, and I wish this kind of design simplicity would make a comeback. I know that modern big brakes need big cooling, and big wheels need big holes to comply, but these look really businesslike. Really honest.

Actually, perhaps the reason I like the P1800 is because it’s so challenging to look at? That might well be it. Perhaps it’s like great cooking, where a roster of seemingly incompatible ingredients actually just happen to hang together miraculously well.

Bring on the mackerel and raspberry jam sandwiches.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Chris Haining]