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]

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.


  1. this is one of those rare old cars that i could see myself owning someday.
    if prices don't spike between now and whenever i start to consider myself a grown-up, they will be affordable, and they seem to be durable and have good support online.
    also they are pretty. like you say each element of the design is questionable but the whole package works out quite nicely.
    i don't think i have to bring up irv gordon's ten billion mile example, but he claims that he first had the bottom end rebuilt at about 600k and it turned out not to need it.

  2. I halfway expect to see Simon Templar and some lovely bird hop in and drive off, headed off to foil this week's bad guys.

  3. The cars from Jensen were called P1800 but the P prefix was dropped when production was moved to Sweden, which is also when the S suffix was added. This one's an 1800S. There is no such thing as a P1800S, despite widespread use of the term.

      1. Ha ha ha ha! Chris, thanks for the pretty photos, personally I like them in about every color but white. And long ago Dr. Harrell corrected me in about the same way. It should be in the FCbDH along the top of the web page by now.

  4. You can tell that Pelle Petterson tried to stew "everything" into one bowl, but I think it works very well. It is one beautiful car, and reliable, too. Quite the combination. Even though I'd prefer the station wagon, which is my default setting.
    <img src="http://static.skynetblogs.be/media/75960/dyn007_original_774_600_pjpeg_2585886_dc62a5d1da75c6f652a43d67d6eb3e66.jpg&quot; width="600">
    But just don't expect them to be fast with today's spoiled kids:
    [youtube JlCJ68LJYbk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlCJ68LJYbk youtube]

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