The Volvo P1800 was created in 1957 as Volvo wanted to offer something sporty for the export market. Volvo turned to Frua in Italy to design the car as they wanted…you guessed it…a car with Italian design.
Turns out…A Swedish designer, Pelle Petterson was working for Frua at the time and he was asked by the Frua management to come up with a design. They submitted several ideas anonomysly to the current Volvo president Gunnar Engellau in December 1957. Once he saw the P1800 he said: I want that! He did not know at the time that a Swede actually penned the car and was rather mad once he found out. He wanted “Italian design”. After Mr. Engellau cooled off a bit he gave the go ahead and aren’t we lucky he did!
Volvo did not have the capacity to build the car so they turned to Karmann in Germany and they were indeed interested. However, VW got wind of this and said they would pull their production from Karmann if they made a Volvo. So…Volvo looked around in Europe for other companies and finally made a deal with Pressed Steel in the UK to build the bodies and then have Jensen in West Bromwich to assemble the car. Jensen was for example building the Austin Healey. The contract was to build 10,000 cars.
Some of the design element were scrapped in order to streamline the production. For example, the drawings had the tail pipes coming out of the rear valance and the rear license plate recessed. Also, the rear quarter windows were fixed as opposed to the original design where they could open.
Volvo also wanted a new engine for this sports car so they developed the B-18. It was a quite an engine for it’s time:
It developed 100 hp SAE at 5 500 rpm while sucking Swedish air through a pair of 1 ¾ tums SU HS6 carburators.
Borg&Beck supplied the clutch and they opted for Volvo’s bullet proof M40 four speed transmission. You could also order a Laycock-de-Normanville electric overdrive that would give you a total ratio of 0,76:1. With the overdrive the rear axle ratio was 4,56:1 and without the rear had 4,10:1 ratio.
Volvo was not happy with the quality of work from the Jensen factory and decided to bring the P1800 manufacturing back to Sweden. The good news in all of this was that Volvo’s new car factory on Hisingen, Göteborg in Sweden was finished in 1963 and that meant that the older Lundby factory could be used for the P1800 manufacturing. After 6,000 cars made by Jensen the Volvo 1800 was now made in Sweden. This is why the designation P1800 changed to 1800S and the “S” stood for Sweden, not Sport as I have believed for all my life.
Volvo continue to improve the 1800S through out the years for safety, convenience and power until it’s demise in 1972 for the coupe and 1973 for the ES model (wagon). Volvo produced a total of 47,485 of which 8,078 were the ES model.
Photos: Volvo Herritage Press Kit