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Performance Specialists Since 1963

Volvo P1800

1961-1973 Volvo P1800 - P1800, 1800E, 1800ES

In the late 1950s, Volvo president Assar Gabrielsson was interested in a sporty 2-door in the same mould as the Chevrolet Corvette: a low volume roadster, with engines and equipment borrowed from other Volvos and fiberglass body panels. This experiment, the Volvo "Sport", sold a mere 68 cars from 1956-1957 before production was cancelled due to quality issues: when Gabrielsson stepped down, incoming president Gunnar Engellau test drove one and declared afterwards, "I thought it would fall apart!"

To meet Volvo's quality standards, the way forward was clearly mass production methods, not low-volume hand assembly. Design and prototyping work began on this new P1800, now using Volvo Amazon running gear under a swoopy body designed by Pietro Frua and Pelle Petterson (son of the P1800 project manager Helmer Petterson), with both contracted to famed Italian coachbuilder Ghia.

Volvo sought to have Karmann in Germany produce the bodies for them under contract, but after VW intervened (fearing competition with their own Beetle-based Karmann Ghia), Volvo turned to Jensen Motors in the UK. By 1960, the first P1800s were rolling off the line with 1.8L B18 engines and M40 4-speed manuals, with the M41 4-speed with "D-type" overdrive for B18s and "J-type" for B20s available as an option from 1963.

As with many other Volvos from the late 1950s through the 1970s, "overdrive" in cars with this option was a separate overdrive unit attached to the rear of the transmission, between the transmission and the driveshaft. On pressing the "overdrive" switch on the shifter at cruising speed, the "D-type" Laycock de Normanville overdrive assembly would engage a higher gear; effectively, a Laycock overdrive unit is a self-contained 5th gear bolted to the outside of a 4-speed transmission.

These cars, also sometimes simply called the 1800s, proved to be strong sellers, enough so that Volvo eventually ended the contract with Jensen in 1963 and moved production home to their Lundby plant in Gothenberg, Sweden. This all-Swedish 1800got mild engine improvements over its life, eventually receiving a 2.0L B20B in 1969, and a fuel-injected B20E with Bosch D-Jetronic engine management in 1970 for what was now the 1800E. In the USA, we got a B20F with slightly lower compression from 1972, to meet incoming emissions requirements.

1972 also saw the introduction of one of the most iconic Volvo shapes: the 1800ES shooting brake. It was somewhere between a hatchback and a traditional wagon in shape, with unique touches like an all-glass back hatch keeping it stylish as well as practical. The rear seat-backs could fold all the way flat, giving this low-slung 1970s sports car a load area comparable to a modern hatchback. 

The 1800E stopped production for the 1973 model year, with the "breadvan" 1800ES following suit a year later. It had no direct replacement in the Volvo lineup for many years, with the (not available in the US) 480 and later C30 hot hatches emulating the 1800ES's shooting brake shape and all-glass hatch.

The good looks of the 1800 made it popular, and over the years it's appeared in the hands of people like Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Roger Daltry of The Who, and as the personal car of Roger Moore's character in the Anglo-American TV thriller series The Saint.

The 1800 is famous on its own as the Guinness World Record holder of the world's highest-mileage car, with Long Island based owner Irving Gordon putting 3,260,257 miles on his one-owner 1966 1800S before he passed away in 2018.

Volvo P1800

  • Two door coupe
  • Final assembly by Jensen in the UK from 1961 through 1962
  • B18 engine with M40 four speed manual transmission

Volvo 1800S

  • Two door coupe
  • Built in Volvo's  "Lundby" Gothenburg factory from 1963 through 1969
    • 1963 - 1965 B18 engine
    • 1966 - 1969 B20 engine
  • M40 four speed manual transmission
  • M41 four speed manual transmission with overdrive (option)
    • "D-type" overdrive for B18s
    • "J-type" overdrive for B20s

Volvo 1800E

  • Two door coupe
  • Sold in the USA from 1970 through 1972 model year
  • Bosch D-Jetronic electronic (analog) fuel injection
  • 1970-1971 B20E engine (high compression)
  • 1972 B20F engine (lower compression)
  • Four wheel disc brakes

Volvo 1800ES

  • Shooting brake (two door wagon)
  • Sold in the USA from 1972 through 1973 model year
  • Bosch D-Jetronic electronic (analog) fuel injection
  • B20F engine

Model information is based on the USA vehicle market. Other model variations may exist outside the USA.

Here are some popular products for Volvo P1800

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