Five Clas­sic Tri­als

Volvo 1800ES

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - WORDS David Simister PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Stu­art Collins

Don’t let those fly­weight looks fool you. All that glass and those trim pro­por­tions lend the 1800ES the air of a four-wheeled

Grand De­signs en­trant, with the em­pha­sis on eye-grab­bing ar­chi­tec­ture over all else.

But for­get the ex­te­rior aes­thet­ics for a mo­ment. Slide in­side and close the slen­der door and it’s a rather dif­fer­ent story. It’s all very solid and sen­si­ble – more West­min­ster Abbey than The Shard – and the bet­ter for it. The huge three-spoke steer­ing wheel doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly off­set and of­fers a clear view of the di­als ahead. There’s a re­as­sur­ing chunk­i­ness to the rim too; your hands may have to work hard in tighter turns, but it’s some­how re­as­sur­ing to know that you’re grasp­ing some­thing as deeply rooted into the car’s me­chan­i­cals as an old oak tree.

There’s more re­as­sur­ing heft to the cricket ball-sized gear­knob – which seems to fill the palm of your hand when you go for a shift – on top of the lever sprout­ing of the trans­mis­sion tun­nel at a 45-de­gree an­gle and a lovely clunk­i­ness to the bank of hefty rocker switches im­me­di­ately above it. The Smiths rev counter and speedome­ter are clear and easy to read and the wood trim in which they’re cloaked feels like it’s been cho­sen more for work­top so­lid­ity than aes­thetic ap­peal. Even the front pas­sen­ger grab han­dle feels like it could with­stand a nu­clear blast.

It’s a feel­ing that con­tin­ues when you fire up Volvo’s B20 unit, slot the gear lever into first and point the long bon­net at the road. There’s plenty of mid-range oomph and a size­able (if not ex­actly blis­ter­ing) help­ing of torque when the revs climb past 3000rpm. It feels like an en­gine that’s been de­signed more for rugged per­for­mance than smooth­ness, but with Bosch fuel in­jec­tion rather than old school car­bu­ret­tors do­ing its bid­ding, there’s no doubt­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness.

Tackle a cor­ner and any­one ex­pect­ing it to tickle their tick­lish bits is go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed. Point this car’s 15-inch Goodyears at a twisty stretch of road and it re­sponds with some body roll and a hint of over­steer if you pro­voke it – and plenty of pre­dictable un­der­steer if you don’t – but not much else. The steer­ing is light but not par­tic­u­larly com­mu­nica­tive – it feels more like a light­ened and low­ered fam­ily sa­loon than an out-and-out sports car.

Not that you’ll care, partly be­cause the Volvo’s sup­ple ride and easy­go­ing na­ture mean that it’s a su­perb baby GT and partly be­cause it looks ut­terly be­guil­ing. The P1800’s Frua-penned lines have al­ways been charm­ing but you have to say that the 1800ES’ load­lug­ging body is even bet­ter still. The three-door es­tate’s in­her­ent con­cept – merg­ing eye-catch­ing coupé aes­thet­ics with boxy prac­ti­cal­ity – re­ally shouldn’t work but it comes to­gether beau­ti­fully. For­get that it can just about haul four adults and their lug­gage, and just mar­vel at that enor­mous swathe of tail­gate glass in­laid with a chromed boot han­dle.

It’s a shame that the 1800ES was only sold for two years – it may lack out­right han­dling piz­zazz, but makes up for it in its style and so­lid­ity.

There’s so much more to it than its un­de­ni­ably pretty face.

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