Practical Classics (UK)

Volvo 1800

From P1800 coupé to practical 1800ES, James Walshe checks out this svelte Swede


Why you want one

When Volvo gets sporty, you’re guaranteed a uniquely beautiful car. Styled by Pelle Peterson while working for Frua, the P1800 captivated buyers back then, just as it does today. Whether you’re looking at bagging an original or a lastof-the-line 1800ES (as pictured here), it’s worth knowing this is the Swedish sports car that very nearly didn’t get built. Karmann was earmarked to commence production in the late Fifties until VW threatened to pull the plug on their partnershi­p with the Osnabrück manufactur­er. Volvo instead hastily partnered with Jensen Motors, with Pressed Steel in Linwood building the shells.

The first P1800 left the West Bromwich line in September 1960 and 6000 were built before Volvo shifted production in 1963 to Gothenburg, where it was rebadged 1800S (although body shells were built at Linwood and shipped to Sweden until 1968). Buyers hunting either of those two models, or the later 1800E 1800ES, will be thrilled to know there’s a market bristling with enthusiasm and support. The actual cars can be much harder to come by, however. Here, we help you to find your dream example.

Which one do I want?

The rarest and, to some, most desirable is the earliest Jensen-built P1800. Many parts are unique to the model, with items such as the roulette wheel trims expensive and hard to source these days. Most of these models were built with the steering wheel on the left and ended up elsewhere in the world, so you may have to work hard if your heart is set on one. When Volvo's West Bromwich production line shut down in 1963, Volvo began assembling 1800S in Sweden retaining the earlier car’s Pressed Steel built body, but gaining a new range of standard Volvo paint schemes.

If you’re viewing a car from 1964 onwards, you’ll find your 1800S has a new-style bodyshell and doors, among other things. This 1778cc 1800S

model was tweaked again cosmetical­ly over the following few years so be sure to check with the clubs to find out what your chosen 1963-1969 version is. These run from ‘Type B’ to ‘Type ‘P’.

The final 1800S arrived in showrooms in 1968 and is something of a rarity. While it’s the first to be fitted with the new 1986cc B20 engine (with twin SU or Strombergs), it was also the last incarnatio­n of the car to have a Pressed Steel made body.

Big changes occurred in 1969 when the allswedish ‘Type T’ 1800 ‘Einspritzu­ng’ replaced the 1800S, Volvo finally waving farewell to carbs with a Bosch D-jetronic fuel injection system. Purchase yourself an 1800E and you’ll find four-wheel disc brakes – useful when you have around 130bhp and a top speed of 118mph. The version you see on these pages is the 1800ES, which was introduced in 1972. It had a painfully short life and is a real catch these days. Owners love its style, frameless rear hatch and extra practicali­ty and despite small production numbers, many have survived. It is a Volvo, after all.

What to look for

Be aware that a rusty P1800 can be a chore, even for the skilled DIY restorer. Before purchase, get underneath and inspect the entire floor (some of it is double skinned). Check the three-piece sills, as replacemen­t is complex and requires the bottoms of the wings to be cut off. Look to see if the vertical seam at each end is still visible. Rear wings corrode at their extremitie­s, too. Watch for rot in door posts, the radiator crossmembe­r and front scuttle below the windscreen. Push down on the panel near the ‘screen rubber – if it moves, beware. That area of the body is also double

skinned and will cause you headaches. Inspect the chassis member that runs from the headlamps to the bulkhead, up inside the front wings. Volvo fitted foam into this area, which holds water and attacks the wing from within. Bonnet hinges can seize, resulting in damage to the inner and outer skins. Examine the brightwork – replacemen­ts are rare and pricey.

Engines are robust and proper maintenanc­e can see the B18/B20 units pass 200,000 miles with ease. Oil and filter changes (with a genuine Volvo filter) should take place every 6000 miles. Camshafts can wear and listen for noises from the timing gear, which uses both fibre and steel gears. Poor running could be down to carbs in need of an overhaul and although the Bosch injection system is reliable any issues will need specialist attention. Injection parts can be costly.

Manual gearboxes are strong. It’s unusual to find an 1800 in the UK without overdrive, but bear in mind that so-equipped ‘boxes use engine oil, not gear oil. Rear discs were fitted as standard from 1970; it was the usual combinatio­n of discs and drums with either singleor dual-circuit hydraulics prior to that. The good news is that consumable­s are mostly easy and cheap to source although DIY owners should note that a special hub-puller is needed to remove the rear drums.

The suspension is convention­al and while wishbone bushes last reasonably well, replacing them isn’t difficult if yours is in need. The steering should feel light on the move so heaviness will need investigat­ing; it could be that a worn steering box has been over-adjusted.

Cabin materials stand up well and general simplicity means that wear and damage will be obvious. Replacemen­t carpets and seat covers are easy to get hold of and not that prohibitiv­ely expensive but some smaller trim items are no longer available. Lastly, there’s the electrics to check and aside from age-related issues it’s an area that’s rarely troublesom­e. Oh, and check all the gauges are working as they can fail on early cars. ■

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