Volvo cars have always been known for being reliable, sturdy and well-built. In the 1950’s, the distinctly American-looking PV444/544 series was the car that cemented Volvo’s reputation for tough, sensible cars with just a bit of a sporting edge. American enthusiasts had discovered the B-series engine could be highly tuned and Volvos were giving Porsches, MGs and Healeys some unlikely competition on the race track. The bosses at Volvo were very aware of their reputation and wanted to capitalize on it with a proper sports car. They envisioned a “halo” model that would attract attention to show rooms and help sell regular sedans. Their first attempt, the P1900, was designed by Glasspar of California and rode on a PV444 chassis. Performance was good, and it was attractive, but it proved to be a serious failure. The car did not live up to typical Volvo quality standards, market demand was weak and only 68 examples were built.
But Volvo did not give up and commissioned a new car, based on a shortened Amazon chassis with an all new steel body. Several Italian design firms were courted to style the car, while Volvo’s in-house team also worked up a proposal. The resulting car was largely a Swedish design, albeit tweaked by Frua of Turin who also built the first prototypes. Once the final design for the P1800 was approved, the next problem became where to build it. Volvo’s assembly plants were already at maximum capacity with the 544 and Amazon. After consulting with several firms, Volvo eventually settled on two British companies to build the new P1800. Pressed Steel Company of West Bromwich would manufacture the major body components and Jensen Motors Limited would handle the final assembly. Quality control problems with Pressed Steel soon arose and the rising cost of shipping cars and parts back and forth from Sweden meant Volvo needed to take over production at home. Of the nearly 50,000 P1800’s built; only 6,000 left the Jensen factory in 1961/62 making these the rarest of all production P1800’s.
This Jensen-built 1961 P1800 is a very original and excellent driving example. It has never been fully restored; rather it has been well kept and lovingly maintained through the years. Look closely and you’ll notice several differences between this and later Swedish built cars. The unusual wheel covers are correct and very rare, styled after those that appeared on the Frua prototypes. Other detail differences include C-pillar badges, the upturned split front bumper design, and interior door panels. This car has had one repaint in the correct original color and still presents very well, with straight body lines and good panel fit. Exterior trim is also in nice original condition. The under hood area is nicely detailed and the correct “Assembled in England” VIN tag is present. Inside the stylish cockpit, tidy black and white upholstery is accented with plenty of bright trim and offset by red carpets. Out on the road, this car exudes that certain feel only an unrestored car can provide, feeling tight, strong and planted. This is a supremely nice example of a rare early P1800.