Volvo celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the P1800 at TechnoClassica show in Essen
Volvo builds a sports car
Unless you’re over fifty years old or a fan of vintage Volvos, you’ve probably never heard of the P1800. Originally conceived in 1957, Volvo built the sports coupe, plus a station wagon version in the latter part of the model’s life, from 1961 until 1973.
That the car even exists at all is largely due to Helmer Petterson, an engineering consultant to the company at the time, and Helmer’s son Pelle. Helmer, a Volvo legend, had previously been responsible for another Volvo model, the PV444, which was built by the company following World War Two.
During this period, Helmer’s son, Pelle, happened to be a young student working temporarily at the Italian design studio Pietro Frua. While there and unbeknownst to Volvo, Pelle designed the P1800. Later on after finding out, management was very upset by the fact that their sports car was designed by an unknown Swedish student and it wasn’t until 2009 that Volvo officially acknowledged Pelle as the stylist responsible for the P1800.
Production was originally scheduled to begin in 1958, but German coachbuilder Karmann backed out after its biggest customer, Volkswagen, threatened to pull their business if Karmann took the job. VW, it seems, felt that the P1800 might take sales away from their own Karmann Ghia model.
At one point, Helmer Petterson, himself, even began to look for financing in order to market the car on his own. Then, unexpectedly, a press release with a photo of the car surfaced, Volvo was forced to acknowledge its existence and the rest, as they say, is history.
Last weekend, Volvo celebrated the P1800’s fiftieth anniversary at the world’s largest indoor show for classic vehicles, the TechnoClassica show in Essen, Germany. On hand were six very special versions:
• X1 - the very first P1800 prototype that was hand-built in 1957 at Frua in Turin
• 1961 P1800 - an example of a very nice series-production car assembled at Jensen Motor Ltd in the U.K.
• 1963 P1800S Rally car – yes, Volvo did successfully race and rally the P1800
• 1966 1800S Volvoville – very rare and one of the very few existing US-built convertibles
• 1971 1800E - perfectly rebuilt and a mint example of the most unusual type
• 1971 1800ES - the sportswagon with all the funny nicknames, and a model that turns 40 this year
In addition to the cars, two celebrities who should be familiar to Volvo aficionados everywhere also attended the show.
The first was Irv Gorden, a gentleman and Guinness World Record-holder from Long Island, New York that has spent more time in a P1800, guaranteed, than anyone else, having driven his 1966 1800S, which he bought new, over 2.8 million miles.
The second was Pelle Petterson. Despite the fact that it took Volvo nearly fifty years to acknowledge the fact that Pelle designed the 1800, Petterson has managed to live what most of us would consider a full life.
After designing the 1800, he left the auto industry and went on to become a world-famous yacht designer and sailor - designing the Maxi Class sailing boats, winning Olympic bronze and silver medals as well as a world championship in the Starboat class, and skippering the Swedish America’s Cup challenges in both 1977 and 1980.
images courtesy of Volvo and Claes Rydholm, Volvo Heritage Manager