We take a good look at the sports car made famous by Roger Moore in The Saint

LISTEN 04:58

Volvo and sportiness didn’t exactly go hand in hand 50 years ago, although one car with nippy ambitions stood out from the Swedish carmaker’s lineup. That car was the P1800, which came to change Volvo’s fortunes in the sports car arena after the resoundingly unsuccessful, fiberglass-bodied P1900. Volvo churned out 39,414 P1800s between 1961 and 1972, in three derivatives: P1800 S, 1800 S - S stood for Sverige or Sweden, and 1800 E - E stood for einspritzung, which means fuel injection in German.

These days, you can get a P1800 for as much as €49,500 (around $58,000) on used car websites such as Classic Driver.

Volvo P1800 Exterior

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927732

For the P1800’s exterior styling, Volvo went to Pelle Petterson, who was a sailor and yacht designer. He was also the son of Helmer Petterson, the man in charge of Volvo’s PV444 back in the 1940s.

In designing the P1800, Pelle worked under the supervision of Pietro Frua, whose studio was at the time a subsidiary of Carrozzeria Ghia. Hence the zesty Italian vibe oozed by the P1800’s body panels, in serious contrast with the Swedish design approach. What’s more, the floor pan of the P1800 was, in fact, a shorter version of the Volvo 121/122S, so the car had a shorter wheelbase as a result (245 centimeters or 8.03 feet). Overall length came in at 440 centimeters (14.4 feet).

As Jay Leno once said, this car could have easily been a Ferrari. It was rare, it was cool, it had just the right visual appeal with those round headlights, long hood, swooping rear side fins and then it had the fame, courtesy of a prolonged appearance in the British hit television series The Saint.

In the last year of its career, the P1800 was also offered in three-door estate form (call it a shooting brake if you wish).

Volvo P1800 Interior

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927737

Inside, the Volvo P1800 is a display of elegance and less is more creed. There’s a wooden, two-spoke steering wheel the size of a large pizza waiting to be held, the seats are nicely contoured, not bolstered, which makes them look (and perhaps feel) pretty much like a foamy sofa.

As you drive, you’re getting your information from a pair of Smiths gauges in the instrument cluster, the rear-view mirror is glued to the dashboard, and the straight shifter just waits for your command of the gearbox. It’s almost serene inside the P1800, which we bet helps a lot with the driving experience, as do the flip-action front windows.

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927738

Despite the neat looks, the cabin was criticized because the seats were mounted too low and the dash too high, headroom was virtually non-existent (thank the low roofline for that) and the rear bench could only accommodate bags of groceries or small children at best.

Volvo P1800 Powertrain

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927735

Volvo fitted the P1800 with a then brand-new 1.8-liter (1778 cc), four-cylinder gasoline engine. The initial power rating was 100 horsepower, but over the years, the unit saw it bumped to 108, 115, and 120 horsepower. Come 1968, the P1800 got a 2.0-liter (1986 cc), carbureted engine with 118 horsepower followed by a fuel-injected derivative in 1969 - but power only went up to 120 horsepower.

The gearbox range included three options: a four-speed manual, a four-speed manual with overdrive, or a 3-speed automatic. In the front, the P1800 sported hydraulic disc brakes, while the rear had drums. Later models got discs on all four corners.

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927749

Coming back to the derivatives we mentioned earlier, it’s worth noted that at first, Volvo contracted the P1800 assembly work to UK’s Jensen, who in turn subcontracted the body production to Pressed Steel. Assembly was, however, carried out in Jensen’s workshops.

But Volvo wasn’t happy with the level of build quality and reliability baked in by Jensen so it moved assembly to Göteborg and Lundbyverken in 1963. That’s when the P1800 S started to come out of the production line, with the S marking the fact that it was built it Sweden. The P1800 E was born in 1969, when Volvo moved body production to Sweden, too.

1961 - 1972 Volvo P1800
- image 927731
Volvo P1800 specifications
Model P1800 P1800 E
Layout front engine, RWD front engine, RWD
Engine inline-4, 2 valves/cylinder inline-4, 2 valves/cylinder
Capacity 1778 cc 1986 cc
Power 100 hp 120 hp
Torque 108 lb-ft 123 lb-ft
Gearbox 4-speed manual + overdrive 4-speed manual + overdrive
Weight 1118 kg 1130 kg
Top speed 103 mph 110 mph
0-60 mph 13.2 s 9.6 s

Source: Pyritz Classics GmbH via Classic Driver

Tudor Rus
Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read full bio
About the author

Related Articles

Video: Jay Leno Reviews The 1967 Volvo P1800 From The Saint

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder:
  • Volvo P1800