By NALLE WESTMAN
The classic image of Roger Moore driving his white Volvo P1800 sports car in the 1960’s ITV mystery spy series, The Saint, endures even today. The series helped to make the P1800 the 60s icon.
In mid-1950s the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo was pushing itself into the sports car business. Their first effort, the P1900, an open fiberglass body two-seater, launched in 1956, failed miserably – only 68 cars were sold before the model was killed off the next year.
In 1957 the company designed a new sports car model P1800, then only known as prototype P958-X1. The man behind the project was an engineering consultant to Volvo, Helmer Pettersson, who’s son Pelle Pettersson designed the car. In December 1957 Volvo negotiated a deal with the West German car manufacturer, Karmann, to start the production of the car in Germany, but in February 1958 Karmann withdrew from the deal under pressure from it’s most important customer, Volkswagen. Other German companies were contacted but eventually it was a British company, Jensen Motors, who made the deal with Volvo. Finally in September 1960 the car buying customers got the first glimpse of the Volvo P1800 when it rolled out of the assembly line.
The four-cylinder 100 hp engine, B18, which was actually developed from the pre-existing B36 V8 engine employed in Volvo trucks at the time, gave a top speed of roughly 110 mph (177 km/h). So the car wasn’t no road burner, but the engine did have dual SU carbs. It’s rear drum brakes and live rear axle meant that the car handled and stopped more like a conventional sedan than a sports car. As a stylish touring car, Volvo proved it’s worth. The 2+2 seater was supremely comfortable and it’s roomy trunk made the vehicle surprisingly usable for an attractive sports car.
In 1961 ITV laid plans to produce a TV-serie, The Saint, based on Leslie Charteris’ novels, with Roger Moore to play the lead character, Simon Templar. Naturally the cool spy needed a cool ride, so production supervisor Johnny Goodman went for a look out. Two new cars were introduced at the Geneva Motor Show that year, a Jaguar E-type and the Volvo P1800. Jaguar was first offered the opportunity to provide an E-Type for the series but declined. When asked for a P1800, Volvo jumped at the chance which led to an increase of sales of the P1800 and the creation of a 1960s’ icon – a of total 47 492 cars were produced between the years 1961 and 1973.
The Volvo Car Corporation supplied the “The Saint” television producers a total of four P1800 models for use on their show. Roger Moore liked the car so much that he got one for his own personal use. The series ran from 1962 to 1969 and the car played a prominent role throughout the entire run of the show.
Jensen had problems with quality control, so the contract was ended early at 6,000 cars. In 1963 production was moved to Volvo’s Lundby Plant in Gothenburg and the car’s name was changed to 1800S. The engine saw several minor updates through the years, and in 1970 a fuel-injection was added. Now the engine produced 130 hp and had a top speed of 120 mph (190 km/h). Four-wheel disc brakes were also added this year. In 1972 came the last model, the 1800ES station wagon, but only 8 000 cars were produced before the model was killed off. For the last model year, 1973, only the 1800ES was produced and the production of the first real Volvo sports car ended on June 27, 1973.