The P1800 is a car that defies comparison yet is eternally blighted by it. The Volvo was the ‘second sexiest launch of 1961’ – after the Jaguar E-type – and, in its way, this rather separate Swede has always played a supporting role, terminally type-cast as The Saint Volvo after co-starring alongside Roger Moore in the 1960s TV series.
Although it cost only marginally less than the E-type, it offered little of the performance. Since it had an 1800 four-pot, pigeon-holers pitched it against the MGB GT, but the mass-market B was half the price of the bespoke Volvo: it showed, too. Comparisons with the VW Karmann-Ghia are just plain cruel, for the Volvo is a million times more refined.
So what is the P1800? A good one is a lovely place to be: flick in the overdrive and you can cruise all day at motorway speeds cossetted in a very well-appointed cabin. Better yet, for all its distinctive and exotic looks, it’s based on unburstable Amazon mechanicals and underpinnings. Watch for rust, though, else it won’t be long before ‘Roger Mortis’ can set in. There is also, of course, the 1800ES ‘estate’, but what’s the point of a truly practical sports car? These are for competitive, Lycra-clad dads who think pushing baby-buggies round London’s Primrose Hill is an Olympic sport.
Under-appreciated, but gaining ground
• 1989 The Saint TV car sells for £42,000. But through the 1990s – for ordinary P1800s – a budget of £2500-6000 will give you a world of choice at auction.
• 1999 A 1970 P1800 restored at a cost of £20,000 sells at auction for £7350.
• 2002 A concours-winning 1965 P1800 restored for £24,000 sells for £10,120, but most UK auction activity takes place under £8000. Market static.
• 2007 Signs of movement. By 2009, a fine, restored car makes £9350 and a 22,000-miler with original paint fetches £11,000.
• 2010 £13,230 is new high-water mark at UK auction. Decent daily drivers now from £4000 at auction; very best dealer cars £15,000-plus.