The Untold Story of Volvo's P1800 Ancestor

Volvo Sport 4 photos
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You probably know that the current Guinness World Record “Highest Car Mileage” is held by a 1966 Volvo P1800. However, what would you think if we’d told you that Volvo actually made a sports car before that, the P1900? Only 68 were manufactured before the Swedish carmaker decided to halt production. As the enigmatic model prepares for its 60th anniversary on the 2nd of June, let's go through what made this car so special.
Most of us know about that classic two-door coupe Volvo used to make back in the 1950s - the P1800. Well, few people are aware the Swedish manufacturer was actually thinking of a sports car even before that, dubbed the Volvo Sport. On the 2nd of June, 1954, the company’s first sports car made its debut.

With a short and plump body, the Volvo Sport had a 7.8 inches (20 centimeters) shorter wheelbase than that of the PV444, whose mechanics it otherwise shared. Its heart was made out of a 1.4-liter engine with twin carburetors, that developed around 70 horsepower. Although it was pretty slow for a sports car, it ran fast enough to brandish the driver’s hair thanks to its 96 mph (155 km/h) top speed.

According to Volvo, it was a result of the many reconnaissance trips made to the U.S. by the company’s founder and president Assar Gabrielsson, in the early 50s. While realizing that there was a huge interest in small, European sports cars, he also made contact with Glasspar in Montecito, a boat-building company. Since 1951 they had been building hulls for boats and bodies for sports cars using the new material fibreglass.

The two companies ended up collaborating for designing the bodyshell, producing moulds and building the first prototype. While back home in Gothenburg Volvo’s engineers were developing a frame chassis that would fit the body, the staff was also trained in how to design and manufacture fibreglass bodies.

"I thought it would fall appart!"

Unfortunately the demand was low and the build quality was not up to Volvo standards. In fact, Gunnar Engellau, who replaced Gabrielsson as president in 1956, took the Volvo Sport for a drive on a holiday weekend and was disappointed. Moreover, on returning to his office the following week he cancelled the remaining production. “i thought it would fall apart!” was the remark that became a legend.

The total number produced was 67, but later research shows that two cars were, probably accidentally, given chassis number 20, so there might be 68 of them. What is even more interesting is that many of the cars are still in existence, the whereabouts of around 50 are known.

Even though the car was a commercial failure, it ended up being a real step forward for the company. In fact, many of the mistakes made with the Volvo Sport lead to the debut of the better developed P1800 four years later. The latter model was made famous by British actor Roger Moore in the hit TV series “The Saint”.
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