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Volvo’s 1800 Unexpected ’60s Detour to Elegance

Story Ned Howard

Photos Dave Vahey and Ned Howard

The 1800 was an unexpected release from Volvo in 1961. A departure from its modestly styled predecessors, the 1800 was an Italian designed coup for drivers who appreciated sophistication, but secretly harbored conservative sensibilities.

Volvo P1800

In the spring of 1999, I mentioned to my car-loving father an interest in finding an 1800. In a stroke of good fortune, my father had seen one for sale while out on a walk in his neighborhood. So I made the drive from Portland to Roseburg to give it a once over. This particular 1800 was a green ’69 coup with carburetor issues. I was able to talk the owner down to $2k and a local Roseburg mechanic made adjustments allowing me to drive it back to Portland.

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800

Traveling from Roseburg to Portland, my first impression of the 1800 is it’s really more of a touring than a sports car. The B20 engine, which first appeared in the ’69 model, is a 2.0 L and produces about 118 horsepower. Given the weight of the car, acceleration is unimpressive. But out on the highway with the overdrive engaged, it’s a pleasant driving car.

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800

My 1800 proved to be reliable despite its age. From the start, I did fight various electrical gremlins. The ’69 features a Stromberg carburetor instead of the SUs from previous years. For reasons I can no longer recall, I decided to switch to a Weber 323/36 DGEV carburetor. The Weber proved to be solid, but I missed the throaty exhaust sound of the Stromberg.

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800

My 1800 was with me until 2008. With marriage around the corner and a move to the Willamette Valley in my immediate future, the 1800 just didn’t fit into the picture anymore. It was sold to a fine lad from Vancouver, WA who is hopefully still enjoying the car. I daydream from time to time about getting another 1800. If I did, it would probably be the fuel injected 1800E from the early ’70s. Someday, maybe.

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800

About the author: Ned Howard is a classic car enthusiast in Salem Oregon. Dave Vahey owns Lazarus Motors vintage Volvo specialist. Follow his work on Instagram.