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Volvo P1800

Volvo P 1800ES.

A classic from Sweden.

The Nordic Cars - Part II

The P1800ES

The Jetsons.

That's what it looked like. Some futuristic design that only the Scandinavians could come up with. (And maybe one guy in the GM design studios back in mid-fifties - remember the Chevy Nomad? -- And could his grandson, in turn, be responsible for the new, Dodge Magnum RT?)

Long before being a Yuppie meant driving Beemers and Volvos - someone came up with the idea of a sports car station wagon.

(A strange enough concept - I would never have thought of it.)

Sports Wagon, Estate Car. Whatever you call it, it 'almost' never worked. The Jaguar, Corvette and Aston Martin experiments in this arena looked like just that, 'experiments' better kept in the lab and off the road.

But almost is the operant word here. Between 1973 and 1974 some 8000 of these exotic Swedes were made. And this one really did work. It was pleasing on the eyes in almost every respect.* -- And there couldn't have been a more unique driving experience.

First, the Swedish penchant for structural integrity: This was one, solid car. You felt secure in. whatever it was, especially in rough, winter conditions. This was the sui generic, pseudo-sport family-wagon that started the rumor rolling among all intelligent, college-educated, pre-soccer-era moms regarding all things Scandinavian. They correctly intuited that little Eddie Jr./Albert/Cody was as safe in this car as he could possibly be banging away with his rattles. And Eddie Sr. loved it! -- Which she also couldn't help but notice.

Who ever heard of a station wagon with a 4-speed tranny on the floor plus an electronic overdrive - essentially, a 5th gear? The latest, B-20 engine with Bosch fuel injection pumped out up to135 hp. And the ride at cruising speed was, well, svelte! How could it be otherwise with orthopedically designed seats with adjustable lumbar controls? And all that extra space weighed in well south of 3000 lb. Hey! Who cares about getting older!? Not only could you live with it, you could live in it!

(If the Swedes failed anywhere it was in thinking American road conditions were anything like theirs in the early 70's. The soft ride, narrow tires and high ground clearance must have been great for chasing reindeer over pitted hill and snow-covered dale, but on our better-paved streets, it caused unnecessary body roll. -- Or. maybe they were just being Swedes; you know, just experimenting with SUV before SUV was cool.)

I had heard of them and seen them in photos. Never as common as its two-seater relative, the venerable, P-1800, I finally came across an ES on Stanford's campus back in the 80's. (Hmmm. already a thinking man's car.)

Some vehicles are destined to play a political role. The Hittites had their chariots and the JohnKerryites had their Volvos. And this may well have been the 'seedling' car that eventually grew to Volvo & Saab's current stature as Blue State Specials - the Kerry-er wheels of choice. (Red State people -- W. Virginia, Arkansas, etc. -- weren't even given delivery of these cars so, they weren't even tempted to part with their Fords.)

It was flat-out gorgeous. You could easily carry a step-latter/bicycle/lawn chair/bassinet or whatever in the back. yet it looked fast! It was as if that expanded rear-end wasn't put there for mere suburban practicality, but because sophisticated wind-tunnel algorithms demanded it for better performance. And that deep frameless, rear hatch looked, well. like pure sex!

Volvo -- not known for beautiful cars -- has tried several times to reiterate this gem. At the 2003 Geneva Auto Show they came up with the Versatility Concept Car - the VCC. Trying their best to do Retro Eclectic (or something...), the car had a tailgate inspired by the P1800 ES and a grille from the 1964 model 164; anyway, it was a far better result than their actual production attempts. The V40 and V70 models -- which they claim is a direct descendant of the ES -- really aren't. There's a bit of the ES style visible in the rather ubiquitous, 240 DL Wagon - as venerable a Volvo as any, I suppose, and a car I may one day have to consider collectible. but not yet. . (Please God; don't ever make me that hard up for a collector car while I can still function without a bed pan.) But, anyway, the VCC really was a nice car - if looking a small bit too much like the Chrysler 300 in the Fourth Dimension. (OK... So I take to drink when I write... ) But does anyone know why Concept Cars rarely, if ever, make it through the Finance Division? Who wouldn't kill for the 1991 Audi Avus??

OK, so the original ES wasn't really as fast as it looked, and the young maidens (18 - 24-ish) were not overly impressed -- and haven't been since you gave up the Jag. But that next age group - the one that includes beginning nesters in their starter homes in the 'burbs with their proverbial and loudly ticking, body clocks - was just beginning to see in you something hopeful.

I swear I helped sell the neighbor's house just by parking it out front.

At first, the realtor must have been ticked off. No one was looking at the bathroom fixtures. They were always making excuses to 'get some air' when, it was obvious, they wanted to take a closer look at that sleek thing next door. The agent must have caught on though, because she asked me to use the empty driveway if I wanted. OK -- How many times have you read that one in those Sunday Real Estate Suggestions on how to increase home values? (And you can tell this one to the little woman when she asks what it is you think you're doing with that thing in the driveway.)

Ah, but yes. it was but one more victim of the early 70's gas crunch. (I have no idea why we were so upset when gas went above 50 cents a gallon!!. Considering what we're paying now, that was no reason to give up on all those great cars.) Volvo packed it in after the 1974 production run, after a scant two years on the assembly line.

With so few copies out there, I was not at all surprised when none other than Hemmings Motor News(!) grabbed mine and hauled it back to Vermont as one of their promo vehicles.

I sighed some. but not for long. I hadn't yet had my fill of Nordic wonders.

*Among the many foreign cars that Americans are not privy to was one, Reliant Scimitar. This, too, definitely 'worked' as an estate car. The author has never even seen one on these shores. -- But I'll surely find one if you're interested!

And his next car was.????

Next Time: Part III -- Northern Lights... A Car That's Really Worth Going Retro For!



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