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Volvo P120 and P1800
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Volvo P1800s

Volvo P 1800S.

Swish Swedish Coupe.

The Nordic Cars, Part III

Rolling Sculpture

The P-1800

It's a bit feminine, I'll grant you that. More like a Giulietta Speciale by Bertone than anything Carol Shelby would come up with. OK. But it was pretty!

From the outside and through the window, the ergonomics looked perfect. It looked as though Marshall McLuhan might have built it: Even before you got in you sensed the global-village, Sensurround, glove-like fit, leathery and tight; that tiny pop-up, Ferrari-like shifter looking just about perfect. Now for the big surprise. You got in. That such a comfy looking piece of art - by Volvo, of all people! - could be so uncomfortable was a bit startling at first. Nothing like the ES Wagon of the same model number. But everything - that big wheel (and heavy steering!), those 'too-low-in-the-saddle' seats and that absolutely dangerous, 'no-rear-view-to-speak-of' were really quite horrid. Perhaps I was just the wrong size for it. Bigger guys do seem to like it more. And, then, so do many women owners. But, as with the ES model, when you finally get up to speed, it's a fabulous cruiser! 'A mystery wrapped in a riddle.' shall we say.

Anyway. aside from being the sharpest car in the parking lot, it could outrun anything there. And, by that, I do not mean that Camry/Miata/Jetta or whatever parked next to you in a running start from where you are to the nearest streetlight. Chances are you wouldn't have a prayer with that one. Slow as molasses. (My BMW 2002, with virtually the same HP and weight as this - 2400 lb; 135 hp - would trounce it under any conditions.) No, I meant actual miles you could go in the thing.

Ask Irv Cooper out there on Long Island (USA). Even considering the lunar astronauts -- a story Volvo loves to tell -- Irv went father in his '66 P1800 than anyone ever did in a car: 2,000,000 miles! In the same car! OK, granted: Not too many other people drive out west to Denver for dinner as he does. But the point here is that you simply cannot kill the thing. It's as trusty as anything on wheels -- or tracks, or even hoofs.

And Volvo was quite clever in their early marketing techniques, at least in one sense. They got Roger Moore to drive it in a hit-TV series way back when called, The Saint. Remember? That's when the car developed its reputation as the one-up model from Maxwell Smart and his Karmann-Ghia. (Moore was the intelligent detective who may have actually slept with women rather than just talked into their shoe.)

But the company was way off the beam in another, more essential, way: They came out with it at the same time (1961) and at the same price as the XK-E!! No way, Josť!!. I mean, it was a nice car and all but. come on! Who could choose this over an E-Type!?* These days, with so much industrial espionage going on, that oversight most likely could not happen again. (In those days, though, spies were busy with other things.)

But another way to look at it was that the Swedes were just some 40+ years too early. Because, if Volvo produced that car now -- with all the bells and whistles of their later cars, the superior performance of their latest engines, and all that advertising that goes along with a new release -- I honestly think this beauty would outsell everything in its class. I mean, Volvo could use a spunky two-seater right about now to spiff up their image. Aside from just a few models, their entire car line from the earliest days could be considered practical to a fault: NOT very pretty. Just about everyone else has gone retro and they definitely should. Because right now, 'The Thinking Man's Car for the Upward Bound' has about run its streak. (An image that much amuses Swedes, as Volvo 'over there' has always been viewed as the proletariat, working man's car.) And Swedish folk haven't had a world hit since Bjorn Borg hung up his wooden racket. Volvo is experimenting with a new sports car platform for their latest, 'green' engine technologies. But the concept car they are using is truly sad. And Volvo doesn't need another ugly duck right now. The 1980's Yuppies who kept their line alive are too old to care anymore. They are already out in the garden mumbling to themselves. The Kerry campaign may have been their last gasp. Aside from the ES Sports Wagon and the venerable, PV444 coupe, the P-1800 two-seater is the only one they could rightly draw from to impress a new crowd of fashion-conscious buyers. and, honestly, the P1800, with that Ghia design, is by far the more timeless beauty of the three. It would pass the Paris Hilton test (at least that!). And then go on from there. Hell... A revival worked for Abba -- and they stunk!!

So, how about it, Volvo. Take another look at this thing and give us your best shot!! You owe us one!

*I can hear Irv laughing right about now. He has outlasted every E-Type out there and probably hasn't even had to garage his car. I had my own 'Irv Cooper moment' the first day I had the car. I purchased it in Massachusetts and drove it home -- in distant Central NY-- on the same day. - On the same, miserably hot day that only "mad dogs and Englishmen" would be caught in. I didn't even see too many cars out there, let alone people. Then, there he was.Some big-time schmuck leaning against his brand new Lexus while awaiting Triple-A Repair Service. Overheated and dead in the road. The price of my car: $7500, total. The price of his: $48,625 + Massachusetts taxes. The look on that guys face as he watched my thirty year old Volvo cruise on by? Priceless.

Next Time!! My Private Elvis



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