The Volvo P1800 has always been a bit of an odd duck in the sports car world. With its chrome-tipped rear wings and high belt-line, its looks were futuristic when introduced. By the 1970s they were dated, but now, 30 years later, they are pleasingly classic.
Over the lifespan of the 1800, its engine grew from 1780 cc to 1986 cc, induction changed from twin SU to Zenith-Stromberg carburetors to Bosch K-Jetronic injection, and horsepower went from 100 to 130. To non-1800 fanatics, all of the variants of the two-seat coupes look more or less alike, with the 1972-73 sport wagon having a distinctive appearance all its own.
As one would expect from a car built by Volvo, the basic design was robust. The P1800 may have the best heater of any sports car ever built, but that's hardly the kind of performance that can make a car collectible.
Not a tire-smoker at the stoplight drags, the P1800's long legs make it a premier highway cruiser. The electric overdrive is a must, and allows the car to purr along at a leisurely 2,800 to 3,000 rpm at 70 mph. By now, many owners have installed an upgraded cam to enhance low-end acceleration.
Settling into a P1800 is like stepping back in time. The interior looks and feels vintage, with an array of chrome-rimmed gauges and push/pull switches. While not particularly quiet, the engine of the P1800 makes a satisfying sound.
Most mechanical parts are readily available and there is a great support network to help keep a P1800 on the road. Sheet metal is expensive and some of the trim can be costly to replace.
Like any old car, rust is the enemy of the 1800. The first 6,000 P1800s were assembled by Jensen in England, and hence have corrosion as an inherent part of their sheetmetal DNA. Carefully inspect the jacking points and the area where the frame goes into the engine compartment. Also, check the sills for repair work, along with the areas behind the rear wheels, which tend to collect debris and subsequently corrode.
Because these cars have been worth so little, most have been badly bodged over the years. Finding a well-preserved original car is nearly impossible; a properly restored car is almost as difficult to come by. When buying a coupe, condition is far more important than year of production or model variant. The drivetrain is easier to repair than the cosmetics; a nice, complete, correct car that needs a valve job is a much better buy than a rusty beater with a fresh engine. Pay $5,000 to $6,000 for solid coupes in #3 condition ($7,000 to $8,000 for 1800ES sport wagons), and up to $12,000 for 1800s of any flavor that have been through a full, correct restoration.
A properly done 1800 is a reliable, low-maintenance, inexpensive car to own. And if taken care of, it will never go down in value.