Category Archives: Volvo P1800

Stolid Swede

Gothenburg-built brick

Torslanda-built brick

We were thoroughly taken by a buttercup yellow Volvo 142 the other day.  This is the big box that proved Volvo wasn’t mired in the look of the ’40s as suggested by the pre-war Ford-styled humpbacked PV544, or, for that matter, the look of the  the ’50s, as seen in the ’52 Ford-replica 122S.

Yellow peril

Yellow peril

The 140’s look came from Jan Wilsgaard, Volvo’s in-house chief designer whose motto was “simple is beautiful.” No argument. This one is a ’73 that would be supplanted by the refreshed 240 for the ’75 model year.  Mudflaps on all four wheels?  Check! Shaped like a brick? Check! This is a real Volvo with stand-up styling, rear wheel drive and a resolute attitude.  European luxury without the luxury!

Crowning number

Crowning number

This close-up of the far from flashy ‘142’ badge speaks volumes.  An American car of this era would have four-inch-high script on its flanks, a spoiler on the trunk lid and, possibly, opera lamps on the c-pillars.  It’s no wonder that these often doubled for Soviet sedans in any number of low-budget Cold War spy thrillers.

Square biz

Square biz

Despite the dowdy stance, the 142 (and four-door 144 and station wagon 145) was quite modern for its era. Bosch fuel injection was introduced in ’71 and Volvo built on its reputation for safety with three-point shoulder belts, front and rear.

Wheel deal

Wheel deal

Basic yet refined transportation was the caused served by the 140 series.  It was the most contemporary Volvo of the company’s first 40 years and far less derivative of American styling than its predecessors.  Thought to be bland in its day, its straightforwardness makes it a stand out in this day of flowing, organic and look-alike car design.

Snow White's coffin.  Really?

Snow White’s coffin. Really?

We couldn’t resist including a photo of an apparently leaky P1800ES which shares most of its mechanical components with the 140.  It’s swoopy look made Volvo showrooms of the time to be studies in contrast. It is, however, a kind of station wagon so there’s that Volvo practicality once again.

The 122S was the predecessor of the 140.  It had an inviting roundness to it and presented perhaps as pleasingly plump but certainly not on an Anita Ekberg scale.

Swedish curves

Swedish curves

Volvo’s reputation for safety was well-deserved but the company may have, ahem, “burnished” it somewhat with this commercial depicting a literal stack of 140s, the bottommost of which resists being crushed under the cumulative weight of six cars.

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Volvo keeps rolling

122Sxpress yourself!

122Sxpress yourself!

The last few years have been rough for Volvo, the Swedish car maker that was sold to Ford for $6.45 billion back in 2000.  After a decade as Ford’s vassal, Volvo was unloaded to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group for a paltry $1.8 billion.  What a deal!  That corporate upheaval seems to have messed with Volvo’s focus on the US, traditionally its biggest market. Subaru has, clearly, taken over as the car favored by those concerned with safety, the environment and appearing vaguely responsible.  Volvo sold merely 61,233 cars here last year while Subaru moved 424,683 units.

'Saintly' P1800

‘Saintly’ P1800

The fact that Volvo didn’t even offer a traditional station wagon for the past few years and ceased production of its small C30 hatchback last year couldn’t have helped matters.  There’s talk of a renewal at Volvo with new models — including a station wagon — in the offing but we’re prone to looking in the rear view mirror at what made Volvo so special.

It won't die

It won’t die

The 122S, introduced to the US in 1959, made Volvo a serious contender over here with its upright, non-controversial styling, rugged running gear and emphasis on safety. It was the model that made Volvo a serious contender in this country.  Volvo, essentially, introduced the notion that safety sells and equipped these cars with front seat belts at first and then with three point over-the-shoulder belts as standard equipment.  This was a very radical departure in the era of tail fins and fender skirts.

Volvo’s P1800 sports car was, in essence, a re-bodied 122S, just as the Karman-Ghia was a VW Beetle in sports car drag, though the P1800 was much more of a sporting proposition thanks to its relatively gutsy motor.  Initially, the most famous P1800 was the one driven by Roger Moore as Simon Templar in the British spy series The Saint. That car has been supplanted by Irv Gordon’s 1966 P1800 which he purchased new and went on to drive more than 3 million miles on the original motor! Talk about a reputation builder!

Volvo = wagon

Volvo = wagon

A glass hatchback wagon version of the car, model designation P1800ES was produced for a few years, the idea being a bit more utility would be welcome even in a sports car.  Hey, it’s a Volvo and station wagons are the signature model of the marque.

Glamorous grocery getter

Glamorous grocery getter

We’re kind of inspired when we see a 122S or P1800 in daily service these days, more than forty years since the last one was built.  Only time will tell if we’ll ever see a 40 year old Subaru trundling up the freeway someday but we doubt it.  Volvo, on the other hand, used to build cars for the ages.  Literally.

Beauty is skin deep

Beauty is skin deep

It was during a drive through Alaska this past September that Irv Gordon’s ’66 P1800, made it to the 3,000,000 mile mark as  documented here.  Inspired?  Don’t just sit there! Get yourself  something undeniably real and enduring.  There are several hardy 122s available on Ebay so get clicking and buy yourself a car that could outlive you — even if you’re only in your 30s or 40s.

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