Category Archives: Volvo P1800

Catching up with Great Autos of Yesteryear’s Casual Concours

We’ve made a point out of not covering car shows or auctions.. cars in that circumstance are curated and not feral as we choose to define the term. Our focus is veteran cars of note found alive in the wild.  Nonetheless, we felt a tip of the Feral Cars kufi, fedora, boater, derby, skid lid, etc. was in order for Great Autos of Yesteryear’s tenth annual Palm Springs Casual Concours.  Great cars, fun people and for a very worthy cause (Sanctuary Palm Springs providing teens in foster care an environment of health and kindness) so we figured it would be OK to break format and display some of the “goods.”

Palm Springs has long been a haven for old cars and their owners. The traffic, for Southern California, is bearable and the weather – except in the oppressively hot summer – is tepid, conducive to round-the-clock top-down motoring. The Desert Princess Resort there was where Great Autos of Yesteryear, the largest LBGT car club on the west coast and with that acronym there’s nothing not “out” about this group of enthusiasts.  Casual Concours is the unofficial start of the Palm Springs “season” that runs through May; it took place back in October so apologies for not posting this earlier. Dubbed “the desert’s most fabulous midcentury car show,” Casual Concours is, in fact and indisputably, fabulous. It’s a truly brilliant showcase for the owners and their cars, running the gamut from full boat luxury to quirky JDM curios. We had a chance to peruse the cars, schmooze with their owners and, as the Flintstones theme intones, “have a gay old time” while celebrating automotive diversity.

Some of the highlights..

“Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it..
No one wants to be defeated..”

Scott King and Sandy Edelstein’s 1991 Honda Beat won in the Best Foreign Open category. It’s a Japan domestic market Kei-class (under 650 cc) mid-engine roadster that bears the slogan “MIDSHIP AMUSEMENT” on its rear flanks. Isn’t that what happens when an aircraft carrier docks in Yokohama? One can’t really grasp how tiny it is in a photo but suffice it to note that it weights just 1,675 lbs.

Orange you glad to see this?

Accessories (and we don’t mean the J.C. Whitney kind or a string of pearls) are always in evidence at the Casual Concours: the owner of this ’73 Volvo P1800 found a set of period Samsonite luggage matching the color of his shooting brake from Gothenburg. The Porsche 356A sports a hat box mounted on a luggage rack over the boxer motor. Hatbox, boxer: get it?

Air cooled hat box

There’s a Rolls-only class at the Concours and, wouldn’t you just know it, the Best of Show was one of those selfsame Rollers. It’s Bill Stewart and Joe Gyori’s 1965 Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupe by Mulliner Park Ward. It’s just one of 101 built of which 52 were left hand drive. The presence this car has is astounding, even in a field of astounding cars. David Hemmings drove one to all kinds of rich hippie psychedelic mischief in the film Blow Up, some RR-oriented highlights of which are here.

Dennis Duca and Dean Peck’s ’75 “Hang Ten” Dodge Dart (don’t you dare call it a Duster) took top honors in the 1970 – 1979 Closed Car category. Yes, the shorty surfboard came with the Hang Ten trim option. No one is quite sure how many were sold over just two model years but it’s a safe bet most were wiped out by the crusher.

It’s not clear what the story is behind the bloody “Jerry Mahoney” ventriloquist dummy resting in the back seat of a 1957 Ford DelRio, FoMoCo’s too little/too late response to Chevy’s Nomad. Actually, we don’t really want to know that story but can assure you that the jaunty green and white two-door wagon is otherwise non-creepy.

Brick, the little dog who put the “boss” in Boston Terrier, seemed enamored of this fantastic 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire done up for a mid-century camping trip. The fact that the rear portion of the roof slides forward so one can transport a refrigerator upright seems not to have affected its eligibility as it went on win in the 1960-1964 closed category.

Doggone clever idea from South Bend

Here’s a clip of a commercial highlighting the Wagonaire from the Studebaker-sponsored Mr. Ed TV series.  Yes, Studebaker spent the first part of the 20th century trying to disassociate itself from the equine realms in light of its history as American’s preeminent builder of horse-drawn vehicles. Towards the end of its corporate existence, Studebaker made it possible for a horse to come into your living room. Go figure.

Wood is good! There is always a fair representation of wood-sided (real and otherwise) station wagons at Casual Concours and the winner in the 1980 – 1995 category — open to any car built during those peak malaise years — was, in fact, a woody. It’s a 1980 Chrysler Le Baron Town & Country with glorious fake wire wheels and tufted upholstery that would be the envy of Little Miss Muffett.


The plate on this 1952 Packard 400 Patrician reads SDNFEAR, an homage to the woman-in-distress film noir classic that starred Joan Crawford and Jack Palance. Sudden Fear, for which Crawford was nominated for an Academy Award, was set in San Francisco but Bagdad by the Bay’s steep grades were no match for Packard’s 327 cubic inch straight 8.

You oughta be in pictures..

Here’s a clip from Sudden Fear in which the Patrician is featured gobbling up a Frisco incline and disgorging Palance with no problem.

While the focus of Casual Concours is elegance and originality at least one overt muscle car was present. And, of course, it was a Rambler muscle car, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a wild 1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler, utilizing the Pontiac GTO formula: stuff the biggest motor you have — in this case a 390 cubic, inch V8 — into the lightest body: a Rambler American. Sprinkle some Hurst <<ahem>> fairy dust on it and you’ve got a neck snapping factory-built drag racer. The bold graphic arrow, indicating the motor’s displacement, pointing to the over the top air intake recalls the slogan, “nothing succeeds like excess.”

Mke mine Scrambler’d

Heavy breather

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[photo of AMC SC/Rambler]




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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