A Pleasing Anglo-Swedish Sports Coupé — The Volvo P 1800
Volvo cars from Sweden are very conscientiously made and accurately assembled, as readers of Motor Sport’s account of a visit to the Göteberg plant (June, 1960) will know. That they go extremely well and possess desirable features of design and equipment has also been made clear in our road-test reports of the 122S and 122S/B18 saloon models.
More recently the long-awaited P1800 sports coupe has been subjected to a 1,000-mile road-test. This is a particularly interesting car, for at the kerb-side it rivals the best Italian G.T. cars for eyeable good looks, being long, low and of wind-defeating form, yet it is really a durable, refilled cross between out-and-out sportswagen and Grand Touring car, with the additional item of interest that the body is a product of Pressed Steel in Scotland, the P1800 being assembled by Jensen in West Bromwich, using such British components as certain Lucas lamps and electrical equipment, Smiths instruments and Girling brakes.
In appearance the P1800, as I have said, is exciting, although rather less chromium embellishment along the body sides and tail-fins would be an improvement. The Ferrari-like front grille and shapely roof-line enhance the general ensemble but the wheel discs rather give the impression of “model” wire wheels.
Open one of the two well-hung, nicely-shutting doors and it is possible to enter easily into an interior that is tastefully and luxuriously appointed. A tall but not unduly wide transmission tunnel divides the separate leather-upholstered front Seats, which arc adjustable by means of long base levers. The squab angles are adjustable if a nut at the base of each fold-forward squab is turned. There are soft seats of generous size, which remain comfortable on a long day’s motoring even though they are not specifically formed to support the occupants against cornering stresses.
Behind these seats are the occasional seats, in the form of two cushions that lift out of their retaining wells. Presumably the idea is to offer greater depth of luggage but I prefer a flat-shelf, such, for example, as Porsche contrive by folding down the squabs of the occasional seats. In any case, the sharply sloping roof of the Volvo P1800 prevents any but the smaller species of children enjoying travel in these seats unless the Volvo owner is prepared to drive the heads of his “occasional” passengers into their shoulders. One person sitting centrally may endure the experience better, especially if the front seats, in which leg-room is particularly generous, are set well forward. But generally it is better to regard this as a 2-water car.
Behind the occasional cushions is an arched shelf for parcels stowage, but if suitcases are carried on the rear seats such stowage is rendered inaccessible. Another poor aspect of the car is ventilation. The front doors contain big glasses that wind down with 3rd turns of the substantial winders, and quarter-lights that lock with a pip and recess into their rubbers, so that they become very stiff to open. But the back quarter-lights are fixed, so a .flow of draught-free air through the body, is difficult to achieve. There is a scuttle intake with small toggle controls under the scuttle but this does not provide any great volume of cold air, and then only to the feet.
The doors have ornate horizontal quadrant-type interior handles that make opening them easy; pushing these knobs forward locks the doors but as the action works if the doors are closed subsequently it would not be surprising to come upon a Volvo owner locked out of his beautiful P1800. The windows are framed only as far back as the quarter-lights; they have good sealing rubbers.
The interior of the body is upholstered in plastic material matching the red leather seats and black facia trim. The doors have curious “pulls” in the form of curved shelves that would scarcely hold a cigarette packet. These have a drain hole, so presumably Pressed Steel are aware that rain is going to seep past the quarter-lights when these are shut and run in when they are open, as no gutter’s are provided! In any ease, the purpose of these “pulls,” which could so easily have constituted pockets or arm-rests, is obscure.
The instrumentation is in keeping with the demeanour of this Volvo coupe. The well padded facias are on two planes, the top one recessed further forward than the lower one. The lower Carries two panels, of which the central one contains the overdrive switch (found only on Home Market cars) flanked on its left by a cigarette-lighter and drawer-type ash-tray; on its right by knobs controlling a quiet z-speed heater fan, and the 2-speed wipers-cum-washers, with, in addition, a rather unnecessary mauve warning-light to show when overdrive is in use.
The r.h. panel has on it pull-out lamps knob (foot dipper) and Assa ignition-key-cum-starter control.
The top panel has provision for a radio on the left and three Smiths dials, of rather ugly protruding type, covering clock, fuel gauge and oil pressure. Hooded before the driver are the Smiths speedometer and tachometer with a vertical thermometer unit, like-a ‘child’s barometer, between them. The thermometer records water temperature with 11 vertical yellow ribbon in the upper scale (marked at 90, 160, 212 and 230°F.) and oil temperature with a blue ribbon in the lower scale (marked at go, 212, 265 and 280°F.). The speedometer incorporates trip and total with decimal mileometer, warning lights, labelled with symbols, for generator and (sensibly subdued) main-beams. The dial is rather casually calibrated every 20 m.p.h. to 120 m.p.h. The tachometer again, is crudely marked in steps of ten, to 7,900 r.p.m., with a red warning between the 5,520 and 7,000-r.p.m. points. The dials are neat, with white figures on a black background and all, with most of the knobs, are neatly marked as to purpose. The knobs, as I have found on other Volvos, are apt to unscrew, but a far more serious short-coming was failure Of the Screen-washers to function. The petrol gauge is marked E, ½, F but the “E” is set away from the faint pip indicating empty, which can thus be mistaken for the ½ -full mark, causing one driver to run out of petrol in one of August’s severe rain-stors.
Up under the scuttle, somewhat inaccessibly placed, are the aforesaid toggles for the fresh-air intake, flanked on the left by a lever-switch for a map-light and on the right by a matching switch for the interior lamps in the back of the body, with ,a setting for courtesy action. Under the centre of the facia are three neat, labelled levers controlling demisting, ventilation and heating, these being flanked by a zero-setter for the trip odometer and a toggle controlling the mixture enrichener for the twin S.U. HS6 carburetters.
There are no door pockets or cubby-hole but rigid map carriers are provided on both sides of the scuttle and there is a wide but only slightly lipped rear shelf’ for more bulky objects. The roof is low, so that the soft swivelling anti-dazzle vizors come close to the driver’s head. The pedals, of which the accelerator is of treadle type, are of generous size and well placed. An oval rear-view mirror provides an excellent view but, mounted centrally on the screen Sill, completely obscures the near-side front wing, which would otherwise just he visible to drivers of moderate height. The test car had streamlined Walpress external mirrors.
The rear boot has a self-supporting, lockable lid, which, however, can he blown down by a gust of wind. The boot is reasonably capacious and adequate if this Volvo is regarded as normally a 2-seater with luggage space behind the front seats. The spare wheel, in a cover, lies on the floor, however.
The exterior of the P1800 is characterised by substantial if flimsily mounted bumpers, upswept at the front, and twin, unplated tail-pipes. The fuel filler consists of a locked flap on the near-side rear panel. This did not seal properly and a strong smell of petrol invaded the car as the level fell towards empty. Apart from a coloured Volvo motif on the rear quarters and the name Volvo in separate letters below the boot-lid, together, of course, with the Volvo badge, there is no indication to curious strangers, of which I encountered many, that this is the P1800 version of this well-made Swedish motor car.
Push-button exterior door handles are used and all the lamps are Lucas, except for Robo headlamps-, which give excellent illumination.
The bonnet opens from the trailing edge to reveal the 1,780,c.c. 5-bearing, twin-carburetter engine with polished valve cover. Lucas battery, oil filler and dip-stick are accessible but the spare fuse and main fuse-box are tucked too snugly up under the bonnet sill. The wiring is a strange mixture of Bosch and Lucas, the harness being Lucas, the fuse-box Bosch, while the coil and distributor are Bosch. The bonnet is automatically retained in the open position but, irritatingly, the prop needs human aid before it will release. The bonnet-paner seats on a tubular bar but didn’t follow the curve of the scuttle as snugly as one would have liked. Volvo safety-belts with good release mechanism are standard equipment.
Driving the Volvo P1800
The Volvo P1800 can claim to have an excellent driving position. The 2-spoke rigid 16-in, steering-wheel is well placed; its spokes have rather dramatic lightning holes. Two slender, slightly too short stalks control, on the right, direction-flashers and daylight full-beam headlamps flashing, on the left the horn. The latter stalk is slightly higher than its fellow and would be more instantaneously available if it were not. The horn note is a depressing growl, matched by that sounded by the steering-wheel hub, the advertised presence of loud and soft horn notes not being apparent.
The short, rigid gear-lever protruding from the transmission tunnel couldn’t be better placed. But unless the clutch, which has a very long travel, is fully depressed, the gear-change is affected, and the lever also “hangs up,” so that rapid change of ratio are rendered unpleasant. This is a pity, in view of the excellence of the lever and the silence of the indirect gears. The clutch is positive and not heavy but has, as has been said, [no long a movement, so those without long legs are obliged to sit closer to the steering-wheel than they would wish in order to change gear cleanly. This apart, the change is acceptable and the synchromesh effective. ‘There is unduly strong Spring loading to the right, or high ratios, side of the gate and a heavy spring to be overcome before the lever can be lifted to engage reverse, beyond the 1st gear position.
The Volvo is not a light car and it rides in a “dead” manner. But it is very comfortable, even on bad roads, and roll when cornering ambitiously is consistent and by no means excessive. Only occasionally are you aware that there is a rigid back axle although it does add to the liveliness of the ride; it is sprung on coil-springs and located by radius arms and a Panhard rod. Front suspension is wishbones and coil-springs, with anti-roll bar. The steering, geared just over 3-turns lock-to-lock, with mild but useful return action, is positive and accurate. It transmits no kick-back but “rocks” a little from straight-ahead as the front wheels ride obstructions.
The cornering tendency is towards initial understeer but the throttle can be used to bring the tail out on wet roads and generally the P1800 takes corners very predictably, can be flung about without alarming consequences and normally has neutral cornering, the steering pleasantly light and smooth except at very low speeds.
The handbrake lever, with safety guard for the ratchet-button thumb, lies unobtrusively by the outside of the driver’s seat cushion—out of the way, yet very conveniently to hand. The Girling 10.9-in, disc front and drum-rear brakes are very powerful, progressive, light and in every way an asset to the car. They are vacuum-servo-assisted, with very slight lag in light applications. Girling make the best disc brakes and they work superbly in this Anglo-Swedish application. Neither under fast cornering, nor heavy braking do the British Pirelli Cintura tyres emit any sounds of protest.
Because this handsome coupe is a comparatively heavy car relying on a push-rod o.h.v. 100.-b.h.p. engine performance is not particularly noteworthy. In the gears -speeds of 28, 45 and 67 m.p.h. are possible at 6,0oo r.p.m., and a top-cog cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. is readily attainable, in fact in just over 18 sec. from letting-in the Clutch. A rather longer straight road allows this to be extended to 80 m.p.h. but a considerable distance is required in which to attain the top speed, in overdrive, of 105 m.p.h. For some unapparent reason the Volvo feels to be going faster than, in fact, it is, at, speeds around 50 m.p.h. The speedometer is not to blame, as it is only 1 m.p.h. fast at 50. two at 60 m.p.h. At 85 m.p.h. in overdrive the engine is lazing at under 4,000 r.p.m., the same crankshaft rate in top equalling 60 m.p.h. In fact, the lower gears are rather too low, and I should he interested to try the P1800 in its native country, where an axle ratio of 4.1 to 1, with or without overdrive, is used, instead, of the 4.56-to-1 ratio of the test car. As it is, overdrive is flicked in and out frequently, because at times the normal top gear tech too low, at others overdrive is too high. Its switch is well placed, but if it and the heater fan knob were changed over it might be possible to flick it without taking the left hand from the steering-wheel.
The Volvo is a smooth-travelling, quiet car for long journeys, ideal for those who want a coupe smacking of a Ferrari and a top speed well clear of the ton if they are prepared to Wait for it and can put up with a s.s.¼-mile time in excess of 19 sec. There is a crisp but never obtrusive exhaust note.
I cannot help feeling ashamed, however, of faults in British workmanship which it is improbable the meticulous engineers at Göteberg would have permitted. Besides the inoperative screenwashers and water leaks (a little more rain appeared to get past the scuttle air-intake), during the test a throttle spring came adrift and the wipers “shorted” and blew a fuse. Examination of the wiring harness in the beastliness of the gales and rain on the eve of August Bank Holiday showed very ragged wiring behind the switch and a red-hot harness, which caused severe burns before the fault was cured. A car costing over £1,836 that had ran only some 7,000 miles should be immune from such faults.
The makers claim a 50-gallon fuel tank and this ran dry from brimful in 248.8 miles, suggesting 24.8 m.p.g. under traffic conditions. A check in similar conditions gave a figure of 24.2 m.p.g. and a long run into mid-Wales returned 26.9 m.p.g., an average of 25.1 m.p.g., using 100-octane fuel in deference to the 9.5-to-1 compression-ratio. Premium fuel is, however, quite acceptable. After 1,039 miles most of the sump oil had been consumed and 41 pints were required to restore the level. Oil temperature was normally 175° F., water temperature 160°F. The engine started promptly without choke and is a smooth, willing power unit. Oil pressure Varies from about 30 to 75 lb./sq. in.
In conclusion, there should be a Sizeable market for this Volvo coupe on looks alone and many people requiring primarily a 2-seater will not be able to resist it. Thinking in Common Market terms, it is an exceptionally attractive proposition at its basic price of £1,335.—W. B.