Reflecting on one of the world’s prettiest, Saint-like, coupes – Volvo P1800S
Although infrequent, it is always a delight to look back at some of the most amazing motorcars that have graced our roads, highlights Iain Robertson, and one made ‘iconic’ by a British television series of the 1960s has been resurrected for a reason.
Shedding his mortal coil sadly last year, Sir Roger Moore was somebody with whom I became acquainted during a stay at the prestigious Chelsea Harbour Hotel, in Thames-side London. Having returned from a fine meal in central London, I had popped into the bar at the hotel for a brief snifter prior to bedding down for the night.
Two gentlemen, accompanied by a pair of most attractive women, were in conversation at the bar. Recognition was not difficult. The jeans and open-shirt-wearing Michael Caine was with his model wife, Shakira, while blazer and tie-wearing Roger Moore (unknighted at the time) was with his wife, Louisa. Bedraggled versus debonair just seemed so appropriate.
While awaiting the arrival of the barman, Mr Caine engaged me in conversation and introduced me to his little group. Their welcome was warm, engaging and friendly. With each attempt I made to head to my bedroom, another drink appeared and, eventually, Michael and Roger, having regaled me royally for almost four hours, telling a charming mix of bawdy and hilarious tales from their world, determined that enough was truly enough. Michael lived in the penthouse of the nearby Chelsea Harbour Tower, while Roger summonsed a taxi to whisk him and his wife to their London flat (he resided in Switzerland).
If I ever had a TV ‘hero’ it was Roger Moore. I can recall re-runs of ‘Ivanhoe’, in which he played the lead role but it was as ‘Simon Templar – The Saint’ that I retained the greatest memories of the man. To a young lad possessing a fascination for motorcars, his inextricable links to ‘ST 1’, a car that had started life as Moore’s own but was soon sold to the film production company that made the TV series, were the stuff of legends. In total, 118 episodes of the series were produced and it was sold worldwide.
Needless to say, I own a Corgi scale model of his car that I prize today. Although Moore moved into another enticing and car-orientated TV series, ‘The Persuaders’, where he shared lead billing with Tony Curtis and an Aston Martin DBS and a (Ferrari) Dino 246GT respectively, his seven Bond films, which were also car orientated, remain my most enjoyed of the genre…and, yes, he is my favourite James Bond.
Yet, it is the Volvo P1800S, later available in P1800ES hatchback form, that remains one of my favourite classic cars. In fact, both it and the Saab Sonnett were responsible for providing my unerring fascination for Swedish motorcars and the country as a whole.
Moore’s car was built at Volvo’s Torslanda plant in November 1966. It had been equipped with the optional, magnesium alloy Minilite wheels, a pair of Hella foglamps and the Volvo optional wood-rim steering wheel. Interestingly, an on-dash thermometer and a separate fan (used to keep actor occupants cool during filming) are remnants that have been carefully preserved on the tastefully restored coupe.
Registered initially, in London, on its original plates ‘NUV 648E’, Moore was the first owner from 20th January 1967. Fortunately, the logbook has remained with the car throughout its existence. The signature ‘ST 1’ plates were added for filming purposes and the car made its debut in February 1967, continuing as Simon Templar’s personal transport until the TV series ended in 1969.
While it has been owned by several keen enthusiasts, the P1800 was first restored in the early 2000s, which underscores the model’s integrity. Volvo Cars bought it subsequently and has shown it on rare occasions, although it takes pride of place within its legacy collection.
The P1800 coupe was a tautly styled two-door model. A total of 39,414 were built between 1961 and 1972. It was powered by a 1,778cc, four-cylinder engine developing 100bhp (later boosted to 108bhp) and weighed 1,070kgs. It drove the coupe’s rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox, with optional overdrive. The P1800 could crack the 0-60mph acceleration benchmark in 11.9s and would cruise upwards to a maximum speed of 107mph. Equipped with front disc brakes and rear drums, it offered good stopping power and its low-slung body gave it sound handling potential.
While the P1800 inspired the P1800ES, which also inspired the design of the British-built Reliant Scimitar GTE (a car beloved by Princess Anne), Volvo revisited the ES’s design elements in its C30 model, produced from 2006 to 2013, and even carried some aspects of the styling into the current V40 line. Whether Volvo will produce another coupe in the future remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Old English White P1800 appeared for the first time at the annual Techno-Classica Essen event held in Germany in late-March and is sure to grace other classic and modern show stands in coming years.