1961 Volvo P1800 – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Nobody needs a classic car. A normal, modern car is something we might need, in the truest sense of the word. We need it to get to work, to get the shopping, to ferry the family about etc. We don’t need a classic for that. We could use one of course, but that would be a choice. That’s what a classic car is, it’s a choice. It’s something we choose to have because we want it, it’s a passion, a hobby, a bit of fun. And because it’s, subconsciously speaking, a thing based in want rather than need, it’s also subject to a certain desire to stand out. You can’t fool us, because we’re exactly the same – you like being seen in a classic. It’s okay, we do too. It’s part of the appeal.

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But how do you stand out? Well, you buy a rare classic of course. But rare surely means fragile and delicate and as such, it’ll spend its life in the garage in a constant state of ‘broken’, right? Well, no, not if you buy from a brand known for being sturdy. Like, say, Volvo? And if you think that means boxy and boring, it really doesn’t…

What is it?

The car we have here is a 1961 Volvo P1800. If you know these cars, the year will have made you raise an inquisitive eyebrow. Yes, this is a very early car, VIN 700 in fact. And yes, that means it’s a Jensen-built car.

For those not in the know, the Volvo P1800 was something of a departure from the normal offerings of the Swedish car maker. And as such, it farms out early production to the UK. The panels were pressed in Scotland and the body was assembled, by Jensen, in Coventry. These early cars were significantly different from the later, Swedish built P1800, and as such are highly sought after. They’re arguably the most desirable P1800, but only if complete. Happily, this one is.

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Being complete means the hockey stick chrome trim on the sides is present, the chrome nose cone too. The ‘egg crate’ grill is still fitted, as are the Jensen-specific front and rear bumpers. It even has the original hub caps fitted. Make no mistake, this car needs restoration, but it’s all there to be restored – there shouldn’t be too much of your life wasted in the pursuit of missing parts.

Built in the UK, the car was then shipped to dry California where it stayed until 2003. It then came back to Belgium, where it has been in dry storage ever since. Now it’s being passed on to be restored and to live again.

Why is it a project?

Looking at this Volvo P1800, it seems it hasn’t been on the road for a long, long time. It’s dusty, it’s worn and there is some rust creeping through on the body in areas like the rear arches and one of the front wings. The interior is battered and would need to be completely re-done, as it looks to be beyond saving.

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Crucially though, it’s the completeness of this P1800 that sells it. You have a rare car here, but it’s all present, all correct and while it needs a fair old bit of work, it’s all simple stuff. The engine is there, all the panels look to be original and all the trim is still in place. Furthermore, the car looks to be incredibly solid. Okay, there is some rust on the rear arch and one front wing as mentioned, but the core of the car looks solid. Have a look on the dealer’s site and there are lots of photos that show a solid car with good A pillars, sills, inner wings, engine bay and floors. This is a great base for a restoration.

Five things to look for:

1) Trim
As mentioned, the chrome body trim and bumpers are unique to the Jensen-built model, so you need to check if these parts can be used or at the very least, can be used as templates for new trim.

2) Front wings
The front wings need work, that’s evident. But can they be saved? They were unique to the Jensen model, so it would be better to save them. However, you can fettle later wings to fit if the originals are totally shot.

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3) Engine
The B18 1800cc engine fitted to the P1800 is a tough little unit. This one will almost certainly need a full overhaul, but you can at least check for cracks, and check if it still turns over on a spanner.

4) Front Crossmember
The front crossmember and upper and lower wishbones are unique to the Jensen model, so you want these to be solid. That said, if they are shot, later parts can be made to fit.

5) Paperwork
This is a low VIN, one owner car. Huge selling points either as it stands or as a fully restored car. But only if you have the paperwork and provenance to back it up. Plus, it never hurts to check the NOVA paperwork if the car has come from America.

What should you do with it?

The only way to go would be to completely disassemble this old P1800 and then build it back up as a mint, original condition car. That’s where it’s value and future appeal will lie. As we have mentioned, the car is complete, which is a rare thing for a Jensen-built P1800. So in effect, the hard work is done – you have all the parts. All you have to do now is make them shine and work again.

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A restored Volvo P1800 to inspire you…

Mechanical stuff is easy to find, so there should be no issues there, and while the interior is shot, it is mostly present, so a good upholstery shop should be able to recreate something similar to replace it. But remember, this is a rare, rare car, so it will probably be best to keep it red with white interior, no matter how strong your Simon Templar/The Saint desires may be!

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