Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pimp My Ride: The Un-Volvo

1965 Volvo P1800
via Svenska Volvo P1800 Klubben

Classic television commercials still resonate with me. Heather Locklear's You tell a friend, and so on, and so on. The famous Life cereal spot, Let's ask Mikey, he'll eat anything. The campy Alberto VO-5 campaign with Rula Lenska, the "famous actress" that no one knew.

One of my favorites: Geoffry Holder's famous long-running spot for 7UP. He was the "Uncola Man" with the massive baritone and memorable "Ha Ha Ha Ha." This weekend, the jingle came to mind while watching The Saint on BBC America. Roger Moore is speeding through swingin' sixties London in the most un-English of cars: The Volvo P1800.

The 18 was not your stereotypical Volvo. The automaker is reknown for safety and durability; it never had much street cred. In the 50s, as the Swedish manufacturer prepared to expand into the lucrative American market, executives believed a sports car would give them cache. They were right.

The P1800 is a remarkable design. It is small, yet with a roomy interior. The car's design is sleek and modernistic, yet fluid with smooth lines. Very un-sixties; everyone else was building huge rolling yachts.

The first pictures of the car were released in 1959. The next year, in 1960, prototypes appeared at car show in both Brussels and New York. Many buyers were annoyed by the long time of waiting. In the USA many buyers who had paid a deposit had to wait for one year until the car was delivered. The car sold was an instant success.

Volvo's plan was to extensively push the car in the States and Europe. The P1800 was not built in Sweden; it was built in Scotland, closer to markets. Several years into production, The Saint was debuting and the producers needed a car for Roger Moore. They wanted a Jaguar XKE, but none were available. Bad decision by Jaguar's notoriously inept management. Volvo was more than happy to provide an 1800, and it sped into history.

The P1800 remained popular through the decade. Unfortunately seventies bad taste struck the P1800 design team. In '71 the car was re-styled and it lost popularity. The P1800 segued into the 1800E and 1800ES; radical changes in rear styling were made with a glass tailgate, impressive luggage area and new taillights. Now the car was sporty wagon. Production was scrapped in '73, but it has always remained a cult favorite.

I P1800

Svenska Volvo P1800 Klubben
The Saint: TV Tome
Volvo USA