Volvo's attempts at changing its brand image with a sportscar in the early Fifties failed miserably when the open two-seater fibre-glass-bodied Volvo Sport met with a premature death in 1957. However, the Swedish carmaker's then president Gunnar Engellau recognised the importance of a flagship sportscar that would help turn Volvo's fortunes around as well as add some excitement to its otherwise boring line-up.
Known for his obsession with Italian automobile designs, Gunnar got Volvo consultant Helmer Petterson to commission proposals from the leading carrozzerie of Italy. Ironically though, the final draft that caught Engellau's fancy was not one drawn by an Italian. It was penned by Helmer's son Pelle, who was a junior designer at Pietro Frua and a graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York. However, there was no denying the fact that what the gifted youngster sketched was the blueprint for one of the world's most gorgeous sports coupés.
Launched in 1960, the P1800 was a solid car thanks mainly to its Amazon-derived underpinnings, but the 1.8-litre engine's performance was not up to the expectations set by the car's stunning looks. However, in 1963, Volvo moved production from England to Sweden and uprated the engine. The model was renamed 1800S. Engine capacity was raised to 2.0 litres in the 1968 1800E, and three years later came the 1800ES, which was an estate version. Unlike its predecessor, the P1800 proved to be a huge sales success, with its appearance in the television series The Saint alongside Roger Moore elevating it to cult car status for many.
Today, more than 55 years since its launch, the Volvo P1800 is much sought after among fans of European classic sportscars. A well-maintained example can cost you around Dh150,000, while a project car can be had for as little as Dh30-40K. But keep in mind that some parts are hard to find nowadays and rust is one of the main issues to watch out for, especially on floorpans, boot lid, under the doors and wheel arches.