Not their finest hour: Volvo Sport

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at Volvo Sport
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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February 21, 2017
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Although Volvo had made many solid cars since its first model, the 1927 ÖV4, none of them sold well until the hugely successful PV444 came along in the mid-Forties. However, the Swedish carmaker had by then built itself a reputation as a manufacturer of safe, solid and reliable machines.

Assar Gabrielsson, founder and then president of Volvo, wanted to build on this status and infuse some excitement and an element of sportiness to the brand's image. When he saw the Chevrolet Corvette during a trip to the US, he was fascinated by its muscular design and lightweight fiberglass body. So enamoured was he by the 'Vette that he wanted Volvo to start work on a fibreglass sportscar immediately.

Since none of Europe's leading carrozzerie had the expertise to make fibreglass bodies, he commissioned California-based Glasspar to design and build the new model around a tubular steel frame built specifically for the new sportscar, with components from the PV444, including the 1.4-litre B14 engine upgraded to make 70bhp. The Volvo Sport, also known as the P1900, made its debut in 1956.

However, it was soon apparent the Volvo Sport's build quality was not up to the expectation set by Volvo's other cars. Engineer Helmer Pettersson, who was charged with testing the car, came back with a bad report pointing out that the body was weak, the bonnet fluttered at speed, the doors shook and cracks formed under the doors at the seams after the drive. Gunnar Engellau, who had replaced Gabrielsson as president by then, drove one himself and famously remarked, "The car vibrated so much that I thought the doors would fall off."

Realising that the car was not up to Volvo's quality standards, Engellau pulled the plug on its production in 1957, after just 67 units being built.

Although the result of a bold decision, the Volvo Sport is one of the biggest failures in the brand's long history, which was only redeemed by the fact that it paved the way for the legendary P1800.