The Volvo P1800 is a beautiful car. Volvo (Latin for "I roll") engaged the Italian design studio Frua to design a body for a sports coupe. The famous Italian designer Pietro Frua at that time sold his studio to Ghia Torino becoming Ghia's head designer. There, and under Frua's scrutiny, Per "Pelle" Peterson, son of Volvo's President Helmer Petterson, designed the P1800 in 1957. Frua's merged company built the first three prototypes.
Although Volvo contacted the German builder Karmann to produce the bodies, Volkswagen did not cooperate and Karmann kept producing almost exclusively the Karmann-Ghia. Volvo then turned to Jensen in the UK where the P1800 was produced from 1959 until 1963 when, due to quality issues at Jensen, Volvo moved the production to their own factory in Gothenburg. The P1800S (S added to denote Swedish production) was born with improved quality and a slightly more powerful engine. The B18 engine with twin SU carburetors, M40 gearbox and Laylock de Normanville overdrive powered the sports car with 115HP until 1969 when the B20 engine was introduced. In 1970 the carburetors were replaced by fuel injection and the model name changed to P1800E. In 1972 the P1800ES sports wagon was introduced remaining in production until June 27, 1973, when all production ended.
In 1962, Aston-Martin could not deliver a sports car for the TV series The Saint, where Roger Moore played the detective Simon Templar. Volvo offered, then, a white P1800 that became Templar's car with license plate ST1.
Irv Gordon (East Patchogue, NY, USA) with his 1966 P1800 holds the higher car mileage world record with more than 2 million miles, or 3 million kilometers (3,572,342 km or 2,219,751 miles by March 2004).
I found the P1800S that would become my restoration project at my work place, in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, in 1999. It was owned at the time by James Chung, who wanted to sell it for US$2000. I could not afford it then. Shortly after, my friend Thomas bought it. He used the car daily until the year 2003 when he left Cold Spring Harbor, and sold the car to me for US$1 (I could afford that).
At that point, the car was a rust bucket and it was nearing the point where any restoration effort would be futile. I decided that major structural issues needed immediate work if the car was going to survive. I started then a complete restoration by first cutting out all the rusted metal. After that, I replaced first part of the fenders and floor pans. The work took a long time due to the lack of suitable space to do the job. I started in the parking lot of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, then in the garage of my Ph.D. thesis advisor Holly, then I moved the car to Marco's garage at the Briarwood house, then to my driveway, and later to the garage of my friend Niraj. At that point I decided that if the restoration was to advance, I needed to get a place and started renting a two-car garage in Massapequa, Long Island. That worked very well. As soon as I got the car there, I dismantled it to the point that no bolt was attached to the body. I cleaned and stripped the whole thing to bare metal. In the process discovered more rust, bucket loads of bondo, and several hidden dents. I was able to satisfactorily fix all the structural problems that concerned me by replacing the lateral cross-members with new metal and by reinforcing the sides of the body under the doors. Finally, I smoothed out all the welds and reduced the depth af some of the dents with a hammer and wood blocks. Although it landed me three visits to the ER with metal splinters buried into my eyes, the metal work was a lot of fun. The cleaning and stripping was a pain.
With all the metal work done, I was able then to rust-proof the car with POR-15. After that, I used body filler to bring the body to decent condition so it could be primed and painted at a professional shop. This part of the body work is very important to guarantee a decent finish. Painting is not that hard is the body is already in prime condition so I paid a great deal of attention to the body filling and sanding. It took a long, long time. But after I finished I was really happy with the results. I finally re-coated the interior, and the undercarriage using POR-15 grey and Chassicoat black, also from POR-15.
The next steps were going to be the priming, wet sanding, detailing with body filler, re-priming, and final wet sanding before taking the car to the shop for the Volvo red 46 to be applied. Unfortunately, life changes and common sense prevailed and I sold the project. The body, glass, and a bunch of parts went to Harry Santana from Staten Island. The rest, together with a great deal of tools got sold piece by piece on Ebay. Overall, I calculated that, including the rent of the garage, I spent US$13,000 over approximately 4 years. I recover US$3,500 when I sold the project. Despite being an economic failure, to make a profit never was an objective. I enjoyed enormously working on the car. It was a great learning experience.
The restoration was a lot of fun. I knew nothing about cars before starting. A Haynes manual, the parts catalogue (45Mb pdf file), an article about body work (1.3Mb pdf file), and the US Army welding manual (15Mb pdf file) have been my sources of information, as well as countless internet sites (some of them are in the links page).
Some pictures of the work: