Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE JEOPARDY CATEGORY is “Celebrity Cars.” The setup is “This British-bodied GT coupe is piloted by a driver known by two different names.” 

Ah. Easy-peasy: “What is James Bond/007’s Aston Martin DB5?”

Uh, no. The response we have in mind is “What is Simon Templar/The Saint’s Volvo P1800?”

This and other images from R&T, February 1962.

Readers of R&T’s February 1962 road test of this Swedish GT would have a key factoid: “Because Volvo’s assembly facilities were even then being strained to capacity in the production of its bread-and-butter sedans, the job of supplying the unit-constructed body/chassis had to be farmed out. The Jensen Company, in England (which had done a similar job for BMC in the production of Austin-Healeys), was awarded the contract.”

“Jensen,” R&T continued, “subcontracted the panel stamping to Pressed Steel Co. Ltd., and did the assembling in its own plant. All mechanical elements, such as the engine, drive-train, rear brakes (the front brakes are discs from Dunlop) and all but the instruments and some of the miscellaneous electrical components were to be supplied by Volvo’s factories in Sweden.”

Swedish labor unrest caused a delay in this, and P1800 production was delayed by almost a full year beyond its early 1961 scheduled date.

“In this instance,” R&T wrote, “the wait was well worth while.”

Stolid Swedish Styling. “The styling, which impressed us only mildly in Sweden,” R&T said, “is, as it turns out, an absolute smash hit with the American man-in-the-street…. It was just like those dear departed days when an MG was enough to wow the peasantry, and we would have been somewhat more than human not to have enjoyed the experience.” 

Stolid Swedish Mechanicals. R&T observed, “In the car’s various mechanical elements there is considerable evidence of the ‘strength above all’ design philosophy. The B-18 engine, which will soon be available in the 122-S and PV-444 sedans as well, is a medium-displacement 4, distinguished more by smoothness than vigor and is the most understressed unit we have seen in many years. It has 5 main bearings, and the size of the shaft, bearings, and supporting structure seem wasted on only 1780 cc of displacement.”

The P1800’s overhead-valve inline-four produced 100 hp at 5000 rpm. And could run forever (c.f. Guinness record below).

“The same thing,” R&T said, “may be said of the rest of the car. Any place a little bit would have been enough, a lot was used—particularly in the body/chassis structure. In a machine with racing-car pretensions this would be silly, but in the touring-only P-1800 we didn’t mind it a bit.”

A Guinness Record. Wikipedia corroborates this durability: “A 1966 Volvo P1800S and its owner Irv Gordon (1940–2018) of East Patchogue, New York, have the Guinness world record for highest certified mileage driven by an original owner in non-commercial service, a total of 1.69 million miles.” With Gordon’s passing, the car had been driven more than 3.2 million miles.

Innovative Safety. Volvos had three-point seatbelts long before domestics (reluctantly) adopted them. Unlike today’s seatbelts, these were non-retractable; no problem, once adjusted for a particular driver or passenger. 

Jaguar’s Missed Opportunity; the Saint’s Ride. The Daily Drive, March 26, 2018, wrote that back in 1961 The Saint’s TV production company considered Jaguar’s new XKE as an appropriate car for Simon Templar, “a wealthy, sophisticated, globetrotting bon vivant who graciously interjected himself into the intrigues and subterfuges he naturally came upon in his travels.” 

Jaguar passed on the opportunity; Volvo jumped at it. The Daily Drive wrote, “While a Volvo may seem an odd car for a wealthy playboy to scoot around in, the car’s relative rarity and innate charm proved an ideal match for the frequently tuxedoed detective/traveler/womanizer who always remained cool and never carried a gun.”

R&T concluded in 1962, “The price is high, a factor which cannot be ignored, but there isn’t another car on the market today that offers precisely the qualities abundantly present in Volvo’s P-1800—the potential buyer of a GT-type automobile certainly should see and drive this car.”

Simon Templar aka The Saint, portrayed by Roger Moore, drove this Volvo P1800 in his TV adventures, 1962–1969. Image from The Daily Drive.

The Saint evidently agreed. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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