Photographer: p18001968/Flickr

Buy a Vintage Volvo P1800 for Style and Substance

The car made famous by Roger Moore in The Saint is a reliable driver nearly half a century after the last one rolled off the truck.

The world record for most miles driven on a private vehicle owned by only one person belongs to a 1966 Volvo P1800. The little red coupe has run more than 3 million miles, farther than traveling to the moon and back six times. It did them all on its original engine.

Certainly, proper maintenance contributed to the car’s longevity, but even the most tender, loving care can’t eke that kind of mileage out of just anything. Volvo P1800 coupes—separate from the later two-door wagon versions—are special.

The 1968 Volvo P1800 was a 2+2 coupe, with a four-speed manual transmission.
The 1968 Volvo P1800 was a 2+2 coupe, with a four-speed manual transmission.
Photographer: p18001968/Flickr

“They really hit the sweet spot” for vintage collectors, said Hagerty’s Jonathan Klinger, noting that the cars are unusual but not so out of the ordinary that it’s impossible to find spare parts. Also, “they have enough power, combined with relatively good handling for a car from the 60s, that they’re a delight to drive. And they have a unique-enough design that they stand out at your typical car show.”

Affordable And Around

Volvo produced the car in the early 1960s as Sweden's answer to the demand for sports cars in the U.S.
Volvo produced the car in the early 1960s as Sweden's answer to the demand for sports cars in the U.S.
Photographer: Nakhon100/Flickr

Even better, one in good condition can be had for well under $20,000. Sure, last year in Scottsdale, Gooding & Co. sold a 1967 P1800 for $77,000, the highest-ever price paid for a standard P1800 at auction. And in September 2014, Bonhams sold a 1973 1800ES, a late variant of the 1800 line, for $92,000, the world record sale for any Volvo. Still, you can get proper, restoration-ready examples of the model for as low as $6,000 and $9,000.

The wagon version of the Volvo 1800.
The wagon version of the Volvo 1800.
Photographer: Nakhon100/Flickr

Or buy one somewhere between needing work and museum-perfect for $30,000 to $50,000, such as this 1971 Cypress Green P1800 coupe in Europe. If you do, chances are it will hold its value.

Prices of the P1800 coupes made from 1968 to 1972 have risen 52 percent over the last five years, with the current average value for an average-condition example hovering near $13,000. (Values of the Volvo 1800 wagons made from 1972 to 1973, which are the later models of the 1800 line, are up 42 percent over the same time last year, with an average value of $15,000, according to Hagerty data.)

The average sale price at auction this year for a coupe has been $14,000.

The coupe was first produced in the U.K. by a company called Jensen.
The coupe was first produced in the U.K. by a company called Jensen.
Photographer: Nakhon100/Flickr

“In the past years they have had a nice steady increase, appreciating just slightly ahead of the overall market,” Klinger said. By the same token, this is not an investment for aggressive speculators. “You’re not likely going to see a massive jump in value in the near term,” he added.

The Television Star

Later models of the 1800 line introduced a four-speed manual model with overdrive and even a 3-speed automatic transmission.
Later models of the 1800 line introduced a four-speed manual model with overdrive and even a 3-speed automatic transmission.
Photographer: p18001968/Flickr

Not a jump in financial value, maybe. But you’ll reap heavy dividends when it comes to emotional value. Volvo introduced the 1800 line in 1961 as a way to compete against European (and especially British) automakers in the sports car segment in the U.S. The idea was that it would offer luxury-caliber performance and styling at an affordable price. A series of cheeky advertorials (“It’s sort of a souped-down Ferrari”) bolstered the concept, but it was the car’s mixed-European good looks that proved most compelling.

The 1800 was designed by a young Swede working for the Italian design house Frua, then produced in the U.K. by a British company named Jensen, so it truly combined the best design and manufacturing elements of the time.

The car came with round dials on the dash and a three-spoke steering wheel.
The car came with round dials on the dash and a three-spoke steering wheel.
Photographer: p18001968/Flickr

A 2+2 coupe, the P1800 featured a long, rectangular front nose, hemmed by two small, round headlights set far apart on either side; a swooping flourish ran along the side body, set high from each headlight and running back toward the rear of the car. Its concave, oblong grille is still much the same as the one you see in the modern S90 and V90 cars. Two small rear fins frame the back. Inside, the dominant attributes were big, round gauges behind the steering wheel and along the dashboard, a thin, three-spoke steering wheel, and flat, square seats. 

The car debuted to general success, but major global acclaim didn’t come until 1962, when Roger Moore drove an eggshell white P1800 (license plate ST1) in the popular television series The Saint. Per-Ake Froberg, head of the Volvo Cars Heritage program, said Jaguar had passed on the opportunity.

Roger Moore opens the door of his Volvo for Isabelle McMillan in a 1965 scene from 'The Saint.'
Roger Moore opens the door of his Volvo for Isabelle McMillan in a 1965 scene from 'The Saint.'
Photographer: Len Trievnor/Getty Images

“The show was a real breakthrough,” Froberg said. “The production company had asked Jaguar to provide a car, because they had a dashing new, little car on the market called the E-Type, but Jaguar wasn’t interested or they couldn’t provide one, so someone had seen this new Swedish car in the showroom and asked Volvo. The car became the Saint’s car and helped people all over the world connect with Volvo.”

Parts for the Volvo 1800 series are relatively easy to get, since the car was produced in high numbers and imported heavily to the U.S.
Parts for the Volvo 1800 series are relatively easy to get, since the car was produced in high numbers and imported heavily to the U.S.
Photographer: p18001968/Flickr

Early models of the 1800 had little, four-cylinder engines, disc brakes, and a rear-wheel-drive, four-speed manual transmission; later models introduced a four-speed manual with overdrive and even a 3-speed automatic transmission. Power ratings evolved, too, with additional variants, rising from 100-horsepower to more than 120hp as new ones, including a shooting brake, made debuts. Total global production of the 1800 line from 1961 through 1973 hit 47,492 units. Many of them shipped directly to the U.S., which is great for American collectors because it means little difficulty in finding one.

The challenge, rather, will be in finding the right one to love.

“We are not talking about an exotic Italian vehicle, so it is definitely possible to find one,” Froberg said. “But our collectors and clubs are very devoted to them—it is getting more and more impossible to find a really good one."

Restoration-ready models of the P1800 can cost well under $!0,000.
Restoration-ready models of the P1800 can cost well under $!0,000.
Photographer: p18001968/Flickr
Irv Gordon stands next to his 1966 Volvo P1800. Gordon has driven the car more than 3 million miles.
Irv Gordon stands next to his 1966 Volvo P1800. Gordon has driven the car more than 3 million miles.
Photographer: Getty Images
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