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XCAR: The Volvo P1800 is as cool as Roger Moore

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XCAR: The Volvo P1800 is as cool as Roger Moore

8:05 /

We take a look at the Volvo P1800, possibly the coolest car Volvo has ever made.

Spies need to remain completely anonymous. They need to go to where they need to go, listening, pick up information and clues, and then when they leave, be completely forgotten. So why does James Bond drive an Aston Martin? I mean, they're some of the flashiest cars available. Nowadays, if you rocked up to a secret underground lair in something like a DBS, you'd be shot in the face from a distance before you could get in the way of any evil imaginations. And then you have a look at Bond's car history. Well, he's had an Aston DB5, a Vantage, a Vanquish, a DBS, a BMW Z8, a 750i, and even a Lotus Esprit. I mean, they're hardly subtle all day, but the man who owned Lotus Esprit didn't only play James Bond. Now, Roger Moore played Simon Templar, The Saint, and The Saint, well, he drove a Volvo, a Volvo P1800. Mr. Templar drove a P1800S, which had an 118 brake horsepower, and would do around 110 miles an hour. What we have here is an original P1800, and that has about 100 brake horsepower, so it's still fairly nitpick-ish. It's a very warm day. It's very hot in here, and I am nowhere near as cool as Roger Moore, but I tell you what, this thing is awesome. It's just-- it's so cool. Smoking around town, I feel like proper 60s bad ass like I've just gotten in from the advertising house and just zooming homes of the wife. The development of this car is actually really, really interesting because in 1957, Volvo wanted a sports car. They tried it before with the P1900, and that didn't sell very well anywhere. So what Volvo did was they took a hand-built concept to Karmann in Germany. You may know them for the Karmann Ghia, and Karmann went, "Yeah, we'd love to build your car." Until VW found out, VW didn't like that because, well, Karmann was their sort of main manufacturer, and they went, "If you do that, we will take away all your lovely contracts." So Karmann backed out leaving Volvo at square one, and the P1800 nearly didn't happen. The thing was a last minute retrieve occurred. Volvo went to see Jensen-- you know Jensen as in the Healey and the Interceptor-- and said, "Would you kindly build us a car?" Jensen went, "Yes, we'd love to. That sounds amazing." And lower deal was signed. Jensen was to build 10,000 P1800s of Volvo. Now, over its 12-year life span, there were four versions of the P1800. We've got this, the standard P1800, built by Jensen. Now only 6000s of the 10,000 ordered cars were ever made, and that's because there were few British quality issues. Sorry about that. Then production moved to Sweden, and the Volvo P1800S was born. I'll level with it. This is a 51-year-old car as of this year, so it's not going to be up to modern standards of driving. Let's start with the basics. The gear shift rather lovely, really. It sort of clinks in from gear to gear. The clutch isn't too heavy. The only thing is in second gear, no matter what you do, there's a little bit of a [unk], which is a little disconcerting, so it makes me sound like I'm an idiot. Oh, that's not me. The brakes, it's got discs at the front and drums at the back, which means it's nonetheless responsive of things. You have to kind of look ahead in this car because, well, it's old, and this wheel is giant. So when it turns lock-to-lock, and once you're hustling, yeah, you got a bit of gift, but the moment you get tossed about 35 degrees, everything requires a lot more effort. It's very, very heavy. The throttle response is pretty good. If I'm on this, you just put your foot down and off you go. The engine itself isn't the quickest to respond and is quite noisy and trashy, and I haven't taken it over 50 miles an hour yet, even though this is supposed to do somewhere near 100. I'm mostly through fix because I don't want it to explode. The readouts, well, okay. Let's see. I have no idea how many LPM I'm doing because I'm either doing somewhere between none and a thousand. It doesn't tend to go above that. The speed though, well, it was like a wobbly thing. The fuel gauge, that's not good. I'm somewhere between empty half and full. It can't quite make its mind up. The oil temperature gauge, that's stuck at somewhere below 50, and the clock is wrong. I'm sure I can set it, but the clock is currently wrong. The switches in there are quite cool. It's so like a kid in the 60s and awesome. And the design of this, you know, you see it outside, and you think, "Oh, yes. That's an all-right-looking car, that will do," and you get in, and it's like uhhmm, everything is so cool and stylized. You just can't get that with car anymore. You can't get a really thin wheel because if I have a crash, these will puncture both of my lungs simultaneously, and the wheel, well, will probably give me serious brain damage, but look at it. The seats are cool. The door releases are cool. The carpet inside is cool. The gear lever is just a nice little dainty thing. The ashtray is a little draw. It's really awesome. When the producers of The Saint were looking for a car, they went to Jaguar and said, "We're making a new TV show. It's got Roger Moore and it's about a spy, coincidentally British, we'd love to have your car as the star." And Jaguar went, "No, we don't need any more publicity. We're fine." So, they went to Volvo who went, "Yes, please. Have some cars, take them off our hands. We'd love it to be in the show." And the rest was history. Everyone I'm showing this car to, no matter how old they are, had gone, "Oh my God, that's The Saint's car. That's Roger Moore's car. That's awesome." Damn right, this thing is amazing. This car is now synonymous with Roger Moore being cool. Well, the P1800 has fins and a snouty nose. It's not as ostentatious as a Jaguar E-Type. I mean, it looks good, but in the 60s, certainly not enough to make people stand and stare. And it's got enough power but not so much that will get you into trouble. If anything, the P1800 is the perfect spy in itself, and it helps with this plenty of eyebrow room.

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