Volvo might not be the first brand that comes to mind when discussing sporty coupes -- actually, for most people, it would never come to mind -- but in the Swedish carmaker's long parade of boxy cars, there was one standout exception. The Volvo 1800 was as appealing as any of the European coupes of its era, a low-slung two-plus-two that, for more than a decade, stood in contrast to the brand's utilitarian mainstream offerings.
The coupe was hatched in the late 1950s, when Volvo was looking for a halo vehicle to enhance its image in the all-important export markets. The design work was farmed out to the Italian firm Frua, although the proposal they worked from had been submitted by a Swede, future Olympic sailor Pelle Petterson.
The car made its debut at the Brussels motor show in 1960 and went on sale the following spring as the P1800. Early cars were assembled (sloppily) by Jensen in the U.K. The engine was a Volvo unit, a 100-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder; the suspension -- control arms in front and a coil-sprung live axle at the rear -- consisted of modified Volvo Amazon components; brakes were discs in the front and drums at the back. A four-speed manual with electric overdrive was standard.
Assembly moved to Sweden in 1963, which spurred the coupe's first name change, to 1800S, for the '64 models. (Bodies, however, were still shipped from Scotland.) There was also a slight power increase that year, to 108 hp, and a leather interior. The 1800S carried on through the 1960s with mostly minor changes: another power bump (115 hp) for '66; a switch from upswept to straight side trim along with an optional engine-tuning kit (for 135 hp) for the American market in '67; and a larger, 2.0-liter engine (118 hp) for '69, at which point Volvo took over body stamping as well.