1973 Volvo 1800ES – That Most Beautiful Volvo

“Beautiful Volvo? What are you going on about this time Klockau?” you may be thinking. Nope, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Volvo more or less built their reputation on safety and durability, not beauty. But there are some models out there that look excellent.

1984 Volvo 240 GL

I like Volvos, and have a serious soft spot for 240s and 740s thanks to spending my formative years in the back seat of several. And while those sedans and wagons look nice enough (they’re boxy but they’re good, as Dudley Moore once said), I admit it’s a stretch to call them beautiful. I mean, beautiful is a 1936 Cord 810 Westchester. Beautiful is an Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. But a Volvo? Well, yes!

The Klockau family ES, upon trade-in.

I freely admit that I’m biased. One of my earliest car articles online concerned the red 1973 1800ES my mother owned from 1974 to 1986. Now that was a great car. I was only five or six when it was traded in, but I still have clear memories of riding in the back seat with Mom driving, or sitting in it and pretending to drive on the weekends, while Dad was puttering around the garage, or fiddling with his 1951 Porsche 356 Cabriolet.

I love all of the “Souped-Down Ferrari” Volvo 1800s, from the early Jensen-built coupes with the “steer horn” front bumper, to famous white coupe driven by a pre-Bond Roger Moore in The Saint, to the fuel-injected versions of the early Seventies. They’re all winners, and all charming. But to me, the wagon is the most compelling of them all.

The ES sportswagon was a latecomer to the 1800’s run, first appearing in Europe in August 1971. The 1800E coupe was retained and sold alongside its new sibling, but that would only last through the 1972 model year.

Even as the new wagon model appeared, automotive journalists were comparing it to the similar Reliant Scimitar GTE. According to Volvo, however, the sketches for the wagon were completed prior to the Autumn 1968 debut of the Reliant.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 1800ES was how fresh it looked, despite the use of nearly all of the 1800E’s body, with the exception of the roof panel, C-pillar and portions of the rear sheetmetal. The new greenhouse also served to quite effectively hide the fins, a late-Fifties design cue that was present on every 1800 coupe built. It was already a little dated when the first P1800s appeared in ’61.

Those initial ESs benefited from several changes made for 1972. A new ABS plastic vertical bar grille and square nose emblem freshened the front, tinted glass was standard, and European models received a horsepower bump to 135 hp (124 hp DIN). However, US-bound models received the B20F engine with 125 hp, due to the required emissions equipment.

The 1800E coupe was missing from the lineup when the ’73 Volvos were introduced. For its final year, the ES gained side door guard beams and updated bumpers, fire-resistant interior materials and an increased swept area for the windshield wipers. Power was down to 112 hp, likely due to emissions.

Parked at Lundahl Volvo, downtown Moline, IL, circa 1985.

My family’s 1800ES was a red 1973 with black leather interior and red carpet, which was factory-correct. It was a stunning vehicle. I still miss it! Out of all the cars my parents owned, this is the one I wish they had kept to the present day.

So now you might understand why I got excited when I saw this white example in Davenport back in 2014. From a quarter mile away I knew it was something interesting, just from the shape of the hood and the nose. My first thought was a Fiat 124 Spider or maybe an Alfa. Then that lovely roofline came into view. Oh man, is that an 1800ES? Stop the car immediately!

The last 1800ES I saw in person was owned by Mike Lundahl, the local Volvo dealer. He and his wife had been friends with my parents for years-hell, before I was born! In the late ’90s, Mike occasionally drove a British Racing Green 1800ES with a saddle tan leather interior.

It wasn’t a show car, but was a nice looking driver. The last time I saw it was probably around 2003. These cars don’t exactly grow on trees. Just a little over 8,000 ESs were produced.

So, why was the ES cancelled after only two years? Upcoming 1974 bumper standards, along with the lion’s share of 1800 models being exported to the United States, spelled the end for the sporty Volvo. The last one, chassis #8077, left the factory at 2:00 PM on June 27, 1973.

Other than the Turbo versions of the 240, 740, 940 and 850, there would be no more really sporting Volvos in America until 1997, with the appearance of the C70 coupe. There was a “hot hatch” 480ES introduced in Europe in 1986, but we never got it.

While not a strict copy, the 480ES had a lot of 1800 styling cues, in a front-wheel-drive, hatchback form. The C70 coupe never really took off either, as once the convertible version appeared, C70 coupe sales took a nosedive.

2002 Volvo C70, spotted at the local golf course.

But Volvo kept trying. The C30 that appeared in 2007 was a clear reboot of the ES, but while Volvo hoped it could be a worthy competitor to the Mini Cooper, again, sales were disappointing. My brother brought a burnt orange C30 in 2013, but he is the only person I know of who owns one.

This particular 1800ES was in very nice shape. There was some rust behind both of the rear wheel wells but other than that, this appeared to be in solid shape.

And very original, right down to the “Automatic” decal on the all-glass hatch. I especially liked the white paint with the light blue leather interior–very striking in person.

This would make an excellent summer cruiser. I actually showed these pictures to my folks later that day, hoping they might be intrigued enough to add it to their fleet. Short answer: Nope! But it was still great to see. These cars left an indelible mark on my formative years, and for that I will always love them. They will always be the most beautiful Volvo to me!

15 Replies to “1973 Volvo 1800ES – That Most Beautiful Volvo”

  1. JustPassinThru

    Seems the winners, the lust-provoking cars, always get killed off early.

    Often due to government standards.

    I remember, as a 15-year-old, reading a Popular Mechanics test (done in Sweden) on this model. It checked all the boxes – useful, yet sleek; futuristic. Volvos weren’t common in Northeast Ohio, so I had no preconceptions about the brand. But this looked like the future!…how could it NOT survive to my entering the car-buying market?

    Regulations. That’s how.

    I’d seen maybe two in real-life; compared to dozens of the coupes. This was what should have been done from the start – the coupe looks unbalanced, the cabin too small and not in proportion; the tailfins out of date from the moment it hit the market.

    A shame. The road not traveled. Now, all cars are interchangeable and unchanging – you have the choice of the four-door egg-shaped car; or the four-door lifted, noisy, smoking diesel Bigfoot truck.

    • -Nate

      “or the four-door lifted, noisy, smoking diesel Bigfoot truck.”

      A ray of hope :

      My 39YO Son has a 2006 Chevy crew cab diesel truck that’s lifted, it has a freer exhaust yet isn’t noisy and doens’t smoke, period .

      He’s 5’4″ .

      Not all young Men have to compensate .

      It’s a nice rig .


      • JustPassinThru

        It’s good that he doesn’t WANT that.

        But, of course, the noise and smoke are not side drawbacks of those lifted trucks. They’re the PURPOSE. You know, no doubt, about “Rolling Coal”? They have electronic equipment that overloads the fuel injection when turned on to pump out that acrid black smoke. They think it’s a hoot; and since I get around a lot on motorcycle and bicycle, two vehicles that the Brohs in their Bro-Dozers just HATE…I wind up with a lot of that stinking smoke in my face.

        FWIW, I’ve worked with diesels my entire adult life. Diesel exhaust never smelled GOOD; but it was what it was…until the eco-weenies started messing with the formula and started requiring animal urine added to the exhaust as some sort of antipollutant. Now it JUST…REEKS.

        Over at TTAC we see all kinds of nice-condition, small-market vehicles, like one LUV truck, put in the junkyard for emissions failures. We have ALL this expensive equipment and belaboring inspections…and these Brohs in their Dozers are just fine with it. WHILE they buy these stupid kits to MAKE THEIR TRUCKS SMOKE like a TIRE FIRE.

        Okay. Threadjack over.

        • -Nate

          I know about bro-dozer retards .

          I didn’t know they actually added an electronic device nor was I aware they don’t like Motocyles (I’ve been riding 50 years) .

          I grew up in a staunchly Conservative values situation and have never understood why the jocks are so damned afraid of Motos .

          I see the ‘prius repellent’ stickers next to the exhaust here in Cali. and wonder just how ignorant they can possibly be .

          FWIW, I dislike (not hate/fear) prius’ too having actually driven them unlike most who spew endless diatribes against them .

          I like big American vehicles as long as I don’t have to drive them ~ to each their own but being rude (almost every first gen. prius owner I’ve ever met plus bro-dozers) isn’t O.K. and never will be .


          • JustPassinThru

            “I know about bro-dozer retards .

            I didn’t know they actually added an electronic device nor was I aware they don’t like Motocyles (I’ve been riding 50 years) .”

            Yeah. An electronic switch, to either enrichen the mixture and/or turn off ECUs. I don’t know the specifics; it’s a sort of contraband market.

            It allows them to roll the smoke on command. When they get alongside someone they think of as their lesser, they just let the smoke pour out.

            That, and the straight pipes, or glasspacks, or whatever it is, that makes those things sound like a Kenworth, only twice as loud…my gawd, hearing that all day is annoying.

            And I do. My town of 60,000, is a center of USFS and NPS administrators; as well as a major university town. All these paper-pushers and desk-drivers, feeling frustrated in their manhood…with huge paychecks, for minimal work…they compensate.

            That’s how.

            And, just to add to the fun…the regional Harley dealership is right down the street from me. Harleys sell well here; and so do the retrofitters who put straight pipes on them, to give it the Easy Riders sound.

            I don’t know about them, but that’s not how I ride, or why I ride.

          • -Nate

            Those who need to do anything obnoxious to be noticed, are to be pitied .

            We have them here too, many are able to channel this need into being entertainers, many good, some less so .

            I could give a rat’s patoot who likes the Motos and other weird vehicles I like .

            The concept of deliberately damaging your engine is weird, really weird, childish and many other pejoratives .


  2. silentsod

    I saw one of these just yesterday on my way home from work. I had no idea what it was and at first I wasn’t sure it had glass in place in the rear (then I spotted a sticker). What a timely post!

  3. stingray65

    The ES was certainly the best looking of the breed, and it isn’t often that a the “wagon” version is better looking than the coupe. The stock ones (US version) were horribly slow even by the standards of that time, and especially with an automatic, but I always thought one of these would be a good restomod candidate. Put in a later 16 valve turbo 4 and 5 speed manual from a 740, perhaps update the dashboard and add modern A/C, and put some work into suspension and tires and you would have a very nice daily driver.

  4. dejal

    My neighbor had the coupe and then the wagon. Beautiful cars. Then bought a 240 or 260z that he proceeded to wrap around a tree in maybe 1975 or 76.

    Sometime after that he bought a Volvo 242. He said it was the worst car ever made. The wiring harness was biodegradable. He regretted getting rid of 1800s

    Last Volvo he ever owned. Complete opposite of this model as far as reliability was concerned. But a lot of cars in the late 70s early 80s were garbage.

    He was also a VW guy. He had a early 50s Beetle that he kept until his wife passed away in the early 90s. After the 242 it was VWs until he died.


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