“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.
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!
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.
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.
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!