My parents have always liked Volvo cars. They had several of them through the years, and I always associate my childhood with Volvo station wagons. Their very first one was bought in 1976. At the time Mom was driving a ’74 Mercury Capri V6, Dad’s former company car. My parents had been friends with Mike and Cathy Lundahl since high school, and his dad owned the Volvo dealership in Moline at the time. As a result, many Volvos lived in their driveway over the past forty years or so. But the ’73 ES was the first.
I don’t know the details, but one day Mom saw an 1800ES, and immediately fell in love. The problem was that it was too late to order a new one, as production had ended in June 1973. Then one day Lundahl Volvo took a red over black ’73 ES in trade, and Mike gave my dad a call. The Capri was fairly new, but it was a stick, and the ES had an automatic. Mom has always been able to drive a stick shift, but wasn’t particularly fond of it. So they went down to look at it and take it for a drive. Mike closed the deal, and the Capri was traded in on the shooting brake Volvo.
1973, as previously mentioned was the last year of the Volvo 1800 series. Introduced in 1961 as a coupe, the first ones were built by Jensen in England. Volvo wasn’t happy with the assembly quality of the Jensen-manufactured P1800s, so they moved production in-house. Thus the P1800 became the 1800S (for Sweden) in the spring of ’63. 1800s were now all built alongside 544s and Amazons in the then-new Torslanda plant.
The 1800 was never meant to be a hot-blooded sports car, more of a refined GT. Competent, well-built. Stylish with space for two and decent luggage space. As the ads at the time said, it was sort of a souped-down Ferrari.
Fuel injection was added in 1970, along with five-spoke matte black wheels, a new black plastic grille, and extractor vents on the rear quarters for a new ventilation system. The problem was that the basic body was still unchanged. With its curves and late-’50s style small fins on the back, it was looking seriously dated by the late ’60s. Several proposals for a totally new replacement were considered but rejected by Volvo management. In the end Volvo decided to just update the existing car, resulting in the ’72 1800ES.
The car was largely unchanged below the windows, but snazzy (in your author’s opinion) two door wagon roofline was added with an all-glass hatchback and long, fixed quarter windows. The whole look updated the look far more than the relatively minor sheetmetal changes would have suggested! Both the coupe and wagon were available in 1972, but the wagon was the sole offering for 1973, the final year.
What finally did in the 1800ES was the 1974 Federal 5-mph bumper regulation. It was fine to re-engineer the volume sellers like the 140 series and 164E, but for a low production vehicle like the ES it just didn’t make financial sense, so the ES was finally discontinued in July 1973, with 8077 wagons made in two years.
My Mom’s ES served us well, but was not a daily driver for very long. Dad was a claims investigator at the time, and received a new company car every couple of years. In 1976 he got a ’77 245DL wagon, navy blue with a blue vinyl interior and integrated foglights in the grille. The ES (and all 1800s) were not available with power steering, and the steering was pretty heavy for such a small, sporty car. At any rate, Mom was getting tired of the Armstrong steering, especially when parallel parking. Dad had asked Mike if a power steering unit from a 240 could be retrofitted to the ES, but it was not possible. There was no room for it under the hood.
Since the 245DL had power steering, when Dad got a ’77 Monte Carlo as a company car, he bought the DL from Illinois Casualty for her. So the DL became Mom’s daily driver. The ES was basically kept as a Sunday driver. I came along in ’80, and remember both the 245DL and ES well. I could tell that the ES was special. It and my Dad’s ’51 Porsche stayed in the garage. While the 245DL and Dad’s company car, which was an ’81 242DL by that time, sat outside.
Much to my chagrin, the ES was nearly always locked when Dad was puttering around the garage. I really liked sitting in that car. The dash looked very cool to me, with the woodgrain and all the round gauges and knobs. It didn’t have a glove compartment, but had a small lockable compartment between the seats. I was young enough that I rode in the back seat of it several times and wasn’t cramped. It was always a treat when we went for a ride in it. A lot of times we’d just run to Mr. Fresh, which was a drive-thru convenience store in the Quad Cities. We’d pull up, get a gallon of milk, then head back home. I remember those quick rides very well during the early summers of my childhood!
I loved that car, but between 1983 and 1985, my brother and sister had come along, and a nearly nine year old wagon wasn’t getting very practical, let alone an almost thirteen year-old special occasion two door wagon with basically no back seat. A new cream yellow 1986 240DL wagon was ordered from Mike and the ES traded in. The ’77 DL was sold to a friend of my Dad’s, who in typical fashion, drove it into the ground in no time. I have missed the ES ever since and have seen only a couple others in the last 25 years. They were special cars.
I myself owned three Volvos over the years, most recently a 2007 V50 2.4i. Today she has an XC60 T6 in Twilight Bronze, which recently replaced an ’09 XC90 V8. Times change, but not everything.
Note: This post originally ran on the old site (never mind which one, heh!). With the arrival of Mother’s Day yet again, I thought it was a good time to bring it over here. All the photos of the red car are our actual car. My mom has had many cool cars over the years, but this is the one that was my favorite! And it always will be. -TK