Volvo P1800 [1961]

Pelle Petterson

The P1800 was conceived to be the most eye-catching member of the Volvo fleet – and still today remains its most-recognisable luxury model. After an unsuccessful attempt at a sports coupé with the Volvo Sport, President Gunnar Engellau knew the company needed to deliver an attractive model to sit at the top of the range – one that could proudly grace the front window of each and every dealership. Engellau wanted an Italian-styled vehicle in line with the work of Pininfarina and Bertone, and consultant Helmer Petterson was intimately involved in this planning process. Helmer’s son Pelle (a native Swede) was working at Pietro Frua and managed to use this link to shortlist one of his designs – which ended up being the one chosen by Volvo’s panel. When the truth behind the design’s origin was revealed, it was said Pelle was to be left entirely uncredited – and it certainly took a number of years for proper recognition to be reinstated. Nonetheless the first of prototypes were built by Frua in Turin (as Ghia was incapacitated on account of the Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia) in 1957-58 and had all the markings of the production vehicle: a sleek curvilinear steel chassis, a dynamic swooping profile line from the front grille to the rear limit of the doors and an animated, almost-personified front face (not dissimilar to the grinning Austin-Healy Sprite). Moreover, it managed to borrow most mechanical components from other models, primarily from the Amazon – a vital production requirement.

Quickly immortalised in film, Petterson can be quoted as saying ‘I designed the car, but Roger Moore sold it’ with reference to English television series The Saint, with Moore playing the lead behind the wheel of a P1800 which featured in every episode.


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