- The first European roadster was a huge flop
- Premiere on the runway in Gothenburg
- After 68 copies it was already over
- Too complex, too expensive, too tedious
- Long bonnet, elongated flank, short rear
- Cracks in the body
- The end for Sweden’s sports car hope
The first European roadster was a huge flop
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In June 1954, the first three Volvo Sport P 1900s celebrated their world premieres at what was then Gothenburg Torslanda Airport.
Up until this point in time, Volvo was associated with robust people’s cars and not with sports cars. ">
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With the beautiful roadster, the brand’s image changed suddenly. Up to this point in time, Volvo was associated with robust people’s cars rather than sports cars.
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The then Volvo boss Assar Gabrielsson wanted to change that with the help of the new glass fiber reinforced plastic in the body shop.
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The four-cylinder engine installed in the P 1900 had a displacement of 1414 cubic centimeters and 70 hp.
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This gave the car, which weighed just 969 kilograms, a top speed of 150 km / h.
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The unusually short development time of just two years after which Volvo put the car on the road, however, took revenge.
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In 1957, the then new managing director Gunnar Engellau is said to have borrowed a P 1900 over the weekend, and production was stopped on the following Monday. The reason: The A.…Auto did not meet the quality standards that Volvo wanted.
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The frame was not stiff enough, the plastic body was not tight and also not properly processed.
His career was short and lackluster. And yet the Sport P 1900 gave Volvo a sporty image. Because the first European car with fiberglass pushed the development of the cult coupe P 1800.
E.r is a treasure that bloomed in secret and will probably stand forever in the shadow of its successor. Even among Volvo fans, only true enthusiasts know the exotic P 1900 sport, which made history 60 years ago as the first Swedish sports car and the first European roadster with a fiberglass body that looked futuristic at the time.
A new kind of lightweight construction technology that was supposed to make the Volvo a competitor to the American Corvette, but which turned out to be too expensive and was implemented in too short a time. The result of the hasty development was massive quality problems and finally a premature end of production for the Swedish athlete after only 68 units.
Before that, however, the Volvo Sport P 1900 set the initial spark for the development of the legendary Coupe P 1800 and for more powerful versions of the humpback Volvo PV 444. Two models to which the Scandinavians owe their breakthrough in America.
Premiere on the runway in Gothenburg
New York, Geneva, Frankfurt, Turin and London were the five international launch pads for glamorous sports car careers in 1954. Mercedes (190 SL and 300 SL), Porsche (Speedster), Alfa Romeo (Giulietta Sprint) or Jaguar (XK 140), but also Ferrari and Maserati, they all tried to set new top speed records.
Volvo also took part in this race. Automotive experts met on a sunny June day on the runway at Gothenburg Airport. There the Volvo Sport P 1900 was waiting with a powerful radiator grille modeled on a turbine.
A Volvo sports car with a body made of GRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic)? That was a sensation that nobody had expected. After all, Volvo traditionally stood for robust and rather sedate Swedish people’s cars such as the humped PV 444 or large chauffeur and taxi limousines.
After 68 copies it was already over
And now the Gothenburg group has even just overtaken its local competitor Saab, which is also preparing a roadster. The Saab Sonett could not be presented until a year later and then followed the model of the Volvo with a light fiberglass body.
However, while Volvo announced a still modest first series of 300 units for its "sport", the Sonett was to be manufactured in at least 2000 units, optionally with an aluminum body.
In the end there were 68 Volvo cars, but only six Saab Sonett Super Sport. Because Saab stopped its lofty plans for an expensive plastic racer immediately after Volvo had drawn a line under the GRP chapter. Nevertheless, the pioneers did a lot, especially the Sport P 1900, which made Volvo a brand with a strong sporty image for the next decade.
Too complex, too expensive, too tedious
At first, however, the Volvo Sport P 1900 caused endless excitement. In 1953, Group boss and Volvo founder Assar Gabrielsson was enthusiastic about the Chevrolet Corvette with a lightweight plastic body, the American answer to the successful European sports car concepts.
What remained hidden from Gabrielsson, however, were the start-up problems of the American fiberglass pioneer. In fact, the GRP was supposed to be the trigger that initially turned the dream car into a nightmare, too complex, too expensive and too tedious to produce the fiberglass-reinforced synthetic resin in the beginning.
A drama that was to repeat itself at Volvo after Gabrielsson commissioned the Californian fiberglass specialist Glasspar to develop a sports car. However, while Chevrolet found a solution to the production problems, Volvo had to pull the plug and switch to conventional sheet steel for sports cars.
Long bonnet, elongated flank, short rear
At first everything went according to plan with the Swedes. That means, after a few weeks, glass-saving designer Bill Tritt delivered a design in a simple pontoon shape with a long bonnet, elongated flank and short rear.
If it weren’t for the fixed hardtop, the non-retractable side windows, the missing taillights and the unsporting panoramic windscreen that was expensive to produce. Volvo had supplied the chassis and used the PV 444 as a base.
However, the wheelbase of the stable tubular space construction was 20 centimeters shorter. The 1.4-liter four-cylinder for the athlete also came from the humpback Volvo, but made 70 hp thanks to two SU carburettors. Enough power to accelerate the lightweight, which weighs a maximum of 969 kilograms, to 150 to 170 km / h in its later production version.
Cracks in the body
The P 1900 was originally supposed to weigh only 1900 pounds (lb) (corresponds to 862 kilograms), from which the type designation resulted. However, Volvo requested a second prototype with significant modifications, including a retractable hood and the spare wheel. This was originally intended to be dispensed with, as the innovative tubeless tires of the Swedish Trelleborg type were advertised as being puncture-proof.
A breakdown of any other kind could never be completely eradicated. The body of the roadster showed cracks after only a few kilometers. While Glasspar saw the cause of this problem in the weak Volvo chassis, Volvo hoped to be able to solve the quality deficits once the body production was relocated to Sweden.
The contract with Glasspar also included training Volvo employees in the production of fiberglass bodies. In fact, however, it was never possible to build the body sufficiently solid. One reason why the newly appointed Volvo boss Gunnar Engellau in the spring of 1957 immediately decided to stop production after the first test drives in the P 1900.
The end for Sweden’s sports car hope
In addition, there were extremely high prices for the GRP roadster. For example in Great Britain, where the Volvo Sport cost from 2100 pounds sterling, which is 20 percent more expensive than an already much more powerful Jaguar XK 140. The orders for the roadster came in from Volvo accordingly, even though it had given three premiere parties.
The presentation at Torslanda Airport was followed by a Swedish city tour in the spring of 1954 with presentations on the podiums of large marketplaces and the trade fair debut at the Brussels Salon in 1955. The first customer vehicles were delivered from 1956, mainly to North and South America and Africa. Then there was a lack of demand, which is why Volvo, contrary to the original plan, offered the sports car on the home market.
The incoming orders remained disastrous, however, by the end of the first model year only 45 cars were built, in 1957 there were a further 23 roadsters. The end for Sweden’s sports car hope did not come without the development of the Volvo P 1800 presented in 1960 already running at full speed.
And in the USA the Volvo PV 444 with the more powerful engine of the P 1900 established itself as a “sensational Swedish-built family sports car”, as the media reported. From then on, Volvo was regarded as the “performance leader” for imported family vehicles. The Volvo Sport P 1900, on the other hand, is one of the most sought-after, because it is rarest, Vikings.
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