VOLVO 1800ES IS A BEAUTIFUL SWEDE THAT BEGAN ITS LIFE AS A COMPROMISE. WITH IT´S EXTRAORDINARY LINES AND PROVEN TECHNOLOGY, THIS BEAUTY QUICKLY BECAME A CLASSIC –
A MEETING BETWEEN THE REASONABLY SWEDISH AND THE EXOTIC.
IN MILOS FOREMAN´S FILM AMADEUS, IN MILOS FOREMAN´S FILM AMADEUS, the mediocre composer Salieri is plotting against the prodigy Mozart. Salieri saw in Mozart all the brilliance, talent, and musicality he longed for but lacked in himself. Mozart’s music was simply too beautiful for the world, for the time and – not least – for Salieri. Therefore, he argued, Mozart must die. What has this tale to tell of car design and our own time? Perhaps that genius and beauty are still properties condemned to a short and intense life, while the world is filled to the brim of mediocrity in all its forms: Primera´s, Passat´s, Micra´s and Big Brother participants. So when Volvo in the space of 14 months closed down production of their beautiful 1800ES, after just two years in production, and instead introduced the 240 series, Salieri nodded contentedly in his Heaven. The mediocre had, once again, won the victory over the form perfected.
Gothenburg in the mid-1960s. Volvo’s popular 1800S lives in its fifth model year, and product developers were considering how the Pelle Petterson-designed sport coupe could be given a second life. The mission was as clear as it was risky: adapt the popular but rapidly aging model to the emerging lifestyle thinking, air out as much as possible of the early 1960s scent, and make sure the beautiful basic form was not lost. To radically update such a successful and unique car design, however, is like changing the lead singer of a popular rock band, which fails 99 times out of 100. But somehow, the design team beat those odds. By the fall of 1968, a handmade ES prototype made by the Italian bodywork company Coggiola had arrived in Gothenburg. Responsible for the design was Volvo´s expert on Station wagons, Jan Wilsgaard. The result was as cool as it was unconventional. The roof had been extended, and the car had been turned into a hatchback sports car with the tailgate made of tempered glass. Instead of distorting the original, it had been refined. Nevertheless, it would take a few years before the 1800ES would come into production, just in time for model year 1972.
WELFARE STATE & EXTRAVAGANZA
The new Volvo had both reason and emotion in a concept that immediately found buyers worldwide in golfing lawyers, wealthy dentists, and art directors in white polo shirts. At home, Volvo had defined a customer segment of wealthy upper middle class who liked Marimekko and holidays abroad, rather than loden coats and beak boots. This trend conscious and tasteful Scandinavian crowd avoided both demonstrations and alternative Christmas celebrations. The choice of vehicle was a statement together with the architect designed mexi villa on Lidingö or in Örgryte: “We indeed live the sleek, conscious and good life.” It was hardly a coincidence that the lawyer Marianne, Liv Ullman’s character in Ingmar Bergman’s divorce epos Scenes from a Marriage, was given a 1800ES to demonstrate her independence after the hard-won, world-famous divorce.
But not all were happy with the new design. Pelle Petterson, who once designed the original 1800 model, was able to keep himself from laughing. Although he had given up working at Volvo in the early 1960s in favor of boat design, it was hard for him to accept that he had not been asked to re-style the model. P1800 was, after all, his baby. Jan Wilsgaard, on the other hand, followed a simple and winning basic principle when he designed the 1800ES. Respect the laws of nature and keep it simple. Functional and sensible design are often also the most stunning. With its delicate lines and slightly futuristic rear, the 1800ES is an exceptionally successful result of this aesthetic sense. At the end of the 1990s, Pelle Petterson also acknowledged that 1800ES had qualities such as self-standing design, and that he actually liked it better and better.
A NEW WORLD
Driving an 1800ES is a pleasurable experience. With one hand on the near-vertical steering wheel and the other on the large gear knob, it is reminiscent of a time before the yuppies, Curt Cobain and IT boom; did the world look like this? What you discover in the 1800ES is a civilized touring car which is very easy to like. The fuel injected B-20 engine does its job without scaring either yourself or others on the road, but is sufficiently dynamic not to embarrass you at red lights or when passing. If you choose a manual transmission, which is preferable, it is equipped with an overdrive from Laycock de Normanville. This makes long drives to a pleasure as long as the rubber seals around the door are healthy so you do not get whistle noises and drafts around the neck. The vehicle’s high waistline, in combination with the low position of the seats, makes its visibility slightly restricted. On the other hand, the appreciative glances and smiles of other road users make up for the inconvenience. When the last ES wagon left the Volvo plant on 14.00 June 27, 1973, only 8078 copies had been made. The official explanation for the discontinuation of the model was the new stringent safety requirements of the critical U.S. market. More and more people discover that the Volvo 1800 ES is a perfect combination of fun, reliability and classic sports car lines. Want one?
VOLVO 1800ES (1973)
ENGINE: FOUR STRAIGHT 1986 CM.
MAX POWER: 124 HP.
0-100 KM / H: 10,8 SEK.
MAX SPEED: 185 KM / H.
CURB WEIGHT: 1610 KG.
DRIVE: REAR WHEEL DRIVE, ENGINE FRONT, 4-SPEED MANUAL WITH OVERDRIVE GEARBOX OR 3-SPEED AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION.
FUEL CONSUMPTION:9.0 L/100 KM.
PRICE: 35 000 SEK (NEW). PRICE TODAY APPROXIMATELY 80,000 SEK AND UP FOR A CAR IN GOOD CONDITION.
TEXT: ANDERS KÅHRSTRÖM IMAGES: ERIK HAGMAN