Friday, May 1, 2015

A Car Worthy of a Saint

It became famous because another car company did not want to let a production company use their new car in a television series. Two new sports cars were introduced at the 1961 Geneva Car Show to great praise. One was the Jaguar E-Type and this was the car that the producers of the upcoming TV series The Saint wanted to see their star, Roger Moore, driving. But Jaguar did not have the same vision and refused the use of their car.

The producers then turned to a lesser known car maker from Sweden who gladly gave permission to have Moore's character, Simon Templar, pilot around world-wide screens in their new Volvo P1800.

Volvo began as a car company in 1927 and went public in 1935. Originally a subsidiary of a ball bearing manufacturer, once it went public it became its own entity. Their first car rolled off the production line in Gothenburg, Sweden (co-incidentally the port from which the very first Scandinavian ship sailed to the new world in the 1650s; aboard which was a physician named Timan Stiddem of whom I am a direct ancestor) in 1927. It was not until after World War II ended that Volvo began exporting to the North American market.Still, it was not until the series The Saint and the star's P1800 that sales really began to take off outside of Sweden.

The prototype of the car was hand built in late 1957. Originally Volvo set up a deal with the German firm Karmann to do the tooling and building of the P1800. But Karmann's biggest customer was Volkswagen who became a bit jealous and threatened to cancel all of their orders. Karmann backed out of the deal with Volvo. After looking all over Germany for a company that met Volvo's standards, the Swedes finally turned to the British manufacturer Jensen to handle the job.

1961 saw the launch of the P1800. The name stood for the size of the engine displacement though in truth the car was powered by a 1778 cc V 8 engine. This was actually a variant of the V 8 being used to power Volvo trucks at the time. With its dual SU carburetors this engine produced 100 horse power.Though this does not sound like a lot of power, overdrive versions of the car could top out at 110 MPH.

By 1963 Volvo had moved manufacturing away from Jensen to their own plant in Gothenburg. Here the car began receiving various improvements and updates over the years. The engine eventually grew to 1986 cc and various styling and comfort changes saw the P1800 through to its end in 1973.

As with all things Volvo, reliability has always been highly valued. In fact, a Volvo P1800 is in the Guiness Book of World Records as having been driven the most miles. The last total I could find was from 2013 and car and driver had racked up just under three million miles. That car must have a saint watching over it.

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