1956 Volvo P1900
4-cyl. 1414cc/70hp 2x1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
It’s not often Volvo lays an egg, but the fiberglass PV 1900 roadster from 1956-57 would arguably fall into that category as a rare miss for the Swedish carmaker. In the early 1950s Volvo was looking to the U.S. market, but its principal passenger vehicle, the 1947 PV 444 (PV for personvagen) looked like a 1941 Ford. Though it was durable, it was fairly slow, with a 40 bhp 1,414 cc four-cylinder engine, three-speed gearbox and a top speed of 75 mph.
In 1953 Volvo’s co-founder and managing director Assar Gabrielsson visited the U.S. and was very taken with the new fiberglass-bodied Chevrolet Corvette. He talked with Bill Tritt, who ran Glasspar, the company that made fiberglass boats and car bodies, and Tritt made some sketches of a two-seater roadster. Volvo sent a new chassis to Glasspar in Costa Mesa, California, and Tritt built a car around it.
After a handful of prototypes, the P1900 Sport went into production in 1956. Glasspar built 18 of the new roadsters and shipped the bodies to Sweden, where Volvo assembled the cars. Henceforth Volvo took over the whole project. Most of the 1956 cars were sold in Sweden, though #18 took a trip across America to publicize the model. All of the 1957 cars came to Los Angeles, but #49 stayed home.
The P1900 had a tubular steel chassis and the body was conventionally rounded early fiberglass, with little brightwork and a deeply recessed grille. With 70 bhp and twin carburetors it could manage 95 mph, but was handicapped by its three-speed transmission and six-volt electrics. The P1900 retailed for $2,600 in 1956 at a time when a new MGA cost $2,195, a Triumph TR3 was $2,620 and a Corvette cost $3,149.
How the Volvo P1900 might have fared in the U.S. market became a moot point when Gabrielsson’s successor at Volvo, Gunnar Engelau borrowed one for the weekend. He was reportedly appalled by the lack of rigidity and quality control and famously said “I thought the doors would fall off.” Monday morning he cancelled the project, and there wouldn’t be another Volvo sports car until the P1800 of 1960, which would be made of steel.
Volvo owners are famous for hanging onto their cars indefinitely and about 50 of the 67 PV 1900s are known to survive, with rumors of others still out there. With fragile bodywork and no spare specialized parts available, it seems likely that some wounded birds are holed up in barns. A rare car by anybody’s definition, the P1900 is interesting and collectible more as a quirky piece of Volvo history than for any merits it had as a performance car.