EINSPRITZUNG: THE Volvo 1800E
For the 1970 model year, the 1800S became the Volvo 1800E, known internally as the model T. (With the larger engine, “2000E” might have been more appropriate, but we assume Volvo was concerned about name recognition.) The E stood for Einspritzung, signifying the replacement of the B20B’s dual S.U.s with Bosch electronic fuel injection, which boosted output to 130 gross horsepower (97 kW). Although the 1800E was heavier than before — curb weight now approached 2,600 lb (1,175 kg) — the extra power trimmed 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times to less than 10 seconds while top speed rose to more than 115 mph (185 km/h). More importantly, the B20E could now meet the latest U.S. federal emissions standards.
Aside from its Bosch D-Jetronic injection, the B20E engine had a hotter ‘K’ camshaft, larger valves, an aluminum intake manifold, and a sealed cooling system with an overflow tank. One of its minor oddities of the injected 1800E was the location of the air cleaner, buried behind the grille; the grille had to be unscrewed and removed to change the filter. In 1970 and 1971, this engine was rated at 130 gross horsepower (97 kW) and 130 lb-ft (176 N-m) of torque. Net ratings were a still healthy 120 hp DIN (88 kW) and 123 lb-ft (166 N-m). Fuel economy was similar to the B18B, although some reviewers thought the D-Jetronic system made drivability somewhat quirky, particularly on a cold start. (Photo © 2004 Matthew Shultz; used with permission)
To match its newfound power, the 1800E now had four-wheel disc brakes, borrowed from the six-cylinder 164 sedan, along with a new ZF four-speed gearbox. The J-type Laycock de Normanville overdrive was now standard in all markets, matched with a slightly taller 4.30 axle ratio. Tires were the same 165-15 size as before, but the familiar Pirelli Cinturatos were traded for H-rated Michelins on slightly wider alloy wheels.
Other than the wild-looking wheels, the 1800E’s main visual distinctions were a new grille (which could be removed to reach the air cleaner element) and black vents in the rear fenders, part of a new fresh-air ventilation system. Other interior changes included a new instrument panel, a new steering wheel, and new seats — among the best in the business for long-haul comfort, but still lacking in lateral support.
The 1970 Volvo 1800E had a new matte-black grille rather than the previous chrome unit, although we’ve seen some owners substitute the grille from a 1969 car. This 1971 car lacks the B20 engine badge originally mounted on the grille. Although this car has the four-speed gearbox with overdrive, a new option for 1971 was automatic transmission, the ubiquitous Borg-Warner 35. Base price was now 31,400 SEK (about $6,150) in Sweden, while U.S. cars started at $4,560 POE on the East Coast, $4,655 POE in the west. (Photo © 2004 Matthew Shultz; used with permission)
Extensive as they were, these changes could not mask some of the 1800E’s more basic shortcomings, which included heavy controls, awkward entry and exit, and mediocre visibility, exacerbated by rather low seats. Contemporary critics also grumbled that the new ventilation system was still inadequate and that the B20E engine was noisier and somewhat coarser than its predecessor. Although the 1800E was now manufactured and assembled entirely in Sweden, period reviews still note some occasional lapses in assembly quality, the most common complaint being air leaks around the vent wings and frameless door glass.
The Volvo 1800E’s dashboard added new gauges and fake woodgrain trim — a contemporary but somewhat jarring seventies touch in a basically fifties design. Despite the extensive instrumentation, battery condition was still signaled by a warning light, eventually prompting the previous owner of this car to replace the oil temperature gauge with a Smiths voltmeter. (Photo © 2004 Matthew Shultz; used with permission)
Most of those concerns were more annoying than serious, but they were reminders that despite its price (now 30,900 SEK (nearly $6,000) at home, $4,595 POE in the U.S.), the 1800E was a mild makeover of a rather dated design. It still had its virtues, particularly in its admirable blend of performance and fuel economy, but the price premium over a Datsun 240Z or, in Europe, a V6 Ford Capri, was becoming harder to justify.
Slightly revised bumpers made the 1970-1972 Volvo 1800E a bit shorter than the 1800S — now 171.3 inches (4,350 mm) overall — but other dimensions were unchanged. Despite their appearance, the new wheels, made by Cromodora Fergat, are not magnesium; the rims are steel, but the centers are painted aluminum alloy. Note the amber side marker lights, added to U.S. cars in 1968 to meet federal safety requirements, and the black vents in the rear fenders, which exhaust cabin air. (Photo © 2009 Matthew Shultz; used with permission)
THE 1800S SUCCESSORS THAT WEREN’T
Volvo was not oblivious to the 1800’s advancing age, but the big question was what to do about it.
In 1965, Volvo had started preliminary work on a new sports coupe, a pillarless notchback known internally as the P172. Designed by Jan Wilsgaard’s in-house styling team, the P172 was considerably larger than the 1800S, based on the platform of the then-upcoming 164 sedan and powered by the 164’s new B30 inline six (essentially a six-cylinder version of the B20, sharing many of its components). Surviving photos of the P172, which reached the full-size mockup stage in 1966, suggest a very Italianate look with a certain general resemblance to the Pininfarina-styled Lancia Flavia and Ferrari 330GT.
At one time, the P172 was slated to replace the 1800S, probably for the 1969 model year, a year after the debut of the 164 sedan. However, the project was finally undone by its projected price. The new coupe would have sold for about 50% more than the 1800S, making the P172 more expensive than an E-type Jaguar. That was not an area in which Volvo was really prepared to compete in either performance or pedigree and the U.S. sales organization was very dubious about the P172’s prospects. The project was canceled in early 1967.
Around the same time, Volvo’s Italian distributor, Bologna-based Motauto SpA, commissioned a one-off coupe based on the 1800S, but with a fastback roofline crafted by the Italian coachbuilder Fissore. (We were unable to obtain a photo for this article, but it looked not unlike the mid-seventies Toyota Celica liftback.) The Fissore coupe was exhibited at the Turin Auto Show in the fall of 1965, but Volvo was apparently not interested and nothing came of it. About five years later, Motauto commissioned another one-off, this one based on an 1800E with a new hatchback body by Zagato, bearing some resemblance to the contemporary Alfa Romeo Junior Z. Dubbed Volvo 2000 GTZ, it was exhibited at the 1970 Turin show along with a larger, 164-based six-cylinder car, the 3000 GTZ. According to Jan Högnark of V1800 Reg, Motauto and Zagato proposed the 3000 GTZ to Volvo as a production model, but Volvo rejected it in early 1971, we assume for the same reasons as the P172. Zagato nonetheless built about 50 copies for sale in Italy; we don’t know if any survive today.
An early model of the Coggiola-styled Volvo 1800ESC, a hatchback coupe seriously considered to replace the 1800E. Had the Coggiola design made it to production, we assume it would have used the injected B20E engine, although we don’t know if the styling prototypes were drivable or not. (Photo circa 1969, copyright and courtesy Volvo Cars, Public Relations)
In 1969 or 1970, Volvo commissioned Sergio Coggiola to develop another possible 1800 successor, the 1800ESC. The Coggiola was still a 2+2, but it now sported a sloping hatchback tail with futuristic black louvers at the base of the glass. It shared the 1800’s wheelbase, but was a bit longer overall, at 175.8 inches (4,465 mm), and even lower: a mere 49.8 inches (1,265 mm) overall. Volvo exhibited the ESC prototype, dubbed Volvo Viking Coggiola 2+2, at the 1971 Paris Salon, but ultimately decided not to produce it, again probably for cost reasons.
A more finished version of the 1800ESC, now called Volvo Viking, appeared at several European auto shows in the early seventies, but was not selected for production. In profile, it looks surprisingly like the Giorgetto Giugiaro-styled Volkswagen Scirocco, which was introduced about three years later. (Photo circa 1972, copyright and courtesy Volvo Car Corporation, Public Affairs)
THE BEACH CAR AND THE ROCKET
Following the cancellation of the P172 project in 1967, Volvo had started thinking about ways to update the 1800. Fuel injection would give performance a shot in the arm, but new grilles and wheels would only do so much for the styling, which was still clearly a product of the late 1950s. The problem was that neither the P1800 nor the 1800S had been especially profitable to begin with. The coupe’s monocoque construction would make any substantial restyling a very expensive proposition, more than its modest volume could comfortably amortize.
The shooting brake version of the 1800E was christened Volvo 1800ES. The meaning of the S suffix is obscure. It may have meant “sports wagon,” which is how the press sometimes described the car, but Volvo’s brochures and press releases generally just called it a sports car. (Photo © 2010 Murilee Martin; used with permission)
By 1968, Volvo’s in-house design team had found an unusual solution: transforming the coupe into a shooting brake. Once again, golf was a factor; Tor Berthelius, Volvo’s chief engineer, had suggested that giving the 1800 the ability to carry a set of clubs would enhance its appeal. Beyond that, making the 1800 into a two-door estate would give the familiar design an entirely new profile with a minimum of new tooling.
By the autumn, Jan Wilsgaard’s styling team had developed two proposals: a straightforward estate conversion of the 1800S, nicknamed the “Beach Car,” and a more radical Kamm-tailed version, known as the Jaktvagnen (shooting brake). In December, Volvo commissioned Frua — once again an independent coachbuilder, no longer tied to Ghia — to convert a production 1800S into a prototype of the Jaktvagnen concept, subsequently nicknamed Raketen (Rocket). A second car was delivered to Sergio Coggiola, a former Ghia designer who had established his own Turin studio in 1966, to be transformed into a mockup of the Beach Car concept. Perhaps predictably, Volvo management preferred the more conservative Beach Car proposal with the less rakish of its mooted rear window treatments.
A photograph of the “Raketen,” the more radical of the two shooting brake prototypes that preceded the 1800ES. Despite its space-age rear styling, the Raketen is essentially a standard 1800 from the doors forward — not surprising considering that it was converted from a production car. Built (but not designed) by Frua, this prototype still survives in the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg. (Photo circa 1969, copyright and courtesy Volvo Car Corporation, Public Affairs)
A likely influence on the development of Volvo’s shooting brake was a British design, Reliant’s new Scimitar GTE. Based on the existing Scimitar GT coupe, the GTE was conceptually very similar to the Volvo design and emerged for comparable reasons (see the sidebar on the following page). Exactly how much it influenced Volvo’s plans for an 1800 wagon is unclear. Volvo would certainly have been aware of the GTE, which bowed at the London Motor Show in October 1968, but it appears that the Beach Car and Jaktvagnen concepts were created before the Reliant made its public debut. If nothing else, the GTE’s generally positive reception may have helped to convince Volvo management of the concept’s viability. The 1800 shooting was approved for production around the spring of 1969.
A cutaway view of the Volvo 1800ES. Note the rear disc brakes, introduced on the 1800E for 1970 and standard on both the coupe and wagon. Borrowed from the larger 164 sedan, the 1800’s rear discs were larger than the fronts (11.6 inches/295 mm in diameter) and incorporated small drum brakes in the dust shields to serve as the parking brake, like early disc-braked Corvettes. Combined with a front/rear proportioning valve and Volvo’s unusual 3×2 dual-circuit setup, it was among the most sophisticated braking systems of its era. (Image circa 1971, copyright and courtesy Volvo Car Corporation, Public Affairs)
SIDEBAR: Shooting Brakes, Ho
The Volvo 1800ES was neither the first nor the last of a brief vogue for two-door estates based on existing sports coupes or convertibles. While there were earlier antecedents, like Chevrolet’s 1955 Nomad, the standard-bearer for this class was the Reliant Scimitar GTE, introduced in 1968. As it happened, the GTE would also be one of the longest-lived of its breed.
The Reliant Motor Car Company introduced the first Scimitar GT, known internally as the SE4, in 1964. It was a two-seat, fixed-head coupe with a fiberglass body on a boxed steel frame, initially powered by a 2,553 cc (156 cu. in.) Ford six with 120 hp DIN (88 kW). In 1966, the Scimitar was extensively modified to accommodate Ford’s new 2,994 cc (183 cu. in.) Essex V6, giving 136 hp DIN (100 kW) and brisk performance: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 10 seconds, with a top speed of perhaps 118 mph (190 km/h). Sales totaled around 1,000 units through 1970.
The Reliant Scimitar GT SE4 was designed by David Ogle, based on a one-off he did for a private client in 1962 on a Daimler SP250 chassis. Reliant subsequently purchased the rights to that design and adapted it to fit the platform of its 1961-vintage Sabre coupe. The SE4c was powered by Ford’s 2,495 cc (152 cu. in.) Essex V6, while the SE4b used the bigger 2,994 cc (183 cu. in.) version. The 2.5-liter Scimitar listed for around £1,400 with purchase tax (about $3,400 at the contemporary exchange rate), the 3.0-liter version for about £120 more. (Photo: “Reliant Scimitar before it became a GTE in Hertfordshire” © 2008 Charles01; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)
While the GT sold respectably well by Reliant’s standards, managing director Ray Wiggins suspected that it would sell far better if it had true four-seat capacity. In 1967, Wiggins commissioned Ogle Design to develop a follow-on four-seat model sharing as much tooling as possible with the coupe. To accomplish that goal, Ogle’s Tom Karen decided to extend the GT’s roofline, creating a sleek two-door estate. A mockup was delivered to the Reliant factory in Tamworth in February 1968 and quickly approved for production, which began in August. The new estate, known internally as the SE5, made its public debut at the Earls Court show that October, now dubbed Scimitar GTE.
Like the Scimitar GT coupe, the GTE used a Ford gearbox and the big Essex V6, but it rode a new chassis with a longer wheelbase, providing greater rear legroom. Since the GTE was only 67 lb (31 kg) heavier than the coupe, performance was still excellent and the GTE was a practical family car in a way the GT was not. The GTE’s styling was not universally acclaimed, but it soon became Reliant’s most successful sporting car. SE5 sales totaled more than 4,300 units over the next three years, many of them going to British pop stars, TV personalities, and members of the Royal Family. Its popularity was such that Reliant discontinued the slower-selling coupe in 1970.
A 1971 Reliant Scimitar GTE, sporting the original factory wheel covers; this car was previously owned by Reliant chief engineer John Crosthwaite, who developed its chassis. Early SE5 GTEs are distinguishable from the later iterations by the greater slope of the nose and the “3 LITRE” badges just ahead of the doors. When new, this car had a base price of about £2,150 (around $5,200 at the contemporary exchange rate), although seat belts, overdrive, and a full load of options could add more than £200 to that figure. (Photo: “John Reliant Scimitar GTE” © 2011 Ray Crosthwaite; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)
In March 1971, the small Welsh automaker Gilbern followed Reliant’s example with an Estate version of its own Invader Mk. II, a 2+2 coupe originally launched in July 1969. Like the Scimitar, the Invader had a fiberglass body, Ford gearbox, and 3.0-liter (182 cu. in.) Essex V6, although other components were sourced from cars as diverse as the MGC and Triumph Stag. The Invader was one of Gilbern’s more successful efforts, but after several changes of ownership, the company ended up in receivership in 1973. Approximately 600 Invaders had been built by the time production ended in 1974, something less than half of which were Estates.
A Gilbern Invader Mk II Estate with an Invader coupé behind it. Priced at around £2,700 (about $6,500) with purchase tax, the Estate cost about the same as a 1972 Volvo 1800ES and nearly £300 more than a Scimitar GTE SE5a. Some Invaders were sold in component form, taking advantage of a legal loophole that exempted certain categories of unassembled cars from purchase tax. The elimination of that exemption in the early seventies was among the factors contributing to Gilbern’s eventual demise. (Photo: “1971 Gilbern Invader Estate” © 2010 Martin Alford; used with permission)
In 1975, Jensen introduced its own sporting estate, the Jensen GT. Designed by William Townes, the GT was based on the Lotus-powered Jensen-Healey sports car, although it no longer carried Healey identification. Unlike the Scimitar and Invader, the Jensen was a steel monocoque, considerably smaller than either the GTE or the now-departed Volvo 1800ES. The smaller dimensions limited utility space, but the Jensen was significantly quicker and more agile than the Scimitar. At about £4,200 with tax (about $9,300), it was also nearly £200 cheaper. (A few LHD GTs were also sold in the U.S., with a list price of around $10,000.) Unfortunately, Jensen’s financial problems led to the closure of the West Bromwich factory in August 1976 after only about 500 GTs had been built.
The Jensen GT was 3.8 inches (97 mm) longer than the Jensen-Healey roadster it replaced and weighed some 275 lb (125 kg) more. With 140 hp (104 kW) from its Lotus-built 1,973 cc (121 cu. in.) DOHC four, it was capable of 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 9 seconds and a top speed of around 120 mph (193 km/h), although extracting such performance required frequent stirring of the standard Getrag five-speed gearbox. All GTs had oversize black bumpers, prompted by contemporary U.S. crash standards. (Photo: “Jensen GT” © 2009 Ed Callow; resized and modified 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)
The Scimitar GTE survived well into the eighties, although Reliant discontinued the LHD version in the early seventies. An enlarged SE6 version bowed in late 1975, followed by incrementally improved SE6a and SE6b models, the latter trading the Essex engine for the newer 2,792 cc (171 cu. in.) Cologne V6. The GTE finally expired in 1986, but only two years later, the Middlebridge Company bought the rights and resumed production at a new factory in Nottingham. The reborn GTE was launched in 1989, but Middlebridge went bankrupt in 1990, after only 77 cars had been built. Those final editions brought total GTE production to around 14,350 units.
Although it’s almost unknown in the U.S., the GTE still has a loyal following in Great Britain. The most famous owner is HRH Anne, Princess Royal, who received her first SE5 as a present from the Queen and Prince Philip in November 1970. She has since owned seven other GTEs, including one of the early Middlebridge cars.
Introduced at the 1989 London Motor Show, the Middlebridge version of the Scimitar GTE was based on the final Reliant SE6b model, but incorporated many minor changes, including a revised suspension, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and an optional four-speed automatic. It was still Ford-powered, but the earlier 2,792 cc (171 cu. in.) V6 was traded for the newer 2,933 cc (178 cu. in.) version from the Ford/Merkur Scorpio, with 150 hp DIN (110 kW). At launch, a manual-shift Scimitar was priced at around £24,000 with tax, equivalent to about $40,000. (Photo: Middlebridge Scimitar GTE © 2011 Mark Fosh; resized and modified 2011 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)
There have other sporting estates over the years, but the vast majority have been based on sedans, not sports cars, and most have had four doors rather than two. The role of the sporty shooting brake has been largely absorbed by the hot hatch, but there are occasional exceptions, like the short-lived Geo Storm ‘wagonback’ model of 1991-1992.
One of the more successful two-door sporting estates, at least in numerical terms, was the Lancia HPE, the “high-performance estate” version of the 1976 Lancia Beta. Neither the HPE nor the Beta found much traction in the States, leading Lancia to withdraw entirely from the U.S. market in 1982, but the HPE survived through 1984 in Europe, eventually selling more than 71,000 units. Later European cars were even available with a 1,995 cc (122 cu. in.) supercharged engine, never offered in North America. (Photo: “Lancia Beta HPE Img_9539” © 2007 Tony Harrison; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)
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