David R. Hunt (USA)
to Assar Gabrielsson
"Father of the P1900 Volvo"
Volvo's CEO Assan Gabrielsson visited the United
States in 1953 to study the feasibility of marketing and
manufacturing a Swedish sports car.
Gabrielsson observed the booming interest in the Italo-American
Nash-Healey, imported MG, and the wholly domestic Chevrolet
Corvette. Gabrielsson's first stop was at General Motors in
Flint, Michigan where he was intrigued by the new fiberglass
Chevrolet Corvette sports car that was inspired by Glasspar's
fiberglass 1950 Brooks Boxer. The Corvette made its public debut
in mid 1953. General Motors suggested that Assan talk with Bill
Tritt at Glasspar's research facility in Costa Mesa. Without
delay Gabrielsson visited Bill Tritt founder and design engineer
for Glasspar in California.
Glasspar had been designing fiberglass cars and boats
since 1948. Before returning to Sweden, Bill Tritt presented
Assan with a set of sketches for a new fiberglass two-seater
sports car. Assan dispatched instructions to start constructing
a suitable chassis in Sweden.
Soon after Assan Gabrielsson returned to Sweden, he shipped a
newly designed chassis with an engine and drive train.
Instructions to Glasspar read:
Build a fiberglass body around it. The engine was
a B14A (a beefed-up B4B) with twin SU carburetors rated at 70bhp
and a H4 three-speed gearbox that had a long curved gearshift
lever that could double as a meter stick.
Uno Backstrom, who also designed the complex
stainless-steel windshield frame, designed the new chassis. The
chassis was made with 1.5-inch double steel tubes connected by
steel webbing with drilled holes. The first three chassis were
made in Volvo's own shop and the rest were subcontracted to
Motala Verkstad. Bill Tritt objected to the narrow chassis and
the high setting engine but was over ruled by Volvo. Bill
Tritt's first project was to form a clay model of the new Volvo.
Engineer Don Kingsbury later transposed the lines from the clay
model to form a mould.
First P1900 prototype-X1. It had a wrap-around
windshield, a non-removable hard top, raised truck lid, fixed
side windows, no taillights, and one front round directional
signal. Volvo furnished the chassis, engine, drive train, door
and window handles, and the grill.
Volvo's chief chemist Ake Zackrisson and an assisting
engineer were dispatched to Glasspar to learn the art of
fiberglassing and to act as liaisons between Volvo and Glasspar.
Back in Göteborg, Sweden, Raymond Eknor was named project
supervisor, Tor Berthelius chief engineer, and Eric Quistgaard
assistant engineer. Glasspar
completed three more bodies by mid 1954 for a total of four
prototype bodies. All prototype bodies were shipped to Sweden
for review, testing, and minor modification. Glasspar also built
the first fifteen production bodies that were shipped to Sweden
for final assembly.
The first public showing of the new Volvo sports car was on June
2, 1954 at Torslanda Airport near Göteborg, Sweden where the
four prototype cars were put on display. It was stressed at this
showing that this new sports car was being produced for export
only and that an initial series of 300 cars were to be
of the new prototype cars were modified with flat windshields,
rectangle directional signals in front, folding canvas tops, but
still retained the non-retractable side windows and raised
trunk. The horizontal fender moldings were much shorter than
those used on the final production models. Later in June 1954, three prototype cars set out on a
promotional tour to visit all of the Volvo dealers in Sweden.
Displays were set-up in the local market place and the P1900,
which was the new official designation, was exhibited on a
The VOLVOSPORT's first Auto Exhibit was in
Brussels, Belgium in January 1955. This was prototype X1 that
had a hardtop and American dummy spoked wheels. Raymond Eknor,
Jan Wilsgaard and Rustan Lange made a series of revisions after
the first prototype. The revisions included a flush mounted
trunk, wider doors to accommodate crankable windows, a slightly
curved windshield and a new dash panel.
It was decided in November 1955 to outfit the VOLVOSPORT with a
heater package adapted from the PV444 due in part by a bitter
cold winter. In
December of 1955 the first test car, prototype X1 with its new
and final body, was finally ready enough to take out on a hard
test drive around Europe.
The legendary Helmer Pettersson who was known
for his tough driving style was trusted with the task of testing
this new Volvosport. The 1333 mile trip went as far as southern
Italy and was accomplished between December 29, 1955 and January
14, 1956. Helmer's report was a not cheerful one. The most
serious critique was the weakness of the chassis. It acted like
a spring that vibrated on rough roads. It made the body weak,
the hood flutter, the doors shake and produced cracks under the
doors at the seams. Also the top leaked and the trunk needed
drain holes. There were a total of twenty-two complaints. The
motor on the other hand was a joyful topic. The car could be
driven at a constant speed of 90 mph. The final verdict was that
the P1900 VOLVOSPORT could be counted on, plastic body and all,
once the growing pains were eliminated.
To find out if improvements had been completed the team of
Pettersson and Nystrom were sent on yet another grueling test
ride this time they used production car No. 4.
The 2670 mile trip took from February 1, 1956 to March 3,
1956 and criss-crossed southwestern Europe and northern Africa
in hard tempo. Clear improvements were made but the chassis was
still weak and the three-speed gearbox was nothing to brag
about. The brakes faded, the mechanical tachometer failed and
many things shook loose including the folding-top. It was driven
at a thrilling 102 mph. Helmer Pettersson underlined once again
that the growing pains must be addressed and that the car should
not be marketed in its present condition. According to
Pettersson if everything were resolved "the Volvosport
would strike most with amazement."
Three test reports were sent during the journey and
one final one after the homeward leg in late March of 1956. A
board meeting was held on March 2, l956 that culminated in a
29-point test report that needed immediate attention.
Pettersson's reports sped this list along but many of the items
were still not addressed. Some of the items that were addressed
included adding torpedo panel storage pockets, covering the
cracks under the doors with a stainless-steel panel, and
changing the folding-top’s locking device. Although the first
P1900 deliveries started in January 1956 final changes that
included redesigning the door frames and the folding-top were
not completed until May of 1956.
The first car delivered was chassis #7 to Casablanca, Morocco on
January 14, 1956.
Chassis #1 and #3 were shipped to Brussels, Belgium on January
Chassis #2 was shipped to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 13,
Chassis #8 and #9 were shipped to Caracas, Venezuela on April 9,
Chassis #6 was shipped to Oporto, Portugal on July 16, 1956.
Some of these first cars were equipped with removable hardtops.
Chassis No. 18 went to ABVolvo Göteborg, Sweden for testing
then shipped to the New York Auto Exhibit in the United States
on April 9, 1956. Chassis No. 18 was the first P1900 to arrive
in the United States. It was then driven across the United
States to Los Angeles, California on a promotional tour. Its
current owner David Hunt who resides in Anaheim, California
purchased chassis No. 18 from a used car dealer in Anaheim in
Chassis No. 25 went to ABVolvo Göteborg for
testing then shipped to the United States on November 27, 1956.
Chassis No. 4, 11, and 34 also went to ABVolvo for testing and
Chassis No. 22, 31, 33, and 44 were given away as prizes in SSU
The remaining 1956 P1900 cars were sold in Sweden. There were
forty-four 1956 models produced. Later, old deliveries records
uncovered that chassis No. 20 was assigned to two different cars
making a new total of forty-five 1956 models. The P1900 came in
just three colours except for chassis #4 that was black. The
three colours were light yellow (26), light gray (28), and light
blue (29). The canvas top was black with a few that were beige,
and the wheel rims were painted red. The upholstery (code 105)
included specially designed red leather seats. The torpedo
panels with storage pockets and the rear and side panels were
also red vinyl. The floor and tunnel carpeting was gray. Most of
the P1900 cars came with a B14A engine and a H4 three-speed
gearbox although some B16B engines with M4 four-speed gearboxes
were installed (chassis No. 49 for example). The German ZF
five-speed gearbox was originally considered but only a few were
installed for testing.
"Autocar" magazine in September 1956 road tested one
of the cars with a ZF five-speed gearbox.
On a couple of the later models a short remote gearshift
was mounted on the center tunnel replacing the very long curved
shifting arm. The gearshift boot was similar to the one used on
the 1932 Model A Ford and the door window-regulators were from
the 1935 Ford sedan. The taillights were from the 1950
Chevrolet. The brake and clutch pedal pads were from the Jaguar
XK120. The outside door handles were from the 1954 Morris Oxford
and the inside door handles were from the 1954 Humber Super
Snipe. The master cylinder and wheel cylinders were
Lockheed/Warner similar to those used on the 1947 Studebaker.
The brakes were Bendix No. 1 and were auto adjusting. The trunk
hinges, windshield wipers, and bumpers were from the 1950-1955
Volvo PV830 taxi series. The axles, suspension, hubcaps,
steeringbox, steering wheel and horn ring were from the PV444.
The steering column was similar to the PV444 column except that
it was longer on the P1900. The P1900 used standard VDO two-inch
and four-inch round mechanical gauges tha were worded in
Swedish. The gauges that were installed on the dash panel
included fuel level, ammeter, oil pressure, oil temperature,
water temperature, speedometer, and tachometer. The mechanical
tachometer was attached to a tach-drive unit mounted on the aft
end of a 6-volt Bosch generator via a flexible cable. The P1900
electrical system was similar to the PV444 6-volt system. Behind
the steering wheel was mounted the high/low headlight beam
switch lever on the right side and the turn signal switch lever
on the left side. The P1900 used a two-blade cooling fan and a
four-pound radiator cap. The fuel tank held 15 US gallons and
the tires were Trelleborg self-sealing whitewall bias 5.90x15.
The P1900 standard accessories included: two sun visors, twin
horns, two-speed windshield wiper, two-speed heater/defroster,
turn signals, cigarette lighter, courtesy/map light, tool bag,
jack, spare tire, folding-top cover, rear-view mirror and an
instruction manual. The instruction manual was written in
Swedish therefre only given to P1900 owners in Sweden. Dealer
options included side-view mirrors, rear bumper reflectors, fog
lamps, and an AM radio. There were three main differences among
the 1956 and 1957 P1900 model cars: The 1956 folding-top locking
device had a "T" handle that unlatched two spring
loaded wedges that locked into two vertical studs, the 1957 had
two "steam-trunk" type latches. The 1956 had a
fiberglass reinforcing ridge around the under side of the trunk
lid; the 1957 had a smooth trunk roof that covered the underside
ridge leaving a hollow cavity. The 1956 seats were very thin and
rounded similar to those in the 1958 Sprite 948; the 1957 seats
were thicker and squared similar to those in the 1965 Sprite
1098. There were twenty-three 1957 P1900 model cars
manufactured. They were chassis numbers 45 through 67. All 1957
Volvosports were shipped to the United States except for chassis
Gunnar Engelau CEO of ABVolvo owned No. 49 and it now resides in
the ABVolvo Auto Museum in Göteborg, Sweden along with chassis
No. 1 owned by Rune Svensson that was originally shipped to
Belgium. Gunnar Engelau, the new CEO of ABVolvo, drove a P1900
for a 447-mile weekend test ride around March 1957. After
Engelau's weekend trip he stated: “The car vibrated so much
that I thought the doors would fall off.” Although Engelau did
not make any public criticism of Assan Gabrielsson who was
responsible for the P1900 program, Engelau did state that the
car was not up to Volvo's quality standards and too expensive to
produce. Under Engelau's direction a brief announcement was made
in March of 1957 that the production of the plastic-bodied
sports car had ceased although one hundred sets of parts had
been ordered. The last P1900 "chassis No. 67" was
shipped to Los Angeles, California on May 21, 1957. Later,
delivery records indicated that sixty-eight cars were actually
built since two cars were assigned chassis No. 20 by Volvo.
Although the P1900 was short lived and had more than its share
of growing pains, CEO Assan Gabrielsson, chief engineer Helmer
Pettersson, chief chemist Ake Zackrisson, project supervisor
Raymond Eknor, and all of the others involved with the P1900
project must be applauded for their daring and creative efforts
in bringing to life Volvo's first sports car and Europe's first
A very special thanks to all who made the
P1900 VOLVOSPORT possible.
David R. Hunt (USA)
Volvo Owners Club UK
Volvo Owners Club UK 1900