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The Volvosport P1900

1900_2.jpg (37724 bytes)   1900_1.jpg (36370 bytes)   1900_3.jpg (38497 bytes)   1900_3int.jpg (32994 bytes)
Click to enlarge

Thanks to David Hunt for publishing this article


By David R. Hunt (USA)

Dedicated 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 manufactured.  Three 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 podium.

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 21, 1956.
Chassis #2 was shipped to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 13, 1956.
Chassis #8 and #9 were shipped to Caracas, Venezuela on April 9, 1956.
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 1959.

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 later sold.
Chassis No. 22, 31, 33, and 44 were given away as prizes in SSU lotteries.

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 No. 49.

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 fiberglass car.  

A very special thanks to all who made the P1900 VOLVOSPORT possible.

David R. Hunt (USA)

P1900 Links:
German Web site
Volvo Owners Club UK

Volvo Owners Club UK 1900


 

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