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The “trouble-free sports car”: 1972 Volvo 1800E/1800ES brochure

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Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor, and from Volvo Cars Media

The P1800 coupe has always been an icon for Volvo. An outlier in an otherwise sensible lineup of sedans and wagons, this pretty little Swede-styled 2+2 took the world by storm in the 1960s, and would become a television star and the highest-mileage privately owned car in the world (according to the Volvo Club of America, Irv Gordon‘s 1966 1800S odometer currently registers around 3.4 million).

Less remembered is the long-roof variant, the low-production 1800ES. Built for just two model years, the ES was styled by Volvo’s design chief, Jan Wilsgaard, and represented a more conventional solution than the Carrozzeria Frua-designed “Rocket” that was proposed around 1967. This demi-wagonette was sold alongside the 1800E coupe in 1972, the last model year the long-running coupe was offered, and it would stand alone in Volvo showrooms in 1973.

For 1972, both 1800 body styles shared the B20 engine, a 2.0-liter ( derivative of the famously durable B18. This B20 F indicated its Bosch electronic fuel injection, which helped the engine make 125 hp at 6,000 rpm and 123-lb.ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. This engine sent drive to the rear wheels through either a four-speed manual with electric overdrive, or a three-speed automatic, and braking was by power-assisted four-wheel discs.

Back to the bodies: Famous for the frameless glass tailgate that would inspire future Volvo stylists penning the 1980s 480 and 2000s C30, the unusual “shooting brake” ES would offer notably more cargo-carrying practicality –plenty of room for golf bags!– than its traditional trunked sibling, although both offered folding rear seatbacks.

Distinctive looks and added practicality couldn’t save the ES from ever-stricter American safety regulations, though, and rather than trying to meet 1974’s impending 5-mph bumper laws, this model was cancelled after 1973, with fewer than 8,100 ESs built.

The highly respected new Volvo design language has plainly taken some inspiration from the 1800, most blatantly in how the P1800-inspired 2013 Concept Coupe is now coming to life as the 600 hp, plug-in hybrid-powered Polestar 1.

And Volvo’s stylists haven’t forgotten about 1800ES, using it as a template for the breathtaking Concept Estate –an instant star upon its unveiling at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show— a two-door sports wagon that even wore a heritage-style badge reading “Concept ES.”

That show car’s rakish roofline and steeply angled rear hatch would be borrowed by the flagship V90 station wagon, the latter seeming out of character in comparison to the nearly-vertical tails of traditionally styled Volvo wagons… Unless the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others ES is included in that lineup, as Volvo did in the press photo below.

While your humble author appreciates both original 1800 body styles, I have a distinct soft spot for the ES.  And recent high-profile, big-dollar sales mean others are coming to share my enthusiasm. Which one of Volvo’s “trouble-free sports cars” do you prefer?

Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.