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My wife has been thinking of buying a vintage muscle car or some sort of other interesting older car. Last week she found a local '69 Volvo P1800 for sale, so yesterday we arranged a look and test drive.

This particular one was advertised as a 1969, although instead of fuel injection, it had twin SU carburetors, and an older style chrome instrument panel. Despite temperatures in the high eighties yesterday, the engine was quite temperamental in starting, requiring lots of choke to finally get it running. Once somewhat running, I tried going, only to find the car wouldn't move forward. After several attempts, my wife reminded me that the owner warned us of the brake and accelerator pedal being so close that you can easily hit both of them at the same time! Readjusting my foot, we finally took off, only for find unbearably heavy steering, and an engine that sounded and performed like a tractor engine! Brakes on this particular one were so horrible, I couldn't believe that owner was driving it in that condition; the second vintage car we've looked at within a week with bad brakes that the owners didn't realize were bad!

O.K., while comparing my '83 Spider to this '69 P1800 might not be a fair comparison, but my Spider has something like 260,000 miles on the original drivetrain (rebuilt engine, original shocks, springs, etc.) versus 100,000 less on the Volvo. Both weigh in about the same at 2,400 pounds, both two seaters, both 4 cylinders with about the same horse power, both manual steering, etc. What a difference in driving my Spider; light direct steering, explosive acceleration compared to the P1800, revvy engine, and of course brakes that worked.

While many people can't get comfortable in older Italian cars, I found the P1800 to be particularly bad in the ergonomic department. As mentioned earlier, despite having only size 10B feet, my right foot got easily hung up on both the brake and accelerator pedal at the same time. The steering wheel was also way too vertical, and sits in your lap (I'm 5'-7" tall). The seats might have been slightly more comfortable than the Spider, but visibility was much worse with the tank-like slits window openings. Shifting throws were a bit smaller than the Alfa.

What a big disappointment for the both of us. I mentioned this to a good friend of mine, and he told me that the P1800 was on his and his father's bucket list, and that they also were disappointed!
 

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both are very cool cars.. even Roger Moore drove both cars in ' The Saint "
 

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62-68 B18 dual carb version had SU's
I believe the 69 1800S was the B20 engine and came with dual Strombergs.
1970 was the first intro of FI and it carried through to the 72 on the coupe and 73 in the wagon.
P1800 was 61-63 built by Jensen in England
1800S was 64-69 built in Gotenberg Sweden
1800E was 70-72 Fuel injected

I wouldn't compare a Spider to an 1800. Considerably different cars.
 

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71 Berlina 74 GTV 17 Giulia Q4
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"explosive acceleration" describing an Alfa even compared to a Volvo gave me a good chuckle for some reason:)
 

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Back in the day- way back- the P-1800 and a 1300 Veloce were both in F Production in SCCA. Not comparable to an 83 Spider. And I could still beat them. 1300 VS. 1800. DCO3 Webers VS. some old carbs that nobody liked.
 

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71 Berlina 74 GTV 17 Giulia Q4
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this far back?
my first Alfa DC03's and all
 

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Where do I start? As a guy who put roughly 250,000 miles (it, like Alfas, had speedo reliability issues) on a 67 P1800S, lived12 years with a 65/66 Giula spider, and now almost exactly 10 years with a 74 Alfa spider, I do know a bit about the comparisons. The Volvo’s SUs needed a lot of tricky work to get right, which almost nobody did, not least their unstated but clear from experience requirement to add some ATF every 250 miles to their dampers, and routinely overhauling their main bushings. When they did work as they should, I once got over 30 mpg on a tank in west Texas when I averaged 92 mph, and regularly got over 35 mpg at 75 mph. The B-18 needed a hotter than standard cam (so do Alfas) to get full capability, and when it did, was utterly dead, accelerating like an SUV until one got over 3 grand. But then it was more like more Guila than the unmodified 74 spider, really alive and still pulling to 6500 rpm. I loved the flip of the electric overdrive instead of reaching for the shifter from 4th to 5th, but hated it when I forgot it was engaged and went unexpectedly from 3rd to 5th. The Volvo ads were right that you had to drive it like you hated it to get the most out of it, which is why I’ve got the Alfa, since it is fun at more gentle handling, too. The 55 speed limit came in while I owned it, and it had done wonderfully cruising as it was designed to do at 80, but knocked your kidneys lose at 55, getting much worse gas mileage to boot. The electrics were by Lucas, which ought to be enough said. Even the Italians did that better, with that said including 2 frustrating months in the last 2 years spent tracking down wiring glitches in my 74. Both cars are temperamental sports machines, which require lots of work and understanding, but respond wonderfully if given enough of both. Thankfully, the BB helps Alfa people; I was on my own with the P1800, and without starting with a huge amount of knowledge. Given that, the P1800 took me a lot of places, almost always at illegal speeds, efficiently, safely through all too many situations that could have killed me in something else, and most of the time entertainingly. I always made it to my destination in it. My Alfa is the keeper, but I retain my respect for the Volvo, because it worked so well when I needed it to, carried some **** find company, and I’m old enough now to have my wife’s RX7 parked alongside to use when the Alfa is worried about road salt or some other threat to practical function.
 

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71 Berlina 74 GTV 17 Giulia Q4
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I've always had great respect for the Volvos, thought the 1800 is a cool looking car. A buddy of mine had a 4 door, forget the model but had to have a roll bar installed to race. He rolled the car 6 times hitting the roof several of those and the top of the car never even came close to crushing into the rollbar, nuf said.
 

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I've never heard a lot of good things about the way those old Volvos drive. They sure do look good though. The wagon variant especially is drop-dead gorgeous!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Great photos lightweight and gighem75!
 

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More on road feel,
The Volvo’s handling seemed heavy on initial exposure or low speeds, but was in fact unusually subtle when running as it was designed to. I came to it from a 61 Lancia Flaminia, and the Volvo’s rather simple live axle was certainly no match on rough corners for the de Dion. On the other hand, I think because its cast iron block was located further back relative to the front wheels and had a lower center of gravity than the Alfas I’ve owned, it was more like the Lancia and the RX7 in tossability. If it broke lose, and with its 165 Michelin Xs, especially on gravel, wet, or snowy roads driven fast that was common, it was consistently easy to bring it back. Simply wait for, or actively point it back, in the right direction and tap the accelerator.
The subtlety of the overall feeling through the wheel and seat, and consequent capability for control when paired with its 50-50 fore and aft weight distribution, was exquisitely proven one December day when I drove in a fierce snowstorm from Fort Collins to Denver and back to pick up my sister at Stapleton. At exactly 37 mph on the Interstate, I could feel the Volvo start to get a little twitchy. Between us, we counted more than 500 heavier vehicles pass by, confident in their misleading numbness. Every one of those, with no exceptions, we soon passed by in turn, with them either stuck in the median or off to the right in the snowy grass. Most of the others had snow tires, and I was running on the simple, early Michelin Xs. It was even more superior once my finances improved, and I got a set of Vredestein snow tires for winter.
For driving in snow or on gravel, the rather logy pull at low revs was a significant advantage; one could more easily choose how much power to apply, when compared to the torquier 2 liter at least. My unmodified 1600 Alfa could compete nicely with it in routine use, including when being moderately outrageous, rode more comfortably, and always felt neatly lighter, but the Volvo had a third more top end power, and recovered more easily from mistakes. It thrived on being pushed hard.
The protective factor was among the reasons that I got the P1800 initially. A minister acquaintance had fallen asleep at the wheel and rolled his 3500 feet down an embankment. He was not wearing a seat belt, so broke his back from being thrown about, but the interior compartment was not crushed, and he recovered. He bought another. Nothing is perfect protection though. Another acquaintance died in one, since not many, if any, regularly available vehicles manage to deal successfully with hitting bridge abutments straight on at over 90 mph.
 

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Superflow - Your experience with the 1800 is not very common. I owned a slew of older Volvo's, including a 69 142S with dual Strombergs. They are never compared favorably to the SUs that were available prior to and after the 69 and 70 models, but they were servicable and dependable. I could pull the choke and the car would start right up. You could get it driving in a short period of time, and just push the choke back into the dash. As long as you kept your foot on the gas it would not stall. I owned a 72 1800ES and loved it. The Bosch FI worked flawlessly, the transmission was bulletproof and the steering column mounted OD switch made for clean shifts. Maintenance consisted of cleaning or replacing the OD filter every couple of years. The fuel injectors were easily removed without tools to replace the inexpensive gaskets. The M40 or M41 transmissions were bulletproof. I was in the 1800 owners club and never even saw the word synchro mentioned. If I recall the F calipers had four pistons and the rears had two. The car was not quick, but it was comfortable (the 72 had different seats than the 69), great on the highway, unbelievably dependable and safe beyond anything else back then. There are literally hundreds of stories of people walking away from crashes that were very scary - and that was before cars had airbags coming out from every nook and cranny. The problem you describe with the accelerator and brake pedals is very strange. Perhaps the PO installed aftermarket larger rubber pads. I never had a problem. I would buy one again in a heartbeat if I had another garage. Don't give up.
 

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They don't rust. I could stop there but I had a white 68 in 76--78 and loved it. An old lady in a cadillac t-boned me in the driver door and knocked me into the passenger seat (I didn't wear seatbelts in those days). Not physically hurt and when I checked out the old lady, she wqas passed out, had a quart of jack and a bottle of valiums in the front seat with her. Eventually agreed to and took the insurance money and kept the car. put the built tractor motor (meaner cam, polished intake & exhaust ports-the Su's were a carb learning experience--) with the overdive in my wifes 122s and she/we drove it for many years. With the insurance cash I bougt my first Alfa--68 GTV
 

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explosive acceleration = firecracker..:):)..... perhaps 2 firecrackers..
 

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`61 Giulietta Spider, `65 Giulia Ti 1750, `69 GT junior 1600, `73 Spider 2000, `74 GTV 2000, `98 156
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different category of car in my opinion to an Alfa. They fell heavy and ponderous and the engine like a tractor motor but tough. More of a tourer than a sports car a little bit like a much less refined Lancia Flavia. Did you chaps know they were styled in Italy (Ghia I think). The styling was one of their strongest attributes, including the interior.
 

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We own the successor to the P1800ES - a 480 Turbo built in 1990. They were built in Volvo's Dutch factory to carry on the tradition of the P1800ES with the glass tailgate. It has a 1721cc Renault engine putting out 120 odd horsepower according to Volvo, but actually a bit more in my opinion. It drives and handles very well, but not quite to Alfa standards. The suspension was designed by Lotus and the head and turbo development by Porsche. The only downside is that it is not airconditioned and is bloody hot in summer. I will take a pic and upload it when I get a chance.
 

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Like this? Not the turbo , but I had this for ~ 10 years and enjoyed it
I did hear there were plans for a cabriolet but only 3 prototypes were made- shame - I think the lines could have worked well.
IMGP0912.jpg

David
 
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