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The Huge Failure That Was Volvo's First Sports Car Is Now 60 Years Old

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Volvo honoring the anniversary of its first sports car attempt, the Volvo Sport, is kind of like GM honoring the 40th anniversary of their never-finished rotary engine project or Mazda celebrating 20 years since it canceled its luxury Amati brand. Volvo is weird.

Weird, but awesome. Started in 1954, project P1900 was the Swedes’ first go at trying to make a sports car. It was fiberglass, as fashionable at that time because of the original Corvette. It was based on a PV444 with all of 70 horsepower, which is what they had at the time. As it turns out, it was badly made and they only made 67 or 68 at the time.


Here’s why the Swedish Corvette didn’t take off:

The prototypes faced tough criticism during internal testing. The chassis was too weak, the plastic cracked, the doors fitted poorly, and the three-speed gearbox was far from sporty.


But they persisted:

In the spring of 1956 the first cars were delivered to customers in countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, and the USA. However, cars were also delivered to Swedish customers - the original policy that the Volvo Sport would be for export only had been reassessed. By that stage the car had been redesigned in several respects and now had a canopy top roof and windows that wound down. But the gearbox was still only three-speed.

Production and sales were slow and during the first year only 44 were built. In 1957 another 23 were built, but after the newly appointed MD Gunnar Engellau got to drive a Volvo Sport for a weekend he decided that production should cease immediately. The car did not live up to Volvo’s quality requirements and the company was losing money on every car it sold.

Seriously, that’s all from Volvo’s press release on Wednesday.


Volvo wanted to make at least 300 of the cars as a way of proving they weren’t just all about practicality. But as the company hadn’t really become a name yet outside of Sweden, it was wise for Engellau to put a stop to anything that would hurt the company’s reputation. But these early cars had to have been terrible.

Amazingly, about 50 of these cars survive today. It’s a shame they weren’t able to work out the bugs because it’s definitely attractive, aside from that oddly tall grille. Although the P1800 that debuted about a decade later is much more eye-catching.


But I have to hand it to Volvo for reminding everyone of their first sports car tragedy.


Photos: Volvo