Jensen Built: 1961 Volvo P1800

Necessity is the mother of invention. When the P1800 was under development, Volvo’s original intention was for the cars to be built by Karmann. However, clashing contracts with Volkswagen left that company unwilling to take on the project. Eventually, the task fell to Jensen Motors, and less than 6,000 vehicles were produced before Volvo took over production in-house. This 1961 P1800 is one of the Jensen-built cars, and it needs some restoration work. It is located in Olympia, Washington, and has attracted 22 bids since being listed for sale here on eBay. This action has pushed the price along to $2,425 in a No Reserve auction.

The main reason that Volvo moved the production of the P1800 in-house was due to quality control issues with Jensen. This manifested in several key areas, with rust problems being one of the driving forces behind the change. Jensen sub-contracted Pressed Steel to produce the shells at their Linwood plant in Scotland. Pressed Steel then freighted the completed bodies to the Jensen factory in West Bromwich, England. The bodies were shipped on open railway cars, which left them exposed to the elements, as well as to pollutants from the locomotives that hauled them. Both factors contaminated the shells and left them prone to corroding before the cars reached the final assembly stage. However, any early P1800 that has survived to this day has to be a pretty good one. This one does have rust, but it is repairable. It has impacted the rear wheel wells, but the floors appear to have little more than a coating of surface corrosion. It is also visible in the lower rear quarter panels, but these areas look like they could be repaired using patches. My biggest concern is the rust in the lower front fenders where they transition into the rockers. This might not seem to be a big deal, but getting this repaired correctly is one of the most difficult tasks in a P1800 restoration. This area is triple-skinned, and care must be taken to ensure that it is thoroughly inspected and repaired by someone who knows what they are doing. There have been plenty of restored P1800s that have started to redevelop rust in this area because previous repairs weren’t carried out correctly. The majority of the trim is present, although the side moldings appear to be missing off the driver’s side. What can be seen of the glass looks promising, with no signs of any significant issues.

The Volvo’s interior is largely complete, but it doesn’t look pleasant. I’ve scouted through the supplied photos, and the only item that I can’t spot is the original radio. All of the other pieces are there, and while everything looks dilapidated, the existing parts could be used as templates to produce new items. It would certainly be worth investigating whether an upholsterer could reproduce the majority of the pieces because the cost of restoring a P1800 interior can set people back on their heels. The dash cap is a perfect example. This one is badly cracked, and the buyer will have to choose whether to attempt a repair or replace it. I would probably try to repair it first because a high-quality replacement will cost about $580. That’s just the tip of the iceberg because the rest of the trim prices are comparable. I hunted around for a full trim kit, including seat foam, a headliner, a dash cap, a carpet set, all of the upholstery, and all of the associated hardware. Are you sitting down? The cost was an eye-watering $3,500. That kit included vinyl upholstery for the seats. If the buyer desires genuine leather, they need to add a further $500 to that total. It’s a lot of money, I do not deny it. However, I will give you this point to ponder. How often do you need to replace the interior trim in any classic car? If it is done correctly and is treated with care and respect, interior trim can last indefinitely. That means that if you bought this car and restored the interior, by the time it required attention again, the chances are that it wouldn’t be your problem!

The Volvo comes with its original B18B 4-cylinder engine. This 1,778cc powerhouse should be capable of producing 100hp. At least, it would if it wasn’t in pieces. However, all of the components are present, so a rebuild would be possible. What is missing is the original M40 4-speed manual transmission. That means that the owner will need to find a replacement. If they aren’t worried about complete originality, they could also choose to search for the later M41 transmission. These were available with electric overdrive and made the P1800 an accomplished open-road tourer. One of the great attributes of the B18 engine is its bullet-proof engineering. It features five main bearings and has a strong competition history. The fact is that these engines still see service in Scandanavian domestic rally competition to this day. Mechanical maladies don’t seem to be an issue in the cauldron of motor-sport, and most cars that don’t finish in these rallies do so because they find themselves parked at some awkward angle in the roadside scenery!

For decades, Volvo had a reputation for building staid and boxy cars with a firm emphasis on safety. The fact is that they did build a true sports car, and good examples today can sell for some very healthy figures. This is an early example, and the fact that it has survived this long without crumbling to dust is reassuring. Restoring it is going to be a big job, but it certainly isn’t impossible. It also would seem that it could be well worth the effort. Jensen-built examples are the ones that consistently command the highest prices. A spotless example won’t leave you any change from $30,000, although $35,000 is not beyond the realm of possibility. This is a car that could cost a pretty penny to restored, but if it sells for somewhere around its current bidding level, then it could also be a financially viable project that is well worth considering.

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    The Jensen-built cars do (inexplicably) seem to get more interest than the Swedish-built 1800s, despite their noted lower build quality. I guess it’s the relative rarity of the Jensen cars.

    True sports car? Not really. But dead reliable without a doubt. Same mechanicals and chassis as the venerable Volvo 544 and 122. Basically the same B16/18/20 carbureted 4-banger with about 100 HP…you can’t kill it.

    Yet too heavy to go fast, too cramped and ergonomically uncomfortable to be a touring car, (with the obvious exception of Irv Gordon’s 3 million-miler).

    Still, the car attracted more attention than any old car I’ve ever owned. Babies in strollers would point to it as I drove by.

    Like 9
    • Joseph

      Irv Gordon certainly took excellent car of his car and put a lot of highway miles on it. But the engine had been rebuilt more than once during the time he owned it.

      Like 2
    • BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

      Rex, the story is when Irv needed maple syrup he drove to Vermont. Dude loved to drive that car. I was underneath it some years ago & was amazed it was so clean.

  2. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    ‘Babies in strollers would point to it as I drove by.’ Great line Rex!!!

    Like 3
  3. chgrec Member

    I had a Jensen body 1800, #452….it was rough but my daily driver for a while when I was in the navy and living in jax beach in the mid 80’s. It was a tank as far as the body and that was reflected in its speed. It was still a blast to drive and people loved it…

    Like 3
  4. Captain RD

    Anyone even vaguely thinking of taking on this project should read this blog in its entirety.
    http://volvorestore.blogspot.com/
    I loved my 66 1800S – and wish I could have it now.

    Like 2
  5. Mike Mazoway

    Nick Julian at Wellwood Garage in Mexico, NY does amazing work with Volvo engines. I would ship that motor of to them before I did anything else on this car. No, I am not affiliated with Wellwood, I just know of their reputation.

  6. Roundfender

    Nice write-up but with a few issues. There’s no engine to be seen, just the bare block that may be salvageable with a number that may match the build sheet from 1961, plus a pile of rusted parts that are largely scrap metal. Transmission on this one would have been the M41 with OD (yes, I know that was an option) because a close look at the dashboard will show the existence of the OD switch (Lucas) for the missing transmission. Top price on the Jensens (and the ES wagon) is well above $50k these days for a true concours restoration. Interior kit from VP Autoparts is the only way to go. Leather was not used in the 61 Jensens. $3500 for the interior? It’s a bargain once you look at the cost of the rest of the restoration, body, and paint. Ask me how I know. Jensen ChNo 345 here.

  7. John Manahan

    I have owned several Volvos and was conceived of rally car. 1800’s are great rides and it is simple to pull over 200 HP out of the B18 engine and still be a reliable daily driver.

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