When we think of open-topped, two-seater, fiberglass-bodied sports cars of the ‘50s, the name Volvo doesn’t readily spring to mind. But, in 1954 the staid Swedish carmaker joined the small fraternity of fiberglass sports car manufacturers – which included Chevrolet with its Corvette and Kaiser with the Darrin – with its own design, the Sport P1900.
Production of the Sport P1900 began in 1956 and ended in 1957 after 67 (or 68 depending on the source) cars were built. The body was mounted on a bespoke tubular frame and used engine, suspension, and drivetrain components from Volvo’s PV444. The engine was the PV444’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder power plant modified with twin carburetors, a new cam, larger intake valves, and a higher compression ratio to produce 70 horsepower. The transmission was a 3-speed manual with a floor-mounted gearshift from the PV444.
Volvo chief executive Assar Gabrielsson began visiting U.S. suppliers and business contacts in the 1930s to keep up with industry trends and, quite possibly, for a respite from the Swedish winters. During his visit in 1953, he noted the trend for two-seat sports cars, especially those with fiberglass bodies, such as the upcoming Darrin and the Corvette. He visited Glasspar, a fiberglass boat and car body pioneer and commissioned them to make two-seat fiberglass car bodies for Volvo.
Volvo built four or five Sport P1900 prototypes and displayed them in various venues in Europe and Sweden during 1954 and 1955. They built 45 production cars in 1956 and 22 (or 23) in 1957.
The quality of the Sport 1900 proved to be well below Volvo’s usual standards, thanks mainly to the tubular frame, which was much too flexible for a fiberglass-bodied car. Sales never took off and Volvo lost money on each of the $3,922 two-seaters it sold.
The end of the Sport 1900 came about when Gunnar Engellau succeeded Gabrielsson as Volvo’s chief executive in 1956. Rumor has it that he took a Sport P1900 on a holiday weekend getaway and was so disappointed that he gave orders to cancel production of the car when he returned to his office.
Photo by David Berry
Volvo Cars of North America: https://www.media.volvocars.com/us/en-us/media/pressreleases/3208
How Stuff Works: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1957-volvo-p1900-sport-convertible.htm