Eugene Bernshtam: The Volvo P1800: A Look that Ages Well

Miami native and Chicago real estate investor Gene Bernshtam owns a collection of vintage and classic cars, ranging from two-door sports coupes to full-size convertibles. His collection, which has won awards from different automotive concourses, includes a 1970 Bentley T1, a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba, a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and a Dodge Polara. Eugene Bernshtam very rarely collects cars produced outside the United States and the UK, but when he does, he looks for rugged yet graceful models such as Volvo’s P1800 series.

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While the Swedish automaker Volvo is synonymous with safe and practical cars, there was a time when it attempted to enter the market for two-door sports cars. Gene Bernshtam finds the Volvo P1800 an enduring proof of that foray into a different market.

Gene Bernshtam remembers the hit show The Saint, where the main character Simon Templar drove around in a Volvo P1800. The show catapulted both Volvo and the P1800 into the public consciousness as a sleek and stylish car that would fit right into any millionaire gentleman’s garage.

However, The Saint’s car was more than just a pretty hunk of metal. It was rugged, with a unibody chassis, a simple double A-arm front suspension, and a rear axle mounted on coil springs. Because it was originally assembled using parts that didn’t make it to other Volvo products, the engine itself was not particularly powerful.

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However, the 1972 P1800ES station wagon marked the real apex of the line. By then, production had shifted to Sweden, fuel injection hiked up the power to 130 hp, and the P1800ES’s extended roof and glass rear hatch still serves as the inspiration for other BMW models, including the C30.

Because of its popularity and toughness, it’s easy to find even the first models of this line. For example, a 1966 P1800S has logged over three million miles, and it’s unlikely that the run will end soon. And, for as low as $3,000, Eugene Bernshtam says you can find an early-model P1800S on eBay – you just should know where to look.