As the C70 convertible was brought out during 1998 to liven up Volvo's image, so the 1957 Volvo P1900 Sport convertible coupe, or Sport, was introduced in 1956 for the same reason.
Company founder Assar Gabrielsson visited America in 1953, taking note of the popularity of imported sports cars and the impact they were having on the U.S. industry. He also noticed the fiberglass body construction being used on sportsters like the Chevrolet Corvette and Kaiser-Darrin.
Glasspar, Kaiser's Southern California body supplier for the Darrin, was contracted to design a sports car body, supply 20 examples, and provide technical support; Volvo took over the actual body production. Volvo gave the P1900 a leather interior and an attractive dashboard with full instrumentation -- including an oil temperature gauge.
The tough and economical Volvo PV444 supplied the mechanical bits. A more powerful 1.4-liter ohv four-cylinder engine was developed for the P1900 (and the American export version of the PV444). Twin SU carburetors, higher compression, and valve gear changes raised horsepower from 51 to 70. This was almost as much power as that of the 72-horsepower MGA and much more punch than in the 36-horsepower Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia. The standard three-speed gearbox was retained.
The PV444's Plymouth-inspired independent front suspension and Oldsmobile-like coil-spring rear suspension were used on the P1900 Sport. A tubular frame with a 94.5-inch wheelbase was developed just for the P1900. Though the frame looked sturdy, it wasn't stiff enough and a fiberglass body didn't do much to help increase rigidity.
Gunnar Engellau took over Volvo management in 1956 and promptly killed the P1900. Volvo lost money on each of the $3,922 two-seaters it sold and quality wasn't up to Volvo standards. Only 67 cars had been made when production stopped in 1957. But Volvo didn't give up on sports cars; it built the more successful and better remembered P1800 from 1961 to 1973.
Don and Patricia Rideout of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, purchased the 1957 Sport seen here in complete, but rough, condition in the early 1970s. A previous owner had started to replace its convertible top with a fixed fiberglass roof and the car had sat outside for several years. Restoration took 10 years.
Don's late father helped with much of the work, including fabricating handbrake components and returning the convertible top hardware to its original function. Don says the car has good low-speed performance and is great fun to drive on winding country roads.
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