Curbside Classic: 1973 Volvo 1800ES – Most Beautiful Volvo Ever!

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Beautiful Volvo. “Wait,” you might say. “What do you mean? Volvos are well made, reliable and safe, but beautiful?” Yes. I assure you, I haven’t gone off the deep end. I like pretty much all Volvos, and have a serious soft spot for 240s and 740s. While those sedans and wagons look nice enough, it would be a bit of a stretch to call them beautiful. I mean, beautiful is a 1963 Riviera. Beautiful is a 1961 Continental. Beautiful is a 1936 Cord 810 Westchester. But a Volvo? Well, yes.

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I will freely admit that I am biased. For those of you who were CC trailblazers, you may recall one of my first CCs was about the red 1973 1800ES my mother owned from 1974 to 1986. I loved that car. I was only five or six when it was traded in, but I still have clear memories of riding in the back seat with Mom driving, or sitting in the driver’s seat on the weekends when Dad was puttering around the garage, or fiddling with his 1951 Porsche 356 Cabriolet.

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I love all of the “Souped-Down Ferrari” Volvo 1800s, from the early Jensen-built coupes with the steer horn front bumper, to the white coupe driven by Roger Moore as TV’s The Saint, to the fuel-injected 1800E. They’re all winners, and all charming. But there’s just something extra-special about the wagon!

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The wagon was a latecomer to the 1800’s run, first appearing in Europe in August 1971. The 1800E coupe was retained, but would only last through the 1972 model year. Even upon the ES’s debut, journalists were comparing it to the similar Reliant Scimitar GTE, but according to Volvo, the sketches for the wagon were completed prior to the Autumn 1968 debut of the Reliant.

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 1800ES was how fresh it looked, despite the use of nearly all of the 1800E’s body, with the exception of the roof panel, C-pillar and portions of the rear sheetmetal. The new greenhouse also served to hide the fins–still present and accounted for, albeit more uniformly blended into the upper section.

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The first ESs benefitted from several changes made for 1972. A new ABS plastic vertical bar grille and square nose emblem freshened the front, tinted glass was standard, and European models received a horsepower bump to 135 hp (124 hp DIN). However, US-bound models received the B20F engine with 125 hp, due to the required emissions equipment.

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1973 saw only the ES remaining, and they gained side door guard beams and updated bumpers, fire-resistant interior materials and an increased swept area for the windshield wipers. The B20F four-cylinder got bumped down in the power department too, now at 112 hp.

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My mother’s 1800ES was a red 1973 with black leather interior and red carpet, which was factory-correct. It was a stunning vehicle. I still miss it! So you can imagine how excited I got back in early November when I was taking the Town Car out for a run and spotted this car. From a quarter mile away I knew it was something interesting, but could only see one front fender and part of the door. My first throught was a Fiat 124 Spider. Then that lovely roofline came into view. Oh man, is that an 1800ES?! Indeed it was.

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The last 1800ES I saw in person was owned my Mike Lundahl, the local Volvo dealer. He and his wife had been friends with my parents for years. In the late ’90s, Mike semi-regularly drove a British Racing Green 1800ES with a saddle tan leather interior. It was not mint, but very nice and a good driver. Last time I saw it was probably around 2003. These cars just don’t grow on trees, with only a bit over 8,000 ESs made in 1972-73.

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Coming 1974 bumper standards, along with the lion’s share of 1800 models being exported to the United States, spelled the end for the sporty Volvo. The last one, chassis #8077, left the factory at 2:00 PM on June 27, 1973.

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Other than the Turbo versions of the 240, 740, 940 and 850, there would be no more sporty Volvos in America until 1997, with the appearance of the C70 coupe.

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We unfortunately missed out on the 480ES of the 1980s, which while not a strict copy, had a lot of 1800 styling cues and was a cool-looking sporty hatchback. The C70 coupe never really took off either, as once the convertible version appeared, C70 coupe sales took a nosedive.

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But Volvo kept trying. The C30 that appeared in 2007 was a clear take on the ES, but while Volvo hoped it could be a valid alternative to the Mini Cooper, again, sales were disappointing. My brother brought a C30 in 2013, but he is the only person I know of who owns one.

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This particular 1800ES was in very nice shape. This may be partially due to the Wasington State license plates that were on it. There was some rust behind both of the rear wheel wells, more marked on the passenger side, but other than that, this appeared to be in solid shape.

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And very original, right down to the “Automatic” decal on the all-glass hatch. I especially liked the white paint with the light blue leather interior–very striking in person.

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Just a little bit of rust repair and a lick of paint, and this would make for an excellent summer car. I actually showed these pictures to Mom and Dad, hoping perhaps they might be intrigued enough to add it to their fleet. But it was not to be. Still, it was a thrill to see this car. It left an indelible mark on my formative years, and for that I will always love them, and they will always be the most beautiful Volvo to me!

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Related: 1973 Volvo 1800ES – Gone, But Not Forgotten