COAL: #10 1972 Volvo 1800ES – A Volvo Shooting Brake?

By now it was 2015 and I was a sophomore at the University of Arkansas. I had just released the yellow peril 145 wagon from my hands, and let it go back to its original owner. I still had my 07 XC90 V8, but was wanting something that I could spend sometime on during the weekends, as if school wasn’t enough.

My friend David had mentioned that years ago he saw a 1800es sitting at a boat repair shop near him. I was automatically intrigued, because I thought maybe I could get it for a reasonable price, since 1800’s in general were creeping up in price at that time. David still lived in Clinton, Arkansas, and the car was in Heber Springs, or about an hour drive. So one Saturday I came down from northwest Arkansas, and helped David with a few things on one of his Volvos, and we took a trip to Heber Springs to see if it was still there.

When we arrived, it was getting dark, but we pulled in to find a number of boats, but no Volvo. I was bummed at first, but knew in the back of my mind that someone probably came and picked it up as these cars were gaining popularity even in non-Volvo crowds. We went back home, and I honestly never gave it another thought the rest of the weekend.

When I returned home that following Monday, I went on my normal day, classes, lab, and work. When I got to my part-time teller job, I jumped onto Craigslist to see what was out there. As I am sure many do, I would check surrounding cities to see if there is anything I couldn’t live without. When I got to Little Rock, low and behold there it was. A white 1972 1800es with a ton of boats in the background. I immediately sent it to David to see if this is the one that we went to see, and it was.

The posting picture

I reached out to the owner, who told me they had been doing some work on it inside the shop, so that is why we could not see it when we went by the previous weekend. The owner said that it was his father-in-law’s, and he took ownership of it when he passed on. They could not get the car running, and had given up on it as most do with the complicated D-jet fuel injection system Volvo used. The owner explained that they decided to cut their potential gain and try to sell it as is.

Now, you would think that maybe, just maybe it would be a reasonable price with it being in Arkansas, and it sitting so long not even running. But of course not. The sellers were asking $3,200 for it. Somewhere I still have the original listing for it with the few pictures they had to go along with it. Looking at the car today, that might not be a bad price given the values of ES’s now, but back then prices were just starting to rise, and that was high.

Try as I might I could not get the seller to go much lower. I was pretty stuck at $2,500 for which I thought was a fair price, but he was not having it. I decided that if I really wanted the car I was going to have to wait it out, and see if maybe he would get desperate and sell it to me for what I was offering. I would check back in every week just to see if they were willing to negotiate a little more. Every week it might go down $100, but that was about it. The seller even did the “we have someone coming to pick it up in an hour”, and sure enough no one came to get it. Eventually he came down to $2,800, and I decided that it was now or never. At the time I did not tell my dad that I was buying another car, or about the yellow peril as I feared he might tell me to start doing something else with my money, like help pay for college. When I did eventually tell him that I got the ES, I may have fudged the number I bought it for.

The next weekend I went back down to Heber Springs, and grabbed David and his trailer. We made it to the boat shop, and took a final look under the car as they already had it on the lift. I was even more excited about my find because nothing under the car was rusted. I was truly amazed. Most ES’s have a rusted jack support at least, but nothing on this car. This car was as solid as it comes. We loaded it up, and took it back to Clinton where we immediately started on getting it to run.

This car had the traditional B20 4 cylinder engine that all ES’s came with. As I mentioned before it had D-jet fuel injection which was designed by Bosch, used in a few other European cars. It is not known for its reliability or easy ability to work on. Mine also had the not so common, and not so loved automatic transmission. I did not really care either way, but this drives values down quite a bit. Most people complain about the B20 being under powered, and pair that with an automatic, it makes it worse.

We drained the gas tank, and put new gas in it along with a new battery. It would crank, but that is about all it wanted to do. We cleaned the injectors, hoses threw in new spark plugs, wires, and distributor cap, but still nothing. We continued to fight it for several weekends until one day it just decided to fire right up. Both David and I looked at each other in excitement as it idled smooth. I backed it out of the garage, and drove it around the yard a few times, but it just felt really under powered. I could give it all the gas I wanted to, but it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. We took it back in to find the fuel hoses full of crud, so we opened up the gas tank to find it full of rust.

Sorry for the bad photo. This is one from the original listing.

This is where the story gets interesting. David and I decided we could clean the tank ourselves and re-seal it. Seems like a good idea right? Well we had to separate the top from the bottom so we could get inside the gas tank. Cutting it open went fine, and even sealing it with a seal went ok. It was when David was welding it back shut. Now, I know what you are thinking, duh its flammable how could you be so stupid. Well, we had let the tank sit for weeks opened up to let it air up before we went to welding. We even went as far as putting a leaf blower to the holes to circulate air through it. Well, I had just walked away from watching David weld, and I heard the loudest boom you ever heard. I turned around to see the gas tank shoot all the way up to the 12ft high ceiling in David’s garage, bounce off the top, and slam back down to the cement floor. I run over to David who is standing looking at the gas tank, and ask him if he is ok. All he could really say is “what” because he was suffering from temporary deafness. David was fine, and the gas tank was a blown up like a puffer fish, but still repairable.

That poor gas tank had been through the ringer, but it was clean, and didn’t leak, so we went ahead and installed it. That seemed to fix the problem for the most part, so we went on to sanding it down for paint. Once we got off all the trim and bumpers, and sanded it we still could not find much rust other than a hole about the size of a quarter. By this time it was going on several months with this car, and I was losing interest. It seemed like every step we took there was yet another setback.

I had decided to throw it up on Ebay, just to see if anyone was interested for more than I paid for it. This listing was a hit, I got tons of messages and calls on the car. One person in particular was from Sweden, and offered me a little over $5,000 for the car. I immediately said yes, trying not to show all my cards. The only catch was I had to take the car to Orlando where he had a shipping container waiting for the car. My spring break was just around the corner, and I also had an aunt that lived there, so what better time to make a trip out of it. I loaded it up on the trailer, and off to Florida I went.

The ES was a really cool car to own, but at the time I did not have the time or the resources to spend actually rebuilding the engine, and doing a full restoration on it. It won’t be the last you will hear of the 1800es from me, don’t worry.