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Rare Volvo Sport P1900 Celebrates 60 Years, Paved Way for P1800

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/1/2014 Karla Sanchez

You've certainly heard of the Volvo P1800, but before that car came along, the Swedish automaker made some mistakes -- 68 of them, to be exact. The Swedish automaker is celebrating the 60th anniversary of a rare roadster dubbed the Sport, which ceased production after only 68 units were built in just a few short years.


The Volvo Sport roadster made its debut on June 2, 1954, and unlike the svelte Volvos we're used to seeing today, the Sport was short and fat, measuring 8 inches shorter than the Volvo PV 444. The roadster made quite an impression with a large grille that resembled a turbine, and underneath the hood was a version of the 1.4-liter PV 444 engine, except in this application, the engine was tuned to make 70 hp and reach a top speed of around 95 mph. Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Prototype Right Side© Provided by MotorTrend Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Prototype Right Side

The two-seater was pretty much a research project by the company's founder Assar Gabrielsson in the early 1950s. Garielsson frequented the U.S. in an effort to research the market before launching Volvo in the 'States, and during one of his trips, he crossed paths with a company called Glasspar in Montecito, Calif. Since 1951, Glasspar had been building hulls for boats and bodies for sports cars using fiberglass, which was a newer material at that time. Gabrielsson was fascinated with the manufacturing process, and while he wanted to introduce the material to Sweden, he also wanted to build a small European sports car for the U.S. since he noticed there was a huge interest in them. As a result, he asked Glasspar to design and build a sports car prototype, in addition to training Volvo's staff on how to design and manufacture fiberglass bodies. Meanwhile, engineers in Gothenburg were in charge of developing a chassis that would fit the body.

Fast forward to 1954 and Glasspar delivered the first drivable prototype to Volvo. The prototype wasn't fully developed, so it's no surprise that the prototype didn't perform well in internal testing: the chassis was too weak, the plastic cracked, the doors weren't fitted correctly, and the three-speed gearbox didn't prove to be sporty enough for the sporty-looking roadster. That aside, two more prototypes were built, and Volvo later announced the sports car would be available in 1955 as an export only, and with about a 300-unit run. The automaker also took three cars to Sweden to show them off to dealers. In 1956, Volvo started delivering the roadster to customers in South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, and the U.S., and although Volvo said the roadster would be an export only, some customers in Sweden were able to take delivery of their very own fiberglass-bodied roadster. Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Prototype Front Right Side© Provided by MotorTrend Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Prototype Front Right Side

Only 44 units were made the first year, and in 1957, another 23 were built. But as quickly as the car came, it left. The car's demise came after newly appointed Gunnar Engellau drove the Volvo Sport for a weekend, which was when he decided the car didn't live up to Volvo's quality requirements and that production should stop immediately. Volvo was also losing money with each roadster it sold. In just that short time, only 68 units were built, though there are only 67 unique VINs as two cars were accidently given the same chassis number. Volvo knows the whereabouts of 50 of those Sport roadsters, and even though it sounds like a flop, the roadster wasn't a complete failure -- four years later, Engellau used the roadster as inspiration for the iconic steel-bodied P1800, which the automaker says is its most "internationally renowned model ever."

Take a look at the rare Volvo roadster in the photos below.

Source: Volvo

Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Front Right Side© Provided by MotorTrend Volvo Sport P1900 Roadster Front Right Side

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