The project was originally started in 1957 because Volvo wanted a sports car
to compete in the US & European markets, despite the fact that their previous attempt, the P1900
, had failed to take off with only 68 cars sold. The man behind the project was an engineering consultant to Volvo, Helmer Petterson
, who in the 1940s was responsible for the Volvo PV444
. Unknown to him, design work was done by his son Pelle
, under the tutelage of Italian auto stylist Pietro Frua
while Frua's studio as a subsidiary of the prestigious carrozzeria Ghia
. Volvo insisted it was an Italian design by Frua and only in 2009 officially recognized Pelle Petterson's authorship. Carrozzeria Frua built the first three prototypes between September 1957 and early 1958, later designated by Volvo in September 1958: P958-X1
and P958-X3 (P:Project, 9:September, 58:Year 1958 = P958, X: eXperimental.).
In December 1957 Helmer Petterson drove X1, (the first hand-built P1800 prototype) to Osnabrück
, West Germany
, headquarters of Karmann
. Petterson hoped that Karmann would be able to take on the tooling and building of the P1800. Karmann's engineers had already been preparing working drawings from the wooden styling buck at Frua. Petterson and Volvo chief engineer Thor Berthelius
met there, tested the car and discussed the construction with Karmann. They were ready to build it and this meant that the first cars could hit the market as early as December 1958. But in February, Karmann's most important customer, Volkswagen VAG
, forbade Karmann to take on the job. They feared that the P1800 would compete with the sales of their own cars, and threatened to cancel all their contracts with Karmann if they took on this car. This setback almost caused the project to be abandoned. Read more...