Volvo P1800 – What do you do after 2.6 million miles?


I’ll be frank and let you know right from the start that I have little or no love for Volvos.  With perhaps a single exception (a sedan from the 60’s that Noel owned) I have found them to be needlessly heavy, abominable in terms of handling, and expensive to repair.  The last characteristic was welcome from a mechanics point of view.

None-the-less, Irv Gordon of Long Island, New York, has managed to put over 2.6 million miles on his 1966 Volvo P1800. 

Irv says that he spent three hours road testing it prior to purchasing it in 1966.  Maybe he had visions of Roger Moore driving it in the British TV series, “The Saint”.  He suggests that the goal should be to buy the best quality car you can afford and one that is comfortable since you will be spending a great deal of time in it to rack up millions of miles.

So what did Irv do in order to achieve that kind of mileage?  First and foremost he doesn’t eat or smoke in the car.  He keeps it clean inside and out, underside and top side.  He maintains it just as the owner’s manual dictates, placing his faith in the fact that the engineers who designed the car know best.

One thing this car did not see was a garage.  Irv doesn’t have one.  So for 41 odd years this car sat out exposed to all the elements of the northeast along with a good deal of salt air from the nearby ocean.

Irv says, “The car is driven daily summer and winter, through snow, ice, rain, etc. It has never failed to take me where I wanted to go and never broken down en-transit. I guess those engineers really knew what they were talking about regarding service schedules. After all, a machine is only as good as the service it gets.

He does an oil change every 3000-3500 miles and uses a factory Volvo oil filter.  The points (remember what those are folks?) and spark plugs are replaced every 20-25,000 miles.  Filters and belts are replaced as necessary, and the mechanical fuel pump is changed out every million miles or so.  The carburetors have their bushing replaced at about 900,000 miles and that is about the same time the oil cooler is replaced with a new one.

Irve insisted on an engine rebuild at 680,000 miles, but that was the last time.  The transmission fluid is changed per the owner’s manual at 25,000 mile intervals with multi-weight gear oil.  The third gear synchro has been replaced as well as the transmission seals, but other than that, it has been trouble free.

Naturally the body has had to deal with being out in the elements for so many miles, but all he has had to replace are the rocker panels and some of the rear wheel arches many miles ago.  Of course there have been the dings and dent that parking lot provide, but all in all, the body has stood the test of time remarkably well.

As I’ve said before, tires are the most important part on your car and Irv has consistently used Bridgstone Potenzas for the past 36 years.  He finds them the most durable tire and able to deal with the variety of weather conditions daily driving in New York provides.

When the car past a million miles in 1987, Volvo gave him the keys to a new 780 Bertone Coupe.  He recently sold it to a friend in Holland.  It had 470,000 miles on it and “ran like new”.  Passing the 2 million mile mark Volvo gave him a new C70 coupe.

Here, in his own words, Irv sums up why he keeps his car:

Why trade in or get rid of a car that continues to provide safe, comfortable and dependable transportation, all with timeless good looks? I cannot see any reason to sell the car or trade it in for a newer model. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new Volvos and I love AC, power everything, a wonderful stereo and lots of power, but my 1800 has become more than a part of me. I am divorced from my ex-wife, but my car seems to still love me so how could I be so cruel? Most likely I will pass on while in that car. Perhaps I can be stuffed and put behind the wheel and the two of us can be together in some museum one of these days. The car has given me a new meaning to the word “retirement.” If I were to sell the car, I would not get invited to anything fun or anyplace interesting any longer. No one would want to see me. After all, the car does all the work and I just go along for the ride.

This entry was posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Care and Feeding, Cars, Life and Cars, Servicing Cars. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Volvo P1800 – What do you do after 2.6 million miles?

  1. Noel says:

    Jim is too kind in remembering “The Beast,” as I called it; a 1966 122S ( “Amazon” in Volvo parlance) that I bought in college with 166K on it and sold it a couple years later with some indeterminate number of miles, because the odometer had a habit of stopping for days at a time. I suspect the car had closer to 250K on it, maybe more. It burned oil as if I owned a refinery, but always got me where I needed to go and was a fun car. It was one of the cars I’ve owed that I shouldn’t have sold. A rebuilt motor, with a good cam and some bigger carbs, new brakes, and paint would have rejuvenated it. I remember “flying it”over a bridge on a one-lane road in a rally in western Mass once. What a car!

    A eon later, my next Volvo was a ’91 940 Turbo wagon, which was the most unreliable, expensive to keep car I’ve ever owned. Don’t ask. My wife, who used it as her daily driver, hated the thing and it was a real challenge to drive in a New Hampshire winter, even with 4 new Blizzaks and 150 lbs of sand in back. Horrible car. Went pretty good (even if Volvo has no clue about turbo motors) , but I was thrilled to see it go.

    The P-1800 story is fun. Saw it a couple years back, but Jim’s version had new info. Being a Saab guy I find it amazing that two marques–so different from one another– can come from the same country. Saabs are fun to drive, where Volvos are like watching bowling or someone mow their lawn. But the old ones, like the P1800, were great long runners.

  2. Tim says:

    No love for even modern Volvo’s Jim? My Mom had a 99 S70, 2.4L 162HP I-5. Only weighed 3100lb and handled very well. Minimal body roll and plenty of stick. The NA motor was a dog down low, but pulled decently in the high revs with the automatic.

    Maintenance costs are certainly an argument and something you could argue for a Bimmer or Merc as well.

  3. Ronbo says:

    What the frig was this about Volvos being like watching bowling…. Saabs are Volvo wanna be’s…. Volvos are wild unchecked beasts in the field… they are fun – well okay the 240s and before…

    Volvos Rule

  4. alex schellenger says:

    Back in the mid 70’s, I recall our Ford Pinto wagon outrunning my buddies 240. I recall them having a strange speedometer, some kind of an orange line that did not often work. My wife just turned in her XC90. It ran very comfortably and reliably, with the exception of wheel bearing failure at 50k.

  5. Terry says:

    I meet Irv Gordon in Vancouver BC in August 2001 just before his P1800S hit the 2 million milestone! I have a 1972 1800E that I had purchased in 1998 from the original owner here in Canada. My 1800E has travelled about 90,000 miles since new. I hope to be buried in it too. Continue to take care of your baby Irv!

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  7. kground says:

    Yes the P1800 does give the impression of heaviness – a lot like a Mercedes 190SL feels like a heavy car. But they seemed to go pretty good back in the day. I tried to kill one back in the late 60s (with the help of one Eugene Joseph Wenger and his Galaxy 500 station wagon, who smacked us a good one and threw us 50 yards or so onto the side in a gulley. The volvo was a little dented at the point of impoact, but lived to drive quite a few miles before my freind traded it for a TR4 – a singularly bad trade as it turned out.
    I saw one that had an aftermarket turbo kit on it, that the owner claimed ran pretty strong, but mostly I saw it sitting at the repair shop and not out on the road …

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  10. Jim says:

    As the owner of a 2001 Volvo V70 T5 wagon, I can attest to the longevity of Volvos. According to my mechanic, the weak spot in these cars is the automatic transmission and I don’t have one. Got a five speed stick with 192,000+ miles on her and still on the same clutch (and I used to live in San Francisco).

    Yes, the repair bills are steep, but thankfully don’t happen often. In the 161,000 miles that I have owned it, the expensive stuff has been: driver’s seat circuit board ($900), sunroof circuit board ($350), new set of coils, one for each cylinder ($800) and a complete rebuilt of the front suspension ($2600), new rotors and couple of sets of brake pads ($1600) and that’s been it, except for a few tune ups and oil changes. Not too bad for the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned.

    It’s safe as well. Been rear-ended in it twice. Couple of dings and a new bumper. Cars that hit me were totalled.

  11. Jerome says:

    I have a 1968 P1800S it is the finest most comfortable vehicle ever I’m 6’2″ and find the legroom plentiful. The body is seamless the design is inspiring from many angles
    Why this car is not much more expensive is beyond me .

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