The 414bhp Volvo P1800: Driving Cyan’s race-bred resto-mod

Let me tell you the parts on this car that are directly taken from a Volvo P1800. Relax, it won’t take long. There’s the metal in all the roof pillars. The handbrake lever. The bonnet release mechanism. And the windscreen wipers.

That’s it. That’s all.

A classic aviation restorer can pull a wrecked plane from a lake and reconstruct an entire vintage aircraft around a few salvageable parts. Think of the Volvo P1800 Cyan as doing something similar – except with rather less adherence to the original specification.

If you’re not sure you’ve heard of Cyan Racing, located in Mölndal, just south of Gothenburg in Sweden, perhaps you’ve heard of Polestar. That was the race team and tuner that did such good things with Volvos that Volvo bought the name from it.

Still independent and now renamed Cyan Racing (’cos of the colour), the team is the official motorsport partner for Geely (Volvo’s owner) and won the 2017 World Touring Car Championship with a Volvo S60 and the past two World Touring Car Cups for Lynk&Co.

The Touring Car Cup features cars built to ‘TCR’ regulations, somewhat simpler and more controlled than the earlier ‘TC1’ regulations the S60 was built for. Which meant after 2017 Cyan had 60 race engineers with some time on their hands, and an idea in their heads. This car – a restomod, although it’s less resto than mod – is the result.

It’s a two-seat, front-engined little coupé. The body is largely carbonfibre with high-strength steel in the floor and other places, all bonded neatly together to provide body stiffness that an early P1800 wouldn’t even have dreamed about. There’s a roll cage inside but this isn’t a spaceframe chassis: it’s instead carefully and neatly triangulated so that when you open the bonnet, all you see is structural sheet metal.

And an engine. Cyan had a few options, up to fitting an electric drivetrain or resuscitating a Volvo five-cylinder (the company raced with TWR-prepared 850s in the 1990s) but opted to go with Volvo’s latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit. It’s relevant, current, raced in the S60, and when Volvo uses it in production cars with both a turbo and a supercharger, it can make more than 400bhp, so it’s strong.

It also – with no supercharger and a turbocharger moved low and out of sight, and shorn of loads of other plastics and ancillaries – looks ace, like a proper old-school twin-cam.

Drive goes through a dog-leg five-speed manual gearbox sourced from Holinger in Australia (one of the finest decisions made in decades in the driver’s car realm, as we’ll come back to) to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential. Suspension is by double wishbones all around. There is no anti-lock braking, no traction control and no assistance for the brakes at all, although there is power-assisted steering. The weight is only 990kg and only 47% of that is on the front but the front tyres are 245/40 R18s. With quick steering and a small but delightful Momo Prototipo steering wheel, the steering was considered too heavy without assistance.

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Have one, have either, have both. Just love that it exists. What an exquisite machine.

Charting the P1800’s history

The P1800 made its debut in 1961 and stayed on sale until 1973, available as this notch coupé and also the less popular sports estate. Engines were either a 1.8 or, later, a 2.0-litre four cylinder, driving through a four-speed manual or three speed auto.

It was well liked, with over 45,000 made in total. Cyan says these recreations can be registered anywhere within the EU, but in the UK, it was and will remain a bit of grey area for ‘restomod’ cars. We have slightly different rules governing old vehicles, reconstructed classic vehicles, kit-built or kit-converted vehicles and, what I suspect would apply here, radically altered vehicles. You can keep the original registration, or get an appropriate age-related plate, if you meet certain criteria. For radically altered cars, you amass points for each original (or unaltered) component fitted. 

If you don’t meet those, you can still register and enjoy the car – but it may get a Q-plate. I imagine, as time goes by, there’ll be less stigma to this than there used to be.

Volvo P1800 Cyan specifications

Where Peak District On sale Now Price £379,000 Engine 4 cyls, 2000cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 414bhp at 7000rpm Torque 336lb ft at 6000rpm Gearbox 5-spd manual Kerb weight 990kg 0-62mph 5sec (est) Top speed 170mph (est) Economy no WLTP data available CO2/tax band no WLTP data available