A saintly automobile from the land of “Pippi” Longstocking and Lisbeth Salander: The Swedish Volvo P1800 grand tourer / sports car, part 2

A Volvo P1800 comparable to the one driven by Simon Templar, also known as the Saint, a character played on television by Roger George Moore, Volvo Museum, Göteborg, Sweden, 2008. Jarle Vines via Wikimedia.

Hej och hur mår ni? I am once again delighted to hear (read?) that you are doing well, my reading friend.

The other chapter of the Volvo P1800 saga mentioned last week began in the United Kingdom in 1962. Err, actually, that chapter really began in 1928. It was indeed that year that a young British subject in search of for adventure completed his third novel, Meet the Tiger. Leslie Charteris, born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, introduced therein the character who made him famous throughout the world: Simon Templar, known as the Saint, a modern-day Robin Hood who could be very violent, even murderous, in some cases.

Between 1928 and 1971 Charteris wrote 14 novels, 34 novellas and 95 short stories featuring the Saint. Between 1963 and 1997, other authors wrote 7 novels and 14 additional novellas.

And yes, radio serials featuring the Saint were broadcasted in the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa from 1940 onward. No less than 14 feature films were also produced in the United States and United Kingdom. The first of these arrived in theatres in 1938.

The very success of the adventures of Templar inspired the creation of a television series, The Saint, in French Le Saint, the first episode of which aired in October 1962. With nearly 120 episodes produced by Incorporated Television Company (ITC) and broadcasted between that date and February 1969, that series was / is the second in importance in the history of British television. Would you believe it ended up airing in over 60 countries around the world?

The first episode of the French version was visible in Québec living rooms in October 1963, seven months before the broadcast of a first episode in France, it was said. We can therefore wonder why the dubbing was seemingly done in France.

As you probably or perhaps know, depending on your age, my reading friend, the British actor Roger George Moore played the role of the Saint, a Saint far less violent than the character imagined by Charteris.

One of the decisions made by ITC quite early in the design of the project was the choice of the automobile that Moore / Templar would drive. You see, the Hirondel mentioned in several / many Charteris stories was an utterly fictional vehicle. A dashing and elegant hero would have to drive an equally dashing and elegant automobile.

The ITC team had two automobiles in its sights: the P1800, then manufactured in the United Kingdom you will remember, and the magnificent British Jaguar E-Type, with higher performance it must be admitted. As the latter vehicle sold well, the management of Jaguar Cars Limited showed little interest. Even an offer to buy an automobile did not arouse much enthusiasm. There was no question of fiddling with the list of people who were patiently waiting for the delivery of their expensive machine.

The ITC team apparently contacted a few other automobile manufacturers, including the German firm Mercedes-Benz Aktiengesellschaft, which then produced 2 excellent grand tourers / sports cars, the 190SL and a convertible version of the legendary 300 SL grand tourer. The West German firm showed some interest but could not guarantee to be able to deliver replacement vehicles for as long as the series lasted. The ITC team thanked it for that response. In any event, the team believed, a West German vehicle might not be ideal for a British hero.

As the ITC team began to tear its hair out, a recently hired young employee said he had seen a promising automobile on a street of London, England. You guessed it, it was a P1800. Quickly approached by ITC, Aktiebolaget Volvo’s management jumped at that golden opportunity to make its machine known. It sold its demo vehicle to ITC at a reduced price. It may even have sold a full-size mock-up of a cabin interior which came in handy for some of the scenes in the television series.

With the success of the television series The Saint having made the P1800 a world-famous automobile, did the management of Jaguar Cars regret its lack of interest, you ask? Oh, yes.

A brief digression if I may. When ITC and Radiotelevisione italiana, the national public radio and television broadcasting company of Italy, decided to produce a sequel to said series, The Return of the Saint, in French Le Retour du Saint, Jaguar Cars hastened to supply an XJ-S luxury grand tourer to the British firm. The 24 episodes of the new television series originally aired between September 1978 and March 1979. End of digression.

Volvo ultimately supplied a quintet of P1800s to ITC. The first one arrived at the studio within a week of its request. That was of course a P1800 completed in England. Volvo delivered a second automobile in 1964. That was by then a P1800 completed in Sweden, of course. It should be mentioned in passing that the automobile delivered in 1962 was apparently cut up shortly afterwards to improve camera access when shooting interior scenes.

A third P1800, delivered in 1967, was destroyed in an accident shortly after arriving. Some of its parts, however, were used to update the automobile dating from 1964. Shortly after the accident, Volvo supplied not one but two P1800s. Moore used one of them for his personal use.

Yours truly remembers watching an episode of Le Saint called Un drôle de monstre, during which a man and a dog were found dead on the shores of the world-famous Loch Ness, in Scotland. Their wounds seemed to indicate that the lake monster, also world famous, had killed them. A local author and his wife, a former big game huntress, agreed to help Templar keep watch over the lake. I will of course not tell you how that episode ended. Alright, alright, calm down. I will offer you a hint: “Nessie” had nothing to be ashamed of.

Yours truly doubts that this episode was at the origin of my interest in Fortean / strange phenomena, still well present in 2022, but that is certainly not impossible.

By the way, the episode in question aired on 21 March 1967, 26 February 1972, 5 November 1974 and 29 December 1978. Thus, I can not say when I saw Un drôle de monstre.

The original version of said episode, A Convenient Monster, on the other hand, first aired on 4 November 1966. It was based on an eponymous story published in a collection of short stories, Trust the Saint, published in 1962. A translation of that collection, entitled Faites confiance au Saint, was published in 1964.

A brief (?) digression if I may. An important episode in the story of “Nessie” took place in 1960. In April of that year, British aeronautical engineer Timothy Kay “Tim” Dinsdale filmed an object leaving a wake in the waters of Loch Ness. That internationally known footage is still the subject of debate.

Interestingly, if only for yours truly, Dinsdale moved to Ontario with his spouse around 1951. And yes, he worked for A.V. Roe Canada Limited (Avro Canada) of Malton, Ontario, a subsidiary of A.V. Roe & Company Limited (Avro), itself a subsidiary of British giant Hawker-Siddeley Aircraft Company Limited. As you well know, Avro Canada, Avro and Hawker-Siddeley Aircraft were mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March, October and May 2018.

Dinsdale joined the staff of Rolls-Royce of Canada Limited of Montréal, Québec, a subsidiary of the world-famous British firm Rolls-Royce Limited, in 1952. He and his family returned to the UK in 1956.

Laid off in 1962, Dinsdale became a freelance insurance salesman, a job which allowed him to devote more time to what had become a passion: proving the existence of an unknown animal, or cryptid, in the waters of Loch Ness. He died in December 1987, at the age of 63, without having achieved his goal.

If yours truly may be permitted to quote the American astronomer and science populariser Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claims of the existence of ghosts, lake monsters, unknown giant primates, stolen presidential elections, extra-terrestrials visiting our planet, or reptilians secretly enslaving humanity require such extraordinary evidence. Unless I am mistaken, that evidence is long overdue, for decades in many cases. Now if you will excuse me for a few hours, I have to shed my old skin.

[Music of the American television game show Jeopardy interminably playin’ in your noggin.]

Ahhh, that felt good.

At the risk of busting your chops, I take the liberty of pointing out here that Rolls-Royce of Canada was mentioned in an April 2018 issue of our you know what. Rolls-Royce, on the other hand, has been honored in the same way several times since that same month. But back to our story.

The P1800s driven by Moore over the years could not have been more standard. However, that was not the case for all P1800s. Nay. A Volvo dealer in New York, the state and not the city, indeed created what may well be the most fascinating and rarest Volvo of the 20th century.

Involved in the sale of automobiles since 1946, used vehicles at the start, Stanley B. “Counting Count” Lazarus was not an automobile fanatic. An automobile for him was like a paperclip, typewriter or stove. It was a commodity, like many other products.

The firm that Lazarus bought around 1963, Munn Motors Limited, apparently became Volvoville U.S.A. Incorporated because another neighbourhood dealership took over all the brands of British automobiles sold by the previous owner. Lazarus could only rely on Volvo automobiles to pay his bills. The vehicles of that firm were certainly of excellent quality, although a little “boring,” with the exception of the P1800, but Volvo did not produce convertibles, a type of vehicle available at the other neighbourhood dealer.

Faced with that situation, Lazarus showed imagination. He had the roof removed from a used P1800 he had in his possession. The vehicle thus created was simply magnificent. The rigidity of its chassis was compromised by the surgery requested by Lazarus, however. Reinforcements placed at strategic locations reduced vibrations to a more than acceptable level.

A firm in New York, yes, the state and not the city, which specialised in the production of folding boat tops, Forean Kustom Upholstery Incorporated, supplied Volvoville U.S.A. with the folding tops for the P1800s converted into convertibles from 1964 onward by another firm from New York, yes, again, the state and not the city, International Auto Painting Incorporated.

More expensive than the standard version, around $ 4 700 instead of around $ 3 700, or about $ 54 550 and $ 42 950 in 2022 currency, the P1800 convertible nevertheless found buyers. International Auto Painting converted around 30 (or 40?) automobiles.

As you may imagine, Volvo’s management did not, but not at all, like the fact that Volvoville U.S.A. was selling P1800 convertibles modified without its permission. Even the name of the firm of Lazarus annoyed it quite a bit. While the latter agreed to no longer modify vehicles, he refused to change the name of his dealership. Volvo decided not to prosecute him. The last convertible P1800 left the workshops of International Auto Painting at an undetermined date (1966? 1967? 1969?).

One of the P1800s sold by Volvoville U.S.A., that one not a convertible, deserves to be mentioned in this text. Irving “Irv” Gordon was a 26-year-old science teacher when he bought that red-painted vehicle in June 1966. He took great care of it. A great traveler before the divine, the P1800 reached the million-mile, or more than 1.6 million kilometres, mark in 1987.

In 1998, Gordon’s P1800 was recognised by Guinness World Records Limited as the vehicle in non-commercial service driven by the original owner with the highest certified mileage, that is 2.729 million kilometres (1.696 million miles).

The following year, Gordon retired after nearly 37 years spent teaching science at Roslyn Middle School in Roslyn Heights, New York.

In April 2002, comedian, author and noted automobile collector James Douglas Muir “Jay” Leno had the pleasure of shaking hands with Gordon, and seeing his P1800 up close, during an episode of his popular late-night television show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The reason for that visit? The P1800 had hit the 2-million-mile, or over 3.2 million kilometres, mark shortly before, in New York City, New York.

In June 2013, Volvo Cars North America Limited Liability Company launched an unprecedented public relations campaign to celebrate Gordon’s P1800, which had just reached the 4.821 million-kilometre (2.996 million mile) milestone. Would you believe that Gordon was vacationing in Alaska when his unstoppable P1800 passed the 3 million-mile, or nearly 4.83 million kilometres, mark?

And yes, that long-distance trip could mean that Gordon rode on Canadian soil at least once. Indeed, he may also have ridden on Mexican soil.

Gordon left this world in November 2018, at the age of 78. His passing was noted by automobile enthusiasts around the world.

His P1800, on the other hand, was still in perfect working order. Between 1966 and 2018, that unique machine seemingly traveled nearly 5.25 million kilometres (about 3.26 million miles), more than 13.6 times the average distance between the Earth and Moon.

Gordon’s P1800 was still running in 2022. His family handed it over to Volvo at an undetermined date.

And yes, Guinness World Records still recognises Gordon’s P1800 as the vehicle in non-commercial service driven by the original owner with the highest certified mileage.

Volvo completed the last P1800 in June 1973.

The decision to end production followed the implementation of new safety and emissions regulations in the United States around 1973-74. The modifications to be made to the vehicle in order to comply with these rules were too important – and expensive. Once Volvo’s decision became known to the general public, demand for the P1800 increased, especially in the United States. Vehicles still available were actually sold within weeks.

A station wagon version designed around that time, in collaboration with the Italian automobile and aeronautical body shop Carrozzeria Coggiola Società per azioni, did not reach the production stage.

Between 1957 and 1973, Jensen Motors and Volvo produced nearly 47 500 production P1800s, including nearly 8 100 examples of a station wagon version. Yes, yes, station wagon. The station wagon version of the P1800 which Volvo had built over the years was one of the rare successful examples of a transformation from a grand tourer / sports car to a station wagon. That vehicle was particularly popular in the United States, with, it seems, trendy young couples.

Unless I am mistaken, the P1800 delivered to ITC in 1964, completely restored at an undetermined date, was on American soil as of 2022. The vehicle used by Moore for his personal use was in the same country.

Aware of the importance of the television series The Saint for the promotion of the P1800, and its 1960s profits, Volvo placed a vehicle of that type in the Volvo Museum in Göteborg, Sweden, at an undetermined date. You saw a photograph of it several minutes ago.

To conclude, yes, me reading friend, a number of Homo sapiens have indeed noted a number of references to Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmind Ephraim’s Daughter “Pippi” Longstocking, in Swedish Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter “Pippi” Långstrump, the fictitious main character in the very popular and internationally known eponymous series of children’s books by Swedish author Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren, born Ericsson, in the award-winning series of adult’s books by Swedish journalist and author Karl Stig-Erland “Stieg” Larsson. A series whose lead character was / is, you guessed it, the asocial, self confident, fearless, red haired (yes, yes, red – she dyes it black), independent, ingenious, introverted, smart, remarkably strong, unconventional, undefeatable and unpredictable Lisbeth Salander.

You do not believe me, now do you? Please allow me to point out the following. The name at the door of Salander’s flashy flat is V. Kulla, the reason for this deception being her wish to go unnoticed. It so happens that Långstrump’s home is called… Villa Villekulla. Yours truly could provide you with other examples but I will not, in the interest of brevity. And you know, my reading friend, how much I like brevity. I like it almost as much as I like gravity – or a Belgian ale.

This being said (typed), in the only interview he seemingly did about his book series, the late Larsson stated that he had indeed based Salander on what he imagined Långstrump might have been like as an adult.

And yes, a number of Homo sapiens have also noted one or more links between an important character in Larsson’s book series, journalist Carl Mikael “Kalle” Blomkvist, and Carl “Kalle” Blomkvist, the tween amateur detective in a popular if less internationally known eponymous series of 3 children’s books initially published between 1946 and 1953 by the same Lindgren.

Would you believe that the multiple adventures of the cheerful, extraverted, fearless, freckled, independent, ingenious, playful, red-haired, self confident, smart, unbelievably strong, unconventional, undefeatable, unpredictable, wealthy and zany Långstrump, published since 1945 I will let you know, have been translated in 100 or so languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish? I kid you not.

Hej då. Live its senare.

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Rénald Fortier