Currently reading: The 414bhp Volvo P1800: Driving Cyan's race-bred resto-mod
The classic 1960s Swedish sports car has been resurrected by parent Group Geely's motorsport arm. We get behind the wheel
Matt Prior
News
7 mins read
25 November 2020

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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An original P1800 never wore tyres that big, of course. But it never had a chassis like this nor an engine that makes 414bhp at 7000rpm or 336lb ft at 6000rpm, nor revved to 7700rpm. “We want it to feel as naturally aspirated as possible,” Hans Bååth, Cyan’s general manager for cars, shouts over monsoon-levels winds in Peak District. “So when you get to 5000rpm and it feels fast, keep going.”

This is, you suspect, a car that wants to be driven. In ethos, it seems most like an Alfaholics GTA-R, a car stripped back to beyond the original and rebuilt better with extraordinary care and precision – and a swankier engine. We loved the GTA-R when we experienced it last year and Bååth tells me I’ll be the first person to have driven both.

So I slink in, over a roll cage bar and into deep, supportive seats and a low-slung, genuinely comfortable driving position. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust but it doesn’t matter. The seat is fab and the tall gearlever extends way towards you. Fit and finish around the cockpit are exceptional: beautifully stitched leather, nice fabric and a great, simple array of dials and toggle switches. Race teams do know where to put stuff so it’s easy to find while you concentrate on driving.

A small, classic key, like the sort you’d have found on a filing cabinet, fires the engine to a loud but refined idle. Nothing terribly unusual so far. The pedal spacing, heights and weights are all absolutely perfect. There’s even a footrest with a main-beam button just like the old days. I grab the gearlever and… holy moly. It’s long, not overtly weighted, but slots into first with such tremendous precision that I try moving it around the gate a few times just for the sake of it. It really is something else. Check over the shoulder – the mirrors are small and the interior mirror is mounted to the dashboard, not the roof – and we’re off.

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Cyan’s P1800 eases away. It’s firmly damped, but not harsh. Body control’s impeccable but, well, the body is light, after all. There’s not a hint of chassis flex.

At 1748mm wide, owing to its extended hot-rod wheel arches, the Cyan is around 50mm wider than a standard P1800, but still a truly compact car, and only 4203mm long. In feel, then, think a bit bigger, a bit less wieldy, than a Caterham 7, but not by that much.

The steering is medium weighted, superbly accurate and remarkably free of kickback. It doesn’t take on much additional weight as you add cornering forces, but it retains its smoothness. Bååth tells me it’s not fully calibrated yet. I like it, but I’d accept a bit less isolation for a bit more feel.

But I’d be splitting hairs. It’s a totally immersive drive. The engine’s noisy, the transmission whine even more so, and mooching around at 3000, 4000 revs, you start to wonder if the full 414bhp is there. It is, if you search for it: stay in second gear when all the noise tells you to grab third, as in a Porsche Cayman GT4, and really extend its legs. Then you’ll find the power, and the poise, and grip, and balance, to back it up.

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And with such composure in the chassis and smoothness in the steering comes the gearshift. The stick rattles quite often but moves between gears more like the speed controller on an old-fashioned pillar drill or lathe than a car’s gearlever. I can’t remember the last time shifting gears was this much of a pleasure. The whole experience is engaging like nothing modern this side of a Caterham, Ariel or Lotus Elise.

Compared with a GTA-R? I think I found the Alfa more entertaining but wouldn’t want to call the comparison: the Alfa was the first car like this I’d driven, and your second taste of something is never as intense as the first. Besides, with a bit more soundproofing and dampers slackened a touch, the Cyan P1800 would make an exceptional grand tourer and I don’t think GTA-R could be.

And both are built in such tiny numbers – Cyan thinks it could make 10 a year, priced at nearly £400,000 – and to such unique specifications, that what’s the point of comparing?

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

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Nickktod 6 December 2020

With moderns becoming ever more sophisticated but soulless and with classic prices soaring, Eagle, Singer, Hemmels, Ruf etc. having people on long, long waiting lists for the opportunity to drop several hundred grand on a restomod, surely there must be a business case for manufacturers to start cranking out continuation models with a few modern tweaks for comfort, performance, environmental compliance and safety but at slightly higher volumes and lower prices than the likes of the recent DB4 and E Type lightweights, XKSS etc. continuation models.

 

Imagine a brand new Pagoda for £80k in the showroom next to a current model SL, a box fresh '73 style 911S next to a 992 both stickered just under £100k, a factory fresh E Type series 1 next to an F Type facelift at £75k a pop. I know which ones I'd blow my mortgage on...

HazwoldV8 25 November 2020

Awesome

this is the first true unique thing vovlo and polestar has done

 

GTA-R or this?

i honestly have no idea

price is irrelevant when it comes to something like this. Your not just buying the car, your buying exculisitivity, history and the fact that its 1 of 10 made a year

si73 25 November 2020
Absolutely love this, obviously way too much for me, but I'd imagine the work involved and limited production justifies most of its price. So glad it exists, just wish there was a chance of seeing one on the road.

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