This Volvo P1800E Was A Gift For Stephen Landau’s Wife, At First…
Photography by Ted Gushue
Stephen Landau’s been on our Instagram radar for some time. Based in Long Island, he’s a car obsessed creative who keeps making one glorious decision after another when it comes to plowing his salary into classics. Years ago he purchased this stunning Volvo which began his descent into four wheeled fanaticism. Both fans of classic architecture, and both in the North East U.S. for the holidays, I suggested we meet up at the iconic Philip Johnson Glass House.
Sadly it was closed on the day, but we still managed to fire off a few shots before the security guards came down out of the trees. We grabbed a coffee afterwards at Zumbachs Coffee in New Canaan Connecticut and chatted about the history of his P1800.
Ted Gushue: So correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that you bought this originally as a gift for your wife?
Stephen Landau: That’s right [laughs]. I did buy it for her, for her birthday. She always loved the P1800 and a couple years ago I decide to start looking. I found two of them, one in Jersey and one in Queens. Picked up the one in Jersey, found out it needed a lot of work, so worked on it for about a year before it was ready for us to enjoy.
TG: How cool is it that your wife not only knew about the P1800 but also wanted one enough for you to go find one.
SL: Embarassingly I actually had no idea what it was. She introduced it to me. When we were living in Australia she saw them and she just fell in love with them. She had an affinity for old cars and she used to actually photograph them when we were in art school together, did loads of art pieces on them, either drawings or actually we actually recreate the cars out of pieces of felt, which is kind of cool.
TG: So it was mechanically poor but cosmetically strong when you bought it?
SL: Exactly the opposite. It was mechanically doing alright, but cosmetically in very poor condition. It drove well at the time of purchase, didn’t need too much love in the drivetrain department.
TG: What does it drive like?
SL: It drives very comfortably. It’s not sporty, it’s a cruiser.
TG: It looks like such a performance car, but in reality people have described the engines as little tractor blocks, no?
SL: Yeah. It’s a very peculiar car especially in the way that it was marketed. Everyone’s always called it the ‘poor man’s Ferrari’ and the company was very aware of this. So they had this endless string of really tongue-in-cheek ads, where they’d write up, “Have you ever wondered what it felt like to drive a $10,000 car?” Then below it write, “Well, now you can drive one for $6,000.” They did a lot of stuff that also said, “Everybody calls it the poor man’s Ferrari, but the way we look at it is we’d love to see everybody drive a Ferrari.” Very similar to some of the VW ads of the era as well.
TG: I love how humble the car is in actuality, especially when it’s so closely tied to the history of Roger Moore’s first big role as cheeky thief Simon Templar in The Saint.
SL: Everybody will always mention The Saint, it’s kind of a given with this car. What’s more interesting to me when I meet people is when they’ve never heard of Volvo making a car like this before in their lives. It represents such a departure from their offering at the time, something that rivals Italy’s greatest in terms of beauty. It’s fun to reveal to them the history.
TG: Is it a car you think you’ll keep for life?
SL: Oh, yeah. Definitely. This one’s definitely a lifer. There’s too much of my own blood and sweat into the car.
TG: What are we talking here?
SL: I had a friend of mine do all the body work. I did the interior, basically gutted it. We took the whole interior out. The seats were in great condition, but had to get new carpets, new dash pads, I made new panels for the doors.. I sound deadened the whole cabin so that it’s a little more solid, feels a little more intimate when you’re driving it. Other than that, the whole thing was cut apart. We found a lot of structural issues, so my friend had to weld the underbody and the floor panels that were coming off, so all that was redone, cut away, rebodied and repainted. Most of the trim is original, but I bought a bunch of after-market chrome stuff that just looks cleaner.
TG: I quite like that it’s not exactly a restomod, but has this really beautiful personal touch to it. Makes it more special in a way.
SL: I wanted to give it more of a personal touch. I didn’t want it just to be like, “Oh, that’s the car I saw in ’71.” It’s got a modern paint from a 2006 Aston Martin, so it’s not supposed to be period correct. It’s got an aftermarket radio, which is unfortunate but it makes it enjoyable to drive long distances.
TG: You mentioned a 3 million mile Volvo that’s out in Long Island. How many miles do you want to put on this thing?
SL: I don’t know if I’ll get up to 3 million; I’ve got too many other cars to drive someday in my life. As much as possible though. I plan to take it long distance and along the way it’s going to break and I’m going to have to fix it and that’s just part of the fun.