A lucky Trade Me search gave Guy Hilson his dream car – a Volvo fit for the screen
Guy Hilson can blame it on The Saint. The stylish and charming television character drove a sporty Volvo, so why shouldn’t Guy?
Words: Jane Warwick Photos: Tessa Chrisp
Guy Hilson bought himself a blue Datsun Cherry 120Y. It was a great car — the first of Datsun’s front-engine, front-wheel-drive vehicles — and Guy had a lot of fun in it. But what he wanted — what he really, really wanted — was a Volvo P1800 S coupe.
It was Simon Templar who quite literally drove him to it. Simon Templar, aka The Saint — the debonair, effortlessly cool Robin Hood of the 1960s, born in print and later a British television show. On-screen, Templar was played by the late great Roger Moore, who went on to play the fourth 007.
The Saint drove a P1800 S coupe, and Guy was hooked. Even if the vehicle hadn’t had one of the world’s most handsome and sophisticated accessories in its driver, it still would have stood out. It was Volvo’s first attempt at a sports car, taking shape in 1957 and, by 1964, going from nought to 60 in 11.2 seconds for a top speed of 107 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, Guy was reasonably happy behind the wheel of his 120Y; not a P1800 S, but nifty in itself.
Meanwhile and previously, down in Manawatu, a local doctor also had a hankering for a P1800 S, and soon one — twice-owned — was making the choppy crossing onboard a ship between Australia and New Zealand. The Tasman is one of the roughest waterbodies on earth, although that was nothing for a vehicle made by the descendants of Vikings.
The car served the doctor well, but after his death, his children sold it to Annamarie Jamieson, and the vehicle moved to Auckland.
Over at Guy’s house, owning a P1800 S was never far from his thoughts. And then one day — äntligen! as they would say in Sweden, “at last!” — he could hardly believe his eyes; there on Trade Me during the Great Covid Lockdown, was the very thing, listed by Annamarie, now president of the New Zealand P1800 Club. What a find — and with a great and provable pedigree. Annamarie had refurbished it, looked after it well and driven the car daily, so Guy knew it was a good buy. She also put him in touch with Bill Brown, the mechanic she had been using, who knew all its idiosyncrasies.
It proved to be everything Guy wanted and imagined. “There’s nothing edgy or super-racy about it — but it’s a bit like feeling you are in a movie every time you jump in, and the engine noise is that classic European-car low rumble, hum and purr,” says Guy, who is managing director of Harvest Fresh, exporter of carrots and onions from Aotearoa to the world.
“My partner Kate [De Lautour] is a big fan and many days, during the stresses of the pandemic, were definitely brightened with a drive over the bridge to the Shore or out to Muriwai. It’s hard not to have a big smile on your face in this car.
“Even my teenage kids think it is cool and appreciate the craftsmanship.”
Not so his two little french bulldogs, Otis and Archie. Their trademark upright ears just about fold flat at the thought of a ride in a car without air conditioning. Although Otis will deign to look cute positioned in the back window, who knows? He could be signalling “help me” to the artificially cooled cars behind.
Despite Annamarie’s diligence in maintaining the car, it still has quirks. The fuel gauge isn’t quite true, and Guy can never be sure if it will run out of petrol, but he’s slowly working on that calculation, that fairly accurate guestimate that comes with familiarity. And the bonnet is slightly loose, so at speed on the motorway, it feels like the catch might release, which is disconcerting, admits Guy; or another word might be “tense” if it actually did happen while there were two already-disparaging little dogs in the back seat.
Guy’s favourite drive is from his Mt Albert home in Auckland to his holiday house in Muriwai. It’s a fun drive, and the car gets a whole lot of attention — cheery waves and toots.
“In my other car — a Discovery — no one engages on the motorway, but funnily enough, when I change cars, I get a heap of thumbs-ups and smiles. It’s great fun. I never plan to be somewhere at a certain time in the Volvo because everything takes a bit longer, and I tend to weave off to explore or stop to chat with someone. It’s all about the journey in this car, and it’s fun to talk to people about it.
“Many people feel they know the car because they recognise it from the television series, but they can’t believe it’s a Volvo. I’ve also had a great trip to Puhoi with the P1800 Club. That caused a few heads to turn on the way!”
But it is with classic cars, one has to expect the unexpected.
On Christmas Eve 2021, not long after he had bought the P1800 S, Guy, accompanied by his niece Claudia, set off for Hamilton, the first long trip he had made in the car. Suddenly there was an unsettling judder.
The gearbox, maybe, worried Guy who was yet unused to the vehicle’s eccentricities. Cautiously, he slowed down, but then the whole car shuddered and he lost most of the steering. It was a blowout.
A couple of passing police officers made their contribution to the reason for the season — that of goodwill to all mankind — and with their help, Guy and Claudia were soon on their way.
Volvo’s reputation as safe and reliable with a bit of cumbersome thrown in has seen it saddled with a somewhat stodgy reputation, but Guy reckons the P1800 S breaks the mould.
“It doesn’t have any of the same design features as any Volvo I have ever seen apart from the heavy doors and solid, smooth drive. I have always loved the shape of them and the history with the 1960s The Saint television series — I loved the series and always wanted a Saint car.”
And now he has one, even if there is some four-legged Gaelic disdain cluttering up the back (un-airconditioned) seat. C’est la vie, petite chiens. C’est la vie…
It is not surprising that Annamarie Jamieson first saw the as-yet-unidentified grey car at the back of K (Karangahape) Road, a stretch of roadway that’s a known portal to the unexpected.
She was taken with the vehicle and immediately set to finding where she could get one. She found only a few P1800s in the country, and when she did see one for sale, she was always beaten to the prize by those with more ka-ching. She even looked in Australia, where the market was bigger, but her desire remained unfulfilled.
Then one day, on Trade Me, there it was, the vehicle the doctor in Manawatu had imported 30 years ago, now being sold by his children. She rang and asked for it to be held while she drove down to Feilding
for a look.
She was delighted; it was everything she had hoped for despite needing some work. She trailered it back to her inner-city home in Auckland and later found out that the seller had had several better offers between telling him she was on her way and buying the vehicle. But, he said, his word was his honour, and the car belonged to Annamarie.
It needed some work, so for help and advice, she contacted other owners and facilitated a little group of shared knowledge. The group eventually grew into an informal New Zealand P1800 Club.
Annamarie swapped notes and photos of the interiors and trims of the other cars to give her ideas. When funds permitted, she bought carpet from Belgium, new leather seats from the Volvo shop in Sweden and found specialist motor trimmer John McKechnie and “old-school” mechanic Bill Brown from Lansford European. There was also a lot of money spent on taxis and towing while Bill worked out what was breaking down.
Another member of the club was also renovating his car. But once the project was over, he was looking for a new challenge. He offered the car to Annamarie. Her own P1800 S was also her only vehicle and driven daily to her job at a media company, so the opportunity to have one that was fully renovated was too good to pass. She bought it and sold her own to Guy.
Immediately she regretted it. Not that she doesn’t love her new version, but her first was her particular baby, the one she owned the restoration decisions on. So, should Guy ever give up his ecstatically realised dream — the chances are not good — Annamarie has first dibs. Or so she is hoping.