Norse legend via Turin.
Love affairs can be fickle. Within the car industry, bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts. The longevity of such associations is often a factor of money as much as talent, for matters of taste do not necessarily equate to success. As we have seen in a previous instalment, Volvo had given Fissore and Zagato short shrift, only to seek out one of their lesser-known rivals, Coggiola. Whether Gothenburg had been influenced by the carrozzerias’s previous Exemplar concept is unknown, but more likely it was their work with Trollhattan natives, Saab.
Unveiled at the 1971 Paris auto salon, the Volvo ESC, also known as the Viking was a fully engineered concept. Described as ‘the successor to the 1800′, a sobriquet that may have been wide of the mark, even if the original Pelle Petterson design was by then widely considered something of an obsolete Viking itself. Something of a show pony, Coggiola worked expressly on the bodywork and interior, leaving the oily bits untouched.
With a styling theme broadly similar to that of the GM-based Exemplar, Coggiola was asked to concentrate on Volvo’s staple aspects of safety and comfort. A solitary P1800 was shipped to Orbassano where minor changes were first carried out to the underbody. Drawings and plans then centred around exploiting improved cabin space before a total rethink of the exterior.
Maintaining the 1800’s core dimensions, track widths and wheelbase, Coggiola’s artisans elongated the front overhang, while reducing that of the rear. The cabin area was also enlarged over that of the 1800, the rakish window angles believed to have improved visibility. The resultant shape went from a Viking longship to something more stiletto-like, as it were. The steel body panels were hand beaten over a wooden box work frame in time-honoured fashion.
The frontal embellishments leading to the upswept rear allowed Sergio Coggiola to add a few showcar flourishes to the bodywork; the most obvious of these being the grille, which extended from the lower valance well onto the bonnet. Heading up the elongated bonnet, two small black rectangular grilles allowed for cabin ventilation. Outside of these, just ahead of the A-Pillar, four strakes appear to have allowed some engine bay aeration, although it remains unclear whether they were mere ornamentation.
The headlights too were obviously a Coggiola party piece. Operated by a hydraulic pedal within the footwell, these patented rectangles should have been more reliable than the normal vacuum operation. Then, probably regarded as the next big thing in headlamp design, they are of course the very antithesis of car safety, today. Almost resembling Viking horns when viewed side-on, they would have proven useful apex-seeking aids on mean streets. Coggiola appears to have rendered the ESC mirror-less, externally at least – which would have improved airflow. Is it beyond a Viking to ascertain what’s behind? The door handles also received some Italian influence from their Swedish originals.
The black surround to the DLO was enhanced by more black shuttering around the C-Pillar, thinly attenuated at the top, before broadening into a vee. Otiose but striking, it could only be of the Seventies. This treatment was also reflected below the flush-glazed rear window, with a black latticework on the bottom third, also creating a call and response with the front. Two horizontal black bumpers housed the tail-lamps along with an oblong license plate.
Inside, stock 1800 gauges were used but housed within a bespoke metal facia. The centre console received similar treatment whereas the seats appear to have been the leather equivalent of a certain chocolate bar – seriously chunky. Door cards resembled a bouncy castle – indubitably safe but doubtless production un-friendly. Replete with radio, air conditioning and leather gaited gear stick, this most Italian of Swedes would have cut quite the dash haranguing from Harley Street to the harbourside.
The unequivocally handsome 2+2 concept served its purpose for auto show pontificating, but its pleasure proved finite rather than enduring, being regarded as too similar to what the competition were producing. Coggiola appears to have assisted Volvo in various capacities in its wake (the 262C amongst others) but the ESC/Viking remained a one-off.
The prototype, originally painted white, then disappeared without trace until being spotted for sale in a Greek car museum many years later. After that the trail went cold once more until 2015 when the ESC appeared at a Spanish car show. The Vigo based Retro Auto & Moto Galicia presented the Volvo Viking, still as a working vehicle, naturally for sale and curiously, now painted red. Other changes which occurred in this unknown stint of the car’s history, included a chromed DLO, satin silvered grille and bumpers, a square shaped license plate along with a different wheel design. Naturally, the story remains as mysterious as the car itself.
Some lucky soul(s) have managed to place 17,000 kilometres under the (hopefully new) tyres, although one bugbear that may have instigated divorce proceedings was the lack of a more sporting engine. Because inasmuch cars as relationships, looks were somewhat deceptive in the Viking’s case.
Sadly, Sergio Coggiola’s garage folded quite swiftly upon its eponymous founder’s unexpected passing in 1989, entailing a Viking-like burial for the studio. The car however (at the time of writing) remains in vendita at somewhere in the region of €200,000. The Volvo museum however will not be adding it to its collection, baulking at the stiff asking price. As our knowledge of Viking history slowly grows, this example, however mysterious, maintains its fighting spirit. A fat wallet opposed to a blood axe is needed today.
Original P1800 dimensions: Length 4,350mm, Width 1,700mm, Height 1,280mm with a 2,450mm wheelbase. Coggiola ESC: Length 4,465mm, Width 1,705mm, Height 1,285mm, on the same wheelbase.
Data Sources; fijen.se, Volvo Owners Club
 Coggiola was responsible for the styling of the Saab Sonnet II as well as a number of speculative reworkings of existing models. [ED]
 There is a hint of Bertone’s Iso Lele in the upswept swage line towards the rear. [ED]
 I could only find one photograph of the drivers side wearing a side view mirror, using a standard 1800 mirror placed by the front quarter light.