Viking Italianate

Norse legend via Turin.

Image: archivioprototipi.it

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[1].

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.

Image: archivoprototipi.it

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[2] 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[3], 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.

Image: historicautopro

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.

Image: volvocars-partner.ch

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

[1] Coggiola was responsible for the styling of the Saab Sonnet II as well as a number of speculative reworkings of existing models. [ED]

[2] There is a hint of Bertone’s Iso Lele in the upswept swage line towards the rear. [ED]

[3] 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.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

21 thoughts on “Viking Italianate”

  1. Some early design proposals for the Alfetta GT look surprisingly similar

    Air outlets at the base of the A pillar seem to have been fashionable amongst Italian stylists at a certain time

    1. Very interesting to see that, Dave – I can’t recall having seen it before. There are hints of the Montreal around the front.

      Various mid-‘60s Opels and Datsuns had this ‘swoopy / pointy’ theme and it shows how much the Ford Capri deviated from this and followed the Mustang’s styling theme, which is much blockier, of course.

  2. A page on the Viking with many photos of the car’s later (red) life and interior when at auction in Spain. Author seems to have contacted the Volvo museum but they deemed it too expensive to buy back.
    https://www.fijen.se/wordpress/2015/09/06/volvo-1800-esc-by-coggiola/

    Also above page’s photos seem to be the same as the ones from Vasileios Papaidis own site. Vasileios, as far as I know takes his own photos, reviews cars and writes automotive design books (has works on Bandini, Fiat etc).
    https://www.historicautopro.com/1971-volvo-1800-esc-prototype

  3. Good morning Andrew. As others have pointed out, the Viking seemed to be derivative of lots of different cars. This was the one that first came to mind when I saw your the header image in your piece, the Brazilian VW SP2:

    1. The SP2 was also my first thought.
      Only the mentioning of the gills in the front wings made me search for the Alfetta GT drawings.

    1. That’s certainly true, PJ. Given that the example in the photo above is, I believe, from the Volkswagen Museum, they might have made some effort to improve the bonnet alignment!

    2. Sorry for the long absence. That SP2 looks a lot like the one I came across in the unofficial Volkswagen Museum (also in Wolfsburg, but in an industrial estate quite a ways from the official ‘Werke’). I don’t know if there’s a similar one in the official museum as I only had time to visit one (and in such cases I invariably plump for the oddball). Here’s a picture I took, the bonnet seems to be fastened properly now:

      Next to it is the roughly concurrent Puma (like the SP2, mentioned on this site before):

      The museum featured a few rarities I hadn’t known about previously (although I’m sure a few people here have) like this rather nice Ghia Aigle Coupé, built by Swiss subsidiary of Ghia:

      Like the Karmann Ghia, it’s based on the Beetle with Porsche 356 brakes fitted. The engine is either the standard boxer with all of 30 bhp or a 50 bhp supercharged version (the info sheet mentions both).

      There was also this neat-looking (to me at least) EA128, an early-sixties protoype for a large Volkswagen. This was still in Volkswagen’s engine-should-be-in-the-rear period, which in this case was the engine from the 911.

      More on topic: thanks everyone for the continuing stream of great articles (I’ve been in lurking mode somewhat). The ESC looks great, like many Italian designs from that era, but I think there is some merit in the suggestion that it might have been a tad generic, should it have come to market. I think quite a lot of studios repurposed styling efforts for other brands, should they be rejected by the first. With all those prototypes now in the open as well, that muddies the picture a little, making it difficult to gauge just how generic it would have looked. It would also have been rather disparate from the rest of the range, but so was the 1800, so I’d think that would be less of an argument.

  4. Afternoon Andrew. ” …bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts”. What an interesting concept! Certainly brightened my day having just tested positive for Covid. Triple jabbed too 😦

    1. Mike – I’d just look upon it as a natural booster jab. The vaccines won’t prevent you getting Covid, they just mean that your body will be able to cope with it.

      I hope you don’t feel too rough and are feeling yourself again, soon.

    1. Good morning Mike. Sorry to read that you are unwell. Hope you are not feeling too rough, and that you make a quick recovery.

    1. Hi David. That’s rather nice from the rear three-quarter view. The front-end is a bit too similar to the Leyland P76 for comfort, though.

  5. Morning Andrew. I quite like it but for me may have looked better with a slightly longer wheel base, oh. And a dirty great big V8 to add some oomph.

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