“The more you think about it, the harder it is to drive.” That’s the advice I received from Hans Baath, general manager of cars for Cyan Racing as he helped me settle into the driver’s seat of the company’s 1964 Volvo P1800 restomod.
Given the car’s reputation as a stylish, but not particularly sporty, GT car, the tip seems a bit odd and overdramatic. But as you can clearly see, this particular coupe is far removed from its slightly tepid forebear. Given a stem-to-stern makeover, the Cyan Racing P1800 is the company’s answer to a Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer – modern technology hidden within a delightfully retro shell.
Of course, a Porsche has a bit more intrinsic appeal to the average car enthusiast than a Volvo – even one as gorgeous as the P1800. Cyan’s uphill battle to convince folks that it’s a worthy rival to singer starts with the engineering firm’s long racing history. Formerly known as Polestar before Volvo brought the name in-house for its EV brand, Cyan Racing helped build some of Volvo’s best rally and touring cars, as well as the eponymous S60, V60, and XC60 performance variants. So far, Cyan has indeed found a few buyers for its P1800 coupe, each built to customer specifications.
Turnkey Touring Car
Cyan Racing starts every build with a vintage P1800 – in this instance, a 1964 model. Once it procures a suitable example, the company strips the shell and adds reinforcements. Baath told me this process was absolutely necessary because when Cyan tested the original P1800’s structural rigidity, the torsion rack spit out a value of zero. To combat the flex, Cyan triangulated key areas of the Volvo’s unibody and did away with the front framework entirely, fitting the car with a custom engine cradle and subframe. Engineers then mill the added high-strength steel down to fractions of a millimeter to ensure a precise base for the bodywork.
Speaking of, although the Cyan P1800’s bodywork is all but indistinguishable from the original, the exterior is made from light, stiff carbon fiber. What’s more, that revised front frame allowed Cyan to craft the entire front clip – fenders, valance, and dash cowl – in a single, huge piece of carbon, giving the car even more structural rigidity. All of the brightwork is also custom-milled from aluminum for a snappy, bespoke feel. The original roof structure remains, a bureaucratic formality if Cyan Racing wants these cars to retain their vintage model years, but it too has been reinforced and sheathed in carbon fiber.
Extensively trimmed in French-stitched leather with recycled felt accents on the dash and door panels, the interior looks and feels rich, with a mid-century club racing vibe that’s totally appropriate to the car’s mission. Blue-faced gauges recall the “Swedish Racing Green” exterior that’s synonymous with Cyan (and Polestar before it). I even like the patchwork of carpeting that covers the floor, which reminds me of the MGB roadster my family had growing up. Except for the off-the-rack steering wheel, which feels too modern and generic, the P1800’s cockpit is both ergonomic and unique, with a stiff roll cage for added safety.
The robust structure also provides a stable base for the Cyan Racing–designed four-wheel double-wishbone independent suspension, replacing a double-wishbone front and solid rear layout on the original. Adjustable Öhlins dampers and AP Racing brakes make an appearance here, giving the car some commonality with that other P1800 homage, the Polestar 1. Four-piston brake calipers front and rear provide plenty of clamping force, and an adjustable rear sway bar helps dial in the performance further.
Tip the P1800’s hood forward and you’ll find one of Cyan’s signature setpieces, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder derived from the engine found in the Volvo S60 TC1 racing car. In the P1800, the mill makes 414 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 336 pound-feet of torque at 6,000, a massive upgrade over the original car’s 100 hp and 110 lb-ft and even better than the 390-horse engine that Singer puts in its fastest cars. A five-speed manual transmission with a dogleg first gear sends that turbocharged power to a limited-slip rear differential and 265-millimeter-wide Pirelli P Zero tires; 245s sit up front.
That spec chart – and a brief introductory ride-along with Baath – left me feeling mighty intimidated by the Cyan P1800. While 414 hp may not sound like much in modern terms, in a car that weighs just under 2,200 pounds, it’s plenty. And, much as I try to deny it, I learned to drive in the era of stability control and anti-lock brakes, both of which are notably absent in the P1800. Nevertheless, I scootched the fixed-back bucket seat forward and cinched down the five-point racing harness.
I asked Baath question after question about the car, hoping familiarity would breed faith, but let’s be honest. I was just stalling for time. Sensing this, the racer-turned-executive suggested I turn the original key and get moving. Once under way, I was genuinely surprised at the docility and easygoing temperament of the Cyan P1800 at low speeds. The stiff, unassisted brakes take some getting used to, but after mastering the brief learning curve, they become immensely linear and communicative – push harder, brake harder, simple as that.
Ditto the barely-there power steering, which requires a firm hand to compensate for a slight lack of self-centering. But as with the brakes, the helm provides abundant information and excellent response, giving me yet more confidence that the Dr. Jekyll Volvo wouldn’t suddenly go all Mr. Hyde on me. In fact, after 17 years of driving mostly power-assisted cars, I think we’ve actually sacrificed some safety in exchange for modern ease. I felt much more comfortable sussing out the P1800’s threshold thanks to that heavy, chatty wheel.
The steering is perhaps the single greatest example of Cyan Racing’s desire to build an optimized sports car from the 1960s, rather than a modern sports car with a vintage body. That attribute also applies to the turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood. Keen to make sure the engine feels responsive and linear through the entire rev range, Cyan Racing actually restrains turbo boost at low speeds, allowing it to build gradually as the P1800 approaches its 7,700-rpm rev limit. This approach means there’s some lag when starting out from a dead stop, but it also ensures there’s plenty of fun to be had revving the engine to max.
My entire time in the Cyan P1800, Baath was a little devil on my shoulder in the passenger seat, constantly encouraging me to push the car to redline. I’m glad he did. The engine feels zingy and frenetic, with snarling-squirrel blowoff and a raspy, 1960s exhaust dueling out that modern/vintage design ethos. In spite of its wild sounds, the accelerator is easy to modulate because the power and torque come on in such a gradual, relentless rush. The throttle, like the brakes and steering, operates like a rheostat instead of an I/O switch, giving the driver immense control over the car.
That authority allows the driver to push the Cyan P1800 incredibly hard before it starts to protest. Even on the tight, plunging corners of California Route 150 between Santa Paula and Ojai, the Volvo turns in sharply and hangs on with tenacity, and if you select gears appropriately, it explodes out of corners and makes the most of the road’s long straightaways. Finding tire squeal, understeer, or oversteer is all but impossible on public roads thanks to the car’s high overall limits. Pushing the coupe up and down a snaky mountain road is intoxicating.
But unlike most mind-altering substances, the Cyan Racing Volvo P1800 gives you plenty of warning before it ruins your life, at least as it was set up during my day behind the wheel. The adjustable suspension and Pirelli tires give up gradually, alerting you to your bad behavior before you have to suffer the consequences. Never has vintage speed felt so safe – appropriate given the Iron Mark badge on the hood.
In spite of the high performance, the pale blue Volvo is still an involving and entertaining experience at more sedate speeds. The stiff structure is plainly apparent, and it helps the suspension provide an acceptable ride on bad pavement. When it’s not crackling under full throttle, the engine does sound somewhat thrashy and cacophonous, but the Volvo would still be a fine vehicle for Sunday night ice cream runs. The only real problem here is an unpleasant amount of driveline snap – even in fifth gear at highway speeds, the Cyan P1800 wants to buck around with every teensy twitch of the accelerator.
It Costs To Be Cool
At the end of a long, brilliant day of driving, I finally brought up the question I’d been afraid to ask: How much? Baath turned a bit sheepish and said that every car would be built to the customer’s desires, even down to gearing, steering ratios, and comfort equipment – all over the course of more than a year owing to the high level of customization options. But he admitted that the particular car I’d spent the day in would be a $700,000 proposition.
That staggering amount of money would buy any number of cool cars. A Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer build starts at $450,000, though a long wait list means that the impatient must pay more than $1 million for a used example. There are also any number of cars that provide nearly the same thrills as a Cyan Racing P1800 for much less – a Shelby Cobra continuation or Superformance MkIII kit car come to mind, costing about $100,000 but offering a cruder driving experience and not nearly as much comfort.
As we all know, the wealthy don’t make purchases based on price, but on desire and emotion. And those who opt for a Cyan Racing Volvo P1800 will find much to love – a vintage-feeling driving experience that masks incredible engineering, hot performance, and a thick layer of driver involvement and control. Whether a Volvo can inspire such enthusiasm is a much bigger question. After all, the company is known for staid, quirky station wagons far more than for stylish coupes. But Cyan Racing set out to right some of those wrongs, and in that respect, the restomod P1800 is mission accomplished.
By the way, Baath’s advice was right on the money. Write that check, turn off your insecurities, and just trust the car. You have my immense envy if you do.
Gallery: 1964 Volvo P1800 Cyan Review
1964 Volvo P1800 Cyan