Cyan Racing Volvo P1800 First Drive: The Swedish answer to Singer Porsche

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There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Cyan Racing unless you’re a fan of World Touring Car Championship racing. Its previous name might ring a bell, however: Polestar Racing. Before the performance road car side of its business was sold to Volvo, and therefore long before that business was in turn spun off into an electric car brand, Polestar developed and campaigned racecars. Now known as Cyan Racing, it has had quite the run of success, too, as they’re the reigning champions in the WTCC series with five titles so far. Somehow, they found the time to create something entirely different: the Volvo P1800 Cyan.

As the name implies, it’s based on the P1800 coupe that was produced from 1961 through 1973. Readers of a certain age will associate that car with Roger Moore as The Saint, before he became James Bond. The P1800 has always been an anomaly in the Volvo lineage. Its classic shape came from the Frua/Ghia studio in Italy and even though it never had sports car credentials, the P1800 had a small but loyal following. So loyal that a P1800S holds a Guinness World Record for the 3.25 million miles driven by its original owner.

Despite the P1800 Cyan’s undeniable similarity to the original Volvo coupe, it’s an entirely different beast.  The only items that remain from the original 1964 donor vehicle are its steel chassis, hood release, handbrake, and windshield wipers. High-strength steel has replaced much of the substructure and the body has been reimagined in carbon fiber.

Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder sourced from the Volvo S60 TC1 race car. It produces a surprising 420 horsepower and 336 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm. Bolted to the block is a five-speed Holinger manual transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The original P1800’s live axle is replaced by an independent rear with front and rear double-wishbone suspensions being fully adjustable. The 18-inch custom wheels are shod with Pirelli P Zero rubber: 235 widths up front and 265s in the rear. This all results in a featherlight 2,180-pound curb weight. Let’s just say that again for effect: 2,180 lbs. That’s lighter than a Miata, folks.

At this point, the P1800 Cyan is already unreasonably cool, but wait, there’s so much more. Hans Baath, general manager for Cyan Racing proudly admits that Singer Vehicle Designs is a huge inspiration for this project, and if you’ve ever seen a Singer Porsche in person, you probably have an idea of what’s next.

The attention to detail is best described as fanatical or obsessive. The bodywork is perfect enough that you’d never guess it was carbon fiber and all of the glass is custom made. Then there’s all of that delicious chrome trim. There are no waves or dimples in any of those trim elements because they’re made from billet aluminum, including the huge D-shaped side window surround. Just imagine how big and thick that metal panel was before that surround was carved from it. The same holds true for the door handles, bumpers, mirrors and light surrounds. To our knowledge, only Pagani goes to these extremes.

The engine bay gets the same treatment, starting with the hood that’s louvered on the passenger side only, to draw heat away from the turbocharger. That turbo is tucked neatly under the interlocked knuckle of exhaust headers, rather than garishly prominent. A row of three fluid reservoirs are lined up with obsessive perfection and the hard lines are bent to perfectly conform to the firewall and inner fenders. Even the adjustable ratio steering is assisted electronically rather than hydraulically in order to clean up the front of the engine.

Then there’s the interior. With the satisfying kind of click you’d get from a Zippo lighter, the door handle button gently but definitively releases the latch to reveal a beautifully finished door jamb. You have to shimmy over the roll cage’s oblique door bar, which is titanium underneath a leather wrapping, because of course it is. The deep Recaro racing buckets are very snug, but as reassuring as what you’d imagine a bear hug from Mario Andretti would feel like. The five-point Momo belts give you that final bit of theater, though they are restrictive by design (you’ll want to close the door before you strap in because you might not be able to reach it later).

Yes, even the interior door panel is something to behold. It’s dominated by a rough woolen fabric that is framed top-and-bottom by some very fine-grained leather elements that have to look and feel of something you’d find in a new Alpina BMW. Hans was also keen to point out that they toured the Alpina operation – they must’ve taken copious notes. The leather door handles and release straps are nicer than the belts in most wardrobes, and two metal toggle switches operate the windows.

The woolen fabric is used in the inset dash panels and surround the analog gauges and switchgear with very attractive results. The instrument panel looks original at first glance, but then you realize the redline on the tach is at 8,000 rpm and the speedometer goes to 270 kph. Sitting atop the dash is a small, jewel-like ovoid mirror. Behind the seats are some small parcel shelves, also in that tasty wool, though it takes quite a bit of wrangling to get anything in or out of there. The trunk is mostly taken up by a big fuel cell and topped by a gorgeous chrome filler flap, but you should be able to wedge some small bags around the sides. That should make this P1800 practical enough.

Before getting into drive impressions, it’s important to note that there are only three of these P1800 Cyans in existence so far, and each has its own personality that’s dictated by the owners’ desires. If you’re successful enough to afford the $700,000 price of admission, the car will be custom-tailored to you. You could forego the racing seats and roll cage door bar for easier access, as well as have the engine, transmission and suspension tuned to your preference.

We met Cyan project manager Hans Baath (pictured above) and head of engineering Matia Evensson at the base of Angeles Crest Highway early on a Friday morning. As we tore up that wickedly sinuous road towards the Good Vibes Breakfast Club gathering at Newcomb’s Ranch at the top, the best of the P1800 Cyan’s personality shone through.

With a flick of the tiny metal key, the brutish four-cylinder springs to life. The engine and exhaust combine for an inspiring note reminiscent of the projection and variability of a tenor trombone. It’s not as rough as the typical race engine at idle, nor is it as obnoxious as a Honda Civic with a megaphone pipe. It’s pleasing without being ear-shattering, and there’s an addictive turbo whoosh and wheeze to give you further encouragement. There’s obviously an overabundance of power, but it’s easy to manage when you just want to cruise.

Past 5,000 rpm, that well-mannered athleticism turns into focused aggression as the turbo engages full Dyson mode, canceling out the rush of wind through the open windows. The tach needle shoots from noon to three o’clock rapidly enough that you need to be mindful of over-revving the engine. Shifting from the dog-leg first gear to second is easier than you might think, especially if you let the slender shifter do what it wants to do. There’s also a delightful click-click with each shift that’s reminiscent of the first-generation Audi R8’s manual gates.

The seat wouldn’t come forward enough for a 5-foot-10 driver to easily press the clutch to the floor, but classic heel-toe downshifts could still be executed with just the edges of the right shoe. The brakes are not assisted nor are they antilocks, but the AP Racing-sourced calipers and rotors will get the P1800 slowed in rapid fashion without drama. The stiff brake pedal is easy to trail with delicate precision and the effort is high enough that you can skip leg day at the gym.

Steering is as direct as a Lotus and it’s clear that the car is currently tuned with racing in mind. There’s no on-center feel, since racetrack straightaways are rarely that long, resulting in a wickedly quick turn-in with minimal steering input. Handling is superb as the bright blue streak corners with minimal body roll, yet there’s enough initial compliance to relax over mid-corner bumps.

As head of engineering Matia Evensson suggests, the P1800 Cyan is indeed at home both at the track and on roads such as Angeles Crest Highway. They wanted the direct feel and effort that suggests it’s a racecar without being as physically demanding or punishing. By all accounts, they succeeded. If it were our three-quarters-of-a-million creation, we’d adjust the front wheel caster to retrieve some of the highway on-center feel and ditch the race seats and door bar for easier access. Otherwise, it could be kept as-is.

We pulled into Newcomb’s Ranch as the car crowd was filling up the lot. The P1800 Cyan definitely found the right crowd for attention and we even scored a spot right next to a heavily modified Volvo V60 Polestar with its owner, Jeff Reeb, who proved unequivocally that yes, the high-performance Volvo subculture is very much alive.

The Volvo P1800 Cyan will spend its summer in the United States, ultimately ending up at the Quail during Monterey car week on August 19. We were fortunate enough to get early access, but there’s no doubt you’ll be seeing a lot of this car online. Since Cyan used Singer as a target, we could say with confidence that this P1800 hit the bullseye. Rather than perfect the already accomplished Porsche 911, Cyan’s funky, obscure choice lends it even more personality. Calling either of these a restomod is a disservice. They’re restomods in the same way the DaVinci notebook is just a collection of scribbles.

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