Chances are you’ve never heard of Cyan Racing unless you’re a fan of World Touring Car Championship racing. Its old name might mean something to you though: Polestar Racing. Before the performance side of its road car business was sold to Volvo, and thus long before that business was in turn spun off into an electric car brand, Polestar developed and campaigned racing cars. Now known as Cyan Racing, they have also had a string of success as they are the reigning WTCC Series Champions with five titles so far. Somehow they found the time to create something completely different: the Volvo P1800 Cyan.
As the name suggests, it is based on the P1800 Coupe which was produced from 1961 to 1973. Readers of a certain age will associate this car with Roger Moore as The Saint, before becoming James Bond. The P1800 has always been an anomaly in the Volvo line. Its classic shape came from the Frua/Ghia studio in Italy and although it never had a sports car benchmark, the P1800 had a small but loyal following. So faithful that a P1800S holds a Guinness World Record for 3.25 million miles flown by its original owner.
Despite the P1800 Cyan’s unmistakable similarity to the original Volvo coupe, it’s an entirely different beast. The only elements that remain of the original 1964 donor vehicle are its steel frame, hood opening, handbrake and windscreen wipers. High-strength steel replaced much of the substructure, and the bodywork was redesigned in carbon fiber.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder sourced from the Volvo S60 TC1 race car. It produces a surprising 420 horsepower and 336 lb-ft 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 live axle is replaced with an independent rear with fully adjustable double-wishbone front and rear suspensions. The custom 18-inch wheels are shod in Pirelli P Zero rubber: 235 width in the front and 265 in the rear. All of that translates to a curb weight of 2,180 pounds. Let’s just say that again for effect: 2,180 pounds. It’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, Managing Director of 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 to come.
The attention to detail is best described as fanatical or obsessive. The bodywork is perfect enough that you would never guess it was carbon fiber and all the glass is custom made. Then there’s all that delicious chrome trim. There are no waves or dimples in any of these trim pieces as they are made from machined aluminum, including the huge D-shaped side window frame. Imagine how this metal panel was tall and thick before this outline was carved. The same goes for door handles, bumpers, mirrors and lamp surrounds. To our knowledge, only Pagani goes to these extremes.
The engine compartment gets the same treatment, starting with the louvered bonnet on the passenger side only, to evacuate heat from the turbocharger. This turbo is tucked neatly under the nested join of the exhaust manifolds, rather than garishly. A row of three fluid reservoirs are lined up with obsessive perfection and the harsh lines are bent to conform perfectly 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 is the interior. With the kind of satisfying click you’d get from a Zippo lighter, the door handle knob gently but definitely releases the latch to reveal a beautifully finished door jamb. You have to move on the slanted roll cage door bar, which is titanium under a leather wrap, because of course it is. The deep Recaro racing buckets are very comfortable, but as reassuring as what you imagine a bear hug from Mario Andretti. Momo’s five-point belts give you that last bit of drama, though they’re restrictive by design (you’ll want to close the door before you buckle up 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 wool fabric that’s framed top and bottom with very fine grain leather elements that should look like something you’d find in a new BMW Alpina. Hans was also keen to point out that they visited Operation Alpina – they must have taken many notes. Leather door handles and release straps are nicer than most wardrobe sashes, and two metal rocker switches operate the windows.
Woolen fabric is used in recessed dash panels and surrounds analog gauges and switchgear with very attractive results. The dashboard looks quirky at first glance, but then you realize the red line on the tachometer is at 8,000 rpm and the speedometer jumps to 270 km/h. At the top of the dash is a small jewel-like egg-shaped mirror. Behind the seats are small parcel shelves, also in that tasty wool, though it takes a lot of wrangling to get anything in or out. The trunk is mostly taken up by a big fuel cell and topped with a gorgeous chrome filler flap, but you should be able to fit a few small bags on the sides. That should make this P1800 practical enough.
Before we get into the driving impressions, it’s important to note that there are only three of these P1800 Cyans so far, and each has its own personality that is dictated by the owners desires. If you are successful enough to pay the $700,000 admission price, the car will be suitable for you. You can 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 caught up with Cyan Project Manager Hans Baath (pictured above) and Engineering Manager Matia Evensson at the base of Angeles Crest Highway early on a Friday morning. As we took this wickedly twisty road to 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 simple press of the small metal key, the brutal four-cylinder comes to life. 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 as obnoxious as a Honda Civic with a bullhorn pipe. It’s enjoyable without being overwhelming, and there’s an addictive turbo hiss and wheeze to cheer you on further. There’s obviously an overabundance of power, but that’s easy to manage when you just want to cruise.
Beyond 5,000 rpm, that well-mannered athleticism turns into targeted aggression as the turbo engages full Dyson mode, negating the rush of wind through open windows. The tachometer needle pulls from noon to three o’clock fast enough that you have to watch out for engine over-rev. Getting from first gear to second is easier than you might think, especially if you let the slim shifter do what it wants to do. There’s also a delightful click-click with every gear change reminiscent of the first-generation Audi R8’s manual doors.
The seat wouldn’t be far enough forward 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 aren’t power-assisted or anti-lock, but stock AP Racing calipers and rotors will slow the P1800 down quickly and without drama. The stiff brake pedal is easy to follow with delicate precision, and the effort is high enough to skip leg day at the gym.
The steering is as direct as a Lotus and it’s clear the car is currently tuned for racing. There’s no feeling of centering, as the race track straights are rarely this long, resulting in extremely fast cornering with minimal steering input. Handling is superb as the corners bright blue with minimal body roll, but there is enough initial compliance to relax over mid-corner bumps.
As engineering chief Matia Evensson suggests, the P1800 Cyan is indeed at home both on the track and on roads such as the Angeles Crest Highway. They wanted the direct feel and effort that suggests this is a race car without being physically demanding or punishing. By all accounts, they succeeded. If this were our three quarter million creation, we’d adjust the front wheel caster to recapture some of the freeway center feel and ditch the racing seats and door bar for access easier. Otherwise, it could be kept as is.
We stopped at Newcomb’s Ranch as the crowd of cars filled the parking lot. The P1800 Cyan definitely grabbed the crowd’s attention and we even scored a spot right next to a heavily modified Volvo V60 Polestar with its owner, Jeff Rebwhich unequivocally proved that yes, the Volvo high-performance subculture is alive and well.
The Volvo P1800 Cyan will spend its summer in the United States, eventually ending up at the Quail during Monterey Car Week on August 19. We were lucky 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 can confidently say that this P1800 hit the mark. Rather than perfecting the already accomplished Porsche 911, Cyan’s funky, dark choice gives it even more personality. Calling either a restomod is a disservice. They are restored the same way the DaVinci Notebook is just a collection of scribbles.