Showdown – Classic Coupes Edition

1965 Volvo P1800 for sale1970 BMW 2800 CS e9 for sale1973 Toyota Celica for sale

In our last Showdown, the centrist GTO got the majority of the votes over the BMW and Ford extremes.

Today we’re looking at a trio of reasonably priced coupes from the last Automotive Golden Age: a ’70 BMW CS Coupe, a ’73 Toyota Celica and a ’65 Volvo P1800. All three are widely regarded to be among their manufacturers’ best looking products. None are in perfect shape, but none are basket cases, either. All three have been lightly modified, but for the better, in our amateur opinion. The question now is what beverage would you like waiting for you at the end of the drive: Beer, Sake or Vodka?

1970 BMW 2800 CS e9 for sale

The siren-ness of the BMW E9 coupe is well known: gorgeous body lines, remarkably simple drivetrain and chassis (seriously) but terrifying rust issues. This one’s been gone through in a way that takes advantage of the 25-year run of the M30 inline six, dropping its 2.8L for a later 3.0L, and the three-speed auto for a five speed stick. While not implemented, most of the parts for an EFI swap have been accumulated. The car’s been repainted and slightly CSL-ified, which in my personal opinion works, with the exception of the front fin things. It’s got tasteful 17″ wheels, a Nardi steering wheel and a hidden CD player. The car started life in Germany, but spent at least the last 10 years in California, where it’s been receiving its upgrades and a new passenger side floor pan. The seller reports a some bubbling at the fenders, but claims the rockers are solid. With 4 days left on the auction and the reserve cleared at $5,100, we’re guessing it’ll go for right around $10 grand, or the price of a new poverty-spec Versa (just for context).
1970 BMW 2800 CS – eBay Motors

1973 Toyota Celica for sale

In addition to last week’s very expensive used Honda, this find’s courtesy of Bring a Trailer. While the fetishism surrounding classic Japanese sports coupes among a crowd obsessed with ill-fitting clothing and wheel-to-fender fitment grows tiresome, the classic lines of pre-boring Toyotas are enough to tune out the background noise. This one’s sporting a JDM-only 18RG motor, an early Toyota-Yamaha joint venture that netted roughly 140 revvy horsepower in stock form, more if toyed with. The paint’s a very period-appropriate dark green, the wheels are 15×7″ Panasports, and the interior looks to be a total mystery. There’s no mention of rust, but it’s rarely on the mind of a southern Californian, so we’ll give the benefit of the doubt there. The reserve’s unmet at $3500 with four days to go, and again we’re guessing a sale price right around $10k.
1973 Toyota Celica – eBay Motors

1965 Volvo P1800 for sale

Lastly, the Volvo. The P1800 ran from 1961-1973, this model being a ’65. Assuming things are roughly original, that means we’re looking at a B18 4-pot making just north of 100hp, backed up by a four-speed with electronic overdrive. While likely the slowest of the trio, the Volvo’s the only one featured in a TV show, as Simon drove one in The Saint. The interior appears to be mostly original and in aged, but good shape. After looking at this ad, we’re of the opinion that the world needs more cars with orangered interiors. It’s likely the least expensive, as the seller’s admitted he’s got it listed locally for $6,800.
1965 Volvo P1800 – eBay Motors
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  1. Thrashy Avatar

    Call it sacrilege, but the E9 never did anything for me outside of 3.0CSL trim. Something about the headlights is just… off. As for the other two, IMO both the P1800 and Celica looked better in hatchback form — but of the two, I find the be-finned Volvo to be the most attractive (or just pleasantly wierd), so it gets my vote.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    I think the Volvo 1800 is one of the most overrated "classics" out there. Sure, it's long-lived, but it's not very sporty to drive. I speak from fairly extensive experience – I drove a well-tended 1800 ES every day for two months. The engines are coarse and not particularly rev-happy. The gearboxes are notchy. The controls are heavy-feeling. The car doesn't feel nimble. The interior is like sitting in a deep tub. The looks are awkward in coupe form. The design is top heavy like a fat man standing on his toes, the greenhouse is too small, and the rear finlets don't belong on any car later than 1963. As for the Saint reputation, the producers of the show originally wanted a Jaguar E-type but the company was not about to provide one for free. Volvo stepped in with a freebie so Roger Moore got the 1800 as a booby prize.
    While the BMW is very pretty and has serious credentials, the purchase price will only amount to being a down payment.
    The Celica is the best deal of the lot if it's mechanically good and the interior is decent. They're pretty robust and can be quite entertaining to drive. Do check carefully for rust, though. Uh-oh, is that a roll cage I see in a picture? Also, I hope the rear seat got put back. Ricer special? Tread carefully.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      A few years ago I owned a Sonett V4 (not a III) at the same time a friend owned an 1800. We drove each other's cars locally a few times and went on one extended road trip in the 1800, sharing driving duties. I agree with all of your points– the Sonett was clearly a sports car (we'll leave aside the question of how much of one…) whereas the 1800 was clearly a GT (again, how much…). Nonetheless I'd still take it over the BMW or the Toyota. I like the car well enough for what it is.
      I do have to point out there's something a bit fishy about a '65 1800 with a split front bumper, however– that design went away after 1963. If it's supposed to be "a real survivor" as stated in the ad, it's one that's been messed with at least a bit.

      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        I've got to agree with both of you. The 1800's a brilliant car, and it's the obvious choice up here in New England where rust appears if you look at a car the wrong way and old Volvos are comparatively thick on the ground (I can't remember the last time I saw an E9 or Celica of this vintage, while 1800s and 140-series cars appear on rare occasions). Besides, I'm a Volvo guy at heart. That particular Celica, though… something about it calls to me. And the BMW is, of course, a gorgeous classic, but it'd be my third choice. Hard to choose, really – dangerously hard – but I think it'd actually be the Toyota, which would be subsequently lovingly preserved but driven as it's meant to be driven. Now, an 1800ES would probably come out on top…

    2. zsm Avatar

      That said I know a guy that raced a P1800 back in the day. He's the one that has helped me so much with my Amazon wagon. One neat trick was that he was able to get the electronic overdrive to work in any gear. He also raced old Datsuns, BMWs, and other Volvos, but he tells me the P1800 and 123GT were his favorites. Also a B20 with a sport exhaust sounds very good.
      <img src="; width="500">
      At first I did not like the of looks of the P1800, but the more that I have seen them in person, the more I fall in love. I took this picture in December. A judicious choice of wheels and removing some of the chrome goes a long way, and to my eyes I have not seen a prettier car since. This one is the automotive equivalent of a lady in slinky black dress to me.

  3. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    On the other hand, I happen to think the styling on the 1800 is pretty enough to deserve fixing any engineered-in deficiencies in driving. Sure, it's anachronistic and slow, but I just plain think it's pretty.

  4. Black Steelies Avatar

    I voted for the Celica. Probably my favorite Toyota in terms of looks. The CS is equally if not more lust-worthy, but that's hardly a question, and it is likely more expensive. I like the Volvo as well, but to me the ES is definitely preferred over the coupe. It just looks so much cooler. In the end, I could see enjoying any of these. You don't see them around and any of them can be found for a decent price.

  5. Mr_Biggles Avatar

    A harsh and unfair choice. I have always loved the E9s. I think they have really sessy lines, regardless of trim. And I have always coveted another man's P1800 (regardless of worthiness of the term GT) simply because of the lines. More sessy, I guess. I don't find Celicas all that sexy but I remember well my days in high school and how badly I wanted one. Since it looks like voting has closed, I don't need to make the choice.
    On another note, I like the new 5 star rating thing. Seems easy since I can't think of anything I've ever read here that I wouldn't vote all 5 on.

    1. mad_science Avatar

      Refresh or hard refresh (ctrl + f5) or clear your cookies or something…then voting should work.

  6. facelvega Avatar

    The P1800 I could actually keep running and could consider buying in the real world. The Celica has more charm and would be more fun to drive, but is maybe just on the outside edge of a ridiculous purchase with the roll cage evidence and the unattended rust visible in the empty bay before the pretty new engine went in. The BMW would just be a dumb purchase straight out. Of course it's the one I voted for, apparently just like most of you.

  7. njhoon Avatar

    I went with the Toyota. I do think the hatch model is much much better looking but of all three I feel I would be the happiest with this, until someone mentioned the roll bar…oh dear. Why do peolpe do this? It looks as though the jerky didn't even put it in correctly. Sigh.

  8. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Maybe I'm just young and impetuous (well, one out of two ain't bad) but the E9 gets the nod from me.
    Think of high-school girls. The Celica is the brilliantly funny, arty drama student who's really easy to get along with, the Volvo is the quiet, studious chick who's slightly aloof but turns out to be incredibly hot when she takes her glasses off. The CS, though, is the wayward girl with the enormous tits who gets drunk with the football squad. She's the one that everyone wants, and the obvious choice here.
    A good time is guaranteed, but I know that one day I'd want to settle down with one of the others.

  9. muthalovin Avatar

    The BMW is the sexiest to me, but I had to go with the Volvo. There is just something magnetic about it.
    When I pick autos for these Showdown's, one factor that pops in my head, and affects my choice, is what will happen when I take it to a car show. The BMW would just get glossed over. The Celica would get some nice attention, but the Volvo would get a trophy. Well, maybe not, but it would probably get the most attention out of these 3.

  10. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    I think the vote breakdown is instructive. The BMW offers so much pleasure in owning, driving and just gazing on it, that it will make up for the fragility and cost of maintenance. The Volvo's also pretty good, but not in the same league and it's no ES. Why is the Celica even here? It was a trustworthy, efficient, durable appliance, with hideous ergonomics and packaging.

  11. damnelantraless[!]™ Avatar

    p1800 of course!

  12. buzzboy7 Avatar

    I prefer the celica but for those prices and that restomodness call me a BMW man.

  13. OA5599 Avatar

    When I was a child, an older Swedish couple that lived a few doors down kept an 1800 in their garage. It was the same color as the one in the picture and looked immaculate, and my sister and I had trouble believing it was as old as it was.
    It hardly ever left the garage except to be detailed, though. I wonder where it is today?

    1. TurboBrick Avatar

      In the garage or at the detail shop, of course.

  14. Froggmann_ Avatar

    It's shark-nose or no nose for me. Bavarian Motor Werks

  15. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    It's clear that I'm gonna have to buy an e9 just to prove to you folks that they're actually quite simple to keep running.

  16. TurboBrick Avatar

    You had to bring out an E9, one of the few BMW's I'd actually consider owning. As long as it wasn't about to break in half due to structural rust, hell yes! The Toyota is nice and all but I have a hard time getting excited about it compared to the other two. The P1800 is very nice, but as others have said, it's Volvo Amazon's prettier sister. And "sporty" is not an adjective I'd use for the Amazon.

  17. dustin_driver Avatar

    Lots of goodies! I want the Toyota. I love its style, little cues from the 2000GT. But I want it in red or white.

  18. Tony Avatar

    I perfer the Celica. The timeless body lines, well laid out instrumentation and powerful 18RG mated toa 5 speed manual gear box was the ticket to a wild ride. Reliable and easy to maintain Toyota has for decades built a reputaion of machines like these. Yeah Oh what a feeling Toyota!