The biennial Volvo National Rally was held at Sydney Motorsport Park in August in conjunction with the Shannons Sydney Classic and 112 cars were on show.
Very capably organised by the Volvo Club of NSW, models ranged from the earliest 1-series through to ‘rat rod’-style 240s, race 1800S coupes, and the latest Polestar performance models.
The undoubted stars were the sought-after 1800 coupes and the Nationals featured one of the largest gatherings of the stylish ‘60s sports cars in recent years, with over 20 coupes and three rare ES station wagons on show. Belying the common misconception of Volvo drivers, many owners were well under the ‘hat-wearing’ stereotype often attributed to fans of Sweden’s greatest exports, as Club President Ted Warner explains.
“I don’t know that there is a typical club member,”
I BOUGHT the car for $400 off eBay and when it ran out of rego I let it sit in the paddock for a couple of years before tinkering with it one weekend and putting it back on the road.
I drove it around for a couple of years but after a couple of beers one day and looking around the internet I decided to take some paint off it and stripped it down using beer and salt to make it rust and it snowballed from there.
The bonnet was painted by a guy called Wayne Harriston from Flesh Air in Penrith. The first bonnet just had the Swedish flag on it then we came up with the idea of using one of Garry Rogers Motorsport’s t-shirt designs for this bonnet. We went to GRM’s open day last year and got Garry to unveil the bonnet. He didn’t know anything about it but he really loved the car and it’s now got a life of its own. Nobody knows me but everybody knows the car.
MY HUSBAND, Boyd, wanted to buy another Volvo and I said it had to be a P1800 and it had to be mine. My car is a very early P1800. The first 1800s were assembled for Volvo by Jensen Motors in England and badged P1800. The bodies were built by Pressed Steel in Scotland and shipped to Jensen, which had a contract to build 10,000, then they were shipped to Sweden for quality control. But Jensen had trouble getting them right and Volvo cancelled the order after 6000 were made and began building them in Sweden. Only the Jensen-built cars have the ‘P’ badge, Swedish cars are called 1800S.
Mine is a 1961 model and all ‘61s were left-hand drive and most went to the US; the first Australian cars were ’62s.
This car was originally white with a red interior but it failed Volvo quality control and was repainted red and retrimmed in white by Volvo. It left the factory in October 1961. As far as we know it’s the oldest P1800 on the road in Australia.
The only problem is I can’t drive a manual or a left-hand drive car. We have contemplated converting it to RHD so I could drive it but we would keep all the LHD drive parts, in case we ever had to sell it. I just have to get the confidence to drive it.
Warner said. “Our members range from the younger contingent in their late 20s to 30s who are more interested in the 2- and 1-series cars, to members in their 80s. In the past the club attracted a lot of motorsport enthusiasts and many members had cars that were modified for motorsport were modified for motorsport or rallying because of the toughness of the cars. So a typical Volvo owner is probably just like me and liked the cars when they first saw them in the '60s and '70s because they were reliable and quick and had disc brakes, a heater, a two-speed demister and two-speed wipers. They were pretty advanced for the time. I’ve had my 122 for 46 years.” Special guest judge at this year’s rally was New Yorker Irv Gordon who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for driving the most miles in the same car. Gordon has travelled over 3 million miles in the same 1800S he bought new back in 1966 after owning two ‘lemon’ Chevrolets. In 1966 a Volvo 1800S cost as much as a Cadillac! Plans are already afoot for the next Volvo National Rally, which will be in Queensland in 2017.
ANDREW “We started running tarmac rallies 11 years ago in an original works Volvo 122 rally car which wasn’t that quick but we got good results.
Then we decided to build a new car that was more no-holds barred with 60 more horsepower, better gearing and brakes.
Volvo won the European Rally Championship in the early ‘60s with this model and they have very strong engines, gearboxes and diffs and the same brakes as a V12 E-Type Jag or Aston Martin.”
ASHLEY “I’d raced a 122 in the NSW Hillclimb Championship and the cars appealed to me because they are very durable and punch well above their weight. In 2007 we found a bare shell with six pallets of parts, enough for a car and a half.”
ANDREW “The build took 18 months. We did all the assembly ourselves. I was living in Darwin, Ash was living in Washington and the car was in a mate’s garage in Melbourne. I’d go down for 4-5 days at a time and Ash would come home twice a year; we did it in bursts.”
ASHLEY “We first took it to Targa Tasmania in 2009 and came third in Early Classic and tenth outright , which was pretty impressive straight out of the box.”
ANDREW “We’ve done seven Targa Tasmanias in this car and had six podiums. We are much more competitive in the wet and we were tenth outright in Classic in the dry last year against really quick cars like Porsche 944 turbos. We enjoy being giant killers.”
BRAD “Mine is a 1963 P1800S that has been in the family since 1989. My uncle bought it originally then Dad had it and when I got the chance to acquire it I jumped at it. It was in terrible condition and heavily damaged and we restored it a few years ago. I race it in historic Regularity. We’re Volvo tragics and I’ve definitely got the bug.
People don’t know what it is, they think it’s a Ferrari, the styling is unique. It’s beautiful to drive.
The handling is fantastic, with slight understeer, and because it’s not too powerful it is very competitive in the wet; it’s well balanced. The engine is pretty much original and it runs 15-inch Minilite wheels and discs and drums. It’s a pretty special car, it’s just a shame they weren’t more powerful. I had an offer to buy it at the Nationals but it’s a keeper.”
KEV “I started work at Swedish Motors in Wollongong in 1965 for a bloke called Max Winkless who rallied Volvo 120s and P1800s in the late ‘60s and imported Volvo trucks in kit form.
I assembled the first Volvo truck in Wollongong. After 20 years as service manager, I started my own business servicing and repairing Volvos, they’re in my blood.
I love the style of the 1800.
They’re a very solid, heavy car, not ideal weight-wise for racing.
These engines started life in the ‘40s first as 1400cc then 1600cc, 1800cc and 2.0-litre from 1969.
You can thrash them all day and never break them. Mine’s a ’69 model with discs all ‘round and had Bosch fuel injection but I couldn’t get any more power out of the injection on a standard engine so I changed to carburettors to race in historic Group Sb.”