Group A Volvo 240T - Past Blast

By: John Bowe with Steve Nally, Photography by: Mark Bean

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John Bowe's career owes more to the Volvo than you might think

 

Group A Volvo 240T

This is one of the most important cars in my racing life. It’s the last factory Group A Volvo 240T built and I raced it in 1986, my first full year as a touring car driver. 

In some ways I owe my career to this boxy Swedish sedan. I was employed as the second driver by the Volvo Dealer Team – a quasi factory team – and I started the 1986 season at the fourth round of the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC).

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The Volvo 240T first turned up in Australia in 1985, the inaugural year of the international Group A class in Australia. It was owned by Kiwi Mark Petch and raced by another Kiwi, Robbie Francevic. It was a privateer team and the car was left-hand drive. I did my first two touring car races co-driving with Robbie at the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 that year; it was my lucky break. In 1985 everyone was still learning the Group A ropes and the Volvo had a fair turn of speed, but Dick Johnson used to joke about it on RaceCam and called it "a Swedish block of flats".

Video: John Bowe reunited with his Group a Volvo racer

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At the end of the ’85 season Petch went to Volvo Australia and they formed the Volvo Dealer Team, to be managed by John Sheppard, who had run the Marlboro Holden Dealer Team and had a great background in race preparation. The team was based at Calder Park and they did the first three rounds of the ATCC with Francevic then secured another car for >me, a right-hand drive test car from Sweden, for the Adelaide International Raceway round.

The car turned up the week of the race, my first ATCC race. I qualified on the front row then out-braked myself into turn one and made a hash of it. The next round was in Perth and I qualified on pole with Peter Brock next to me. I led the race by some margin for quite a long time then the car broke down with an electronic problem. I’d been an open-wheeler driver up until then and had won the CAMS Gold Star in 1985, but after that drive I was on people’s radar as a touring car driver. But Robbie, who was the team leader, assumed that my right-hand-drive car was quicker (it probably was, it was newer) and he seconded it and won the championship. I did the rest of the series in the left-hand-drive ’85 car.

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During this time John Sheppard convinced Volvo that we needed another car and I was at Calder when these huge wooden boxes arrived filled with all the parts to build a car and that’s the car you see here. It was to be ready for Sandown but the car was late arriving at the track and Robbie was pissed off because he didn’t get to practice and he kicked the door in as soon as they unloaded the car. John fired him on the spot and I got the new car and asked if Alfie Costanzo could drive it with me. We started off the back of the grid at Sandown but retired after a suspension bolt failed. At Bathurst, I qualified ninth and was fifth in the shootout but it broke a rear trailing arm while we were running second and we didn’t finish. It was a very good car for the time but it didn’t compare to later Group A cars like the Sierra.

The cars were much more basic then. There was no in-car telemetry; there were no radios! The Volvo only had about 320hp but it also only weighed about 1100kg. Driving in those days was instinctive, you didn’t have an engineer looking at your data and telling you that your throttle pressures were wrong or you were taking the wrong line. You just tried to identify what was causing a problem and tried to fix it. The Volvo was quick but not enough to make your eyes water. Until the Sierras came along, Group A cars weren’t overly powerful.

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At the end of ’86 Volvo pulled the pin on motor racing worldwide and the three cars went back to Sweden so my factory works drive lasted seven months! I was absolutely shattered. I was now, essentially, a pro driver but there were no drives around. In 1987 I only did Sandown and Bathurst with Glenn Seton in a Skyline and won the Calder 300 with Terry Shiel in another Nissan.

I was one of the first open-wheeler guys from that era to move to touring cars. Most of the touring car guys thought we couldn’t drive tin tops. Alan Grice, who was a real hard man but a great bloke who helped me a lot back then used to say, "Open-wheelers are for sheilas". But I’d had a few dices with Dick Johnson and I guess he noticed me. I joined Dick Johnson for 1988 and the rest as they say, is history.

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After the car went back to Sweden it was raced by various privateers in the Swedish Touring Car Championship then fell into disrepair. Mark Petch still had a soft spot for the Volvos and ended up buying this car and the other right-hand drive car back and restored them. When he asked me to drive the ’86 car at Muscle Car Masters last year I couldn’t say no. When I turned up at Eastern Creek it was like not having seen a friend for 30 years. The last time I saw the car was at Bathurst in 1986. Lots of memories came flooding back because I had some good races in this car. I dropped back into it like it was yesterday.

Unfortunately we had problems, the car basically hadn’t raced for 28 years and it kept popping turbo hoses. It has three turbo hoses and it systematically blew them off. We dropped the boost but we were flying blind without an electronics engineer there to look into it. It had a ‘miss’ in qualifying but I still managed to be sixth in a mixed Group A/Group C field behind a Nissan GT-R, a couple of Sierras, Jim Richards in the Group C BMW 635CSi and a JPS BMW M3. We finished the races but with no turbo boost. I got passed a lot, but I enjoyed it.

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Mark obviously enjoyed it too because he brought the car back for the Phillip Island Classic earlier this year and this time Randall Edgel, who worked on it back in the day, had solved the boost problems and the car ran well, except for one niggle. At Bathurst in 1986 I could not stop it locking rear brakes which was very frustrating because I couldn’t push the braking threshold, I had to brake a few metres early. Thirty years later, in the first session at Phillip Island, it was still locking the rears! Randall had a look under the dash and found that the brake master cylinders were on back-to-front!

After he reversed them the car was terrific and I basically ran at the tail-end of the top 10 chasing Sierras and Group C cars, which have a lot more power. I had some terrific battles with Chris Bowden’s Group C Mazda and Jimmy in the Beemer. The funny thing is, Phillip Island was the first time the car actually finished a race in good health. Now, if I can just cajole Mark into taking the car to Spa in Belgium…

Group A Volvo 240T Specs

Engine 2141cc SOHC in-line four, turbocharged
Power 250kW @ 6600rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 6000rpm
Gearbox Getrag M51 close-ratio 5-speed
Brakes Ventilated discs 330mm (f), 280mm (r), 4-piston calipers
Suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, adjustable dampers (f), live axle, Panhard rod, coil-over dampers (r)
Weight 1100kg

 

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