It’s thirty years this year since Robbie Francevic claimed victory in the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship for the Volvo Dealer Team aboard one of the squad’s 240 Turbo Group A race cars.
Fast forward three decades and another Kiwi, Scott McLaughlin, is a major championship contender in this year’s Virgin Australia Supercars Championship aboard one of Garry Rogers’ S60 Volvos.
But back in 1986 the landscape was very different to how it is today with international Group A regulations then into their second year with a variety of different types of cars still feeling out the waters of the touring car scene.
Despite winning the championship that year, the Volvo Dealer Team was disbanded just a few months later as head office made the decision to pull out of Group A.
It was a decision that came not long after the local team had put together a brand new car for that year’s Bathurst 1000, a race it headed to without its champion Francevic after a heated blow-up at the Sandown 500 led to him departing the squad.
Today on Saturday Sleuthing we’re telling the story of the team’s last Group A Volvo Dealer Team 240 Turbo that has recently resurfaced, one that has been around the world and back over the last 30 years.
The turbo Volvo had been a revelation when it arrived in 1985 in the hands of the eccentric Kiwi Francevic and his fellow countryman car owner Mark Petch.
They took two wins in the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship before the factory bought out Petch in early ’86 and formed the Volvo Dealer Team.
Francevic used the original left hand-drive car for the 1985 championship before updating to a newer, later specification RAS Sport right hand-drive car for 1986.
While both of these initial cars were built in Sweden by the factory, the third car – the focus of our story – was built in Australia utilising the latest Volvo factory racing parts.
It raced on our shores just twice, as the #44 VDT entry at Sandown and Bathurst in 1986 with John Bowe and Alfredo Costanzo driving.
Petch recently stumbled over the car and was so moved he purchased it!
“I was invited to the 30year celebration of Volvo’s win in the 1985 European Touring Car Championship in Sweden and as part of this there were a few replica and original race cars on display,” he told supercars.com.au
“I saw the #44 car and I made the mistake of thinking it was a replica, because it looked like new.
“I complemented the owner and mentioned that I thought it was odd that he’d chosen this vehicle to replicate. He knew who I was, and said ‘No Mark, this is your original car’.
“I recalled the original chassis number, because the shell came from an original 240 GT road car, and the car had an Australian chassis designation.
“The owner had done a five-year, 2500 hour meticulous restoration of it. He’d found the car in Spain in 2008 when it was advertised on an online auction site, he did the numbers and discovered it was the factory car out of Australia.”
The car started life as a road car given Petch couldn’t order a new race body shell back in ’86.
“They told me they didn’t make that model anymore, and all the shells they’d had had been sold,” he recalls.
“I found out that the shells were the same as the regular road car shells so with the help of Suttons Volvo we purchased a used road car and stripped it out.”
The VDT was run by former HDT head John Sheppard and based at his workshop at Calder Park, where the #44 car was built.
In fact, much of the build was undertaken by Jeff Grech, thesedays Team Manager of Lee Holdsworth’s Preston Hire Racing Commodore squad but back then part of the VDT squad.
However the endurance races were miserable as the car failed to finish in its only two race starts on Aussie soil.
“The problems they had with the car in Australia were largely the problems of the team,” Petch says.
“John Sheppard wanted to run the lightest possible rear-end and ran aluminium trailing arms and that’s what fractured at Sandown, tearing itself out of the rear chassis rail.
“At Bathurst the left hand trailing arm broke, and that was the car’s Australian racing history done.”
At the end of the year Volvo officially withdrew from motorsport worldwide and the team closed its doors.
All three cars - which were owned by Volvo - were returned to Sweden and leased out to privateer teams.
The former Bowe/Costanzo car dominated the 1987 Swedish championship in the hands of Peggen Andersson and later ran in Japan and the Spa 24 Hour before being sold to Spain.
Its Spanish owner ran into trouble with the police and the Volvo was impounded and auctioned off to a car dealer who resold it online!
Thor Rustod spent the next five years researching and restoring the unique Australian-built car before selling it to Petch in New Zealand completed with spare parts package.
The great news is that this car is far from a museum piece as Petch has had it back on the track again in New Zealand’s equivalent of our Heritage Touring Cars category for old Group A touring cars.
Aussie fans will have a chance to check it out for themselves at the end of October when its original pilot John Bowe will race it in the HTC category at the Muscle Car Masters event at Sydney Motorsport Park.
It may have been 30 years since it last raced, albeit briefly, in Australia, but better late than never for its third bout of active competition!
If there’s a car you’d like to see featured in an upcoming story you can get in touch with the V8 Sleuth via any of the following methods: