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Volvo Adventures is an independent New Zealand based resource for the older Volvo models

1969 Volvo Amazon
Classic Racing Saloon owned by Leonard Bakkenes
This article was published in New Zealand Classic Car magazine April 1997
Photos by Jim Hekker

Photo: Leonard's 122s at Pukekohe circuit
's back straight (NZ)

Anyone who attended recent classic race meetings at Manfield and Whenuapai will have noticed a lone, slate-blue Volvo Amazon amongst the classic saloon-car fields.

In Europa, such a sight would be commonplace but in New Zealand it is rare to see a Volvo competing in any form of racing.

Certainly the Amazon poses little threat to the twin-cam Fords but its owner, Leonard Bakkenes, does not race for the glory of an outright win and is content merely to have a great time on race day.

For him, classic racing is a relatively safe way to discover the limits of both car and driver Ė and to indulge in a good, old fashioned injection of adrenalin. Leonard chose the 122S Amazon as his preferred race-car because it stands out from normal saloon-car fare and, with a background firmly founded in his fatherís dealership, he believes that his two-door Swedish Taxi represents a sense of solidity and faithfulness not exhibited by any other contemporary saloon car rival.

Budget racing

The way Leonard prepared his Amazon for classic racing is a model for anyone wishing to get involved in this branch of motorsport without spending huge amounts of money. However, those who insist on leading the field would be better advised to look elsewhere - Leonard puts emphasis on racing as fun and that doesnít necessarily include winning.

The first principle in the Bakkenes method of race≠car preparation is that suspension tuning and engine torque are preferable by far to mega-horsepower. Consequently, the Amazonís suspension was the first area that Leonard examined. Relatively sophisticated for its day, the Amazon
features fully independent front suspension with wishbones, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. Other than replacing rubber bushes with Nolathane, the only major changes up front were the addition of a stronger anti-roll bar and coil-springs, and the replacement of the original shock absorbers with Koni units. Nylon bushes were machined for the rear suspension, which features a Panhard rod as standard, and Koni shock absorbers were also fitted.

All suspension work was carried out by Edgar Salwegter at George Stock Ltd, Mt Wellington, and Leonard is appreciative of Edgarís extensive suspension tuning knowledge - and the considerable time and effort he put in to fine-tune the carís handling characteristics.

To finish off the Volvoís running gear, the original steel wheels were replaced with 15Ē Performance Superlite alloy wheels - and their Minilite design certainly enhances the classically balanced lines of the Volvo. Once again, Leonard found the staff at Performance Wheels most helpful in determining the correct offset for the new alloy wheels.

New lightweight racing seats and harnesses were fined inside the Volvo along with a roll-cage. Leonard also found tat the standard Volvo rev-counter was too small to read properly at racing speeds, so a new rev-counter was installed on the top of the dash-roll. With typical attention to detail, this unit was chosen because of its similarity to the dash-mounted tachometer of the Volvo 123GT.

Well up to it

Very little extra work was required on the brakes and gearbox. As standard, the Amazon has four-pot callipers on the front discs and with racing friction materials Leonard decided that the brakes were well up to racing conditions.

The gearbox, Volvoís perennial four-speed M40 unit, was also left unchanged - as were its ratios, although the engine flywheel was lightened to improve throttle response.

When it came to tuning the Amazonís B20, two-litre engine, Leonard wanted to see a marked improvement in torque as well as horsepower. The B20 engine has always been a sound, torquey unit, but extra helpings would be especially beneficial in getting the heavyweight saloon to exit corners quickly and cleanly.

122slb1.JPG (40017 bytes)         122lb2.jpg (30456 bytes)         122slb2.JPG (26434 bytes)

Engine reliability was also a prime consideration and the engine was treated to steel timing gears, a reinforced oil-pump drive and important pans such as con-rods were shot-peened to increase their longevity. The head was flowed, new Volvo valves were fitted and the compression ratio was upped slightly to 9.7:1. Engine capacity remains relatively standard - a 60 thouí overbore allowing Leonard to properly centre the cylinder bores, once again to increase the engineís working life.

Wit the addition of a mild performance camshaft, the whole engine was balanced. The standard Volvo exhaust manifold remains, although this is one area that Leonard is planning to change in the future. The majority of the engine work was carried out by Road & Track, Pukekohe, and, although they are not Volvo specialists, Leonard is more than happy with the results.

Originally the engine ran with its original twin SU HS6 carburettors but Leonard soon found that these were unsuitable for the engineís current state of tune. Accordingly, a pair of side-draught Webers were subsequently fitted by Murray Johnson of Weber Specialities, Glenfield. Leonard reports that the Weber carburettors have made a noticeable difference to the Amazon - with a consequent increase in both power and flexibility.

Combination of talents

Throughout the project, Leonard personally carried out as much work as possible - and this involved dismounting and remounting units, stripping and cleaning various components and generally doing all the intensive labour. He attributes the quality of the finished car to the combination of all the specialists who have worked on it ó and he is completely satisfied with the end result. Mind you - future plans include a LSD and a more radical reworking of the cylinder head; in Europe the two-litre B20 engine has been tuned to yield as much as 220-230bhp so there is clearly another 50-60bhp to be gained from further gas flowing.

In the meantime Leonardís racing budget has stayed on course and, in the Volvoís current form, total costs have been kept well below the NZ$20,000 mark - including the original purchase price of the car.

For Leonard, this represents a worthwhile investment and for everyone else it is a creditable demonstration that classic racing does not have to be hugely expensive, and that, above all else, it should be fun!

Driving the Swedish Taxi

Squeeze into the driverís seat of Leonardís Amazon and you immediately notice the high window-line. Leonard is a big bloke and he prefers a low-seating position, but having a slightly less formidable physique I found the driving position rather too low, and I was unable to sight the front and rear extremities of the car. No matter, twist the ignition key and the B20 engine sparks into insistent life with a healthy exhaust bark! Slot the spidery gearlever into first and off we go - with an interesting series of bunny-jumps.

The throttle is super-sensitive end the twin SUs twitch as my foot bumps in time to the Volvoís suspension. Very quickly I discover why Leonard is keen to replace the SUs; they seem ill-matched to the engine end they certainly donít like idling ó a good heel and toe technique is required to avoid stalling the engine at Intersections. Fortunately I soon left the traffic lights, Give Way arid Stop signs behind as the Amazon roared out into the  countryside. Now the drive became much more enjoyable. Leonard has seen 110mph indicated, a speed I was unable to match but 100mph comes up very easily. More impressive than the Amazonís outright go was the engineís torque delivery - here Leonardís tuning specialists have come up trumps and the Volvo has been endowed with real stump-pulling power.

Surprising Vigour

122leonardtyrecheck.jpg (32316 bytes) Once on the move, first and second gears become almost redundant - mash the gas-pedal in third or fourth and the Amazon exits corners with surprising vigour despite its heavyweight body. The suspension work has also paid off and the Volvo handles very neutrally, perhaps with just a touch of oversteer under enthusiastic cornering.

The worm-and-peg steering may not be a match for a modern rack-and-≠pinion, set-up, but it is pleasant to use and transmits good road feel. 

The brakes are simply terrific and even though I never got them up to proper temperatures they hauled the car in with remarkable accuracy. Pedal feel was also exceptional and l was somewhat taken aback to discover that they were still standard. Equally as surprising, I learnt that Leonard has done absolutely nothing to the Amazonís bodywork and that it has never been repainted. In some areas, the Slate-Blue paintwork has flattened off but, in general, the car gives off the aura of a well-maintained and original classic.

Pop the bonnet and you are rewarded with an almost standard Volvo sceneó only the braided steel hoses, remote oil filter and electronic ignition unit give the game away. Despite working to a tight budget, Leonard is something of a perfectionist and the engine bay clearly shows the attention to detail he has put into this project. The Amazon is also a real head-turner, especially when onlookers get an earful of the carís fruity exhaust note. Leonard is obviously going to have a lot of fun over the coming race seasons. Keep a look out for the Volvo at future race meetings - it may not be the fastest thing on the track but you wonít have any trouble spotting it, and you can guarantee that it will be the only Amazon out there!

Bakkenes Hilversum - Volvo Dealers

In the Ď20s, Leonardís grandfather established a Sunbeam dealer≠ship in Hilversum, Holland, which was eventually taken over by Arie Bakkenes, Leonardís father. By this time, the Sunbeam marque had been absorbed into the Rootes Group and Arie began selling Hillmans alongside his customary Sunbeams. As a young boy, Leonard remembers helping his fathers mechanics when they attended to the works Sunbeam Rapiers during the annual Tulip Rally ó although his recollection is that the Austin-Healey 3000s required more mechanical care than the Sunbeams.

When the Imp first appeared, Arie was invited to the UK, where he met Lord Rootes and took one of the early Hillman Imps out for a test drive. However, by the late Ď60s, Dutch confidence in Rootes was quickly waning ó parts supply was badly affected by union strikes throughout the Rootes empire and Arie Bakkenes began to consider changing the emphasis of his business. Eventually he settled on Volvo, and in 1968 Bakkenes Hilversum became a Volvo dealership.

First Volvo

Leonard watched the last of the Volvo Amazons passing through his fatherís showroom and at the age of 18 he acquired his first car - a Volvo 544. However Leonard never drove the 544 because his father passed it on to his service manager.

The 544 was followed by a 122S Amazon ó very similar to the Volvo he has today ó but Leonard recounts how he thoroughly destroyed the Volvo due to his own inexperience by skidding on a wet, leafy road and crashing the car into three parked vehicles. As a result he was forced to replace the damaged Volvo with a Ford Cortina 1500GT which he never liked as much as the Amazon.

The Amazon had set a standard - one by which Leonard was to judge all later cars. His first serious racing experience was gained behind the wheel of a Sunbeam Rapier but, after a brief excursion into Ford Capris, Leonard gradually realised that what he wanted to do was prepare a Volvo Amazon for classic racing. He knew that such a car would not be an outright race winner but I the simplicity of the Swedish vehicle had always impressed him.

Leonard had been aware of one particular Amazon for several years but he was not able to purchase the car until August 1996ó the target was to complete the Volvo in time for the running of the 1996 Dunlop Targa NZ, which was to be the Amazonís first competitive outing.

Allan Walton
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