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
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.
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.
bushes were machined for the rear suspension, which features a
Panhard rod as standard, and Koni shock absorbers were also
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
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.
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.
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.
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
heavyweight saloon to exit corners quickly and cleanly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
NZ Classic Car Magazine