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Mike Batten's Volvo PV544 Targa Tasmania Rally Project 1999- 2011
This article was originally written in 1999 updated 2011 - Mike is based in NSW - Australia

Photo: Targa Tasmania 2001

It all started in 1970 when I was lucky enough to own a Volvo 122S. It was far superior to the Morris 1100 it replaced and a much better rally car. I was at University and did not have enough money to continue as a driver so the Volvo was sold and I devoted my energies in rallying to navigating during 1972 and 1973. However the Volvo association continued as my mother owned a 144 model.

A two year working holiday to the U.K. again brought me in contact with the Swedish marque. My sister’s boy friend was a young man named Dennis Reeve and he let Rosy drive his 122S to Southampton to pick me up from the ship in 1974. He was a trusting soul and we did a lot of fast motoring around the country. I was allowed to explore the cornering limits in both the wet and dry on the wonderful roundabouts and winding country roads. 

I then had a 22 year period of no Volvos in my life. Some of you might find this difficult to understand and I must apologise for my unfaithfulness. However I had a great time with rally modified Datsun 1600s. I drove them to win the NSW Clubman Series in 1977 and the State Championships in 1978, 1980 and 1982. Once you get over the initial shock it becomes apparent there are many similarities with the two marques - 2 litre 4 cylinder engines, simple and reliable mechanicals and built like a brick shit house! My return to the Volvo fold was made possible by my mate Dennis Reeve buying a 123GT in September 1997 - he picked it up on the day Princess Dianna died. It is a beautifully looked after and very original car – far too good to use in tarmac speed rallies! Well that didn’t stop us and we competed in the inaugural Classic Adelaide in 1997 then Targa Tasmania in 1998.

When driving back from Adelaide in November 1997 we had a lot of time for a detailed debriefing. We agreed that we had enjoyed competing in the tarmac rally, that we should be able to afford to do more and that we would like to get a more purpose built vehicle. Some lateral thinking threw up the idea of a PV544, the model has a wonderful motor sport heritage having won the European Rally Championships in 1964 with Tom Trana at the wheel. 

On returning home we found out that Tom Morrison and Peter Gallagher were going to import one but had just cancelled the order after their serious accident in the same Classic Adelaide. We visited Tom and agreed to buy the 1964 red car that was still on the dock ready for shipping from the USA. Tom gave us a lot of information including the good news that from 1961 the PV544 used the same B18 engine and M40 gearbox as in the Amazon and are about 150kg lighter.

It took till late March for the car to arrive and guess what? Tom had imported not one but three PV544s! On returning from Targa Tasmania Tom agreed we could buy the roughest car as we intended a ground up restoration. 

On 7th May I picked up the 1961 model, originally grey in colour with chassis number 342304. (See photo). A full year seems like a lot of time to prepare a vehicle for Targa Tasmania but we had a lot of learning to do and looking back we really needed more time. The first job was to get the motor running so I could run the LH drive car up our dead end country road a few times with the kids and dogs in the back seat! The project then started in earnest with a lot of work being done by Kari the 18 year old son of a long time friend, 123GT Volvo owner and club member Tony Dirickx. 

The shell was stripped of all mechanicals, trim and panels. The first bad news was that as well as the rear floor pan being rusted out the front one was nearly as bad. Kari replaced the floor pan and started on the rust repairs. A difficult decision now had to be made - would we leave it as a LH drive or do a RH drive conversion? I did not want to make the restoration more complicated but several factors lead to the decision to go RH drive. For a start I did not want to learn to drive on the wrong side as in the heat of competition this could lead to making a serious mistake. Secondly the car comes with a solid steering column which is not the safest in a front end collision. Finally we went for a late model 122S steering box, collapsible 144 steering column and Pitman and idler arms cut and re-welded at an accredited workshop. There were many more complications but this is not the place to go into too much detail.

As work got under way Kevin Elliott from Wollongong helped with advice, parts and some of the mechanical repairs. The body shell and panels were then taken to Stripco in Revesby to be fine grit blasted and painted with Kephos to prevent surface rust. We were then in for another shock, with all the body filler removed the vehicle was seen to be even rougher than at first thought.

Next the rolling chassis was back on what was becoming a busy car trailer to be taken to Dataliner where Brian Hawke used his laser machine to check the chassis to see if it was straight. I was very pleased to find it was and therefore did not need to be pulled back into shape as this would have added to the cost.

Finally in late November I made the big decision on who was to do the rust removal, panel beating and spray painting. Unfortunately difficult decisions sometimes take too long to make as we were now running late to be ready in April. Luckily a mate from work was having his Austin Healey restored. He recommended Ned McGovern and Warren Holtz from St Marys. Over the next three months they did a wonderful job. I was prepared to cut a few corners but Ned who is involved in historic racing and has a beautiful and very fast Milano sports car said the PV544 was special and deserved a top quality job. I also put in a lot of hours into the preparation and rubbing back prior to it being painted. 

We then had to make the next decision - what colour? I was talked out of the metallic silver and blue similar to the S40 that had just won at Bathurst as the old girl is nearly 40 years old. So it was back to the standard Volvo colours of white, grey, blue and red. Even though I like white I am told it is too boring for a competition vehicle and then one day looking through Ned’s Spies Hecker paint catalogue I saw it - Porsche red. If someone pays $250,000 for a car with that colour then it has to be good enough for our Volvo!

At the same time I was working with Stewart Wilkins of SSS Automotive in Girraween on a lot of mechanical modifications. The car was being built to be eligible for the Targa Tasmania Classic Event for vehicles made from 1946 to 1981. As a tarmac rally car it is not allowed the modifications permitted for club cars or racing cars and therefore would be slower around a race track. We ran the same engine as in the 123GT last year, the gear box was re built and the rear end set up with an LSD. 

Brakes modifications are free and also very important due to the high speeds and steep down hill runs so to start we were going to use 164 ventilated discs and callipers on the front. However a major problem three weeks before the event with both internal and external clearances with front wheels and tyres meant we finished up with Holden Commodore callipers, ventilated discs and 5” Morton and May steel wheels. Murphy’s Law had dealt a cruel hand - the beautiful 6” Performance Superlite mags did not fit!  Rear brakes were from a P1800E. Stewart built a balance bar brake adjustment set up and mounted the master cylinders inside the cabin under the dash. We ran out of time connecting the mechanical hand brake and went for a hydraulic one - good for handbrake turns!

The rules required us to use the standard front end which has king pins and double wish bones. Shock absorbers are adjustable Konis from Toperformance in Melbourne and the competition springs are from Lovells in Homebush.

Photo: Targa Tasmania 2001 with only three wheels in the air at the Natone THR

A lot of PV544 specific parts such as trim, emblems, rubbers, light lenses, windscreen etc. were imported form Sweden. As there were no spare parts for these cars in Australia you have to plan well ahead for some parts. The windscreen was broken in transit so I had a mould made in South Australia and received the replacement with only three days to go! (I can now have other screens made for club members at a much cheaper price than importing one). After this saga I found out John Pearey of Amazon Spares near Melbourne also has a PV544 and imports parts for all early Volvos.

The interior was completely re-trimmed by KR Auto Upholstery and the vehicle rewired by Great Western Electrical Services. Machining work was done by Mitch Heffernan at Wilton Engineering.

We then designed and Kari Dirickx fabricated an aluminium dash and fitted instruments from a Triumph 2500PI . A Halda Twinmaster for measuring distance was used instead of the modern electronic instruments as we attempted to stay true to the era of the vehicle.

A full roll cage from Bond Roll bars, four point seat belts with 3” webbing, helmets, two fire extinguishers, warning triangles and first aid kit made up the safety essentials. Velo Milano seats provide a comfortable and secure foundation to throw the car around in ways the manufacturer maybe did not plan for. I had new leather fitted to my old faithful 13” Momo steering wheel. A Terraphone intercom is used so communications are clear as the noise in the cabin increases during competitive stages.

The standard fuel tank was not big enough at 35 litres so we purchased a 122S one which holds 45 litres from Volvo spare parts man Matt Nicholson in Mona Vale. Fitting it required a larger hole in the boot floor and modifications to the filling nozzle to keep the standard filler configuration.

With about ten weeks to go Dennis told me he was unable to come to Tasmania due to business commitments. I found Kim Martin a young lady who has been co-driving successfully in NSW and ARC forest rallies over the last four years to navigate. She also helped with press releases, publicity and we even made it onto the Volvo Australia Internet site.

At the eleventh hour Peter Gallagher from Spinning Wheel tyres in Woolloomoolloo came to the rescue regarding tyres. It was important for us to use 205 x 60 x 15” rubber even though we had a clearance problem. In any smaller sizes the best compounds and construction are not available and this can mean loosing over 1 second per kilometre in competition. We spent a late night pulling rabbits from the hat, moving and modifying inner guards and finished up fitting Falken Azenis tyres with about 1mm to spare. 

This saga took us up till the day we were due to leave for the ferry. Crazy? Well maybe but if it was not so important to get to Targa we would have given up months before. We were also very grateful that Kim’s friend Peter Blackwood had arranged with his employers Alto Pennant Hills, a Volvo and Toyota dealer to provide us with a Volvo V70 as a support vehicle.

It was good to catch up with most of the three car Volpro team on the Friday afternoon at the Melbourne Station Street Pier. Simon Klein was teamed up with Neil Goodwin from New Zealand in his 122S and Ralph and Diane Grant had their new 142. Mr Volpro Gary Comerford was there to service for the team. Also there were Kim as navigator in the PV544 and Peter servicing. Kari Dirickx was due to fly to Launceston on the Saturday also to help with servicing.

The days leading up to the start were taken up with documentation, scrutiny, paperwork, lots of last minute jobs on the car and a few drives in the V70 to do reconnaissance on selected stages. The bright red PV544 Volvo made a big impression on a lot of people. Even the Event Chairman John Large and offsider Event Consultant Ronda Matthews complimented us on it. Many thought it would win the Unique Car magazine “best presented vehicle award” but unfortunately for us that prize went to an immaculate 1963 Speedwell Mini Sprint. We even dipped out on the “people’s choice” that was won by a 1988 Lamborghini SJ Countach replica.

Finally the Tuesday Prologue arrived and we headed to George Town. This was to be our car testing session and I approached it with a lot of caution! The time of 3 minutes 53.4 seconds was 2.3 seconds slower than last year but the car handled, stopped and accelerated well. We were placed 61st of the 130 Classic entries and 104th of all the 203 starters, pretty good considering the age of the car. We had been rewarded for a lot of hard work and expense with a well performing and unique entry.

Targa Tasmania Classic is run using a handicap system that takes age of vehicle, size of engine and level of modification into consideration. If this were not the case modified cars like Holden Torana A9Xs and Porsches would win every time and people would not enter cars like 1961 Volvos. Each different class has its own “Base Time” for each stage. If you are early you clean sheet the stage, but if late you loose points in minutes and seconds. We were in 2LMS that means the oldest Category (1946 - 1961) and Limited Modified not Standard or Modified. 

Photo: Eastern Creek Raceway, AROCA 6 Hour Relay Race, 2003

The event had 440km of competitive Targa stages and 1650km of transport stages which adds up to a six day event totalling 2100km.

Day 1 
An easy day over 75 km of Targa stages and we only had to try hard on two of them - Devonport and Mole Creek. We cleaned 8 stages but lost 11 seconds on Mole Creek. Next morning one of the newspapers showed us as being in first place but we soon found out that we were really equal third out of 127.

Day 2 
A lot more difficult as the event winds down the East Coast, for 72 km of competition. We lost time on 4 of the 9 stages and slipped back to 4th place.

Day 3
A short but still challenging run south of Hobart, for 58 km. We lost time on 3 of the 7 stages and were shown to be back in 3rd place. This however was not to be as the eventual winners had been penalised 1 minute for jumping the start. This penalty was withdrawn the next day.

Day 4
Starts easily but finishes with long stages over mountainous roads heading towards Burnie. The Targa stage total was reduced from 117 to 80km due to an accident on Riana. The PV544 ran out of revs in fourth (top) gear a few times reaching its top speed of around 175kph. We only lost time on 2 of the 7 stages after 2 stages were cancelled and jumped back to 3rd place.

Day 5
This was the longest day with the run down the West Coast and back to the Hobart finish for 149km of competition. We lost time on 4 of the 9 stages and dropped back to 4th. This was a real shame as after the Queenstown lunch break it turned out we were still in 3rd place by 4 seconds. On the Tarraleah stage we drove slowly as from last year’s results we planned on cleaning the stage by 30 seconds. It turned out that last years elapsed times for the stage were incorrect by one minute. This contributed to us loosing 28 seconds on the stage and a third place podium finish. 

The Classic results for the first six places were: Category (min./sec.)

Time Lost

1st Robert White Angus Macleod 1965 Sunbeam Tiger V8 3SS 4.03
2nd Henry Draper Roslyn Draper 1961 Morris Mini Minor 2LMS 5.02
3rd Paul Freestone Christine Freestone 1957 Austin Healey 2LMS 6.27
4th Mike Batten Kim Martin 1961 Volvo PV544 2LMS 6.42
5th Jeremy Browne Ruth Williams 1969 Lancia Fulvia 1.6HF 4LMS 7.56
6th Brian Dermott Linda Dermott 1962 Austin Healey 2LMS 8.15

The Base time scoring system put us in the uncommon position in motor sport of only having to try hard on half of the 43 stages. In fact it turned out we only lost time over 160 of the 440 competitive kilometres. The unofficial elapsed time results showed the PV544 to be 27th out of 110 finishers and 130 starters.

Photo: Targa Tasmania 1999 on the Queenstown 100 bends stage

There were many highlights during the event. It really is a great privilege driving your car very fast on these wonderful bitumen roads. One pleasurable moment was catching a 1979 Mazda RX7 in 10km on the Devonport stage. They had jumped the queue leaving the lunch break and after I spoke to them did not let us in front of them. I can only think that they did not want to be slowed down during the stage by an old relic. As cars run 30 seconds apart that means we were 3 seconds a kilometre faster than them! 

Then there was the 38km Cethana stage where we caught and overtook a 1975 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 then had a very close dice before overtaking a 1960 Mk 11 3.8 litre Jaguar. Of course it works both ways and we even enjoyed it when a 1971 Datsun 240Z caught and overtook us after 30km in the Strahan stage. 

The car ran really well with almost no problems. It was a credit to everyone who helped in the preparation and during the event. Many went well out of their way to make it possible. To all of them plus my wife Catherine and family who backed the effort I offer my appreciation and thanks.

Also a big thanks for the interest shown by Pennant Hills Volvo and Volvo Car Australia who put the car on display at their two showrooms after the event.

Targa Tasmania Results 1999 - 2011:

Classic Handicap Competition

1999 Classic Competition 4th 15 seconds behind third
2000 Classic Competition. 21st  fuel problem when in line for a top three place
2001 Classic Competition 95th gear box failure and missed 8 stages on Day 2
2002 Classic Competition. 4th 13 seconds behind third
2003 Classic Competition. DNF upper wish bone mount broke.
2004 Classic Competition 4th 4 seconds behind third.
2005 Classic Competition DNF gear box and head gasket problems.
2006 Shannons Classic DNF dropped a connecting rod
2007 Shannons Classic 86th Stripped crown wheel and pinion
2008 Shannons Early Classic 2nd Classic outright 14th
2009 Shannons Early Classic 1st Classic Outright 5th
2010 Shannons Classic 1st Classic Outright 2nd
2011 Shannons Early Classic 5th Classic Outright 14th

Mike Batten, Australia © 1999 - 2013