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

Volvo: an icon in South African motor sport 

By Andre Stemmet

The 1960s and 1970s were exciting motoring times in Southern Africa. A booming economy and the development of a motor manufacturing industry in South Africa and the arrival at southern shores of performance cars with ever increasing horsepower, resulted in what is now generally referred to the “golden age” of motor racing on the subcontinent. South Africa drew the great names in motor sport to its shores, hosting a grand prix at the Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg that formed part of the international calendar, as well as the Springbok series of endurance races for sports cars and production cars. 

The Springbok Series started off with a nine hour race at Kyalami in November, moving on to three hour races in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Maputo (then Lourenco Marques) in Portuguese-controlled Mozambique and on the regional circuits in the Free State, Natal and Cape provinces of South Africa. Many drivers taking a break from the European winter brought their state-of–the-art machinery to sunny South Africa. Lolas, Porches, Ford GT40s, Ferraris and the like competed for overall honours, mixing it with production cars chasing the index of performance (handicap) award. 

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Hettema and Steenkamp on the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit at the end of 1964 Monte Carlo Rally
(Photo- Die Beeld)

Rallying also took off in the early 1950s with amateur competitors using their daily transport with only rudimentary preparations for regularity events, carrying all spares and tools. The main event on the calendar was the Pretoria-Lourenco Marques rally, an event that allowed entrants to combine motor sport with fun and adventure, with white beaches, huge prawns and cold beers awaiting those who made it to the finish. 
The Volvo marque notched up many wins in both circuit racing and rallying during these times, gaining a reputation as fast, reliable cars, which enhanced its appeal to the public. A number of left-hand drive 544s were imported in the late 1950s, and from the early 1960s the Amazon, known locally as the 122S, was assembled locally. Later the 144 and 164 were also assembled in South Africa, before Volvo withdrew from the country in the 1970s due to political reasons, returning only after the advent of democracy in 1994, to the great delight of the country’s large number of Volvoholics. 

Volvo’s success started in 1958 when Francis Tucker, one of the main movers behind the establishment of the Kyalami circuit, and Michael Renton won the index of performance in the six hour race at the Roy Hesketh circuit in Natal province, while 544s also featured prominently in the results of the Nine Hour and the other endurance races during the 1958, 1959 and 1960 seasons. 

One of the Volvo drivers of the time, Mario Lupini, recalls that the Volvo team was one of the most professional, being equipped with two-way radios to ensure continuous contact between drivers and pit crew. During the 1960 Nine Hour one of the drivers, Peter Huxtable, radioed to the pits complaining that he was losing his sight as the race entered the twilight hour. Fortunately, one of the mechanics noticed that he was still wearing his dark glasses, a fact then relayed to him by radio, resulting immediately in vastly improved eyesight! 

But it was the iconic 122S that in its B18 (1800cc, five main bearings version) and later B20 version that carried many a driver to the winning podium. In the 1960s,it became the car to beat in both production and endurance racing. 

Lawson Motors, the Johannesburg Volvo agency, supported many drivers at a time when motor racing and rallying was still an amateurish affair. Some of the more notable early successes of the 122S in long distance racing include a fifth overall and third place on index for Jan Hettema and Gary Wilson in the 1963 Nine Hour, while Hettema, partnered by Frank Wingels, won the event in 1965 on index, finishing eighth overall. 

The Jimmy Andrews/Ewold Van Bergen Volvo crashing out of the 1963 Nine Hour. 
(Photo- Die Huisgenoot).

Volvos did extremely well in the 1965 Springbok Series. Arnold Chatz won the index of performance category of the Natal Three Hour race, with Dirk Marais in a 544 Sport finishing second. Chatz, partnered with Dave Clapham, finished second overall behind a Porsche and second on index during a six hour race on the same Roy Hesketh circuit in 1966. Marais and Wingels won the index of performance of the 1966 Nine Hour, finishing seventh overall. Wingels and Chatz teamed up for the 1967 Springbok Series, winning the three hour races at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit and Roy Hesketh on index. Chatz teamed up with Spencer Schultze, a Formula 5000 driver, for the 1968 Nine Hour, winning on index. 

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On the rallying front, Jan Hettema held the flag high. Hettema, who also successfully competed his Volvos in long-distance circuit racing, won the South African rally championship five times, gaining South African national sporting (Springbok) colours in the process. (This made Dutch-born Hettema a rare double Springbok, having gained colours for cycling as well, in which he represented South Africa at the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956). 

Hettema won the championship in Volvos in 1963 and 1967, while Francis Tucker brought the honours home for Volvo in 1966, also gaining Springbok colours in the process. Volvo also won the South African Rally Manufacturers Championship in 1968 and 1969. 

Hettema and Steenkamp with Princess Grace of Monaco. (Photo – Die Beeld). 

The Pretoria-Lourenco Marques rally had in the meantime gained sponsorship from the Total oil company, becoming known as the Total International Rally, and gaining some special stages in addition to the regularity parts. Already in 1959 a Volvo triumphed in the hands of Pierre Kelfkens and Rex Wakely-Smith, but when Hettema entered the fray in a 122S, he was virtually unbeatable, winning it in 1963 (with Hennie Steenkamp as navigator), 1965 (with Gus Menzies), 1966 (with Mike Hooper) and 1967 (with Robbie Broekmeyer). Part of the prize at the time was an entry in the prestigious Monte Carlo rally, and Hettema participated five times in the Monte, twice in Volvo 122’s. Hennie Steenkamp navigated in the 1964 event, and they finished in a creditable 19 place. Steenkamp relates that the event was immensely intense and tiring, and if they did not fall asleep while waiting to enter a control point, they would have done even better. In 1965 Hettema’s co-driver made an accident in Antwerp, terminating their effort.

But as the song goes, the times they were changing. While the Volvos were competitive against Renault Gordinis, Alfa Guilias, Mini Coopers and Cortinas, new and more competitive machinery appeared by the late 1960s, against which the Volvo 122S, even with an engine enlarged to 2000cc, was no longer competitive: Toyotas, Datsuns, Alfa GTVs, rotary-driven Mazdas and Ford Capris and Escorts. 

Hettema switched to a Toyota Corona for rallying and an imported two-door Corona GT5 for endurance racing, later moving on to an Escort DBA. 

The Volvo 144, produced in South Africa since 1968, was not really a match for these new machines. Piet van Niekerk valiantly campaigned one in production car racing in Cape Town, sponsored by Droomers, a local Volvo distributor, but battled against nimbler Renaults and Datsuns, while Volvo stalwarts Chatz and Dave Clapham’s Lawson-entered 144’s also proved uncompetitive in production car racing on Kyalami

The Hettema/Wingels Volvo, which won the index of performance of the 1965 Nine Hour. (Photo – Die Beeld).

For the Springbok Series, Team Lawson imported the two-door 142s, never produced locally, and Chatz and Clapham managed a second place on index in the three hour race at Lourenco Marques and a third on index during the Roy Hesketh six hour during the 1969 / 70 Springbok Series. 

On the rallying front Jannie Kuun and Kassie Kasselman campaigned a 144 from 1971 to 1973, winning two rallies and notching up a number of second and third places. They also entered the TAP rally in Portugal, an event counting towards the European rally championship, an achievement for which they were awarded Springbok colours. 

Shortly afterwards, Volvo ceased its operations in South Africa. 

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Jannie Kuun and Kassie Kasselman with the Volvo 144 in which they came 9th in the TAP Rally in Portugal. 
(Photo – Rapport)

The Arnold Chatz/Spencer Shultze Volvo 122S which won the index of performance in the 1968 Nine Hour, followed by the Ferrari P4 of John Love/Paul Hawkins and a Mini Marcos. (Photo – SA Panorama).

But there was one last throw of the dice. In 1981, a highly modified Volvo 164, then already years out of production, appeared as a private entry in the Nine Hour in the hands of Fanie Els and Hans Kruger, finishing in a very creditable sixth place in a race in which the first three places were filled by Porches, in the hands of aces like Reinhold Joest, Jochen Mass, Jurgen Barth and Derek Bell. (A Lancia Monte Carlo in the hands of Michele Alboreto and Emanuelle Pirro came fourth). Two weeks later, the Volvo came seventh in the three hour race in Cape Town. 

Dave Clapham Volvo 142 S (Photo – Rapport)

When Volvo returned to South Africa, their range of S40, S60 and S80 cars proved popular among the public, but despite success on European racetracks, the marque did not return to South African motor sport. In the mean time, however, South Africa has followed an international trend by reliving the exciting times of the sixties and seventies in the form of historic racing and rallying. And once again, Volvos are there to conjure up fond memories of old times. Alan Poulter campaigns a very fast 1965 122S in the class for modified production cars, while Johan Botha ran an immaculate 1961 544 in the series for standard cars before selling it to a collector. 

The Total Rally ran to Lourenco Marques for the last time in 1973, when political instability terminated the Mozambique leg of the rally. However, in the early 1990s this event was reborn as a regularity rally for classic cars, running from Pretoria to Maputo (as the Mozambican capital was renamed) through Swaziland. In 2006 the author participated in this iconic event in a 1970 122S, and can testify that the beaches, beer and prawns of Mozambique have lost none of their attraction in the intervening years.

In November 2007 Total celebrated fifty years of involvement in South African motor sport by sponsoring the Total Commemorative Trial, a regularity rally for classic cars, and besides several 122s, a 144 and 164 also participated. 

As they say in Mozambique, A Luta Continua! © 1999 - 2019