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232

A cult Eighties racer nicknamed the Flying Brick is set to land on Europe’s racetracks once again

No matter which way you look at a Volvo 240, nothing about it screams ‘racing car’ – and there’s no hint of a European Touring Car Championship or DTM winner. 

It’s not just its size. It seems smaller than the BMWs, Rovers and Jaguars against which it would compete (though it isn’t), but while they shared a purposeful, aggressive stance, the Volvo is just a three-box saloon with an almost childishly simple silhouette.

Tage Lindström and his son Thomas thought otherwise and helped turn the lumbering 240 Turbo into Europe’s quickest tin-top for a year or so. Now, more than 30 years later, the Lindströms’ original creation has painstakingly been restored to its best by Warren Heath Engineering, once again to take on Rovers and BMWs in Peter Auto’s Group A series. 

This was the first Group A Volvo built for the ETCC – less famous than the Eggenberger cars, perhaps, but no less important. Its journey hasn’t always been straightforward, either, as it went from international track star to domestic racer before being left to rot on salty roads.

If the origins of Volvo 240-1 are easy to trace, Lindström the younger is less so. After winning the ETCC with Gianfranco Brancatelli and Eggenberger, he disappeared into the shadows and even Volvo had struggled to coax him into talking. But such has been the meticulous nature of the job done by Warren Heath that he was persuaded to pick up its story: “We first built a 240 at the end of 1975, for rallycross,” he says, “and added a turbo six years before Volvo introduced the 240T. 

“I wanted to tackle the ETCC in 1983 and, since we had very good connections with VW Motorsport, we decided to build a new Scirocco. But we went to the Spa 24 Hours in 1982 to see what was going on and I realised that we needed a faster car to challenge for outright victories.

“There were so many BMWs that I would just have been one of the rest if I’d taken that route. So I bought a new 240T bodyshell, picked it up in Gothenburg at the end of August 1982 and returned there in December to show our car to 57 Volvo sales managers from around the world.”

A 240 Cup had become popular in Sweden, the 242s and 244s generating 200bhp from the B21-A Volvo four-pot. That provided the basis on which this first Group A Volvo was developed, initially with about 250bhp although that would rise to a reported 350bhp-plus. It was swiftly nicknamed ‘the flying brick’.

Emanuele Pirro, who drove for BMW against the Volvos, sums it up perfectly: “I have always respected them and thought they were brave to race a saloon with that shape. They didn’t look terribly sporting.”

But that’s one of the reasons Heath has chosen to resurrect the Volvo, “There are lots of red Ferraris around,” he says, admiring 240-1 as it stands outside its usual home in a sleepy village close to Warwick.

Heath fizzes with enthusiasm when talking Volvos – and not just those of significance. He’s accumulated a large collection of them for a man who forged his reputation fettling Aston Martin engines “with strange wet liners that sit on copper shims – so many weaknesses that unless you do everything perfectly it’ll go wrong.”

Then he began to specialise in turbos. A WRC stint at Prodrive led to him touring the world, assisting with title conquests and buying a motorbike from Colin McRae, then he moved to Hyundai as Juha Kankkunen’s engine man. That groundwork subsequently enabled him to set up his own business, assisted by another Aston expert James Hipwell. 

The search for a suitable Volvo 240 began two years ago and after months of research and several trips to Sweden, 240-1 began to appear on his rader. 

“The car took nine months to track down,” he says. “There are so few around that it took a lot of searching. We realised we couldn’t probably afford to buy one of the later museum cars or anything like that – they’re hard to source. This one needed the most work but was worth doing as the first Group A car.”

Hipwell adds, “Most people would have said it wasn’t salvageable, but its history meant we had to do it.”

Once located, a trip to an engineering company in Sweden confirmed its heritage. Heath says, “It was at the top of a huge nine-car rack and I was lifted me up on a cherry picker to look around the car. There were lots of tell-tale signs.” And the original was so very clearly home-built that it would have been very difficult to copy.

The chassis plate was one thing that Heath claimed immediately, packing it into his hand luggage before arranging delivery of the rotten shell from which it had been separated. 

This is by no means intended be a museum piece – the objective has all along been to get it back onto the racetrack and at the sharp end of the grid in as close to original spec as possible. When it appeared as part of a static display at this year’s Goodwood Members’ Meeting, though, it didn’t have the plastic headlamps that were popular in period. “People used them to save weight,” Heath says, “but they don’t look very nice and we wanted it to look its best.

“There was also a panel on the scuttle that held a sort of strut brace. Lindström had welded a massive plate onto the bulkhead. It was difficult to work around and probably has too much weight, but it was important to keep it original.” 

The braces themselves were nowhere to be found, so they’ve been remade, strengthened and optimised. The same goes for the ‘lethal’ aluminium roll cage, now copied exactly but to FIA safety standards. “We reconstructed the original next to the car when we made the cage. It was a huge undertaking to get it out; it was a bolt-in job, but the angles…”

The original cage – complete with period scrutineering sticker – sits in a shed beside bits of a Spice C2 and various other oddments. 

The interior has been tough to source. Being Group A it has to follow the road car closely, even down to the door cards. Heath’s collection of donor Volvos has been raided and eBay scoured for parts, while the dials are as close to 1983 as possible and some of the original dash remains. Heath’s phone dings intermittently with that recognisable eBay alert – it seems reasonable to assume a successful auction for parts from Sweden…

“The interior was a particularly hard job,” says James. “The Lindströms’ attention to detail wasn’t great. It was a matter of whether we restored so that it was as bad as the original, or made it better?” 

The original wheels were tracked down to a drag racer in Sweden. “He’d used them and put them in his shed. We were originally looking for the magnesium bellhousing and some other bits and pieces – and having opened all of these channels you have to keep them open. He knew we wanted them, I presume he knew their importance so we had to jump through hoops and were held a bit to ransom, but they’re unique. You can see how Lindstrom converted them himself, plugging the aluminium.

“We’ve x-rayed them and crack-tested them, but we’ll only use them with wets. BBS has supplied the original wheel drawings because the second and third cars had those on, but when the originals became available we had to have them.”

Just one person in the world makes the rim clips, so a box of those was ordered – once he’d been located.

In the boot, along with original air jack holes, there was another clear sign that this was indeed 240-1. The Lindströms made their own breather clips to hold the fuel pipes in. “The fuel tank was in the boot and like something off a light aircraft. It was a bit strange. That’s why the breather clips were created. There’s no way I was going to remake it, though. It wouldn’t have been competitive so we made a new tank. I made a buck out of plywood and gave it to the manufacturer and said ‘make that’.”

They have also become racing Volvo sump specialists. An original Volvo Motorsport sump was acquired and cardboard-patterned onto a donor sump, which was then cut and moulded to shape. They’re now being sold to other historic Group A racers. 

One thing definitely wrong was the engine, a 2.3-litre rather than the permitted 2.1. “It didn’t have the proper head, but I managed to track down a works-numbered casting. I think it had gone from Sweden to the Belgian RAS team and the guy I bought it from was in Florida. I’ve only seen a handful with that number on it so I’m happy enough – I can’t do more than that. That’s the case all over, the crank is right, the head is right, the injection system is right.”

As for numbers, Heath’s not budging. “It’s been on a dyno, but they quoted some crazy figures back then. I don’t see how you could efficiently produce the figures with what they had homologated. People like quoting ponies rather than horses… ”

That’s not to say 240-1 will be outgunned when it competes. “Ours has less power, but breathes better and gives more drive throughout the range,” Heath says. 

The brakes are currently period, but are set to be changed, while the piston technology can be traced back to WRC Subarus. “The bore is the same so we can make a massive jump in performance,” Heath says. “We decided to do our own because you can take a lot of learning from a 1990s or 2000s turbo piston: Subaru used a lot of plating, with Teflon coating on the side, a very short skirt. But they had an unlimited budget and only had to do 1000kms, ours will do 12-13 hours.”

At least the livery of 240-1 has been simple enough to remake and apply (with unexpected haste due to the lateness of the Goodwood call-up). The plain black is that of the car’s first race at Monza in 1983. “The later liveries might look better,” says Hipwell, “but this is the most important.”

That day at Monza wasn’t exactly stellar but it was certainly a solid debut for Lindström and partner Stanley Dickens, later a Le Mans winner with Sauber-Mercedes. Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguars locked out the front row, followed by six BMW 635CSis, and Lindström lined up 22nd on a 39-car grid. The car was seven laps adrift at the flag, down in 16th place. 

Underwhelming? Maybe. But it was a vital first step against strong opposition that included Dieter Quester, Hans Stuck, Thierry Boutsen, Bruno Giacomelli, Helmut Kelleners and Armin Hahne at the sharp end. And the car was a comparative lightweight against heavyweights, with Volvo yet to back the project: “We raced with a small turbo and no intercooler in the 1983 ETCC,” Lindström says. “We put pressure on all of the Volvo people we knew to make an Evo series of 500 cars. Volvo accepted and the Evo was built, so we got the power we needed.”

The following year the 240 began to move up the grid, and Lindström was making a name for himself. “For that season’s first ETCC race at Monza I qualified fifth overall, behind three Jaguars and a Rover,” he says.

“Everybody was talking about the Volvo’s qualifying boost and tyres, but we didn’t have any of these things. On Sunday it rained heavily and I love wet races. There was one Jaguar in front and two driving beside each other stopping me from passing them. I passed between them at the second chicane and two laps later I took the lead. My co-driver was 8sec a lap slower than me so we fell back to sixth, but we’d proved a point.”

The factory finally signed up in 1985, with Eggenberger preparing the cars, and Lindström claimed the 1985 ETCC title. Per Stureson won the DTM in a 240, too: the Volvo turbos had changed the tin-top landscape.

The vanquished Walkinshaw took a close look at the opposition. “He got his hands on a 240,” Heath says, “and some of the mods I’ve seen were quite astounding. He widened the body an inch each side. It’s amazing. The rear axle looks a bit strange because it’s a bit narrow; I’m not sure when he got involved but it didn’t get finished.”

Things then almost fell apart for Volvo. After it was unable to produce a list of Evo owners, rumours began that it hadn’t made the 500 models required. Homologation was revoked and Lindström looked set to be an ETCC champion unable to defend his crown, until Volvo was reinstated after producing the required Evo customer list. But Eggenberger had swapped Volvo for Ford and the Swedish firm’s brief reign was over. 

“The car was very good to drive,” Lindström says. “It turned in very well and it was also  possible to get back on the throttle very early and make full use of the torque.” 

Pirro remembers them differently. “I envied their power and their traction, but not the handling, the reliability or the fuel consumption,” he says. “They were hopping and pitching in quite a peculiar way. But those days were a golden age for touring car racing.”

With Peter Auto those times could be returning and WHE has more work on the way – space was being made as we left the premises. 

The Volvos are back. 

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