Millstone corner - Bridgehampton 1965
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By the time I arrived at the Bridgehampton course on Long Island NY for my first try at a real motor race my PV had undergone considerable transformation. I’d had over a year of gymkana’s and drivers schools to learn about tinkering and tuning. The B-16 engine had been traded for a B-18 prepared following an article in “Sports Car Graphic” magazine on their Sebring P-1800. The PV also now sported cut springs, Koni shocks, Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires, a PV-444 steering box (quicker ratio) and a one piece fiberglass bucket style drivers seat. The work was performed by Silvano Bianchi and Bob Theall, both of whom I’d met through the BSCOA club. Bob and Silvano worked together at Dee Motors Volvo dealership in White Plains NY. Silvano later opened his own shop and brought Bob along with him as chief mechanic. This was Overseas Auto Repair, the name above the rear fender in some of the photo’s. Bob raced a number of different cars over the years and he and I became a sort of informal two car team.
As my racing skills had grown, and the cars performance improved, the brakes had become an issue. For the Bridgehampton event I had installed the Volvo metallic “competition” brake lining. The high performance Mintex brand lining I had been using was fine with the Pirelli Cinturato tires. Three laps at Lime Rock Park with a set of Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires, however, and they were toast. I replaced the Mintex lining with Volvo's “cerra metallic” competition brake lining. These were of a segmented design and for some reason we couldn’t get them to heat up evenly. This caused erratic grabbing and pulling as soon as the brakes were used with any enthusiasm when cold. This situation with the brakes led to an experience (an epiphany if you will) that I remember as if it were yesterday.
My competition in that first race consisted of a P-1800 driven by Frank Dumproff and an Alfa Giulia driven by Bob Theall. The race stewards had moved my B/sedan Volvo to the F/production class since there were only three entrants for the two classes. Three being the number required to establish a competition class.
Millstone straight, Millstone corner in distance - 1965.
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Chatting with Frank before the race, I told him of the problems I’d been having with the brakes. It was well that I did. The races in the ‘60’s used a standing start employing what was known as a 3-2 grid. That is three across the front row, two in the second, three in the third, aimed at the space between the cars in front etc. This worked to my advantage as my PV still had the 4.56 rear end gears from the B-16.
Both Frank and Bob were gridded ahead of me on the mixed class grid. On the start I was able (thanks to my race prepared B-18 and 4:56 rear end gears) to pass them both before the end of the straight and lead through the fast, tricky (because you had to line up for them before you could see them) downhill right hand bends to Millstone corner. Millstone corner was flat and fast and didn’t require heavy braking giving me a false sense of confidence. As we headed down the Millstone straight I glanced in the mirror to find Frank so close that I couldn’t see his hood and Bob just as close behind him. We were running at better than 90mph as we arrived at Echo Valley. The corner here began with a left hand jog into a bowl shaped right hand turn, a downhill entrance and an uphill exit with steep sand dunes on both sides (no run off area or sand traps as we have today). I knew I’d have to brake late or both Frank and Bob would dive inside me entering the turn. I braked hard as late as I dared and nearly had the wheel snatched from my hands. One front wheel locked and the other did nothing. My PV lunged, I corrected and the brakes changed sides. My PV and I slued back and forth with me all arms and elbows envisioning all three cars piled up against the sand dune with my PV on the bottom. Careening into the bowl, and having no other choice, I made a desperate attempt to take the turn at a much greater speed than I would have liked. Though badly used and abused, clawing like a cat on a tile floor my trusty PV slithered round the turn and roared out of Echo Valley onto the following straight. Then the adrenaline hit. I was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the wheel. In an instant a flood of thoughts raced through my mind. More like impressions rather than clear thoughts. I’d scared myself so badly that I wanted to quit, move over and let the other cars by. I had an instant to make a serious decision about my character. In that instant I understood that if I pulled into the pits and explained about the brakes, no one would question my motives. The car was certainly dangerous to drive at speed in it’s present condition. On the other hand I hadn’t wrecked and I was still in the lead. If I quit the race in the face of adversity then came back to race only when things were more to my liking I would, to my mind, be a fraud. I’d suffered that embarrassment once already in a gas station. I locked my knee against the throttle. Bob held on for awhile, but his Alfa was on street tires unlike the Volvo’s. It is to his credit that he hung on as long as he did. Frank and I had a fierce battle for several laps. I had more motor than he did but the more streamlined body of the P-1800 allowed him to slip stream me on the straight. Eventually Frank spun and I was able to cruise to a win in my first race. Frank paid me a compliment after the race. From our conversation before the race he knew what my problem was entering Echo Valley and told me that after that incident he wouldn't hesitate to race wheel to wheel with me in the future.
Thus began five years of motor racing adventures with my PV-544. As my skills continued to improve, I moved up to ever more challenging levels of competition and my PV stood up to whatever I asked of it. At one BSCOA event an aluminum bodied Alfa Romeo GTA was entered in the B/sedan class. The club had stated that SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) cars would be reclassified according to performance potential but then they allowed this car run in B/S anyway. This angered me. What was the point of a contest between a 185hp, twin cam, five speed aluminum bodied GT car and a push rod engined, steel bodied, five passenger sedan? I was also racing with the SCCA by this time and I accepted this situation there but the small club races were supposed to be a refuge from that sort of nonsense. Why not just hand him the trophy at registration? In the interest of having contestants enter early by mail, the starting positions were awarded on the basis of the order in which the entries had been received.. Since I had mailed my entry early I had the pole position. The Alfa started in the third row as he had entered that morning. When the flag dropped I made a good start but, as expected the Alfa caught me by the first turn. He came up on my outside but I was able to hold him off. As we entered Lime Rocks left hand turn two the Alfa nosed ahead. Now my PV was on the outside. Turn two is a long left hander followed immediately by a hard right. My PV and I managed to stay with the Alfa, on the outside, all the way round the left. Still door handle to door handle, I was able to hold him off line for the hard right and take back the lead. This earned a round of applause at the next club meeting when someone showed a film of the whole thing. My PV and I held the lead for the rest of the lap back to the front straight where the superior power of the Alfa proved too much for the PV. I nearly pushed the floorboard out in my frustration. Still, my PV had matched the Alfa Romeo for one lap. Al Roden, one our most enthusiastic race workers later said I'd held the Alfa off for three laps. Had I been able to hold the Alfa off for three laps, I'd have won that race. On another occasion I took my sister’s PV to the Hobo Hill climb in Suffern NY while my racing PV was in the shop. I had set the class record with my own PV on my last try at the hill. This time I just wanted to have a relaxed day with my friends and enjoy a few quick passes up the hill. One of my friends, who had just purchased a new Lotus Cortina, made the remark, “well Ron, we’re on even ground today, we both have street cars”. Even ground indeed, a new Lotus Cortina against a second hand PV-544 Volvo costing 1/3 the price. The “gauntlet” had been thrown, so much for a relaxed day. I managed to beat the Cortina by three hundredths of a second with my sister’s 1965 Volvo PV-544. Olaf to the resque once again. The only modifications to her PV was a set of my old 5” wheels with 185 Pirelli Cinturato tires. I also used her car once for an exhibition race on an oval track in Connecticut and once again the PV performed flawlessly. It took the abuse in stride, was a barrel of fun to slide around the short banked turns and suffered no ill effects from the experience.There were many experiences such as these. Whether it was
Thompson Connecticut - 1967. First SCCA Regional race. Famous "button hook" turn is in background.
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Reading Road Races - Reading Pa. - 1968
Second in class behind another PV driven by Bob Speakman.
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running with the Porsche 911’s in the pouring rain (the great equalizer) at Bryar Park in NH or battling MG 1100’s in a championship Gymkana, the good-natured, ungainly old Swede did the job oblivious to the fact that it was well out of its depth on those occasions..While the PV-544 was no longer a winning car by the mid ‘60’s (it’s heyday in competition having been the late fifties and early sixties), it was still able to hold its own and allow someone on a limited budget (such as myself) to compete in virtually any event for GT or touring cars. By the end of the 1968 season I had earned my SCCA national competition license and was ready, with the help of some very good friends, to embark on the most exciting season I would have with my PV-544.