VOLVO won the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship with New Zealander Robbie Francevic behind the wheel, but it likely wouldn’t have been the case without the help of teammate John Bowe.
The Tasmanian, who went on to win the 1995 ATCC Championship behind the wheel of a Dick Johnson Racing EF Falcon, first raced a Volvo touring car at the 1985 Castrol 500 at Sandown alongside Francevic in a Mark Petch Motorsport-prepared 240 Turbo.
The team became the Volvo Dealer Team in 1986 with John Sheppard brought in to run the operation, initially with Francevic in a sole car before a second was added mid-season for Bowe.
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“The second car was a right-hand drive car that the factory had in Sweden as a test car, so it was the only right hand drive car ever made, except the one that Sheppo (Sheppard) built later,” Bowe told Episode 189 of the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Repco.
“I think that was when Mark Petch were still involved; him and Sheppo went over to Monza and saw all the factory people racing in the European Touring Car Championship.
“[They] managed to get this car and I drove it at Adelaide, so it was a brand new car with test mileage.”
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Bowe made his championship debut at Adelaide International Raceway four rounds into the 1986 season, qualifying third and finishing fourth before sensationally scoring pole position in only his second ATCC start one week later at Wanneroo Raceway.
The 1995 champion sits alongside Francevic (1985), Peter Brock (1973), Wayne Gardner (1993), Ian Geoghegan (1961), Bob Jane (1962) and Richie Stanaway (2017, counted due to the unique qualifying race format used for the Sandown 500 between 2012 and 2018) to have scored pole in their second attempt.
David McKay (1960), Jim McKeown (1964), Frank Gardner (1975) and Greg Murphy (1997) are the only drivers who claimed pole on their ATCC/Supercars debut.
However, a maiden win wasn’t to be; Bowe retired from the lead just past half-distance when the Volvo overheated.
The right-hand drive car didn’t remain in Bowe’s hands for long after that pole position.
Wins at three of the first four rounds gave Francevic a strong early lead in the championship lead, but the threat of the improving Nissan Skyline of George Fury meant the Volvo driver wanted the best tool at his disposal for the title battle.
“Robbie wanted the car because it was better or he saw it as being better, so he took the car and I had the left-hand drive car which was the older car which was built in 1984,” Bowe said.
An early retirement from the seventh round at Calder trimmed Francevic’s points lead from 57 to 29, and more mechanical problems at the following Lakeside round looked set to cost him even more ground.
Francevic’s car overheated during Friday practice and a cracked cylinder head was diagnosed after qualifying.
The problem threatened to sideline him from the race until Bowe offered to give the sole remaining Volvo to the championship leader.
“I said to Sheppo: ‘Robbie can have my car.’ I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Bowe said.
Francevic started at the back of the grid and recovered to fourth using Bowe’s #4 Volvo, scoring 20 points that proved pivotal when the championship was decided two rounds later at Oran Park.
Fury won the finale while Francevic took the chequered flag in sixth, giving the Volvo driver the title by just five points.
The newly-crowned champion was then sensationally fired from the team on the eve of the Sandown 500 that year, a story Bowe tells among many others in Episode 189 of the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Repco.