Gunnar Andersson was born in the Swedish province of Dalsland, on 17 April 1927 – just three days after the first Volvo car left the factory in Gothenburg. When he was 10, the family moved to Gothenburg and after school, he joined the Air Force as a trainee aircraft technician. Meanwhile, he began to repair and sell pre-war cars in a nearby rented garage.
In 2001, Gunnar Andersson gave an interview before Volvo’s – and obviously also Gunnar’s – 75th anniversary. This is a summary of his story :
“In 1953, I came by a Jaguar XK120 and decided to enter an open driving skills competition in central Gothenburg. There were over a thousand entries, who had to complete ten different tests in a given time. Of those who passed the first nine, the winner was the driver who was fastest in the tenth. “The tenth test was to reverse through an obstacle course. Since the Jaguar was fast also in reverse and since I had a clear view with the top down, I was the overall winner.”
This gave him a taste for more and he entered a famous hill-climbing race where he made such a success, driving so fast that the organisers queried there own timing. Seizing their chance, the rest of the field entered a protest and the run was abandoned. Then, Gunnar finished only 3rd overall...
Anyhow, aged 26, Gunnar Andersson now knew that he was a top-rank driver and his rally career was launched.
In 1957 he was persuaded to buy a Volvo PV 444 on the grounds that ‘they never break down’. Although slightly dubious, Gunnar made a good deal and bought a PV from the Gothenburg Volvo dealer. Volvo fitted an ‘American spec’ 85-hp engine in the car, and Gunnar started to use it in rallies and ice races.
He entered the European Rally Championship in 1958. The first rally was held in Greece and he led the overall championship after only a few events. In Sweden, he won the Midnight Sun Rally with co-driver Ellemann-Jakobsen and was rapidly becoming a name. Volvo boss Gunnar Engellau was quick to realise the marketing value of these triumphs and Volvo-Gunnar started to appear in the Volvo marketing.
The famous photo of an airborne Gunnar Andersson in his PV during the 1958 Midnight Sun Rally which he won. For marketing reasons Volvo retouched this photo making a PV544 out of the 444 which Gunnar actually drove.
Prior to this, Gunnar had joined the Volvo Service School and has suddenly become Volvo’s most famous personage alongside Gunnar Engellau.
“I was supposed to work as an instructor at the school, but I could not combine it with my rally career.” he explained. “So I transferred to a combination of marketing and driving.
1958 was my best year, although I decided not to compete in the RAC rally in Britain since I had already won the overall European Championship. This is something I have regretted ever since – I would have been unbeatable and an RAC win is something special.”
Gunnar Andersson was not exclusively a works driver. In 1959, he won the Swedish Track Racing Championship as a private entrant, ahead of Tom Trana who was also to acheive great success as a Volvo driver.
“I liked being a part of Volvo”, Gunnar said. “It was fun to drive a Swedish car, especially far from home like in Argentina. And the Volvo crew had a fantastic team spirit.”
It was in Argentina that Gunnar acheived one of his greatest victories in his PV, winning the Gran Premio in 1960. Two years later, Volvo swept the board in the same event, taking six of the top eight places.
In 1961, Gunnar entered the classsic Italian cross-country race, the Mille Miglia, in a Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta – and was the overall winner.
To commemorate this victory, he was invited to take part in an exhibition version of the Mille Miglia in 1984. Although driving a white Volvo PV544 on this occasion, he was universally recognised and hailed by the car-mad Italian fans.
In 1962, Gunnar Andersson was summoned by Gunnar Engellau and asked to scale down his rally involvement to take the job of competition department manager. Although the prospect did not appeal to him, Gunnar reluctantly accepted the job and promoted the careers of a number of promising young drivers, including Tom Trana, Carl-Magnus Skogh, Bengt Söderström and Sylvia Österberg.
He still competed in rallies and crowned his career by winning the European Championship in 1963. While Tom Trana won the RAC two years in a row, and became the Champion in 1964.
Later in the career Gunnar Andersson switched from PV to Amazon but the PV remained his favourite.
Under the direction of Gunnar Andersson, Volvo continued to produce rally accessories for dedicated enthusiasts while Volvo management decided to terminate all competition activities after some severe accidents.
In 1972, Gunnar established the Volvo Track Racing Trophy, in which 80 wildly enthusiastic drivers competed in their Volvo 140s. Five years later this event was superseeded by an equally attractive trophy for Volvo-badged rallycross cars and a Volvo 343 was also built in 1977 especially for the Swedish Rallycross Championship which also became champion in the hands of Per-Inge Walfridson.
The management’s enthusiasm for competition was rekindled and Volvo established a works stable – The Volvo R-Team – to support the Volvo 343 in rallycrosss events with the European Championship as the ultimate of many prizes during some five years.
“Once the 343 rallycross venture was over, it was time for me to quit the competition scene”, Gunnar Andersson said. “For a number of years, I was something of an ambassador for Volvo. I travelled the world for various product launches and, among other things, I was involved in crash testing. And, of course, I did odd spectacular test drives.
“I enjoyed a number of incredibly enjoyable years before I officially retired at the age of 65 in 1992, but I continued to travel as a Volvo ambassador for several years. Nevertheless, I still regard 1958 as the most enjoyable year of my life. This was when I won my first Euroepan Rally Championship and I will never forget the feeling.”
Later in life Gunnar built his own PV444 using a twin-Weber DOHC 16 valve Volvo engine
Gunnar Andersson’s major wins
Kristianstad GP (standard saloon class)
Midnight Sun Rally, Adriatic Rally, European Rally Championship
Skarpnäck 12-hour (racing), Silverstone (racing), Swedish Racing Championship
Deutsche Rally, Argentinian Gran Premio (4,650 km endurance rally)
Mille Miglia (roadrace, in a Ferrari)
Skarpnäck 12-hour (racing; Volvo 1st, 2nd and 3rd), Argentinian Gran Premio (Volvo took 6 of first 8 places)
European Rally Championship
Titles won by Volvo during Gunnar Andersson’s time as works driver and competition director
2 World Championships for constructors
5 European Rally Championships
1 European Rallycross Championship
1 Nordic Rallycross Championship
17 Swedish championships in rally and rallycross
A man with many victories and many trophies, Gunnar Andersson, ace rally driver for Volvo, April 17 1927 – June 9 2009