Mud, rain, hail and a torrent of fun: Northern Loon Rally recap

Ever since building my ’67 Volvo Amazon for the Canada 5000 rally-inspired road trip last year, I’ve been itching to get it into a proper TSD to see how it performs. When Tom Chichak asked if I wanted to compete in the Edmonton Rally Club’s Northern Loon Rally with him, I couldn’t pass up the chance.

As is always the case when I enter any type of motorsports event, the car preparations went on right up until the last minute. The biggest challenge was getting a working odometer in the car and I left that in Tom’s capable hands. After trying unsuccessfully once again to get my TerraTrip working, he moved on to installing an Alfa Pro. After some last-minute calibrations, he got it working beautifully on the Friday night before the Saturday event.

Last minute preparations at the shop.
Last minute preparations at the shop.

My tasks on the car didn’t go as well. The carbs have been horribly out of tune and while I did get them running better, they still have an annoying tendency to bog when starting from a stop. I’ll be consulting with the SU experts to try to get that figured out.

On Saturday, the rally started well and Tom was bang on with the navigation while I was a little sloppy in translating his directions into steering wheel inputs. I forgot which was left and which was right on a couple of occasions. The real fun started with the second regularity as the route hit excellent gravel roads west of Devon, darting in and out of the North Saskatchewan River Valley. I made a few mistakes, but luckily had enough pace that they didn’t hurt us too badly.

Tom hard at work on the calculations.
Tom, with his Curta calculator, hard at work on the math.

Things were about to get more interesting for us though. After that section, our odometer mysteriously stopped functioning. The Volvo’s stock speedometer is horribly inaccurate so keeping pace was challenging. The speedo is supposed to read in MPH, but in reality it reads closer to KPH, which makes it completely confusing. So we had no accurate way to measure distance and only a vague idea of how fast we were going, which is not ideal for a TSD rally. Luckily, I had a bright guy beside me who did a damn good job of knowing where we were. Without an odometer, he was relying on rally time to figure out when we should be reaching landmarks and turns marked in the routebook. The tracks in the mud from cars ahead of us were helpful too and I don’t think we made any navigational errors, despite flying pretty much blind.

After lunch, there were new challenges as we hit construction and a massive storm with heavy rain and a touch of hail. The Volvo’s wipers had trouble keeping up with the downpour but we made it out unscathed.

Our rally got dicey in the sixth regularity, which was soggy and sloppy after the storm had passed through. The hopeless 165R15 tires were no match for the mud and traction was a major problem. The rear end was getting squirrely and a better driver likely could have kept a faster pace, but I couldn’t do it without the possibility of being passed by the rear of the car. There were a few hairy moments, but thankfully we stayed on the road, although we took major time penalties along the way. Wider wheels which give me more options for suitable tires are definitely in the Volvo’s future. The final two regularities were mucky but the pace was better and we didn’t lose nearly as much time.


We finished 11th of 19 cars and third out of four in historic class. I was hoping to be a bit higher up the field, but there’s a lot of improvement to be had in both car and driver (mostly driver.) Best of all, I had more fun in a car than I’ve had in a long time!

The Volvo lived up to its reputation for reliability with just a few minor mechanical glitches. The adjustment arm for the alternator popped off the block and the exhaust developed a nasty rattle where it is likely hitting the chassis, but that was thanks to me hitting a rock.

Big thanks to Premier Building Solutions and all of the other sponsors who made the Northern Loon Rally possible. Also a huge thanks to all of the volunteers as well as Car 10 and the sweep vehicle for helping us when we lacked fuel. Thanks to Shawn from for the gear and for the great photo he got of the Volvo.

Properly covered in mud at the end of the rally.
Properly covered in mud at the end of the rally.

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