It was during the 1970's that there was a regular anomaly on the rally leader boards, that being the sight of a big, heavy, unwieldy Volvo 142, thanks to the incredible skills of the elfin, blonde-headed Swede, Per-Inge Walfridsson. Almost inevitably sideways through the forests, undeterred by snow, ice or loose stones, Walfridsson swung the big Volvos around from seat and pedals elevated to suit his 5 ft. frame.
Walfridsson first took the British interrnational rallying scene by the ears in the 1972 Scottish Rally, when he had slid his way up to seventh position in his own Volvo 142 after twenty-four hours when the Volvo's sump came off worst in an altercation with a bridge. Unbelievably to many he had finished amongst the fastest five on most of the quick, dry, stony Scottish stages, before retiring.
To prove that this was no flash in the pan he re-appeared in a works-backed Group 2 Volvo 142 for the 1973 International Welsh Rally and finished second overall behind the maestro of the British forests, Roger Clark
, in a works Group 5 Escort. There were many who said that only the delays caused by a spasm of six punctures prevented the cumbersome Volvo leading the Escort home on its home ground.
A broken axle ended his run in the 1973 Scottish, but he returned with a vengeance for the 1973 RAC Rally to finish fourth overall despite gearbox trouble. A seized engine put him out of the 1974 Welsh, but his luck was better on the last RAC Rally.
Walfridsson's ability was such that in the 1974 Lombard RAC Rally he put the works-prepared Volvo into sixth place overall behind such illustrious drivers as Miikinen, Blomqvist, Munari, Waldegard and Rohrl mounted in some of the cream of suitable rally cars.
When Volvo acquired control of Dutch manufacturer DAF, the Volvo-contracted driver was able to compete in both Dafs as well as Volvos, although in the 1975 International Swedish Rally he was forced to retire when driving a DAF 66. Walfridsson once admitted that Scandinavian rally drivers had a distinct advantage over their opponents because of the opportunities to practise on the prevalent rough forest roads in summer and on the snow and ice in winter. His own career followed classic Scandinavian lines in which practice from an early age had led to perfection.
The area around his home at Torsby, in Vlirmland, 300 km. north of Gothenberg, was a rally driver's paradise and at the age of 12, and in subsequent winters, young Walfridsson started his development by borrowing a tractor from his father, a haulage and plant hire contractor who, more significantly, was also the local Volvo dealer, clearing a circuit on a nearby frozen lake and practising to his heart's content with his parents Volvo.
When he wasn't sliding four wheels around the ice, he was learning the rudiments of mechanical skill and the secrets of differerit types of slippery surfaces on a series of motorcycles (he had his first when he was 10) including OES, Harley-Davidson, Munaric, Husqvarna and Royal Enfield. The local motor club was the womb for this embryo rally driver; as soon as he was allowed to, at the age of fifteen, he marshalled and timed on rally special stages.
Patiently he waited for his eighteenth birthhday, then the legal driving age in Sweden, and soon afterwards, in January 1969, he competed in his first local rally with his mother's shopping (and absolutely standard) Volvo 142. The continuation of the elf's fairy tale would have been a win in this first event: he didn't win, as it happens, but he didn't disgrace himself either and immediately prepared the car properly for rallying.
Walfridsson mother must have had a very generous nature, at least until the inevitable happened and the 142 landed on its roof - a complete write-off! She had to buy a new car, without the help of insurance because the accident had happened on a rally, and so too did Per, a 122S. When he wasn,'t driving or preparing cars Per was studying civil engineering at college. But the call of rallying was stronger than the art of roadbuilding, so once his final exams were behind him he became a semi-professional rally driver with his own 122 -"semi" because he spent the time between rallies driving huge trucks for his father.
Walfridsson proclaimed "I have to drive it more or less flat out on the steering and the brakes and keep the throttle right down." after competing in the 1973 RAC Rally. '
Walfridsson's early forays in Swedish Championship events included one seventh place overall, but finishing rallies was not one of Per's stronger points at this time. His first notable success was third overall in a Southern Norway rally in 1971 behind Stig Blomqvist (Per proclaimed Stig "The best rally driver in the World on snow and ice,") and Per Eklund. At the end of that year the young Walfridsson turned the tables, winning the East Rally in Norway ahead of Per Eklund, a result he repeated in the 1972 Autumn Rally in Norway.
In 1971 too he had one of his few non-Volvo drives, winning a local rally in mid-Sweden with a Swedish Dealer Team Opel Ascona. Another foray with a "foreign" car was less successful: his Toyota broke before the first special stage in the 1973 Total Rally in South Africa. Volvo-mounted in last years Total, he was challenging for the lead on the last leg when the engine overheated.
But results alone do not reflect the true ability of Per-Inge Walfridsson: his achievements in putting an outclassed, under-powered, overweight rally car into the top placings were at least the equal of driving a competitive car into first place. Experts often wonder how quick he could have been if driving a far more competitive rally prepared Escort, Alpine or Stratos.