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Kelab Volvo Klasik Malaysia’s cross border run to Ko Lanta, Thailand

POSTED BY Motorme Admin ON 24 April 2018

Article and photos supplied by Amaresh Dev

It has always been a tradition for Kelab Volvo Klasik Malaysia (KVKM) to organise long distance runs to Thailand every other year or so. Over the years, the club has been to Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Bangkok.

For 2018, it was decided that the club would head to Ko Lanta for the first time. Ko Lanta is a small quiet haven of an island in Krabi province, facing the Andaman Sea, and accessible by barge from the mainland.

It is not as commercialised as Phuket or Krabi, making it the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, where most of the KVKM members reside. Incidentally, Ko Lanta is also a popular destination for Swedish tourist, and the arrival of classic Volvos on the island added some unexpected excitement to their holiday.

After some recce and detailed planning were put into place, the day finally came. On Apr 5, the convoy of 12 classic Volvos departed Kuala Lumpur at 6.00am and headed north for Satun, south Thailand where we would break journey for the day.

The convoy comprised nine Volvo 122s, one 123GT, one P1800, and a “big bumper” 144.  Driving on the North-South highway, traffic was light and the convoy made good progress, averaging between 90-100km/h. The first stop was at Tapah rest area, where everyone stopped for breakfast and refueling.

The journey then continued with some beautiful scenery along the way, especially at the Menora Tunnel area between Ipoh and Kuala Kangsar. The convoy then made a quick pit stop at Bukit Mertajam rest area before heading to Changlun, in preparation to cross the border.

Driving a classic or vintage car for long distances is not without its perils. All the cars in the convoy are over 50 years of age save for the 144, the “baby” of the fleet at 44 years old.  Something could always give way catastrophically, putting an end to a well-planned road trip.

Then again, the convoy is made up of pushrod Volvos (the 144 included), known for its legendary reliability and durability. In many parts of the world, they are still in regular daily service, some commercially, with more extreme ones participating in off road rallies, particularly in Sweden.

The unforgiving searing hot weather, at times close to 40C, had taken a toll on some of the cars. At 1.15pm, after exiting the North-South highway and heading towards Changlun, the first breakdown occurred.

The lone 144, which ran well throughout the trip, had smoke billowing from the engine bay.  A quick check by our resident mechanic Joe Miranda revealed a small leak at the power steering high pressure steel hose, spewing ATF over the hot exhaust manifold and generating all the smoke.

At this point in time, the convoy’s emergency management and spirit of camaraderie kicked into gear. One car stayed back at the roadside with the 144, while the other cars proceeded to Changlun, about 10 minutes away, for lunch and to get all the required paper work ready to cross into Thailand.

Another car took the steel hose for repairs. It returned to the 144 half hour later with the mended hose (and packed lunch), and at around 2.20pm, the 144 was up and running again.

After lunch and with the paper work sorted out, the convoy headed towards Wang Kelian, Perlis, driving through federal roads. The drive was nice and easy at first until we hit some serious mountainous terrain, more suited for 4×4 vehicles. Facing almost vertical slopes, coupled with tight hairpin bends, the grueling roads were definitely not for the faint hearted.  The Volvo men, however, took it all in one corner at a time, crawling on 2nd gear (some even dropped to 1st gear) at almost full throttle while tackling the turns.

As all the seasoned cars had seasoned drivers, we conquered the hill without much difficulty, although it did momentarily take us out of our comfort zone. After the peak, the descend was just at steep, where most drivers maintained a low gear to keep the speed in check and to prevent the brakes from overheating. Long live the manual gearbox!

At around 5.00pm local time, the convoy safely crossed into the Kingdom of Siam, and the feeling of joy resonated through the convoy as we passed the first major milestone. After clearing immigration and customs, we proceeded to Satun via federal roads, passing through the rural areas of southern Thailand.

Things took a turn for the better. The roads were nice and wide, and the surface was as smooth as silk, significantly improving the NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) of the old Volvos. The drive was made easier with light traffic throughout. An hour later, we checked into Satun Boutique Motel, where we had a friendly and resourceful host, who attended to most of our requests and needs. This is a highly recommended place to stay, should you find yourself passing through Satun. We had dinner and retired for the night, as we had covered close to 600 kilometers that day in our trusty rides.

The next morning, we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast by our host. After checking out and bidding farewell by 6.30am local time, the convoy then proceeded to Ko Lanta, the final destination of the journey. An hour into the drive, the power steering hose on the 144 started to leak again, minus the smoke this time.

In order not to delay the journey, the power steering belt was removed, making the car drivable again, thanks to a multi-belt system. Try that on a modern car with that single long serpentine belt! The weather continued to be hot, and this proved too much for one of the 122s as it started to overheat at traffic lights and whenever the car idled. However, that car made it to Ko Lanta, with careful monitoring of the temperature gauge and water level in the radiator.

The rest of the journey to Ko Lanta was smooth as we moved at a leisurely pace. Enjoying the drive, we took in the sights of the countryside of Thailand through the road less travelled. There were trees and rubber plantations for the most part of the journey, providing a natural canopy and relief from the scorching sun. After refueling and a lunch break, we arrived at Hua Hin pier to get onto the barge to Ko Lanta. Alas, there was a 1km queue.

Not wanting our trusted rigs to overheat during the long idle, we turned off the engines and took shelter from the heat at the nearby houses. The line moved each time a barge arrived at the pier and cars were loaded onto it. About an hour later, we arrived at Ko Lanta island, and as we were driving to the hotel, the convoy made heads turn, especially the Swedish tourists, who were surprised to see Volvos on the remote island, let alone classic ones!

Finally, we reach Lanta Palm Beach Resort, and one by one, we parked our cars and turned off the engines. By then, we had covered almost 900 kilometers, no mean feat for a fleet of cars over half a century old. Before long, our cars were surrounded by admiring Swedish tourist, happily posing and taking pictures. After checking in and a nice cool shower, we spent the entire evening at the beach for dinner and a sing along session. Our spirits and enthusiasm were high as we discussed the journey, and the thrills and spills along the way.

In order to give the cars a rest, we swapped the convoy of Volvos for a convoy of motorcycles to tour Ko Lanta. Everyone had a good time zipping up and down the island and going for long motorcycle rides. We also tried the local delicacies and did some shopping as well. The rest of the afternoon was free and easy, with everyone moving at their own pace and taking a well deserved rest. We managed to get the power steering hose fixed at a local workshop, and the owner refused to accept any payment, knowing that we had come a long way. It was all about Thai hospitality and the international brotherhood of the motoring fraternity at its best!

We spent two days at Ko Lanta before it was time to depart again, this time taking a different route home through Trang and Phattalung, before breaking journey at Danok. The overheating 122 had developed a water pump leak. As the spare part was not available, Joe Miranda nursed the car throughout the journey and it actually made it back to Kuala Lumpur without much difficulty.

Somewhere near Phattalung, the alternator on the 123 GT started acting up. After swapping the battery with another 122, the alternator miraculously started charging again, and the GT continued the journey as normal. There were no other problems reported for the remaining 9 cars that made up the convoy.

Happily, all cars completed the 1,800km run under their own power – none came back on a tow truck. All the Volvos were back home safe and sound before sunset on Apr 9. The five-day cross border journey had been successfully completed and although there were some spills along the way, none of the engines or gearboxes in any of the cars missed a beat.

The venerable B18/B20 pushrod engines, coupled with the M40 gearbox (M41 for those with overdrive) are built to travel millions of miles if its basic need of fuel, air, spark, lubrication and cooling are met.  A similar powertrain resides in a particular P1800, belonging to Irv Gordon, the holder of the highest mileage for a non-commercial car, at three million miles, and counting.  Volvo had “overbuilt” these cars, at a time when cars were meant to last a lifetime.

Tired from the journey, but proud of our trusted piece of Swedish engineering, we are already talking of the next epic cross border trip.  Road to Mandalay, anyone?

Kelab Volvo Klasik, Malaysia (KVKM) is a non-profit society that is registered under the Societies Act, 1966 of Malaysia in 1997. The objectives of the Club are to promote interest in classic Volvo cars by promoting goodwill and foster healthy camaraderie amongst members of the Club through social, charitable and welfare activities. The writer is a member of KVK and owns the 144 mentioned in the article.