Per Eklund

How it all started...

Per Eklund began competing in local rally tournaments three weeks after his 18th birthday for it was only then when he could get a drivers license. Before his eighteenth birthday he rode as a co-driver/navigator for his father Torsten and his brother Lars. Those first years Per competed in cars that he found and could afford. His very first competition car was a Volvo PV 544, it was his fathers driving school car.

The first car which he owned himself was a used 1955 Volkswagen. His second car was a Saab 93 with a two stroke motor. In 1967 he bought a new Saab V4, with which he competed in the district Championship in rally. Up until 1968 Per belonged to a small but promising group of young drivers who got to purchase race cars direct from the Saab factory in Trollhättan. He won his first big race in a Saab 96 V4, during the 1969 season (Norska Vinterrallyt).

The year following he received additional support from Saab and was included in the Saab Factory team until 1979. Among Per’s victories during these years some of the greater placements were first place in the World Championships race in the Swedish Rally (Svenska Rallyt) in 1976, another two wins in Norway (Vinterrallyt 1971 and Firestone 1972) as well as victories in the Dutch Texaco Rally 1972. During his days with Saab Per Eklund also made some good placements in the World Championships races in Finland (Tusen Sjöars Rally), Austrian Alp rally and Great Britain RAC-rally.

At the same time that he drove Rally Per also began to drive Rallycross on both national and international levels. His Rallycross career thus began even as the sport was introduced in 1971. Per had already tried Rallycross in 1969 in a Dutch competition where he drove a specially tuned Saab (this car had belonged to Pat Moss-Erik Carlsson). Per also won the very first Swedish Rallycross tournament 1971 in Hedemora.

He and his teammate Stig Blomqvist were during the following year a main attraction in the Dutch TV-broadcasted Championships as well as in the European Championships in Rallycross. When Saab stopped their participation in the World Championships in rally, Per Eklund was immediately offered a place on many of Europe’s rally teams. His first assignment was to develop and compete in a Fiat Ritmo for the Italian carproducer. Per had similar assignments with Volkswagen, which launched Golf GTI at that time. British Triumph as well as Japanese Datsun/Nissan and Toyota also became one of Per’s employers during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

40 years as a rally driver, 19 of them with Saab

Per Eklund (born 1946 in Koppom, province of Värmland, Sweden) is one of the world's most seasoned rally drivers. He has won World Championship rallies, carried off the European Rallycross title, and won his class in the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the United States. A common link with all his great victories during 40 years of competition is that he was at the wheel of a Saab.

"It just turned out that way. At first I was driving Volvos and Volkswagens as well as two-stroke Saabs, until, in 1967, I was given the chance to buy a Saab V4 at a discount price."
"I got the discount on condition that I competed in the car," recalls Per Eklund, who incidentally entered his first motor race as far back as July 1964. But that was in his dad's driving-school car, a dual-control Volvo.

As a young and promising private driver of a Saab, Per Eklund was taken under the wing of Erik "On the Roof" Carlsson in 1968. Initially, it was a matter turning an uncut stone, as the 22-year-old Värmland youngster was then, into a diamond, which Erik succeeded in doing as the principal of the Saab Rally School at Hedenlunda, outside Nyköping.

Over the next ten years, Per and his contemporary Stig Blomqvist grew to be stars in Saab's international racing stable, which was destined to be highly successful. Per's top performance was, of course, his World Championship victory in the 1976 Swedish Rally, driving a Saab V4.

"It was great to beat Stig in an event on our home ground, but it was a tooth-and-nail fight all the way. Before we crossed the line we'd both been fired as factory drivers," says Per as he recollects the rally, which was decided at such a pace that both green Saabs could have ended up stuck fast in the snowdrifts of the Värmland forests, instead of at the top of the winner's stand in Karlstad. In 1978 he won the duel with Blomqvist in the Swedish Championship, which this time brought him a gold and not just another silver medal. During this period, Per competed with the Saab V4, the Saab 99 EMS and the Saab 99 Turbo. He also took part in a number of rallycross events, driving a turbocharged Saab V4. Per has also come to be known as "Pekka" among international rally enthusiasts, an allusion to his "slogger" style of driving and his stubbornness, which would keep him going even if the car had only three wheels left ..."You can't afford to give in," says Per characteristically.

In 1982, the year after Saab discontinued its official rallying involvement, a privately-entered Per Eklund achieved the brand's last top position in a World Championship event, finishing fourth in the Swedish Rally driving a Clarion-sponsored Saab 99 Turbo. "Bearing in mind that the competition consisted mostly of four-wheel-drive cars, and was run in snow, I rate that final result very highly," says Per, signifying the end of the rally epoch at Saab, even though he went on to drive an officially-entered Saab 900 Turbo in the British round of the 1997 World Rally Championship.

The years roll by. Per drives as a professional with most of the World Championship stables, occasionally on world or other championship events, and for half or whole competition seasons. Concurrently, he competes with his own team, the Clarion Team Europe. But there's one thing that never changes with the years, and that is the relationship with Saab, perhaps personified above all by Carlsson "On the Roof". Or as Per himself says: "Erik".

In 1996, Saab's high-flying automotive technology was combined with Eklund & Co.'s Värmland wiliness. Eagerly cheered on by Carlsson, they built a four-wheel-drive Saab 900 Turbo with an engine rated at over 600 horsepower. All brought together by the self-taught designer Leif "X" Ahl.
"Erik asked me whether it was feasible to build a four-wheel-drive rallycross Saab. I replied that if it is feasible to travel to the moon, then the answer is yes."

That was all the stubborn Eklund needed.

In the spring of 1997, only a few days before the opening of the European Rallycross Championship season, the car was ready to go. It secured the Swedish Championship for Per Eklund and Clarion Team Europe in its very first season. Two years later this was followed by the European title, and then rounded out by two class wins and a second overall placing during two visits to the annual classic Pikes Peak hill climb in the U.S. That event, along with the Monaco GP, the Monte Carlo Rally, Le Mans and the Indy 500, is regarded as among the finest that a racing driver can win.

Per Eklund and Clarion Team Europe, in collaboration with Saab, are now looking ahead to the 2005 rallycross season. Their objectives are to defend this year's Swedish Championship and to win the European Championship with a Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan. "Not an impossible assignment, as long as I have the right back-up," concludes Per Eklund, 58 years young and one of the world's most successful rally drivers.