After six limousines in The Road Going Cars by Touring Car Racing, it’s time to turn our attention to a slightly different type of car, the Volvo 850 Estate. It may not have been one of the most successful touring cars of all time, and it may be a car most associated with carrying a Labrador than touring Oulton Park at peak hours, but the 850 Estate managed one of the becoming the most iconic and talked about 1990s cars thanks to BTCC exploits.
After leaving the ETCC in late 1986, the successes of Gianfranco Brancatelli and Thomas Lidström in the 240 Turbo in the early 1990s were a distant memory of Volvo. However, Martin Rybeck, the company’s senior vice president, wanted a return to motorsport to bolster Volvo’s image, and he believed he had found the perfect opportunity at the BTCC.
The car that convinced Rybeck that the board would be right for the challenge was the 850, but instead of completely choosing the property as a marketing gimmick, it was indeed a choice born of chance and development, which led to massive media presence for the car.
The Volvo 850
Designed by Jan Wilsgaard, Volvo’s chief designer from 1950 to 1990, the 850 was produced between 1992 and 1997 and became the first front-wheel-drive Volvo to be exported to North America. continent.
The 850 was built in the Swedish Volvo Torslanda plant and in the Belgian plant gentarisch and had despite its comfortable exterior design over a large internal capacity, which was achieved partly by the transverse mounting of the engine.
In the US, this engine was an aluminum 20-valve, five-cylinder model, with a more fuel-efficient 10-valve model available and popular in other markets.
In 1995, an updated version of the T-5R was launched, featuring a special Bosch control unit that increased BHP vehicles to 240. Available in a curious, three-color palette (black, emerald green metallic and cream yellow!), Only about 5,500 versions were made, of which just under half landed on the Stateside, where 850 “wagons” thrilled and entertained for their athletic appeal.
For the last two years of production, the top spec model has become the 850R, with a larger production and fortunately a wider choice of colors! The heavily revised suspension was designed to further enhance comfort while boosting performance with a new intercooler and a larger Mitsubishi turbocharger.
In the final year of the 850, before the V70 replaced it as Volvo’s combination model, there was a five-cylinder TURBO diesel vag, while an AWD model with a new low-pressure turbo engine was unveiled.
Also in the car it was not about speed. In addition to the meanwhile typical safety features of modern vehicles, the 850 achieved a world first when in 1995 it was the first car to install side airbags (SIPS).
A racing experiment
Rybeck decided that the obvious place to bring Volvo back as a motorsport brand was the BTCC, with longtime Volvo specialist Steffanson Automotive (SAM) entrusted with the task of proving that the 850 could be described as a competitor.
The story goes that SAM was asked to collect a motor and body to support their test gull, but the day SAM representatives arrived at the Volvo plant, only discounts were available. So instead of delaying the project, a long tail body was removed.
Finally, limousine and station wagon versions were tested by SAM in the Gothenburg wind tunnel, with the results showing that the latter offered better downforce due to its long flat roof. Whether that’s true is another matter, but the downforce generated by the estate could not have been much worse than the sedan, otherwise Volvo’s motorsport return would have been discouraged from the start.
TWR were brought aboard, and in late 1993 Volvo confirmed its BTCC debut, with both the versions of wagon. and limousines were shown at the Swedish Motor Show in January ’94. At the Geneva Motor Show in March, the news was announced that the motorsport world was announced it would be the 850 Estate that would take over the BTCC.
Designed by Richard Owen, who wrote the Jaguar XJ220, the TWR Prep car did not wheel a test in Snetterton until a week before the first lap. Extensive changes were made to the 850 road, with TWR designing a special gearbox with which the engine could be lowered and moved back to move its weight behind the front axle. In the engine compartment space was found because Volvo had space in the standard model under the hood, to incorporate turbocharger in higher 850s years.
The driver was also moved to a lower and more central position, with the extension of the pedals and the steering column.
In its debut season in 1994, the 850 Estate achieved the best finish in fifth place, while both Jan Lammers and Rickard Rydell finished third in the qualifier during the season, with the team finishing the year in sixth place in the overall standings.
Despite its powerful engine, the car’s poor aero failed the car; in fact, you just have to look at the 850’s frontal view to see why! Rear weight distribution, which meant a lack of weight over the front wheels, also hampered the performance of the cars in slow corners, though Tim Harvey praised the handling of the machines after testing the car after the season.
With the Alfa Romeo 155 ushered in an era of aerodynamic equipment, and the introduction of new rules for aerodynamics and rooflines made the sedan a better choice (or if you were cynical, a good excuse to change!) And so after a year , and many column inches, the experiment was over, and the 850 appeared in more conventional saloon garb (see photo below), allowing Rydell to take four victories and challenge for the championship alongside new teammate Harvey.
The estate, however, remains one of the most iconic and talked about cars in the Super Touring era, and while its performance on the track may have been forgotten, the car itself is not in danger of falling from memory.
For many, the idea of driving a station wagon was ridiculous, but for Volvo it would provide them with the level of media exposure they sought, both then and now, for the fact that the 850 is still being discussed in articles like this one , testifies to the machines marketability.
Only three stalls were made (apart from the original SAM prototype), all of which appeared in the BTCC in 1994. The first chassis then spent some time in Australia before returning to Sweden, where it was rebuilt and returned to its original livery before being stored.
The second can still be seen in the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg, while the third model before the 1995 campaign was converted into a limousine and used as a test hack.
As a road car and touring car, the 850 helped move Volvo’s perception away from safe and uninspiring cars to a “cooler” and sporty brand. Volvo’s continued presence in touring car racing is proof of that, although it will probably be some time before we see how the brand sells another station wagon, as good as the road model may be.