Moving sheds with a Volvo 850R

Using an eighteen year old Volvo to move some old car parts. Fantastic you say, what’s so special about that? Quite a bit really, when the Volvo in question happens to be the rare and desirable 850R.

Like a lot of previous models before it the Volvo 850 personified the staid, safe image that Volvo is famous for, which makes the 850R even more special. Volvo’s designers have worked their magic on the boxy 850, somehow adding a whole lot of aggression, but still keeping the R understated and tasteful. It looks purposeful without looking pretentious; it looks racy without looking ‘boy racey’. I’ve long admired the 850R because quite frankly I think it looks hot. It has the right touring car influences, but you could still give your girlfriends Mum a lift in to dinner without raising her eyebrows. And the Police? C’Mon, it’s a Volvo!

There were only about 5,500 850R’s produced worldwide. Like many similar European factory hotrods, they are rare in Australia because they were extremely expensive but only appealed to a very limited market. But the 850R buyer got a lot of understated goodness for his many dollars – most notable of which is the mechanical package. Based on the 850 Turbo, the 850R utilises a version of Volvo’s turbocharged 5cyl 20v engine specially modified by Porsche to produce around 250hp. The front wheel drive gearbox also benefits from Porsche’s expertise, and features a torsen limited slip differential amongst it’s five ratios. The interior received the most beautifully trimmed black leather and alcantara seats, joining dark woodgrain trim and a special steering wheel.

The front bumper receives a new lip spoiler, the side skirts have been extended and the rear bumper also benefits from an extended lip. The rear boot spoiler is much larger, and has the coolest black coloured extension subtly integrated. The wheels are now 17×7 in size to accommodate larger brakes, and are painted an aggressive satin grey colour. You can really see the direct styling influence of the British Touring Car Championship 850’s during the 90’s, which was probably one of the best era’s for touring car racing, ever.

It’s not hard to see where the 850R’s influences came from.

Volvo also famously entered the 850R wagon in the BTCC for a few seasons in the mid 90’s.

The best ever era for touring car racing? Yes, easily. This video is worth watching just for what happens in the last few frames.

So what were we doing using an 850R to move an old Alfa and some spare parts? My good friend Michael is finally moving into his new shed and house. Between the 5 cars we collectively own, none are capable of towing, and the only car we could borrow with a tow bar just happened to be the 850R. Damn.

So what’s it like? I only briefly drove it and it was towing an empty car trailer at the time. Even with the trailer on the back it’s quite a rapid car, still giving impressive acceleration through the gears. The most noticeable thing is the beautiful sound of the 5 cylinder engine as it revs out, followed by the barely audible whistle of the wastegate on gear changes. 5 cylinder engines have a very distinct sound to them, they really sound like half a V10 and the 850R is no exception.

Unhook the trailer and the R is really unleashed. Its speed surprises and is unexpected, because despite the alcantara it still feels just like an 850 inside. But it’s no sports car, and no replace for a finely honed Alfa or something similar. It still feels every inch it’s large size, and whilst the comfortable seats and heavy sound insulation passes freeway kilometres with ease, it isolates you from what’s really going on. It’s definitely not a bad handling car, quite the opposite in fact, but it still feels like a luxury sedan.

In my opinion, you couldn’t own the 850R as your only sports car. But as a daily driver? Absolutely perfect. It’s finely styled bodykit hints at your passion, but those with no motorsports interest won’t sneer. It will very safely deliver you to your destination in ultimate comfort, and has just enough poke to keep things interesting when you put your foot down. An ideal compromise. 

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