Swevival: The Rebirth of an 850 Turbo

My wife is highly amused by my love of wagons. I’m always pointing out the cool ones, whether it’s an old woodie, a 3 series wagon, or the latest Polestar Volvo. Is it irrational that I am attracted to sweet, sweet utility and the sexy profile of a long roof? Maybe. A couple of my friends theorize that I am demonstrating through my car choices a willingness to father children. I don’t think that planning ahead is necessarily a bad thing, but really, guys, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have some car projects to focus on before that happens.

Some of you may have read about why I love my ZHP. You’ll notice that driving in the snow is not one of those reasons. After deciding it’d be nice to preserve the BMW from Ohio's salty winter surfaces, I started considering winter rides.

Advertisement



Enter the Moose. A friend of mine had decided it was time to get a new car, as the 1996 850 Turbo he and his girlfriend daily drove had begun to pose more problems than it was worth to them. It needed a steering rack, the radio worked intermittently, the AC didn’t work at all, and the turbo was slowly evacuating oil from the engine. To add insult to injury, someone had recently broken the left rear passenger window to steal some bags from the back seat.

Knowing its immediate needs, I searched the interwebs for comparable volvo wagons (which, it turns out, are relatively plentiful in their high-mileage glory) to help price the car. As soon as I realized that this car would cost less than a set of wheels and snow tires for the BMW, even considering the steering rack and window, I made Tom an offer and headed to Washington, D.C. shortly thereafter to celebrate new year’s and pick up the latest addition to my automotive family.

Let’s discuss the inherent awesome here. Five cylinders— the number is a bit of a novelty to me, and will sound great when I add an aftermarket exhaust. Turbo. 222hp, which doesn’t make this wagon a screamer, but it’s more than enough for a beater car. And this particular car is a Platinum Edition (I can see you all reading this and getting giddy with excitement— please contain yourselves), which means that the car is fully optioned and has a beautiful paint color that is a blend of white and silver depending on the light.

Maybe the awesomeness meter isn’t pegged for you. This may be where the irrational part comes in for me. “Turbo Volvo!” my brain kept saying. “Cult car! Hauling things! British Touring Car Racers! Sleeper potential!” With a little TLC, I could have a functional winter beater and maybe even a future daily. I had a junkyard send me a passenger window and identified a place where I could get a remanufactured steering rack at a reasonable price.

(this is one of my favorite photos and was reminded of it in this piece. Yay #1!)

With the odometer stuck at 210,366 miles for at least a few months, it was no longer clear just how aged this car was. But Tom had been religious in keeping records— nearly an inch thick of repair and maintenance paperwork since they’d gotten the car in the early 2000's. This made me feel good about my purchase. When I arrived in DC I got to work cleaning out the broken glass from the door jam and installing the new window for the journey home.

Advertisement


The first drive was the trip back to Ohio, and it was rather tentative. I tried to feel out any unidentified pitfalls, but the heated seats and heater worked better than described, the car felt fine, if a bit wallowy, above 75 mph, and the turbo appeared to make boost without a problem. Shortly after I got home, another friend of mine and I replaced the steering rack relatively easily. We realized that an upside to a leaky turbo is that most of the nuts and bolts underneath it come undone in short order. I found some steel wheels with cheap snow tires two miles from my house for $30, and the Moose was all set for winter.

Advertisement



February 2nd, 2013 brought a minor blizzard to Cleveland. The Moose performed admirably as I chauffeured my girlfriend around on a scavenger hunt that led to her becoming my fiancee. It even allowed for handbrake tail out antics in the empty snow-covered Cleveland streets.

As April rolled around, I was pouring more oil into the Moose and I’d noticed that the oil that was in the car was beginning to look a bit like chocolate milk. The PCV system was bad, too. Fortunately, we’d made it through the winter unscathed and I could park it for a little while and decide how to proceed.

Flash forward several months. My fiancee is now my wife, and it’s getting time to park the BMW for another winter. I decided that the Moose had earned a long-term spot in our garage, but to do so meant that it had to undergo some surgery. After weighing costs and the desire to have a wagon around for a while, I decided to pick up an 85,000 mile engine and 69,000 mile transmission for a heart transplant. I had the timing belt done on the new to me engine and I fitted a new PCV system as well.

Advertisement


One of the awesome things about my wife is that she let me put a few car-related things on the registry. Some friends of mine got us a buffer with a variety of pads and polishes. I’m not sure that the Moose had seen wax in several years, so before the big work was done I made use of our wedding present and made the platinum paint shine like it should.

I also bought an odometer gear to fix the stopped counter, and installed a fix that stops the back door card from rattling. It’s slowly turning into a rolling restoration— a little thing here and a little thing there.

Advertisement

As I type this, the new-used engine is ready to swap places on the subframe with the old one and the turbo is headed to a shop to be rebuilt. No, the Moose doesn’t carve corners like the ZHP, and the stereo only works with a cd or that tape adapter that lets me play my iPhone. But I still can’t wait to hit the winter roads in my refreshed ride. This isn’t the end of the Swevival— no, it’s the beginning of the Moose’s second life. Stay tuned for more!

Share This Story