"I'll have the best handling $550 Volvo in the country," I typed, perhaps with a bit too much enthusiasm. Rob, a racing buddy of mine who finds the romance between me and my 200+ thousand mile 850 Turbo a bit of a novelty, replied quickly with a laugh. With more than a few cars under his belt, Rob knows that decisions like buying a set of Koni Yellows for my ancient station wagon don't have to make sense to feel so right.
Longtime R&T contributor Peter Egan once wrote that the term "differently saned" was preferable to "crazy" when describing an enthusiast's approach to questionable automotive investments. This notion amply covers the purchase of performance suspension pieces for a wagon that was built the year I got my driver's license. I admit it did cross my mind that the Koni purchase would unleash a larger, even less sensical plan to restore the entirety of my wagon's suspension. Pandora's box and whatnot aside, I swear I am doing this in the name of safety. Really.
My alibi goes like this: I was late to a meeting recently and I might've applied a little late braking to make the yellow light of a notoriously busy left-hand turn. In doing so I discovered just how light the rear end of my Volvo gets, whatwith bushings consisting of finely granulated rubber and dampers whose compression and rebound rates are not really and definitely not, respectively. After straightening out the wheel a bit to keep the wallowing rear end in check, I thought to myself, "now might be a good time to consider updating the suspension." Naturally, my next thought was, "why settle for stock replacements when you're taking the time to make improvements?"
I should say that I am already pretty well committed to this car, and that the $550 was just the initial investment. It started out simply enough; I needed a cheap car to get me through Cleveland winters so my BMW 330i ZHP could relax in the salt-free comfort of our garage. One thing led to another—I've always had a soft spot for wagons and have recently developed an affinity for playing with turbocharged engines—and what started out as a purchase that cost less than a set of Blizzaks for the BMW turned into a new steering rack, fresh brakes, and most recently a lower mileage engine and transmission.
Details aside, what am I doing? Why would I methodically rebuild this 850, which was originally destined for donation by the previous owner to a public radio station (it is a Volvo, of course its owners value public radio) for a tax deduction? Any sane person would find a nice, reliable Subaru with half the miles to romp around in the feet upon feet of snow and polar vortices of Northeast Ohio.
This is where Egan's sagacity comes in. The differently saned among us need projects while our SCCA Miata engines are getting built, and we derive a bit of pleasure from keeping quirky but lovable brands on the road. This Volvo isn't Egan's Jag E-type or Lotus Elan—it's about as far as it could be from them—but those clean 90's lines, mechanical simplicity, and a practicality that far exceeds my Miatas and BMW have carved a special place for the 850 in my heart. I can't wait for these Koni's to arrive, and I sure am looking forward to trail-braking this wagon into turn 13 at a Nelson Ledges track day this spring.