So... Long time poster, first time author, or something. A few weeks ago, I made mention in a comment of a newly acquired Volvo 850R, and so, I thought that my inaugural post might as well be about that.

Apologies in advance for length – skip to the end for photos, but for those who can be bothered reading it, I’d love some feedback.

The story started when I saw a moving-house sale posted on my neighbourhood’s e-mail list. Along with the various boring household items was a line that caught my eye: “1996 Volvo 850R Wagon. Has undiagnosed hot-start issue. $1500.” I was by no means looking for a car, least of all a project (I already have two of both!), but the seller was only a block away, and at that price, I had to at least take a look.

I made the mistake of telling my partner’s father about it. He is one of the most genuinely good people that I have ever met, and a great friend and mentor. However, he is a terrible enabling influence when it comes to my broken-car habit. The last time I told him about a car for sale, the next day saw us trekking across Wisconsin in the middle of winter to tow home a barely-running barn-find VW Scirocco, but that’s another story.

So, we rocked up to the seller’s house, and come upon a rather sad-looking car. It was already running and warmed up (a bad sign if ever there was one), the paint was faded, the front lip was held together with duct tape and zip ties, and the driver’s side carpet was sodden. We took it for a test drive, and aside from a horrid front-end knock, it drove beautifully, in spite of its 213,000 miles. The trouble started when I stopped by at home to show my (lovely, tolerant, and very supportive) partner. The mighty turbocharged five-pot flatly refused to fire, instead preferring to sit in silence and anoint our driveway with oil even more generously than my MG could ever muster. Being far more sensible than I, she promptly vetoed the whole exercise. However, I was still in a bit of a bind: that car wasn’t going anywhere.


Our first instinct was to tinker. The car wasn’t mine, and we knew next to nothing about Swedish cars, but we set about doing research, testing things, and narrowing down the faults. After spending several hours going nowhere (although having ruled out a few possible causes), I called it quits and had the AAA tow it back to the seller. Although I had become rather attached to the car while diagnosing it, I told myself that I was going to walk away. The car was cheap, yes, but with a host of potential problems, fixing it would likely not be.

However, all my best intentions went out the window when the seller told me that he had no interest in taking the car with him when he moved, and that if it wasn’t gone by the end of the week, he’d scrap it. Some further goading from my partner’s father, and a bit of back-and-forth on the price, and it was mine, for the princely sum of $850, with a set of nearly-new winter tires thrown in for good measure!


Fate would have it that, as soon as it came home on the trailer, it fired up and ran without a hiccup! A bit more detective work led me to a horrific-looking splice in the engine wiring harness, obviously put there to bodge some other issue in the past, and a highly likely source of intermittent faults. After a bit of electrical surgery, it has run perfectly ever since (knock on wood). Even better, it turned out that the front-end knock that I was so worried about was just a bent heat shield catching on a lump on the brake disc, and the sodden carpet was due to a slow leak from the heater core rather than water ingress, meaning that the antifreeze had stopped any mould or rust problems, and after a quick cleanup (and a rag stuffed under the heater core while I wait for a replacement), it was just fine!


Having finally had the chance to drive it properly this weekend, I’m thoroughly convinced that I made the right choice. With the money that I was going to spend on a TV, Xbox and Forza, I instead have a properly quick car that can double as a load-hauler AND winter beater. I suspect that it doesn’t quite make the 240bhp and 300Nm that it would have done in its prime, but even so, it still feels plenty quick, and its rather brute-ish power delivery (“What did you say? You’d like MORE turbo lag and torque steer?”) and fantastic turbocharged 5-cylinder soundtrack put a stupid grin on my face every time I plant my right foot.

It is still far from perfect. The interior is fairly well-worn (by the way, does anybody know if it is possible to clean up alcantara that has pilled?), the engine leaks oil profusely (although a switch to synthetic 5W40 has reduced its incontinence significantly), and although Volvos certainly have a reputation for attaining interstellar mileages, I’m still rather concerned about the things that could go wrong. In some respects, though, it is unbelievably good – despite its mileage, everything still feels tight, there’s not a spot of rust on it (amazing for a Minnesota car of that age), and the engine and transmission feel smoother than they have any right to be. All in all, I think that it has a lot of potential – what I’d like to do is daily-drive it for a few years, then, once I can afford it, set to work on it with some mild upgrades and a manual transmission swap for added fun (although there’s enough torque that the automatic doesn’t feel like too much of a handicap).


On that note, for those of you who frequent junkyards: there are two manual 850s in my local pick-n’-pull right now. Is this a super-rare occurrence, and I should grab all the manual-conversion bits now, or are they common enough that I could find own easily enough later on?

Obligatory iPotato glamour shots: