Feature Car: Dave Lipkins' Spotless, 23,000-mile 1995 Volvo 850 T-5R
by Stu Fowle, Photos by the Author
Sep 2, 2010 - 3:59:57 PM
The classic car-versus-wife scenario. It has its victim and its beneficiary, and in this little tale, Dave Lipkins is the latter. He’d never have his spotless 850 T-5R if it weren’t for another guy’s wife laying down the ultimatum.
A certified Volvo tech and TKi Motorsport’s team mechanic, Dave knows Volvos and likes them two ways: good and rare. Before coming into possession of his T-5R, Dave owned the very rare 1996 850 Platinum, a turbo model with unique 16-inch wheels and special pearlescent white paint. That car came into Dave’s hands unexpectedly, for $520. Of course, it wasn’t running at the time thanks to a damaged intercooler and radiator, but he made quick work of the repairs and thoroughly enjoyed that car until a deer decided that it too really liked the car, especially the front right corner. The incident, not life-ending on its own, must have broken the car’s spirits, because soon after its piston rings also went.
Dave’s heart seemed just about set on a blue S70 with an attractive turbo-manual combo, but a friend, perhaps just trying to avoid a four-hour drive to a Maryland car dealership, turned the car hunt to something he’d seen on eBay: a yellow T-5R sedan with an unbelievable 22,000 miles on the clock. It had to be a fake, but it was an hour’s drive away and Dave knew how to spot a phony, so his car hunt was redirected.
The previous owner of the T-5R Dave ended up buying may have been that Most Interesting Man in the World character you see in beer commercials. At one point he didn’t just own this car, he didn’t even own two or three T-5Rs, he owned four matching yellow T-5R sedans. Each was in a different state of cleanliness and with mileages ranging from 9000 (when he bought the car you see here) to 220,000 miles. He drove each in different conditions, sold them off one by one, letting his most pristine example sit up on blocks in the garage for seven years until finally, his wife demanded the garage space for a new BMW M3. The owner did what anyone would do in that situation, advertise the car with an outrageously high price. It was a year later that he felt more pressure, dropped the price, and got the attention of Dave Lipkins. He can best explain the next part of the process himself:
“I spent about 25 minutes checking for signs of bodywork. There were none. More time looking for water or fire damage, still nothing. Then I began to question the honesty of the odometer. I looked for excessive wear on the pedals, but they looked brand new. The ignition wires were date-coded 1995. The timing belt was original. The Pirelli PZero Asimmetricos were date coded 1995. There wasn’t even the normal oil drop on the bottom of the turbo housing. The carpet floor mats with the body color yellow 850 logo were still there looking brand new under the rubber winter mats. The matching owners manual in black leather and alcantara with yellow stitching looked like it had never been opened. All 850s were inspected after assembly and a red paint mark was drawn on a lot of parts making it easy to see if things were replaced. All of the marks were intact and undisturbed. For example the mark was still perfectly straight along the upper radiator hose, across the clamp, to the radiator fitting. Similar story with the others. I was running out of skepticism. For my final test, I performed the top secret and highly precise Volvo forearm test: Jam your arm as deep as it goes between the intake manifold and the cooling fan. Touch everything you can while you’re in there, pull it out and see how oily it is. Excessive oil could mean a bad breather box, cylinder head, clogged flame trap, or just an old engine that was power washed on top to match a rolled back odometer. Amazingly, my arm was still completely clean when i pulled it back. This car wasn’t just clean, it was like it had been frozen in time.”
Dave started doing the math. Other cars in this price range and with such low mileage were all Hondas, Kias, and “other assorted penalty boxes that would have been worth nothing but their weight in scrap metal in ten years,” as Dave puts it. Meanwhile, good T-5Rs with six digits showing on the odometer still fetch as high as $7000 while even the more questionable ones are still worth at least a little. Dave negotiated the owner down from $12,000 to $9000, where he reasoned that he’d “be dumber not to buy it.” We agree.
Dave’s car truly is spotless, right down to the jambs of the trunk lid. We’ve seen a number of T-5Rs in our time but none that match this one, a rolling museum exhibit. It’s the little details that matter the most, too. Those original tires look straight out of a 1995 magazine article. The wood trim isn’t cracked anywhere and somehow, the Alcantara parts of the seats still have some fluff left to them. This car would be impressive as a restoration—the fact that it’s all original and in this shape is mind-boggling.
Just because this car is so perfect doesn’t mean Dave lets it sit unappreciated. He treats is like what it is—a Volvo performance icon. This is no trailer queen and in fact, while the Porsche 944 Dave bought as a track car still hasn’t seen any laps, this most spotless of T-5Rs has seen time at New Jersey Motorsports Park as well as Lime Rock. Some might call Dave crazy. We'd say he's quite a guy.