For the Volvo Enthusiast

Bjorn Vader: Project 850 T-5R Intro

Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome Swedespeed’s most recent contributor/staffer Stu Fowle. At just 25-years old, Stu is already a seasoned writer who’s been on the staff of Automobile Magazine, our sister publication Motive Magazine and he’ll be now be a regular face on these pages as well. Stu’s just bought his first Volvo and we welcome him to the fold.

A casual admirer of Volvos for as long as I can remember, I’ve never actually owned one. I’ve been around plenty--my earliest vehicular memories are of riding rearward in the third row of a yellow 240 wagon, the “Banana Car” that our next door neighbors owned. A second, silver 240, owned by my best friend’s mom, later continued a long streak of waving to other drivers and sticking my face on the rear window. Years later, in high school, I had countless stoplight showdowns with my friend and his dad’s 740 turbo. But until recently, my only experience with 850s was seeing the aftermath of yet another friend’s little brother crashing his. After years of subliminal indoctrination, I now have my very own.

The Volvo gods aligned the stars perfectly for me. All at once, I signed on as a Swedespeed contributing editor, needed a car, and had just two automotive requirements in mind --decent power and a wagon body. The search naturally shrunk to mainly Volvos, and I then decided (for the first time in my driving career) to buy something newer than fifteen years old. Budget realities guided me to 850 Turbos, but it was luck that placed one of the mere 2000 T-5Rs sold in 1995 so close to my Chicago home. I drove it, loved it, and drove home with a bank balance $2700 smaller. My fancy-for-1995 digital consumption readout floated around 20 mpg all the way home, a little lower than I’d hoped to see.

It’s my hope with this project series to deliver the entire ownership experience, rather than the sugar coated cool-stuff-only approach sometimes taken with this type of article series. I’ll tell you about the go-fast add-ons, but I’ll also tell you about when the T-5R doesn’t run at all (assuming that happens).

I bought the car knowing of a few problems that would need to be addressed immediately. The transmission light was flashing, the steering weight was inconsistent, and the Bilsteins hiding behind the wheels--the optional 16-inch Columbias instead of the standard 17-inchers--looked like they’d been in service for all of the car’s 175,000 miles. Additionally, the “R” front clip had been replaced with a basic 850 front end, perhaps because of a minor accident or simply a previous owner’s inability to judge parking lot curbs. The cosmetic stuff will eventually be dealt with, but the other issues are the true concerns.

First to be dealt with was the flashing “up” arrow on the dash, meaning a transmission issue. In addition, the light indicating whether the trans was in sport or regular mode was flashing. My online research all led to one suggestion: replacing the neutral position, or “PNP” switch. It’s a relatively simple job that involves removing the air filter box, the battery, and a few other underhood bits in order to swap out a $100 part. With the new switch in place I flipped the ignition and learned an important lesson: taking the time to borrow a friend’s scan tool can save a load of cash. Obviously, that means the problem had not righted itself and my thumb had bled for nothing.

Not knowing what else to blindly replace, I borrowed a code reader. It flashed two codes, 120 and 123, both indicating problems with my throttle/pedal position sensor. Back under the hood, I reach down to unplug the sensor, thinking I’ll clean it off and hope for the best. I pulled the cord and without struggle or a click of plastic or metal, the connector slid off. I then slid it back on with a loud, reassuring snap, accompanied by a few words of profanity. The problem was fixed, and I only threw $103 down the drain ($100 for the part, $3 for the band-aids.)

The next issue was the steering. At low speeds and on initial turn-in, it felt too heavy, lightening up suddenly to a level that felt normal before firming up for a short time again. Starting somewhere simple, I decided to change the fluid, which smelled like a bottle of armpit-scented cologne. And as with most easy projects, my attempt to tidily drain the ATF from the reservoir into a large jug ended with half of it where it was supposed to land, the other half of it looking like a chocolate syrup spill on the clean white garage floor. Since the fluid should have been red, this being the source of my problem seemed like a safe bet.

Draining and replacing the fluid twice in one week, the improvements were certainly noticeable, but the core problem remained. On a hunch, I dropped a strut tower and inspected the bearing that’s integrated into the upper mounting plate. It was just about frozen in place. That’s where the fix sits today, with mounting plate bearings and a new set of upper strut bushings waiting to go in. That $250 pile of parts will be part of the next project update, which will involve a larger overall suspension teardown. Hopefully, it fixes my problem.

The final early fix for the T-5R was more of a fixication (both fix and a modification.) I bought the car with one of the worst set of cracked, peeling taillight lenses I’d ever seen. Instead of replacing them straight up with 850 parts, I opted to find a set of first-generation V70 tails. They’re basically the same pieces, but with clear turn signal lenses, rather than amber, in the upper part of the housings.

Tallying up the early repairs, $50 for taillights, $100 for a PNP switch, and $250 for the suspension parts, I’ve got $400 into repairs just two weeks into ownership. At this rate, my fianc�e may be revoking her project car support by summertime. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, this slightly tired Volvo 850 T-5R wagon will be the basis of our latest project car series. It’s been a long time since this website had an active 850-based project series. When the site launched in 2001 a red 850R sedan headed up our project fleet, but the car was long-ago sold. The market has changed considerably in that time.

Volvo enthusiasts are well aware of the burgeoning following 850s and first-generation 70-series cars are getting as the cheaper-and-cheaper prices of the cars combined with a healthy dose of performance make for a fantastic value in the used car market. This black wagon marks the first of two project series that will highlight this growing segment. As the series progresses, it is our intent to highlight a healthy list of upgrades � some stalwarts amongst fans of these cars, and some even the most ardent 850/X70 enthusiasts haven’t yet seen. We’ve got a lot of ideas planned for the future of Project T-5R, most of which involve making this black car blacker. Here’s what I can tell you about the near future:

-There are a few boxes from our friends at IPD sitting here at SwedsSpeed’s Chicago offices. As I’d mentioned, the Bilsteins on the car look original, and 175,000 miles is a bit much to ask of any set of shocks. They’ll be going away, and a few extra new parts will go back on.

-All I’ll say about the other short-term project is that the 850’s dash is currently a big gaping hole full of wires. The stuff going back in should be pretty slick.

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